Ongaku to Hito
Of Timid Bravery
text by Ishii Eriko
photographs by Nakano Hirohisa
hair & make-up by Yamaji Chihiro_Fat’s Berry
styling by Shimizu Kenichi
LAD MUSICIAN SHINJUKU_03-6457-7957
This armada gets moving once again ahead of their 35th anniversary year. It starts with the long-awaited fan-club exclusive tour kicking off in the beginning of summer, then Yagami Toll’s 60th birthday bash in August, and the release of their conceptual 5-CD best-of collection CATALOGUE THE BEST 35th anniv. this month. In this same period, they will also be holding their 2-day concert event THE PARADE at Yokohama Arena, followed by their first national tour in three years that starts next month.
Closing off the celebration of their anniversary year naturally brings us to an upcoming new album, but for now, we want to hear from Sakurai Atsushi ahead of it. Sayonara Shelter is the one and only new, unreleased song that has been included in the best-of collection. The way it captures an unfiltered reality with its straightforward language is filled with will-power and determination unlike any before. It was reported last month that he was tested positive for COVID-19 and had made a full recovery after the resulting quarantine, but this interview was held sometime in July, before any of that happened.
I thought it would be more strenuous initially
But I was surprisingly okay. I think the audience probably have it tougher than us
―― It’s late July now and you’re right in the middle of your fan club & mobile members-only tour.
Sakurai (S): That’s right. Well, finally…… I can breathe a sigh of relief. Because we haven’t been able to hold a concert, much less a fan club-exclusive one in about two years.
―― How did you deal with the physical and mental challenges from these concerts?
S: We’ve been busy with recording work for our new album. I had to wrap up all my work about three days ago, so the switch [from recording mode to concert mode] was difficult. Because I can’t effectively work on more than one thing at the same time. So because I was having a hard time with it, I left (song selection and all the other preparations) to everyone to handle. They were old songs so I didn’t have all that much difficulty there. Whatever else, I wouldn’t know until I’m standing on stage anyway. Since things will always be different in rehearsals.
―― My body’s undergone changes too after the past two years and when I attended concerts in recent times, I found myself wondering, “Is it really this tiring to stand for two hours straight?” (lol). How do you find it as a performer?
S: Ah…… I actually thought it would be more strenuous initially. But somehow, my body was surprisingly okay. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been keeping myself on my toes with recording work, and that’s kept my mind busy. It’s surprisingly taken a weight off my shoulders.
―― That’s a good thing then.
S: Yes. I did wonder whether or not I’d be able to do it okay before it started, but my voice sounded better than I expected. I just feel kind of bad for the audience, though. They have to keep their masks on throughout the event, and have to stand in designated spots, and can’t even respond with their voices. I know it can’t be helped because that’s the situation that we’re in now but…… I think the audience probably have it tougher than we performers do in all these different areas.
―― But being able to see you is enough of a something to be happy about.
S: That’s true. But because they can’t respond vocally. There’s this unnerving intensity. Since everyone’s wearing masks, there’s a superabundant, concentration from their eyes (lol).
―― Concentration from the eyes (lol). Are your band mates enjoying it too?
S: It allows us to vent out our energy in a setting completely different from recording after all, so everyone does seem to be enjoying themselves. Yeah.
―― Also, just confirming, you’ve already plunged into the actual recording work for the new album and it’s no longer in its conception stage, right?
S: That’s right. Yes.
―― So, although It was impossible for you to go on a proper national tour for ABRACADABRA, you’re already moving on to your next album.
S: Because first of all is our 35th anniversary celebration year. We’ve got our best-of collection, the fan club concert during [the anniversary year]. And later comes the release of our new album next year to end it. That’s the series of events we’ve got laid out.
―― In recent years, I believe you’ve generally followed the cycle of closing off an album’s chapter only after you’ve had a tour for it. But now that this has changed, did it affect anything? Like the songwriting vibe, or the themes that Imai-san comes up with?
