Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE
Photography: Ooyama Kenji
Text: Takeichi Hisako
Hair/makeup: Inoue Miyuki (salon コーシュカ)
Styling: Yagi Tomoharu
BUCK-TICK is releasing their new album Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE on February 13th. In this issue, Sakurai Atsushi and Imai Hisashi will talk about this work, made up of a complex mix of aggression and security which expands on a new world of BUCK-TICK’s, and their upcoming album tour which commences in March!
Into an Uknown World
This is a work of aggression and security intertwined. Built on the worldview which was uncovered in these interviews with Sakurai and Imai, we take a closer look at the album, Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE and what the tour will have in store for us!
To feel a world where their intensity and tenderness coexist
BUCK-TICK, who has been active with the same band members since their debut in 1987 are now in their 16th year together. Despite having worked together for 16 years, there is not even the slightest inkling that their sound is at risk of becoming monotonous. They are not bound by the word “musicality”, and at times, their range [of music] is so wide that they can shock people into wondering whether their works are truly products of the same band.
At the same time, both their music and their lyrics hint at the mutual acknowledgement and respect that the band members have for each other. There is no doubt that this band is one which continues to evolve while maintaining the same, unchanging intensity and it is this which attracts the audience who support them.
In fact, another one of BUCK-TICK’s appeals, a world where intensity and tenderness coexist can be felt in their upcoming album Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE which is releasing on February 13. If we were to describe the previous album, Kyokutou I LOVE YOU as “introverted”, then it can be said that this album was created to be it’s opposite; extroverted. Picking up from the last song in Kyokutou~, Continue, the first song in the new album, Nakayubi appears to be the representation of the whole album with its hostile attacks from the get-go.
Although it is a fitting opening to an album that is said to be built around aggression, it appears that the band had never intended to create something so highly aggressive from the start. Looking back, it was the release of their Zangai single in January that led to the creation of what would be the heart of this album and on this base, they gradually built its framework up. Nevertheless, because it is such a highly conceptual work, I wanted to do my own analysis of the album title’s relevance to the concept.
The title Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE is a reference to one of the science fiction novels published by William Gibson in 1988, but there is no connection between this work and this album. However, rather than “the connection between this album and the novel”, I personally strongly felt the connection between “BUCK-TICK the band and cyberpunk” again. Cyberpunk itself is a coined word where the word “cyber” here refers to robots (or cyborgs) and futuristic elements, while “punk” employs the aggressive image of hoodlums and radicalism. In other words, if we were to describe “cyberpunk” in one statement, it would be a futuristic science fiction with a degenerate worldview revolving around the relationship between machines (the future) and humans.
What I heard this time around was a techo-styled sound which used computer beats to leave an impression of cyber-ness and aggressive intense sounds, the “unique BUCK-TICK sound” of a languorous murky underground tang, and the pleasant comfort of Sakurai’s vocal skills which are entangled in all of this. At first I listened to the lyrics as if they were completely integrated into the sound, so I didn’t have the chance to analyse the meaning of the lyrics in depth, but after my interview with them, my attention was turned to the world of the lyrics they have written, and I found that there is a rather cynical air lyrically.
I felt it especially in Sid Vicious ON THE BEACH. Just like how Sid Vicious is an obvious “symbol of youth”, is the “BEACH” in reference to how it’s a place where people can let loose? Yet behind the free-spirited imagery and optimistic melodies, scenes akin to a war game, of human lives disappearing in the fires of war emerge…… It doesn’t only apply to this song. I think these elements were already present in their previous works, but ever since their last album, Kyokutou～, they have grown even stronger.
In fact, they happened to be right in the midst of producing Kyokutou～, which was released last March, when the shock of the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11th left a profound effect on their work. Evidence of this is painfully apparent in the lyrics Sakurai wrote for Zangai and the lyrics of GIRL, its B-side. “Like the late summer sky…… (first line of GIRL)”, it felt as if I was watching a sci-fi movie with this perfect description of the skies at the end of summer. That sky on September 11……
The “epic battle in a big universe” and the small but deep and strong love between “me and you” that I felt from this album were not only the impressions of the music, but also the underlying feelings of the band. With the memory of terrorism fading every day, they seem to have closed the album with Continuous, as if to say that it is not something to be forgotten. Warm and enveloping, the song conjures up images of airships slowly making their way through an endless galaxy, or a foetus in the womb. In a degenerate and violent world hidden behind the peace they feel, how do they overcome difficulties and keep going with that small spark of happiness in their hearts? I believe that is where their very essence can be found. Perhaps they are singing about the contradictions of everyday life in a world where the world of cyberpunk is already becoming harder to imagine as the future. Could this be what Imai meant when he applied the word “contradiction” to “〇〇 marks the headstones of our lives”?
