On Sakurai Atsushi’s World
PHY Vol. 5
Interview text by Ishii Eriko
Photography by Yoda Junko
DER ZIBET’s ISSAY Speaks of “The World of The Expressionist, Sakurai Atsushi”
With The Mortal, Sakurai Atsushi has inscribed that which is his core into his work. He professes that DER ZIBET’s ISSAY is “a senior (senpai) who he respects”, and their relationship has only deepened since his debut. ISSAY, too, dwells in the same dark universe of Sakurai’s, and is an artist who has embodied the concept of decadence since the beginning. Each having their own values resonate with the other for close to a quarter of a century, ISSAY shares his thoughts on the expressionist, Sakurai Atsushi.
I don’t think that he is one who has ever aimed to be “gothic” or “decadent”
This is a consequential result. That’s the part of him that I can empathise with the most
I think it was around the time when BUCK-TICK debuted that I first came to know of Sakurai Atsushi-kun as a person. When was that……? When we released our second album, there was a TV recording. The location, it was Meguro’s Rokumeikan. Back then, there was another shoot for a broadcast that would be aired on a different day from ours going on as well, and BUCK-TICK was there. We were put together backstage, and that was the first time we exchanged greetings. When I think about it now, I think Atsushi-kun probably mustered up a lot of courage to come and speak to me (smiles). Because he isn’t the type of person who would initiate a conversation, you know.
When we met, I already sensed that he was someone who liked the same things as I do. From the very first time that we spoke, I got the feeling that “this person’s preferences are probably very similar to mine”. I wonder, what made me feel like that? We had casual conversations about live performances and such, and we spoke about the musicians who we liked, but perhaps it was from what was shared in those conversations that I understood very well that he was someone who looked at things from the same perspective as I did. There’s a glam rock mentality, and there are people who like the most pop-like image that from the “Let’s Dance”* period. But for us, I could feel that we both liked David Bowie for that unique depth and gloom. I thought that this was the viewpoint of ours that matched.
It’s the same for me, but Atsushi-kun is a person who really likes things that revolve around such gloom and depth, isn’t he? If I were to put it in a more easily understandable word, I suppose that would be “darkness”, I guess (smiles). But, you know, when I look at him, this is what I feel but, I don’t think that he is one who has ever aimed to be “gothic” or “decadent”. This is a consequential result, isn’t it? Perhaps you can say that that’s where we’re similar, or that’s the part of him that I can empathise with the most. There are many who express themselves with “decadence” as a goal, but there just aren’t that many people who turn out like this as a consequential result. When he expresses what he feels and what he likes in the words that he favours, the resulting product ends up getting considered as “gothic” or “decadent”. That is…… because he will always see the duality of things too after all, isn’t it? I suppose, like how the scent of death will definitely be found right next to something with vitality. I think he’s the kind of human who has the sensitivity to sniff out those kinds of things.
You know, every time I see him, I come to understand that he is someone who possesses something similar to what I have. We happened to bump into each other a number of times after the first time that we met at Rokumeikan, you know. Like, we’d bump into each other outside the venue when we’re going to watch lives by foreign artists, then we’d stand there and talk for a bit. Among these occasions, the funniest one was when I was on the way back from a tour, we were traveling
in the equipment vehicle so we were taking a break at one of those service areas along the way. Just then, this tall, blond guy** began approaching us with this huge grin on his face, and as I was wondering “Who’s that?”, it was Atsushi-kun. Our conversation went something like, “What’s up?” “Well, we’re in the middle of a tour.” “Same. Me too.” (smiles). It made me think that it’s like we’re tied by fate or something.
Also, I suppose another thing that surprised me was, back when we were recording our 4th album, ‘GARDEN’, in London, BUCK-TICK was also recording in London as well. Before this, he did say to me that we should meet if we could, but well, I’m going to London, you know, so I figured that it’s rather unlikely that we’d happen to bump into each other. But we met (smiles). So, then, I heard that they were going to perform live in London, and it just so happened that on that day, we finished our recording session early, and the venue also happened to be near the studio. So I thought, well, let’s go and see, and I went over with my band members, right. It really was just a continuous string of coincidences. If this happened between a man and a woman, they would’ve already fallen in love, wouldn’t they (smiles)?
Even after we became friends, my impression of him is still the same as what I had in the beginning, you know. He’s always been a gentleman, and he barely gets surprised in the way a person goes “Ah, so such a thing exists”. It’s still the same image as the one I got when he first came up to me and spoke to me. Despite those intense eyes, he’s such a terribly shy person (smiles). And he’s mischievous, isn’t he? He has such a great sense of humour. Those little things that he suddenly blurts are funny too. Once, when we were parting after having met for work or something, he said “…… Next time, let’s have a beer too”, you know (smiles). “Sounds good, a beer.” “We’ll both go for a beer together next time.” and so on. Since then, we kept saying “Let’s have a beer” to each other (smiles).
He drinks a lot, doesn’t he? Well, but all the members in BUCK-TICK are like this though (smiles). But when it comes to Atsushi-kun, you know, he doesn’t change much even after he’s had alcohol. When we’re drinking, we speak as per normal, you know. From “what have you been up to lately”, to conversations like “Have you listened to this work before?” or “Have you read this book before?”. Also, we send albums to each other, so there’d be talk like “That album was nice”, or “Klimt*** was used on this album’s cover, wasn’t it” “Well…… but I do know that ISSAY-san loves Klimt though”, and so on (smiles). Our conversations generally revolve around these exceedingly average topics, you see. With Atsushi-kun, I drink with him probably only once or twice a year, and we do go and watch each other’s live performances, and to me, it’s quite rare for a relationship to last this long with someone, you know.