S: Right…… While I was having a discussion with Director Tanaka, about things like, “Is this format going to work?”, though, well, I can’t really go into detail yet, but something like a vague, overarching theme resulted from that. Although…… I’m already doing whatever I want anyway.
―― Eh, what do you mean?
S: Well, in terms of general themes, hope, despair, that kind of a world. Although, that might just be a narrative I imposed on myself. But even then, anything else just goes in one ear and out the other for me, so. …… Despair is all I can write about!
S: That’s all I have to say.
―― Even so, do you feel fulfilled in your day-to-day life?
S: Yeah. I’m very much fulfilled with how I approach what I produce and what I do. With the exception of these, there are a lot of things I don’t want to think about so I make it such that I don’t. Now, I just want to hurry up and move on to recording my part for the next song.
――Excuse me for saying this, but you’re very motivated, aren’t you?
S: That’s right. Not in a desperate way, though. It’s strange, but it could be because I’ve been working at things as if it’ll be the last time ever.
In the past, I think I would play it cool, avoid being clear, kind of sidestep things and use another escape route though
I can’t bring myself to do that anymore these days. Because I’m not that eloquent in the first place.
―― I think I said this a year ago as well, around the time of Go-Go B-T TRAIN’s release, but I’m getting the impression that the present version of Sakurai-san has picked up a defiant stance, in a good way.
S: That’s right. I’ve been able to focus on music, the things I want to do. You could say that I don’t want to think about anything else.
―― Can you think of anything that might’ve caused this?
S: Hmーm, well, part of it is growing older, and that I’d start wondering vaguely about things like, “How many more years can I do this?” I’m not feeling pessimistic to that extent, though. But also, all the recent…… incidents, accidents, ah, well, frankly speaking, wars, and all that. Witnessing all of it, it’s like, I don’t feel like it’s just someone else’s problem. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. It might sound like an exaggeration, but I’ve come to feel that I wouldn’t even think it odd if tomorrow something happens to this Japan we live in. And since that’s the case, I feel that I can push ahead with whatever I can do and want to do.
―― A world in decline inspires Sakurai-san.
S: Right…… Putting it like that makes it sound shrewd, doesn’t it? As if I won’t do anything unless something like that happens. But in the end…… it seems like it’s in my character to turn these kinds of negative events into fuel. Anger and sadness, I’ve come to realise recently that these are sources of energy for me.
―― Actually, just 10 years ago we could never have imagined that things like epidemics and wars would actually be happening in such close proximity to us in the 21st century.
S: That’s definitely true. That’s really what it is. People might say that we can’t really help that infectious diseases occur and that may be so, but on the other hand, wars are essentially a man-made disaster, and I think it’s something that can be stopped if person A and B and C and D decide to say “stop”, right? Whenever I see the news, I find myself wondering how such a thing can happen in the 21st century…… It’s shocking. Just heart-wrenching, isn’t it? That all the children and ordinary people…… It just makes me wonder “why?”.
―― This exact frame of mind is depicted in Sayonara Shelter, the new song which you’ve included in DISC1 of your upcoming best-of collection, right?
S: That’s right, yes.
―― The music is quintessentially Hide-san, with how beautiful it is. Writing about such a concrete subject for this melody pulls your emotions right into it from the very beginning.
S: Yes. I think the past me would likely play it cool, avoid being clear [about the subject matter], kind of sidestep things and use another escape route though. I can’t bring myself to do that anymore these days. Because I’m not that eloquent in the first place. And the best thing I can now is to do things as I see them, as I feel them. No matter what, this…… When I’m shown videos of children and all those…… There’s no other outlet (for my emotions).
―― The lyrics are written in the perspective of both parties involved with the very first line going, “Someone is coming to kill us (誰かが僕らを殺しに来るよ)”, followed by the next, with, “Am I going out to kill someone (わたしは誰かを殺しに行くの)”.
