Interview with Imai Hisashi
for Amplifier Collaboration
The “prodigious lefty” who stays active as BUCK-TICK’s guitarist
Imai Hisashi arrives in the form of a retro-taste figurine
4 October 2019
Photographs by ISHII Fumihito
Text by SHINNO Kunihiko
Edit by KAWASE Takuro
“Connect the trajectories and don it”
“Amplifier” is a rock apparel brand which started with the concept of introducing the portraits of artists, who established an era in Japan’s music scene with their overwhelming presence, by incorporating them in apparel to let future generations inherit them as universal icons. It was founded in 2016, between MEDICOM TOY and designer Hirakawa Rentaro. Starting with the Imawano Kiyoshiro series, they have created a line up of photo T-shirts featuring the gallant figures of numerous Japanese rock legends.
From “Amplifier” began a new VCD Amplifier Artist Series. For their first edition, they will be releasing a figurine of BUCK-TICK’s guitarist, the “prodigious lefty” Imai Hisashi in January 2020. During the 3D modelling, “Amplifier” producer Mr Hirakawa selected a model which faithfully reproduces the features down to the smallest detail while applying the retro flair representative of VCD ANDY WARHOL. The head is a reproduction of Mr Imai’s likeness from the 90s with an added overmask of his present appearance.
Together with the figurine, the Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” TEE design F Series 2 which uses a photo depicting the same outfit as the figurine is on sale now following last year’s highly popular Series 1. To celebrate the launch of VCD Amplifier Artist Series, we bring a special interview with Mr Imai Hisashi. In it, he talks about the details which he paid particular attention to with his own figurine, the artist(s) who are the roots of his music, what led him to start a band, and more.
VCD Imai Hisashi
Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” TEE design F｜MEDICOM TOY
── On this occasion, we would like to talk about the VCD Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” and the Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” TEE. To start, does Imai-san have an interest in figurines?
Imai (I): Although I’m nowhere near a collector’s level, I do like them quite a lot. Of course, I’ve also heard of MEDICOM TOY since a long time ago. I have a few of their products too, like an Evangelion’s apostle(s)*, REAL ACTION HEROES’ KANEGON, a Nightmare Before Christmas BE@RBRICK, a BE@RBRICK speaker which is used with the iPod and plays music from its ears, among others. They’re displayed in my workroom in the basement but recently I’ve been running out of space……
── You sure have a lot of them. By the way, is there anyone else among the members of BUCK-TICK who also like figurines?
I: Our drummer Anii (Yagami Toll) collects a few. His taste is a little different than mine though, like KISS and Bruce Lee and so on. He’d come and say, “Imai, I bought thisー” (lol).
── What was it like when you were first spoken to about Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” TEEs?
I: Hirakawa-kun is an old acquaintance of mine and he showed me T-shirts of the Professor (Sakamoto Ryuichi) and of Kiyoshiro when he said, “I’m planning something called Amplifier”. It looked interesting, so I told him that I’m definitely intrigued. Regarding the photo selection, Hirakawa-kun initially chose a few for me which he thought would work well on T-shirts, and we compared and made the decision from there.
── Since they’re black and white photo tees, they’re very versatile pieces.
I: I, too, often wear Kiyoshiro-san’s and Endo Michiro-san’s T-shirts. Because it’s easy to look good by simply wearing those under a riders jacket.
── From that Amplifier comes the launch of the first edition of figurines with VCD Amplifier “Imai Hisashi”, so what was the development process like for this?
I: Firstly, we talked about how faithfully they can reproduce the clothes, hairstyle, and makeup. Since we’d be using soft vinyl, we can’t really reproduce the designs down to the smallest detail so we decided to go with an easily recognisable outfit, which resulted in it being the shirt I wore during last year’s tour (TOUR No.0 – Guernican Moon – ), the enamel pants and boots.
── And the design of this shirt is a homage to Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) wore during their 1980 world tour, right?
I: It feels like people who know would know (lol). I think those who are immediately reminded of the YMO shirt are people who belong to the same generation as me or are true YMO fans. I’ve always loved that shirt, so much so that I wore the reprint version that came with YMO’s best-of album in 2003 (UC YMO) for live performances like Summer Sonic. Since we were doing an album tour for No.0, this particular shirt was what our stylist came up with when I told him, “Please design something along the lines of the YMO shirt with the No.0 logo”.
