On a dark and cold evening of October 19 in the capital of Sweden; our mission today was to meet arguably the biggest rock star in Japan’s history, the one and only, Yoshiki of X Japan! He was here today to promote his European theatrical premiere of his documentary, We Are X.
After strolling around town for a short while, we eventually made it to our destination. To no surprise, we landed at the famous five-star hotel “Grand Hôtel”, and it was here where we would finally get to meet one of the pioneers of visual kei.
Once we were in Yoshiki’s hotel room, our eyes were met by his big entourage who documents Yoshiki’s every inch of movement. Then, shortly after, Yoshiki entered the room after just finishing livestreaming for his niconico “YOSHIKI CHANNEL”. After a few exchanges of formal words, we began the interview that would end up being a disheartening, but also humorous and friendly chat.
It’s an honor meeting you here today in Stockholm, have you been enjoying the screenings and Q&A sessions tour so far?
I’ve been completely enjoying it! First of all, I’m very amazed by the fact that there are so many fans in Europe.
Indeed! Both of your shows in Sweden have been completely sold out and your coming shows are all sold out as well!
Yeah, that’s right!
Before we dig into your documentary We Are X, do you think you could summarize it in a few sentences for those who aren’t familiar with it?
It’s… How do I summarize it? It’s like a drama about life, love, and death [laugh]. I think the producer and the director did an amazing job summarizing our 30 or 40 years of life into just 90 minutes, that’s beyond amazing. So I can’t summarize all that into a few words [laugh]. Our story has so much drama—almost too much. So it’s really hard to summarize.
That’s totally understandable considering everything that has happened to X Japan.
You’ve mentioned in the past that this documentary will be able to help save people’s lives to those who suffer from depression. Have any of your fans come forward and shared how the documentary helped them through difficult times?
Yeah. So many fans came to me and told me because of this film, they decided to live.
Any of their stories that stood out to you?
Every one of them! Every time I hear their stories, it makes me very happy, it reminds me that our story is really helping people.
We’re glad to hear that! In the film, you talk about sleeping habits. Was there ever a dream that left an impact on you, enough to change your view of the world?
You know… I barely sleep, so…
That’s not good [laugh]!
Yeah… But when I do sleep, sometimes I dream. I mean, our lives are almost like a dream, you know? I couldn’t really figure out if everything that happened to us [X Japan] was a dream or not. I couldn’t figure it out until I saw the film. When I first saw this documentary We Are X, it confirmed that everything really did happen. Before then, I thought some of those memories were just dreams.
We also recall you saying something along the line of “I’ll do it until my body breaks down”. Unfortunately, not long after the release of We Are X, you went into surgery due to your intense drumming. In what way has your injury challenged you?
I was actually scared for this surgery, this is my second one. This one is called cervical artificial disc replacement, which basically means I have an artificial disc implant inserted into my neck. It’s like…
I don’t know… I thought about life, a lot, before the surgery. After that, it was just the healing process, but I could barely walk after the surgery. As of now, I can’t play drums, yet. But I think I’m going to try to find a way to go back on stage as a drummer. I always wanted to, how do you say… Play hard? Play as hard as I could, almost as if I was going to destroy my body.
In terms of destroying my body… I think I did a great job [laugh]. I don’t think I’m going to be able to play drums as I used to because I don’t think I can headbang anymore—physically. But… I don’t know… At the same time, it’s rock and roll, so you got to keep doing that. I’m still trying to figure what has happened to me, but at the same time, you know, I’m still here alive. I can walk now, I can play the piano!
When you’re creating rock music, you don’t want to be conservative. That’s the worst descriptive word us rock musicians can receive, because we just want to do stuff in an extreme manner. The physical condition I am in right now is pretty… bad. But still, I’m going to try to do something even crazier than before!
That deserves a lot of respect!
Because of this injury, your X Japan performances at Osaka-Jo Hall and Yokohama were decided to bring the fans the unique experience of an acoustic show instead, with you on the piano instead of drums.
Yes. When you say “acoustic”, I usually think of a typical small venue or something like that, but we played six acoustic shows in a row in large arenas [laugh]. Also, I have never played an entire concert—three hours plus long concert—with only piano, so it was kinda cool. But I just have to thank our fans, because what kind of rock band would perform in an [big] arena without drums? So we said “If you don’t like the concept, you can return the tickets”, but almost none of our fans returned their tickets. So that was quite an amazing experience, for us too!
Another memorable performance was X Japan’s show at The SSE Arena, Wembley in the UK, what did that historical moment mean for you and the band?
It was an amazing experience. I think we had an amazing time with our fans. But that was pretty much like a last show where I could play the drums the way I used to play. Yeah… I knew I was going to be hospitalized right after the show, because I was already having excruciating pain [during the show], like numbness and everything. But I’m still glad I did the show.