S: That’s right. Like, what if it was you in that position and you can’t remain a bystander, what would you do? If those who fled to Poland were asked whether they could leave their families behind and go back to Ukraine…… If I was in their position, what would I do? That’s something I thought about too.
―― What would you do? Do you think you’d go back and take up arms?
S: Ah…… Well, if I wanted to sound cool, I’d probably say yes. But I don’t know what I’d actually do if that really happened to me.
―― No matter the choice, we’re all still human after all. And no matter the choice, I think you’ll always have people around you saying, “That’s it, that’s the right path.”
S: That’s true. Really…… because they’re going at each other, brandishing ideals, right? Actually, even now, I still can’t believe it, like, “Is this really happening?”
―― Was there any hint of reservations or expressions of bewilderment from your band mates at lyrics written in such a disambiguous manner?
S: None at all. Um…… I created an atmosphere that didn’t allow them to say anything.
―― When you say this with that look in your eyes, the only thing to do is to shut up (lol).
S: Fufufu. There actually were opinions for and against this within the band, but ultimately, the desire to make people listen to it won out. After I recorded my part for the song, even Director Tanaka-san said, “This is probably something that needs to be announced now.” And so, we decided to include it in the best-of collection.
I’m definitely one of the weak human beings
A helpless person who cowers in the dark
I’m just like the children shaking in fear in the basement
―― This might be a bit of a reach, but I think there will be cases where people hear this song and the first thing that comes to mind is, “Isn’t this an anti-war song?” How does Sakurai-san feel about that?
S: Ahh, I had that conversation with Victor’s staff and Tanaka-san about the order of the tracklist in DISC 1, the last three songs in it (REVOLVER, Guernica no Yoru, Sayonara Shelter). While we did think that people might not like for us to shine the focus on this area alone…… I think we should even if they hate it.
S: Because I feel that sooner or later, the day when we have to talk about these things will come. But…… I think it’s strange to use the word “anti-war”, isn’t it? Because I think war is not something that we need to begin with. Although, it would be good if people would just take it as, “I guess that’s what they’re doing,” when I put these things into song. But that’s not going to happen, is it? I expect that there will likely be people who will want to say, “You guys are hypocrites!”
ーー That’s precisely why most people avoid anything and everything related to topics on war or politics. I think it’s a sensitive thing for celebrities and artists alike.
S: That’s true. But I think that’s good too. To speak nothing of these things at all, to spend more time making people laugh and smile in other ways, to sing songs that inspire people to look forward to tomorrow. I think they’re awe-inspiring if someone is able to express themself like that. But that’s not something I’m capable of. I suppose that’s because I’m not mature enough as a person, though.
―― No, that’s not true.
S: Of course, I have all kinds of dilemmas. While I’d be concerned if people didn’t get the message at all [when they listen to the song], there are also times when I’d feel disappointed when I start to wonder whether we’d be able to make money with such music. But that said, it’s not as if there are all that many other things that inspire me anyway. It’s all now very unstable, isn’t it? Both the world at large, and for the individual person too. But the real problem is that proper adults are killing people. Simply put, they’re getting children all wrapped up in this as collateral damage. To that, I wanted to say, “Why?” from the children’s perspective. And I said it earlier too, but [other people] misrepresenting that, changing [some part of its meaning], implying [something else]…… “I can’t be bothered!” That’s how I feel.
―― Don’t you think that you’ll need to have crossed a certain boundary to be able to say this as the person who wrote these words and sings it?
S: Yes. That did happen. Well, you could also say it’s being mentally prepared on the inside. Sort of like a, “This was what you said at that time, right? Since that’s the case, you should turn what you felt into something that strikes other people even harder.” For me, whatever strikes my heart deeply gets turned into the flesh and blood that forms my words. Since this is the line of work I am in, as long as I have a choice, my first consideration wouldn’t be whether this is a good idea or not, but rather my desire to stir up strong emotions in other people. That’s the kind of premeditated transgression it’s come to. Because in these past few years, we’ve had war, and COVID-19, and in all of that, I’ve been wondering, “What should I sing about?”