Without considering solitude and loneliness as negative emotions
Embracing them as if they are very precious things
I think that he is aware that this is who he is
When I see him on stage, during a live, it no longer matters that he is my junior (kouhai) or younger than me, I think that he’s a really impressive person. Firstly, it’s that voice, you know. He has a magnificent voice, and he knows how to sing in a way that makes the most of it. Though when he steps out onto BUCK-TICK’s stage, it’s like there’s an extreme tension, and when he comes out, it somehow feels like a string snapped apart to the beat or something. I do wonder if it is at that point when his personality changes. Perhaps, you know, maybe during his high school days, his friends thought that it’s rather unbelievable that he could be someone who can be a vocalist and sing in front of other people. When you look at how he normally is, you wouldn’t believe that with music, he is someone who will go out in front of people. I imagine that he’s the type of person who you wouldn’t expect this from, you know.
But, ever since a certain point in time…… somehow, he changed, you know. Initially, he was uptight and full of nerves, but after a certain point in time, he grew very gutsy. When was that? Or should I say, he grew defiant. Like, “I am me, this is how I am, so there”. Maybe he grew defiant, I think. Probably…… it was in the middle period. I think it was during the period of time when they released that album where I was asked to be a guest on one of the songs (Six/Nine, 1995), but ever since then, all of a sudden, Atsushi-kun became strong, didn’t he? I began to feel something dignified in him, like he’s declaring “This is me”.
I think that now, he truly is the type of musician that I like. In any case, in these few years…… From time to time, I can see glimpses of him enjoying fiction. The fact that he makes me feel that “Ah, to think that such an artist exists in Japan and in the major labels too” is a very promising thing, and it makes me glad, you know.
In BUCK-TICK, each of the members understands their own positioning extremely well, and I think that they are a band where it turns out exceptionally nicely. You know, usually, someone would keep yearning for the spotlight and stepping out to the front, and then the band goes bad (smiles), but it’s amazing that they don’t have this, isn’t it? The band members understand very well things like “Ah, he needs to be the one in front now” or “I have to stand in here for this moment”. And without ever wavering, they’ve just continued on like this all~ the way. But this time, Atsushi-kun stepping away from that and creating a solo project with a band is…… a lot of pressure on him, I think. But since he has decided to work on a solo project, there’s no way that he can run away from that pressure, is there? Because it was the same for me when I worked on my solo project as well. But earlier, I said that “There was probably a time when he grew defiant”, and I think, there is probably a need for him to grow even more defiant than that. The phrase “to grow defiant” doesn’t really have a positive image, but it also has the connotation of a person accepting themselves with “I am alright as I am”. I think that it also means to lose whatever doubt you have in relation with yourself being as you are. But for him to have completed his solo work like this, isn’t it yet another contribution to him growing stronger? That’s what I think it is.
I’ve listened to THE MORTAL’s album, and the very first thought that came to mind was, “Ah…… He’s done it” (smiles). I felt that he’s done something really wonderful here. I suppose you could say that it’s really very much Atsushi-kun’s style. He’s excluded all unnecessary colours and the sort, and made it something that draws close to his own core, don’t you think so? Of course, it’s not like there aren’t any songs that make me feel like “Ah, this song wouldn’t sound odd even if BUCK-TICK were the ones performing it”, but, the colours are completely different after all. To put it precisely, there aren’t any colours at all, it’s a work that is in monochrome. You know, for me, I particularly loved the last two songs. “Mortal” and “Sayonara Waltz”.
In terms of the content that he depicts and his lyrics, there are things that I, myself, would not express in the same way if it were me. But I think that those parts, we both have, mutually. Because I express things with my own words, and him with his own. But when it comes to why he chooses to express something the way that he does, that, I can fully understand. I often get the feeling that even if the way he expresses these words are different, he’s probably saying the same thing, you know. Like, “Ah, so he sees such a world too……”. That comes across very clearly, doesn’t it? Developing empathy for the conceptual parts like that, I think it only happens with him. Of course, when I listen to other music, there are many occasions when I am surprised and I think “Ah, I see, so such an expression exists!”, but when it comes to him, I’d notice what’s under the surface, like “Ah…… I suppose this was what he saw” or “It seems like there was a moment when he felt like how I did”, and I’d find myself nodding in agreement. Well…… Perhaps we share the souls of lovers, right? Hahahaha!
But, speaking like this, I said earlier that the common aesthesic that we share is “darkness”, but that might be putting it a little too simply, you know (smiles). While it’s true that it can be considered as darkness…… it’s something that has more contrast than that. Like, take for example, when the blazing sunlight of midsummer shines down on a tree, the shadow of that tree isn’t total darkness. I can see the border that lines it. It’s not about whether I like or dislike it, it’s just something that I do out of habit, you know. There are people who say that they like dark things, but on the other hand, you don’t really meet many who naturally exude it like second nature. I think, what makes him and I even more similar is probably the part of us that is capable of treating things that an ordinary person would feel is negative, as very positive things. Usually, let’s say, for example, solitude and loneliness, these things would be treated as negative emotions and rejected. But for him and me, without considering them as negative emotions, we treat them as very precious things and plunge in. And then we accept them, embrace them. Because we understand that this is who we are, and they definitely do exist, they are fact. I think that this is something that Atsushi-kun is already distinctly aware of.
* Referring to the album by David Bowie.
** In this sentence, he used the phrase お兄ちゃん (oniichan), which, in Japanese, does not necessarily mean ‘older brother’, especially when referring to strangers. It’s like a slightly more affectionate term used to refer to a random dude. An example would be calling a waiter in an izakaya お兄ちゃん, which would be similar to calling them ‘bro’ in English. Of course, there is the flipside where you call a waitress お姉ちゃん (oneechan). You could say that it’s one of those Asian things, similar to how we call everyone our ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’, even if we’re not related.
*** Referring to the Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.