── It appears that YMO was what led Imai-san to head down the path of music too.
I: Until them, I had no interest in music itself, but the moment I heard TECHNOPOLIS on TV or something, I thought, “This is it!” Right after that, I went to buy the single and then kept listening to that and only that on the stereo that we had at home. Because of this, when I was rushing to go to school every morning, I’d run out of time and I’d always leave it playing. That addiction was strange, wasn’t it?
── And you started thinking of putting a band together since then?
I: Nope, I didn’t have any such ideas at all when I was in middle school. I wasn’t interested in the guitar and I couldn’t afford to buy things as expensive as synthesisers anyway. I only thought of wanting to play in a band sometime after that, when a friend lent me an RC Succession cassette. It seemed fun to make noise with everyone all at once and I thought, “Bands sure are cool”. It felt like I found yet another thing that I liked. When I entered high school, I thought that it would be nice if I could play in a band and gradually, I started to think, “I wonder if I can do it? Then again, nothing will happen if I don’t do anything!” So I got myself pumped up and then started a copyband of THE STALIN with my friends from the same school.
── That’s the band which was to become BUCK-TICK’s predecessor.
I: I was super happy. I thought, ‘Ah, we can be the band I’ve always dreamt of like this, I’ll definitely make this band my profession’. That said, somewhere inside, I was thinking along the lines of, “This band might disappear soon, and if that happens, I’ll go to Tokyo and look for band members again”. Then, everyone became pretty serious about it.
── I think it’s amazing that you’ve been active for over 30 years without any change in member lineup since then.
I: Back then, my house became a sort of hangout; whenever a new record is released, everyone would come and listen together. I guess you could say it was the new wave sensation in the early 80s, but new releases kept coming steadily and it provided a lot of inspiration.
── BUCK-TICK’s range of musicality is rather wide too. With post-punk, techno, new wave, shoegaze, ambient, industrial…… What do you think is the reason behind your ability to continue on as this unique existence that fuses this myriad of elements?
I: Right from the start, we thought that we would just compose more and more songs without deciding on a frame of “we are a band of this particular genre” to belong to. It was something like that. As a result, we turned into an omnivorous band, or rather, one where anything goes (lol). Personally, I think that it’s interesting that a different impression is made with each album. Didn’t David Bowie change completely depending on the era? Like, when he did industrial music, he teamed up with Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). I felt that it was cool that he could unabashedly do things like that, and I wanted us to be that kind of band too.
── Do you discuss with the other members the kind of concept that you want each album to have?
I: We’d sit down and talk about it at least, but the conversation always ends with, “But we won’t get it if we don’t have the music” (lol). Because things will get pulled in that direction when I try to explain using only words.
── Just like your sound, BUCK-TICK’s fashion has always been individualistic since your debut, but does Imai-san have any artists who you consider as influences?
I: For sure, the great Hotei Tomoyasu from BOØWY who hails from Gunma like myself. The sight of him playing the guitar in a suit while wearing enamel wingtip rubber soles is immensely cool. From his hairstyle to the way he carries himself, everything has been an influence. With regards to foreign influences, I like watching and listening to bands like The Cure that look interesting based on their appearances. Unlike now, back then we couldn’t watch music videos whenever we felt like it, so I was starved for information.
── Your drawing “B-T” on your cheek left an impact too.
I: That started during our indie days when I decided to give it a try and show up on stage with that. On the contrary, I more often than not didn’t draw it on back then, but gradually it began to feel like I had to have it on (lol).
── For this VCD Amplifier “Imai Hisashi”, the head is made in the image of one of your looks from the 90s with the horizontal streak of black paint over the eyes.
I: The figurine has an overmask (a mask that is put on the figurine) of my present face, so I did want to play around and try to use a past look on it. I think this particular makeup was during the period of the ‘darker than darkness -style 93-’ (1993) album release. Pretty makeup is fine too, but I felt that the symbolic sense of “painting only the eye area black” in the image of the replicants from the movie Blade Runner would be interesting.
── The necklace around the figurine’s neck is also one of Imai-san’s favourites, right?