―― So that’s what it’s been like for you.
S: Yeah. If I’m making my move, I might as well go all out and take the plunge. Kind of like the idea of kicking the spring board as hard as you can and flying off.
―― Signs of the times are certainly all around us, aren’t they? Ever since COVID-19, I would think that it’s difficult to write melancholic, despairing songs……
S: No? I’m doing that right now.
―― Ah, really (lol).
S: I’m getting critical acclaim for doing that. Somehow, I’m really excited about this. For my insidious ways!
S: Perhaps…… This might just be my life’s purpose.
―― Kukuku. Insidiousness and despair are what “Demon King¹ Sakurai” is really made of, right? But if that’s true, then I wonder what disposition and personality Sayonara Shelter’s Sakurai-san will be categorised under?
S: Mm…… But I’m definitely one of the weak human beings, you know? I’m really a helpless person who cowers in the dark. I always say this, but I’m just like the children shaking in fear in the basement.
―― You’ve portrayed the “shelter” in this song as a safe rendezvous, yet, where does the “farewell (sayonara)” in the song title come from?
S: Ah, that’s because I thought of working in a little drama. [The protagonist] won’t be able to come back anymore but…… Something like that. It’s the same with the “I’m going out to kill (殺しに行く / koroshi ni iku)” that comes in at the end; [the protagonist] is lying. In the song Andalusia ni Akogarete (アンダルシアに憧れて / Longing for Andalusia) by Maashii-san (Mashima Masatoshi), there’s that sense of waiting at station platform for [the protagonist] to come back. Although we won’t be able to see each other, wait for me. …… Ah, you don’t have to keep this in the interview.
―― It’s interesting, so I’ll publish it anyway (lol). But that would make this a song with a tragic ending, wouldn’t it?
S: That’s right. I think I was also writing [these lyrics] with the feeling of how soldiers like me who aren’t all that young, who haven’t even been trained would be the very first to go down. Although the hope that whatever we do helps the children who are waiting back home is of course there.
―― Hope and despair are intertwined. It’s just like what “shadow play” is; the one and only modest form of entertainment that one can create in a shelter that is lit up by only moon or candle light.
S: Yeah. It’s exactly as you said. I think everyone has seen the little girl singing Frozen songs in the underground shelter on the news. Even in these devastating circumstances, such a vibrant individuals and personalities exist. This hope…… If we don’t even have a single candle flame, it would be unbearable, wouldn’t it?
―― Did you feel a sense of clarity after you finished writing the lyrics to this song?
S: ……No, although I would feel relieved after it’s turned into a song and released as a work. The next step after that would include wondering about whether there’d be people who would get upset by this. Those who won’t get it won’t get it anyway. But that’s, well, the freedom of the listener anyway, so they can take it however they want, right? Hm…… And then, there’s also doubt revolving around whether it’s okay for me to earn money with something like this too. I think those are the kind of thoughts I’m always dwelling on in my head.
―― But you’ve never made the decision that you won’t release it.
S: That’s right. Because the story has already been written in my head. A number of such stories have also been written for other new songs that are going into our next album. At this point, I don’t think anyone can avoid it anymore.
―― The strength to step into this and not allow anyone to say otherwise about it. The Sakurai-san of today is truly incredible.
S: If I held back…… it’s the end of the road for me. That’s what it feels like. I’m a coward, you see. Besides, I’ve fallen very ill before and it’s not as if my family’s all that healthy either. I keep telling myself, “It’s time to take the plunge or it’s going to all be over for you.” Because I really don’t know if or when something will happen.
¹ We often see Sakurai being nicknamed 魔王 (maou), often translated as Demon King, or Prince of Darkness, or even Satan. But what I found interesting was the fact that Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig is called 魔王 in Japanese. The equivalent of Erlkönig in English appears to be Alder King, king of the elves.
