The Essence of
～eternally beautiful music～
Sakurai Atsushi ✕ Imai Hisashi
Showa 45-nen Onna
Interview: Takahashi Eriko
Photography: Komatsu Yosuke (ODD JOB)
Hair/makeup: Tanizaki Takayuki／Yamaji Chihiro (Fats Berry)
Stylist: Shimizu Ken’ichi
Outfits: kiryuyrik ✆03-5728-4048 | LAD MUSICIAN SHINJUKU ✆03-6457-7957 | AUI NITE ✆050-1564-2462
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the “Beautiful Music” special feature is a theme that was made for BUCK-TICK. In this issue, we bring a long, wholehearted interview with Sakurai Atsushi and Imai Hisashi that gives us a look behind what inspires the band’s consistently beautiful visuals and their absolute worldview which comes second to none as they celebrate the 35th anniversary of their major debut.
Major Debut 35 Years
It’s been 35 years since the band first debuted with a major label. In that time, BUCK-TICK has remained at the forefront of their peers without a single change in band members or a member departure. Furthermore, their range of musical styles is so broad that they cannot be so easily described as a mere “rock band”.
At present, they have released 40 singles and 22 albums with major labels, all of which have achieved chart topping sales and records. Listening to the large number of songs they have produced is enough to engulf you in their immersive world while introducing you to all kinds of genres. In many ways, there is no other like them——
1st major-release single
「JUST ONE MORE KISS」
Released 26 October 1988
They had already released two albums prior to this but their first single came from the album, TABOO. This song might very well be the song that made BUCK-TICK known to the world when it was used as the commercial song for the CD radio-cassette player called CDian. It’s a song with a nuance of transience in it’s catchy tune.
First chart entry at no. 1
Released 18 January 1989
The band’s 3rd album which was their first charting release, and also their first album to reach number one. The production of this album saw BUCK-TICK traveling overseas to record and work with a non-Japanese producer in the UK for the first time. It turned out to be an album which leaves a dark impression that leans strongly towards the new wave genre. Just as titled, the album TABOO had a number of songs that contained controversial content which were, however, tastefully presented.
Upon hearing the words “beautiful music”, BUCK-TICK will be the first rock band that comes to the minds of the women who were born in the 70s… At least, that’s what I think. Their image is undoubtedly beautiful, but even their music, their live performance style, everything about them is so beautiful that no other band even comes close. The subculture known as Visual-Kei grew to prominence in the 90s, but they still exist in a distinctly different sphere from it.
In other words, there was no BUCK-TICK before BUCK-TICK came to be, and there is no BUCK-TICK that came after BUCK-TICK’s formation. Even now, there are few bands who can boast a decades-long career, but there is almost no band who can say that they have not experienced a single member change or departure in the 35 years since they made their major debut in 1987. That alone is enough to make the band one-of-a-kind.
Among the members are singer Sakurai Atsushi and guitarist Imai Hisashi who are the faces of the band and the driving forces behind their concepts. First, we asked these two about the aesthetics they value and the considerations they keep in mind when creating the BUCK-TICK lens.
I don’t think along the lines of “I’ll keep this in mind”. Or rather, I think I would prefer not to constrain myself. That’s why, even with music, if I think that what I came up with is going to be cool, then what I’d do is keep digging deeper and work on it until it takes shape. But although that’s my thought process when I’m creating, in the end, I’d still find myself with something that is “still the BUCK-TICK sound after all”. This reason alone is why I feel that “being unconstrained” is also a personal motivation for me
I come up with my own lyrics so rather than a focus on beauty, it’s actually more that I cannot stand it if refinement is lacking in any area (lol). That’s why I’d pay a little more attention to that when I’m composing. I’d be glad if others also felt that what I created was “beautiful”, but that’s something that is decided upon by each audience’s respective sensibilities as they listen and watch. And I think that’s okay too, because people are free to feel any way they want, right?
I was surprised when I heard what Sakurai-san said. That’s right, he mentioned “refinement”! That’s what is found in Sakurai-san’s lyrics. While there certainly exists venom within them too, there is always “refinement” to be found, so we can’t help but sense its beauty alongside its venom.
I’m glad you feel that way. We often say this in reference to pretty flowers, but this “refinement” is also hidden in the shadows of the venom that is sprinkled all around; something that we can catch faint glimpses at times. I think that much is good enough.