In March, the band will start a tour in conjunction with their album release, and given the aggressive nature of the music, this one will be more naturalistic and live with the kick of the music conveyed directly to the audience rather than through imagery unlike the previous tour which was more visual. So, by all means, please do attend the tour to witness this constantly evolving BUCK-TICK with their unshakeable core and imprint them in your memory.
This album was made by following what we felt [was right]
―― I thought that your December 29 live show at Budokan, which was also your final show for the year to round off 2002, was a show that truly encompassed BUCK-TICK’s past 15 years of activities.
Sakurai (S): That’s true. That event was also a one-day, standalone show which is focused on performing the songs that fans say they want to hear in the after-show surveys we do, and also songs that the band members want to play.
―― The first and second song performed actually came from your very first album, SEXUALXXXXX! too. What do you think is BUCK-TICK’s appeal from the audience’s point of view?
S: I suppose, among those who love us, whether man or woman, they probably share our love for melodies. And in addition to liking our songs, I believe they enjoy our live performances a lot too. For us, we place a lot of importance on our live performances too, and although I think that sometimes there are certain imperceivable areas because we over-pursue the dark and unsettling, I feel like [our fans] let themselves melt into the atmosphere of the songs when they listen to them. Because even if [the topics] aren’t generally acceptable ones, we still do it because we believe in it and feel that it’d be cool. I don’t believe that something we’re going to change either, so I guess that might be what appeals to those who have been listening to our music all this while.
―― Actually, personally, this was the first time I got to watch a BUCK-TICK live and I was sort of surprised by the way everyone watched the show by surrendering their bodies to the music instead of violently crashing into each other. During the “WARP DAYS” tour for your last album, Kyokutou I LOVE YOU, you even held a performance in a dance hall at Okinawa and hearing about it made me wonder whether such a place was even suitable for a band to play in.
S: Ah, yes, that. We’ve been performing in dance halls since before our debut, so on the contrary, there’s actually some part of it that makes it easier for us to perform in such venues. Somehow, maybe something still doesn’t feel quite right when we perform in halls with designated seating, but I guess we’re not very good at performing in these venues where the typically-Japanese kind of good manners is expected (smiles). After all, live houses are where I enjoy [performing in] more because I get to feel like I’m closer to everyone. Although, for Kyokutou~’s tour, we performed both in halls and live houses, yet even in the halls, it felt as if the audience was very close to us. In some places, there were even those who would shake off security in the halls and come to the front, and although they’re actually not allowed to do that, it made me happy that they did it anyway, so this was a tour which really filled me with warm feelings.
―― I see. By the way, I heard that this February 13’s release is a continuation of Kyokutou I LOVE YOU.
S: Yes. Originally, when we were working on Kyokutou I LOVE YOU, we wanted to release it as a 2-disc album. But we didn’t have the luxury of time and we didn’t really want to finish the album in a hurry, so we then decided that we should change our perspective a bit and produce two albums which reflect opposing ends of a spectrum. That’s why [this new release] starts off by carrying on from the last song of Kyokutou I LOVE YOU.
―― Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE itself doesn’t appear to have a concept, but since you’ve now said that it was made to be an album contrary to your last, doesn’t that mean that it doesn’t exactly have no overarching concept at all?
S: Mm～. It is indeed true that there’s a general concept of wanting it to be a contrary album in my head, but there was no firm concept in the sense of what we wanted it to sound like. It’s just that it gradually became more concrete as we were working on it.
―― Personally, when I was listening to this album, I felt both the colossal scale of fighting monsters in a vast universe and the presence of the truly miniscule yet deep, strong love between “you and I”. And that is what made me feel that this was a highly conceptual work.
―― Oh? What is it? That grin of yours (smiles).
S: That [visualisation] is exactly what it is (smiles). You’ve felt what we were aiming for. This is wonderful (smiles).