Yagami Toll 60th Birthday Live
IT’S A NOW 2022
2022.08.18 (FRI) CLUB CITTA’
text by Hirabayashi Michiko
photographs by Tanaka Seitari (LIVE), Masa (BACKSTAGE)
Yagami Toll’s 60th birthday celebration. Numerous musicians who love and admire him congratulated him on this memorable day. Mentors, juniors, sworn friends, admirers, and his long-time band mates. Such is proof that his yet ongoing drumming career is a happy and blessed one. The 19th of August. This is the report of that one special day.
- Angelic Poetry
- Romeo & Juliet
- Oh! My God! (Yagami Toll & Blue Sky cover)
- SADISTIC EMOTION
Yagami Toll & Blue Sky (1/2)
- Mandom—Lovers Of The World
- WONDERFUL HOME -Thunder & Cold wind- / with Miyako Keiichi
- SODA ROCK!! / with Miyako Keiichi
- Fire Girl / with Miyako Keiichi
- ROCK’N ROLL STAR / with Miyako Keiichi
- Oh! My God! / with Miyako Keiichi
- Top Of The Mountain Bar (SHIME cover) / with Miyako Keiichi
Yagami Toll & Blue Sky (2/2)
8. Funky Monkey Baby (CAROL cover) / with Minato Masafumi
9. Good Old Rock’n’Roll (CAROL cover) / with Minato Masafumi
10. Slow Down (THE BEATLES cover) / with Takahashi Makoto
11. DREAMIN’ (BOØWY cover) / with Takahashi Makoto
12. 時よ [Toki yo] / with Miyako Keiichi & Yoshida Minako
13. 夢で逢えたら [Yume de Aetara] / with Miyako Keiichi & Yoshida Minako
14. Blow wind / with Miyako Keiichi
- THEME OF B-T
- Go-Go B-T TRAIN
- Baby, I want you.
- 愛しのロック・スター [Itoshi no Rock Star] / with ISSAY
- 恋 [Koi]
- ユリイカ [Eureka]
With his caring and loving personality, and his sincerity
Life as a loved and admired drummer is bound to continue on
Yagami Toll’s birthday concert IT’S A NOW! has become an annual event that happens every August since celebrating his 50th birthday at the very same CLUB CITTA’ Kawasaki in 2012. This special edition 60th anniversary show was a celebration filled with love and respect for Anii.
The first batter of the night, D’ERLANGER started the show with all four members facing each other as they began performing BABY. It was confusing to suddenly see the band with their backs to the audience with the exception of drummer Tetsu, but by choosing to start with this song in a way that focuses on the drummer shows their respect for Yagami. During their segment, Tetsu expressed his joy at being able to take part in this celebration with D’ERLANGER, and performed with more power and spirit than usual with their love for their respected senior.
Up next was 5-piece band Yagami Toll & Blue Sky taking the stage with familiar band members Kenta Harada, KANAME, Yagi Masato, and Miyako Keiichi (SOPHIA/rayflower) joining in as the guest keyboardist. A huge round of applause rose from the audience as Yagami, the star of the day, ascended the drum stage which was decorated with 60 bright red roses. The first half of the show which featured a series of songs from their 2019 mini-album had an intimate atmosphere, as if enjoying a performance with a group of friends who were at ease with each other. Closing off this first half, they covered songs by singer-songwriter SHIME who passed away this March, expressing in music their gratitude and condolences for his indispensable presence in IT’S A NOW!.
The second half was a special segment filled with guest performers. First was a twin drums session with ex-DEAD END drummer Minato Masafumi and ex-BOOWY drummer Takahashi Makoto. The powerful drumming in DREAMIN’ by one drummer celebrating his 60th birthday and the other who was nearing 70 was nothing short of astonishing. After that, Yoshida MInako, who Yagami had always admired, joined them on stage to perform Toki yo and Yume de Aetara at his request. Then, switching places with her were his younger brother Higuchi Yutaka carrying in a bright red silk hat-shaped cake and sworn brother Tetsu (D’ERLANGER) holding a bouquet of flowers on stage to congratulate and celebrate Yagami’s 60th birthday.