Adding on, it is not only beautiful but, like what Imai said earlier about “being unconstrained”, there are also many challenging areas in BUCK-TICK’s music. In fact, they present a different variety of musical styles with every album they release. It’s a process of scrapping and building where they break down their image with their own hands and then reconstruct a new face again. Their conviction towards keep moving on without stopping is truly gloriously beautiful.
The moment I find a melody I want to try, I’d want to start composing for us to play it ourselves. As result, the band’s musical style had a debut-era flair, and part-way took on a groovy vibe and turned a kind of dancey, and we’ve dabbled in electronic music, techno and even genres that lean towards ambient sounds too. I guess that’s because of “the unsettled feeling of not doing something” (lol). But if we were to become a band that specialises in ambient music when we make ambient music, or industrial music if we’re making industrial music, that doesn’t feel quite right to me. That said, I don’t think I’d quite like it if we were to become a band that has everything like some kind of family restaurant¹ (lol). So I think it’s good as long as BUCK-TICK’s colours show up well no matter what musical style we’re doing.
Whatever the genre, BUCK-TICK’s colours are undoubtedly present. That is exactly what the five members of the band have cultivated in their almost 40 years together.
It’s probably obvious, but the way the five of us play our instruments and make music is what makes BUCK-TICK’s colours. And of course, I think Sakurai-san’s voice and style of singing is a big part of that. Because a voice is something only that one person owns, right? It’s me singing with my voice at the sample stage, but once we go into the recording studio and change it to Sakurai-san’s singing, the song really changes completely. I’d feel that it now exudes the BUCK-TICK vibes.
Having an awareness of “performing” when on stage
Sakurai’s voice full of depth and mystery is truly one-of-a-kind. These days, singers whose voices become indistinguishable when you listen to them just a little can be found here and there, but Sakurai is special. His voice leaves such a strong impression that you can’t help but turn your attention to him the moment you hear him. To maintain that voice, Sakurai himself pays particular attention to a number of things.
I become very nervous about the condition of my throat before a concert or recording session. Recording sessions and concerts are respectively different too, but after a concert, I’ll be tired and I’ll avoid speaking and eating spicy food. Even so, I’d still drink though (lol). Because I’ll get stressed out if I quit (lol).
Why he became so cautious is because of the mistakes he made in his youth.
I couldn’t even fully utilise my voice when I was young, and I didn’t consider pacing myself either. Because of that, I destroyed by voice during a tour when we had three consecutive days of livehouse performances. That made me reflect on myself. I realised I can’t only think of myself because it’s an insult to the audience who took the time and effort to come and see us. I became rather anxious after that. When you hear a professional vocalist or a professional stage actor speak, you can immediately tell that they take care of their voices, so that’s something that I felt I should learn from them. The idea that “it doesn’t matter since we’re rockers” isn’t quite right to me.
Sakurai’s silhouette on stage is also exceedingly beautiful. This is easy to grasp when you watch their most recent concert video release, Misemono-goya ga Kureta kara -SHOW AFTER DARK- in Nippon Budokan. The brilliance of his posturing and gestures is so captivating it lays hold on your heart. How he grew to become so meticulous in “putting on a show” was answered in this section of the column, where he talks about the influence of his admired and respected industry seniors.
Of course, the thing I cherish the most is singing, but there are many other elements apart from music and singing that makes a concert. There’s lighting and the stage sets, stage transitions and all that which are crucial in putting a concert together, so we take all these different things into consideration when we put on a show. And in all of that, I especially am the person who performs as the characters who feature in the songs’ narratives. That’s something I’ve come to keep in mind.
That’s right. The world that BUCK-TICK creates on stage is not of this world. Because of how it’s neither closely relatable nor similar to daily life, it mesmerises the audience and immerses them in it. I would think that this isn’t anything like “empathising”. However, the beauty of these stories make our hearts flutter and kindle emotions from the depths our hearts. Perhaps this, too, is another power that entertainment possesses.