―― (Smiles). In your last album, Kyokutou～, there was intensity within an image of beauty, yet in this album, Mona Lisa～, there is tenderness in the midst of violence. At least, that’s the feeling I got.
S: Yes, I think that’s exactly how it is. I think it’d better to talk to Imai at length regarding how much consideration was put into the flow of the songs in comparison to Kyokutou～, but I was personally very inspired by the music that both Imai and Hide brought me and that’s why I wrote the lyrics this time around.
―― Imai-san wrote a lot of lyrics in this album, but did you face any difficulty with singing them considering the fact that they’re not your words?
S: I did, yes. But on the other hand, there are instances when it’s easier to sing too. Because lyrics written by me are the essence of my own emotions after all, so they’d become something that I’d want to pursue to the absolute limit. I’d end up hesitating and keep deliberating about whether there’s still any room for me to make them even more perfect even at the time of vocal recording. But Imai’s lyrics are not my feelings, so I can perform it perfectly. There may be difficulties in doing that, but on the other hand, it’s easy to sing because I’m performing a part. Even then, I felt that the song Sid Vicious ON THE BEACH from this album would turn out better if Imai sang it, so I left the whole song to him. When I listened to its final version, it definitely made me think, “Ah, it was the right choice to have Imai sing it.” And in that same sense, I feel that this album was made by following what we felt [was right]. I suppose, perhaps this sense of unity came about as a result of going along with what we felt [was right] and the emotional axis which resides in Imai.
―― I see. But when we focus closely on reading just the lyrics, Sakurai-san’s lyrics and Imai-san’s lyrics are each very unique from the other. They can be accepted as BUCK-TICK’s songs precisely because these words are riding on BUCK-TICK’s band sound, but generally speaking, I suppose we can just say that each has its own different feel to it, and particularly, Sakurai-san’s lyrics have a lot of realism in them and capture the listeners’ imaginations, and the sludgy parts appear to come to the fore as compared to Imai-san’s lyrics.
S: That’s true, and come to think of it, BLACK CHERRY from this album is somehow quite the viscid song, isn’t it (smiles). This song is a mid-tempo one which was composed by Hide, but right when I heard it, I wanted to make it feel murky so I started writing the lyrics.
―― You know, sometimes, there’s a shadiness in Sakurai-san’s lyrics that make me wonder what kind of romantic relationships Sakurai-san has. There’s a realistic sense to [your lyrics], but they’re not concrete. It’s a strange feeling.
S: Ahahaha. I’m really glad that you’ve projected yourself into the lyrics and had your imagination kindled while listening to the songs (smiles). It’s true that my lyrics aren’t very concrete, are they? But I don’t think that it’s necessary to put concrete expressions in my lyrics. Because I feel that [putting such] specific things in the song will become a huge distraction when you’re listening it, plus I would like the listener to, as much as possible, imagine the world that the lyrics portray. It would make me happy if [the listener] gets to experience an uplifting exuberance in the midst of that.
―― I see. Between Sakurai-san and Imai-san, are there specific differences that might be significant? Like differences in the kind of movies you like, and so on.
S: I wonder? I don’t know what of movies Imai likes, but I don’t like movies with a happy ending. Because, you see, even if we definitely feel the same thing [from a piece of media], the way I express things and the words I use will bring about different nuances than what Imai would offer. But strangely enough, where our final conclusions end up within BUCK-TICK is never far from one another. In this album too, since I think the lyrics that Imai wrote are lyrics that I couldn’t possibly write, it’s fun when I sing them. It’s the same as when I’m watching a movie because I’m the type to become fully immersed in it to the extent where I turn into the protagonist too (smiles), so this time, I’m also singing by acting out the lyrics all the way (smiles).
―― (Smiles). By the way, in March, you’ll be going on tour for Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE so how are you feeling about that?
S: Whatever it is, I think it’d be great if both the band and the audience will make a flamboyant ruckus. Whether we’re playing in a hall or in a live house, I hope that this tour will be an even more exuberant tour than the last.
―― Is there a song in this album that you can’t wait to play live?
S: It’s definitely LIMBO. It’s a song that has a slightly religious groove to it and is easy for you to let your body move with the rhythm, so I hope that everyone will dance to it.