During the set change, congratulatory messages were shown on a screen. Familiar faces from the Ayanokoji Sho-led band Kishidan, Carol’s guitarist Uchiumi Toshikatsu who was a huge influence on Yagami’s life, to his junior drummers DIR EN GREY’s Shinya, Spitz’s Sakiyama Tatsuo, BRAHMAN and OAU’s RONZI, POLYSICS’ YANO and many others made comment videos for him, illustrating just how large Yagami’s circle of friends is.
Finally, given the honour of the closing set was, of course, BUCK-TICK. While the members who made up ～Blue Sky from earlier were friends to feel at ease with, BUCK-TICK is the group who will spend the rest of their lives with each other to Yagami. In other words, they are bound together by a common destiny. Today’s show starts with Go-Go B-T TRAIN.
“We are Yagami Toll and his trusted associates,” Sakurai greets. Following which, he says, “I’m straying into personal matters, but I fell sick with COVID-19.”
That’s right. Today happened to be the very first show that Sakurai Atsushi performed following his recuperation period, but throughout their set, Sakurai drew close to the drum stage numerous times to revere Anii and to reiterate that the star of today’s show was Yagami.
Then, midway, Sakurai announced, “Let’s call on our lovely guest,” ISSAY, who accepted an invitation from Yagami himself came onstage. Together with Sakurai, they performed Itoshi no Rock Star for the first time in 27 years! The sultry singing voices of the aristocrat of darkness and the Demon King. Just as Sakurai went behind ISSAY and put his hands on the other’s hips, ISSAY puts his arm around Sakurai’s shoulders and brings his face close. Faces were blank before this scene, playing dumb as if thinking, “Oh, goodness gracious, what on earth are they trying to show us here?”
Into the hall which had been enveloped in a bizarre exhilaration, the beautiful yearning melody that is Koi gently descended on us before leading into Eureka that had everyone shouting “LOVE” in their hearts and putting up peace signs.
Then, Sakurai began a humour-filled introduction, saying, “Upon request by our Anii-san from Tokyo.”
Yagami came after, declaring, “We’ll be performing the title track from our debut album!” and with the loud signal of a countdown, they jumped into SEXUAL xxxxx！ as the grand finale of the night.
When I first came across the band BUCK-TICK, I never could have imagined what people from my grandparents’ generation would have been like when they plated in a rock band. However, the band’s drummer stood on stage this day wearing a bright red outfit, still looking the same as the day I first saw him with his hair standing high, drumming a tight beat. Loved and adored by many for his caring, loving personality and sincere attitude as a musician, Yagami’s life as a drummer continues from here. With his caring and loving personality, and his sincerity as a musician, life as a drummer for Yagami who is loved and admired by many is nowhere near finished, and bound to continue on into the future.
2021.08.17 Sakurai Atsushi BUCK-TICK
After the cover and feature photoshoot for the special publication PHY Vol.22, this magazine’s photoshoot was done on the terrace of the same studio. Although we knew that we should refrain from putting too much pressure on Sakurai-san who had just recovered from illness, what we wanted in this shoot was Acchan’s smile. As I stood behind photographer Nakano-san who held the camera, I spoke about how my daughter was aspiring to be a YouTuber and how she was trying to come up with an opening introduction for her channel. And thus, we were graced by the presence of the smiling Demon King. Even though Sakurai said, “Kanemitsu-san, it’s not fair of you to talk about your daughter,” he was beaming all the way until the end of the shoot. By the way, PHY Vol.22 goes on sale on 21 September. The warm, laid-back Hide-san’s book (expanded and revised version) is also slated to be published on the same date. Look forward to it!