When we were young, we let the staff take charge of the stage. But gradually, the desire that asks, “How does the audience perceive us? How do we want them to perceive us?” grew. So bit by bit, we began to talk with staff who work the stage. For example, when I want the spotlight to shine over my head at this point in time, or when we want more smoke for a particular song. And after we started using videos too, depending on the song, we’d be making requests like, “Please make a video like this.” Or, “Please use the video as lighting.” In recent years, we’ve grown able to materialise the worlds that we want to present to our audience. But I’m just saying things (lol), so it feels like people are making things for me.
When it comes to the stage, we basically use what our frontman Sakurai-san comes up with as a foundation. Then the rest of us will see what other ideas we have with regards to it, and that’s more or less how we’re doing it now in recent years. After all, I think that the one with the ideas should propose them first anyway, and when we have meetings, Sakurai-san would a whole bunch of things like videos and photo collections, illustrated books and all those things too. So it’s like we’re expanding on the idea from there.
In the end, nothing beats performing with an audience right in front of you
For a time, the chances of getting to watch a concert in person fell drastically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. BUCK-TICK, too, was affected. The aforementioned concert at Nippon Budokan was their one and only concert with a live audience in 2021. Live streamed concerts are certainly convenient. But without getting to feel the heat and the atmosphere in the hall, it is definitely not enough for those of our era who grew up going to live concerts in person. When you feel at a live concert what you can’t get from a CD, it will naturally bring tears to your eyes. Because it’s these experiences that enrich our lives. And to the artists, as well, concerts are undoubtedly a special space and time when they get to meet their fans in person.
We were also unable to stage concerts throughout that time, but last year, we finally got to do our show at Budokan. When I came face to face with our audience after such a long time, that feeling of “Ahh, this is as nice as I remembered,” came over me. We did a bunch of trial and error with streaming and what we could do with it, but in the end, nothing beats performing with an audience right in front of you. I really felt in my bones that this really was the best of all.
Entertainment was said to be non-essential and as a result of that trend, entertainment disappeared entirely for a time. But when that happened, we realised that it was actually the opposite; entertainment enriches our lives and it is something we cannot live without.
We kicked off our fanclub & mobile membership-exclusive concert tour the other day, and it’s already been three years since we did the last one. For three years we couldn’t perform in livehouses. Even now, the audience has to keep their masks on and we can only see their eyes, but even so, I could sense very strongly that they were really looking forward to this. Because there were also audience members who cried. Even though the situation is uncompromising, seeing that makes me feel that it’s a good thing that we’re doing this.
When a band has been around for as long as BUCK-TICK has, “We’ll be able to spot teenaged audience members and sometimes much older folk too” — Sakurai. Not two, but three generations of a family. It’s rare that we ever find a rock band who has been loved for such a long time, but there is no question that this is because they bring us a world which comes second to none, which only they can create.
After this, they will prepare for their national tour for CATALOGUE THE BEST 35th anniv., and in addition, they also have in the works something that “puts what I’m feeling now into song” — Sakurai. To the women of the 70s who continue to derive joy from BUCK-TICK’s music, here’s a message from them to close things off.
Anyway, being able to enjoy yourself every day, I think that’s all that matters. Don’t need to try too hard. I think it’s enough to use just half of your whole effort.
Gloomy news is everywhere right now, but I think it’d be good if you can find just one thing that you like, or one thing that makes you feel at ease despite it all. I hope that by doing that, you’ll be able to brighten up your life and enjoy it to its fullest.
Conscious down to his fingertips by the teachings of his seniors in aesthetics
The roots of Sakurai’s “aesthetics” all come from artists with their own unique perspectives. “In terms of foreign artists, it’s David Bowie. Japanese, it’s ISSAY-san from Der Zibet, DEAD END’s MORRIE-san too possesses a very strong sense of aesthetic too, I think. Among them, I’ve received instruction from ISSAY-san who also does pantomime. Ever since then, I became interested in the art of “putting on a show” and have grown conscious [of how I present myself] down to my fingertips.
Incorporating fashion, hairstyles in the 80s when the macabre was popular
Unbound by stereotypes, Imai’s roots are wide and varied. “YMO and RC Succession, The Stalin, of course, BOØWY too, but generally, 80s punk and new wave and techno. I started out with those types of Japanese music before moving towards Western music. I wasn’t only influenced by the music, but also by their fashion and hairstyles, makeup too. The macabre was relatively popular in the 80s, and I thought that was interesting so I incorporated that too