―― What’s a live show to Sakurai-san?
S: A place of self-discipline and release (smiles). Although I don’t have the intention to train or be self-disciplined, it’s so painful for some reason (smiles). I suppose it’s probably because it’s a time when I have to focus my energies because on normal days I live a very relaxed and carefree life, and during live shows, there are times when my nerves get all tensed up so that makes it tough on me (smiles). But the greatest joy for me is seeing the fans enjoying themselves, and I’d do my best so that I can look forward to drinking delicious alcohol after the show.
I was looking for something very aggressive and intense
―― What kind of concert was December 29’s Budokan show to Imai-san?
Imai (I): A live show that’s like a gift to the fans. We do it with a focus on songs that they want to hear, and also, it’s a show where we, the band members, get to perform songs we want to play.
―― Which song was the most requested one by the fans?
I: Probably ILLUSION.
―― And a song that Imai-san wanted to play?
I: I said I wanted to play ANGELIC CONVERSATION so they added it into the set. It’s a song that we haven’t performed in a number of years so that made me want to play it.
―― Did the show have a different vibe from the Kyokutou I LOVE YOU tour?
I: It did. Because the Budokan show is one where we have a lot of freedom with performing. Also, I couldn’t quite imagine what the Kyokutou～ tour was going to be like at first. I had the feeling that the Kyokuou I LOVE YOU album itself wasn’t exactly suitable for performing live, and I was honestly worried about how it would sound if we were to do that. But once we actually did it, it came across better live than I thought it would, and I think we even managed to showcase [our music] in a way we never have before. Because of that, you could say that Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE was very easy to grasp, or rather, I could feel that it’s an album that would look great when we perform it live so I’m quite looking forward to the tour.
―― It’s true that Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE is a work that you can imagine live, both in groove and sound. And Mona Lisa～ is most certainly an great album, but I think that Kyokutou I LOVE YOU is an album that sounds its best as a sound source, well, Mona Lisa～ is too but the flow in Kyokutou～ is beautiful as well.
I: Right. I guess Kyokutou～ as a more inward image, or, mm～, it might be a bit misleading for me to define it in words, but I feel that it gives an impression of insularity. In comparison, Mona Lisa～ is broad-minded, or I suppose you can say it leaves the impression of an outgoing type of sound.
―― It sure does. I heard that during Kyokutou～’s production, you considered making a 2-CD release, but how many songs from Mona Lisa～ had already been created at that time?
I: Well, none at all. Anyway, the 2-CD thing wasn’t simply about turning the album into 2 CDs, rather, at first, we thought of having about 10 songs for the main part of Kyokuyou～ and then adding another additional 5 songs that have experimental sounds that couldn’t be expressed in the main part. So, while we were working on that, the suggestion to just go ahead and make it a 2-CD album came up, and we worked hard to try and make that happen, but it was a little tight in terms of time so that became impossible to execute. Producing something like that in a short amount of time will gradually wear our minds out in the end (smiles), so we decided that rather than forcing ourselves to get it done, it would be better to release a separate album when we can take our time and work on it.
―― Were you already thinking of making each of the two CDs reflect different ends of a spectrum at the time?
I: We were not even considering making them opposites back then. But because we still had that desire to create a 2-CD work, we held on to that and brought the song Continue into the ending of Kyokutou～ to let it express this intent of ours.
―― I see, so, that’s where it’s connection to Mona Lisa～ originated?
I: That’s right. As a result, the two albums became contrasting works, but it wasn’t something that we intended to do from the start; it sort of just naturally ended up like this (smiles). There was no concept at all, but while composing the songs, there was a part of me that was looking for something very aggressive and intense, so even if it was [a] subconscious [desire] in the beginning, I gradually chose to make the conscious decision to create something like that because I didn’t want to stray from that aggressive side.
―― I could already feel the aggression right from the very first song, Nakayubi but was this the first song to be written?
I: The very first song that was written and completed was Zangai, which was also released as a single. That’s what got the ball rolling and after I’ve written a few songs, I thought, “Maybe I should retain this image in all the songs,” and after that, I just went along with my emotions and let the rest come naturally.
―― Earlier on, I told Sakurai-san about this too, when he let me share the impressions that I got after listening to this album, so may I share it with Imai-san too?
I: Ahahaha, go ahead (smiles).