I: It’s made out of silver and was released as one of BUCK-TICK’s goods. I wear it during our lives. Including those produced by the individual band members, we’ve created a lot of goods thus far but I think goods that we can wear on stage as a part of our outfits like this are definitely great.
── I believe the overmask is presently undergoing the final revisions but was there anything in particular that Imai-san requested for?
I: The first sample’s eyebrows were too distinct so I had them fix that part, and maybe it would be better if the eyes drooped a little bit more. We spoke about things like that.
── I’m looking forward to the reproduction being even more realistic. But looking at it now, Imai-san’s hairstyle also changes with each period.
I: I had quite a variety of hairstyles, didn’t I? In my 20s I frequently changed my hair colour, but these days, I just change it with each tour.
── On the other hand, you have band members who don’t change at all.
I: Because Anii said that hairstyle is for life (lol).
── We can also enjoy the variations of your looks through the photos that were used for the Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” TEE design.
I: Even I was wondering, “When did I have such a hairstyle?”. I’ve forgotten quite a lot (lol). The pattern on my head in design C was done by my makeup artist who liked drawing things like that, so I often asked them to draw it for me. The unicorn mask in design E came about when I wanted a headpiece to use during lives, one which looked like a buffalo skull which was displayed in a bar or something in the 90s. That was the rough explanation I gave and this was the amazing mask that was made with leather (used during BUCK-TICK TOUR 1996 CHAOS, Tour memento mori, etc.).
── Have you received any feedback about the T-shirts from the fans?
I: I got quite a bit via email. There were quite a few who had requests hoping that we would continue with it.
── It would be great if they liked this time’s design F too. And, of course, I would like to ask about your music. This spring, BUCK-TICK put all of your original albums and singles up on streaming services. If you had to choose 3 albums to use as an introduction to the younger generation, which titles would you pick?
I: Hmm…… This is difficult (lol). It depends on individual taste, but I’d pick Kurutta Taiyou (狂った太陽) (1991) which was a turning point for us musically. And, our latest album, No.0 (2018). And, memento mori (2009), I guess? While there are people who enjoy band music, there are also those who prefer music with a bit of electro thrown in. The worldview and melodies change drastically with each album, so I think it would be great if they can enjoy each album as it is.
── Speaking of worldviews, RONDO (lyrics: Sakurai Atsushi / music: Imai Hisashi, from the single Kemonotachi no Yoru/RONDO), which was written as an ending theme song for the presently airing FujiTV anime Gegege no Kitaro, seemed like an unexpected meeting (between the song and the anime) where both their worldviews merged together brilliantly upon listening to the music.
I: That’s right. When they first came to us, I thought that it might be difficult, but after thinking it over for about a minute, I thought, “Then again, isn’t this something that only we can do?”. From there, the idea that such a melody might work well kept coming. I really feel like it was a good thing that we decided to do it.
── As for your plans in the near future, the recording of your performances at Makuhari Messe this May will be released in the Blu-ray & DVD of Locus Solus Bestia (Locus Solus no Kemonotachi / ロクス・ソルスの獣たち) on November 20. In December, you will be going on tour for THE DAY IN QUESTION 2019 and performing at Takasaki Arts Theater Grand Theater in your hometown, Gunma Prefecture, followed by Aichi Prefectural Art Theater Large Hall, Osaka Festival Hall, and finally, Yoyogi National Stadium First Gymnasium in Tokyo. After enjoying these live performances, it would be great to acquire the VCD Amplifier “Imai Hisashi” in the new year.
Last but not least, please share with us whether you have something in mind that you’d like to do in collaboration with Amplifier.
I: I’d like to make more T-shirts. And if there are a bunch of interesting ideas that come up in discussions with Hirakawa-kun, I’d like to try those out too. I was invited to MEDICOM TOY’s exhibition (the MEDICOM TOY EXHIBITION ‘19 held in July) the other day and while looking around, I kept thinking, “Ah, this is nice. Ah, the Evangelion is nice too”. And while there, I got my hands on a BE@RBRICK which had a picture of the moon printed on it (MOON BE@RBRICK), so I’m still thinking about where I should display it in my workroom.
© BANKER LT.D
*Apostle (使徒) is what the Angels are known as in Japanese
Amplifier shop: http://amplifier.tokyo/artists/imai_hisashi/