―― I won’t hold back, then (smiles). Personally, in this album, I felt the sense of a massive battle being fought in a vast universe, but right at the heart of that, I also felt the presence of a really small yet deep, strong love between “you and I”.
I: Ohh～ Well, isn’t that wonderful. That really is the image that I had in mind when we were creating the album. I’m glad you were able to feel and receive it just as I envisioned.
―― Well, I’m glad too (smiles). That said, I guess the songs explain everything in this album. Which makes it a very concept-driven work in that sense.
I: You’re right, that’s what it turned into in the end. In terms of the flow, I got the idea to use the data of Continue, the very last track in Kyokutou～ to create something and that’s where it all started. When we were deciding on the track order [for the album], the very first decision made was to put Nakayubi as the first track and Continuous as the very last. After that, everyone discussed the line-up for the rest of the album together.
―― Imai-san has written a lot of lyrics this time around, and I’m once again reminded of the difference in expression between both [Sakurai’s and] your lyrics. Like, I’m amazed at how one expression can make such a difference to the impression left in the minds of the listeners. Even the melody too; although BLACK CHERRY somehow comes from the same band that composed GIRL and Sid Vicious ON THE BEACH, it leaves such a different impression that it’s shocking. What I’m saying is, I think Imai-san’s lyrics appear to have this nuance that makes the heart skip a beat. Like the kind of love that leaves a bittersweet sensation.
I: Is that so (smiles). I don’t know about that, but I guess that’s how people take it. I’m glad to hear that, though. But personally I haven’t written a love song for years now, since debut. So it’s also unexpected to me that people would feel that way [from my lyrics].
―― Ho hoh? Why did you stop writing love songs?
I: Well, because I don’t exactly live a life that is centered around romance anyway, and I’m not against it, but love songs are generally so vague that in the end you don’t really know what they’re talking about and I don’t like that at all.
―― I see. In what kind of situation do you find it easiest to write lyrics?
I: I’d first have the music [composed] and then I’d start to add words to it, but I don’t I put that much thought into it. I think that the stronger the message in the lyrics is, the more [you are] compelled to focus on it and you eventually won’t be able to enjoy listening to the music. That’s why I think that lyrics are unlike diaries or essays; as long as you’re into the song, that’s all that matters. But I’m human after all, so sometimes, when I’m composing, I’d end up writing about something I feel strongly about at the time. With the last album, it was a time when the terrorist attack left a huge impact [on me], so it was very easy for me to channel the emotions that I felt at the time.
―― So which emotions did you feel most strongly during the production of this album?
I: Right, I’ve put my thoughts about terrorism into GIRL from this album too. GIRL isn’t a song about a woman. Instead, “GIRL” is a sort of symbol, or a sign. It holds the meaning of a symbol which leads to a place that isn’t devoid of hope.
―― When it comes to titles, are they important in Imai-san’s songwriting process?
I: There are times [when they play an important part] but it varies from time to time. In this album, I guess the song which started out as a title then grew from there was Sid Vicious～. What I saw in my head was delinquents sitting around on a sofa, watching videos, and drinking in the afternoon on one hand, while on the other a war is raging somewhere else in the world. Something like that.
―― I didn’t expect it to have such a profound meaning behind it. But after hearing Imai-san’s words and reading the lyrics again, I really do feel it, and that the pain which I felt when I listened to the song must have come from those nuances. Well, actually, my mind was really hung up on the part in the song which goes, “Chaos marks our tombstones, (he) muttered.”
I: Those words are a famous quote said by someone, but for some reason, I just really like how well it fits in this song.
―― If you were to apply these words to yourself, what would be etched on your tombstone?
I: Probably, “contradiction”. Besides, I think we live with a lot of contradictions within ourselves, and as long as we’re human, we can’t run away from contradictions. So, I think our heads are probably all messed up thinking about things as we live our lives with these contradictions. Like, I’m sure there’ll be contractions even after I’m dead.
―― I see. Alright, so lastly, please share your thoughts towards the tour for Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE which starts in March.
I: In any case, we’re going to do our best. I’m looking forward to it since this album is really made for a live show. Like, I can’t wait to perform it as live music. And so, I’d really like everyone to come and listen to that sound live. I’ll see you on tour.
Scans: Tigerpal on LJ