Has that affected your upcoming album?
Yes, luckily the drums were already recorded before the most recent neck surgery. Even so, after the surgery, I kept on recording, but with limitations. I’m unable to sit on a chair for a certain amount of hours or so, or that I wasn’t able to turn around, things like that. Some limitations, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse.
So what is the driving force to keep you going all these years?
I just have to keep doing what I do for not only me, but the band, and also for Hide, and for Taiji. I think about this a lot actually… I just have to keep doing it!
At this point people are already considering you, alongside Pata, Heath, Toshi, and Sugizo “living legends”, how do you feel about that?
I don’t feel that way, I’m still just a kid inside, one that loves to rock!
A certain news article in The Times has recently referred X Japan as “the world’s unluckiest band”.
What is your stance on this? Do you consider X Japan unlucky?
Kinda? I mean, you know, with so much crazy drama that has happened over the years. But at the same time, we have amazing fans around the world so I can’t say “the world’s unluckiest band”, but what I can say is “the world’s luckiest band”. Thanks to our fans.
One of the reasons why they called you “the world’s unluckiest band” seems to be the fact that X Japan was incredibly successful and well known in Japan, while almost no one overseas knew about you. Now that you’re better known in the outside world, has that changed your music in any way?
Yeah, kind of. The new album is going to be all in English, but the spirit of working with music still remains the same. Essentially, it didn’t change that much.
Your mother has been a big part of your musical career, how has she supported you?
She helped me in the beginning to pursue my dreams. I think she felt guilty that my father committed suicide, so she most likely wanted to support me as much as she could.
Did she oppose you playing drums at first? Because in the beginning, your primary instrument was piano.
I told her I wanted to “bang the drums”, and she eventually got me a drum set. The only issue was that after my father’s death, she was still running the kimono shop that was on the first floor, and my room was on the second floor where I had my drum set setup. So when customers entered the first floor she would yell [Yoshiki imitates his mother’s voice]: “Please shut up!”.
But I didn’t stop! At that time, I’m sure she regrets that she bought me a drum set, but now, she should be happy with me being a drummer!
You’ve been living in Los Angeles for over 20 years now, do you feel like Japan is still your home?
Oh, Japan is completely still my home! I go to Tokyo almost every month!
Ah, I see! You’re not really missing out on anything then.
Yeah, I mean, I just simply feel like I live on earth. I almost feel like I live in two places at the same time. Maybe I do? The other Yoshiki is recording somewhere, some other Yoshiki is eating food in Japan, while this Yoshiki is having an interview right here in Stockholm [laugh]. It’s cool!
[Laugh] Yeah it is pretty cool!
Even though Japan is still your home, we can see you’re also very attached to Los Angeles. Just last week, you generously donated $100,000 to aid the hurricane victims in the U.S.
Yes. I’ve been doing this kind of charity work throughout my life pretty much. I’ve been trying to support orphans, diseased children, and so on. I established my own foundation in 2010, and then in 2011, there was a big earthquake and tsunami in Japan, where I decided I would support all those people who lost their houses and their dear ones…
When I first heard about hurricane Harvey, I was in Tokyo, I decided to donate something around $25,000.
Then later when I came back to Los Angeles, there was another big hurricane [Irma], so I decided to contribute more.
Switching gears a bit, how does it feel to be the very first male model to appear on the cover of Vogue Japan?
Uh… It’s cool [laugh].
Yeah it is [laugh].
I had to do the photoshoot three weeks after my surgery, so I was in hell [because of the pain]! Now that I see the result, I’m in heaven [laugh].
So it was totally worth it?
I think so, yeah!
Was it fun doing it?
Yes! The people who I worked with, who shot these photos, they were amazing.
After all that you have been through with the band, what does “Rock and Roll” mean to you, personally?
Rock saved my life. When I lost my father I was very angry, and I wanted to kill myself, but rock saved me. And at the same time, rock destroyed my body too. I mean, it’s not like I’m blaming rock.
In short, rock is my life.
Besides rock music, are there other stuff you enjoy in life?
Eating chocolate cake!
And then… Looking at Moomins [laugh]. I’m just joking, but they’re so cute! But I was in…
Did you find time to look around Moomin World?
[Tilts forward] What? There is a Moomin World!
I think there is one?
[In amazed gaze] There is a Moomin World…
I think so, yeah.
Oh really? I have to go back to Finland again!
I hope I’m not lying right now.
But there is Disney Land, and also a [Hello Kitty] “Kitty Town” too—which I composed music for—located in “Sanrio Puroland”.
[Looks at the staff who holds a Moomin doll] Moomin World, do you know about that?
Staff: No, maybe?
I might be completely wrong here, I’m so sorry if that’s the case [laugh]!
It’s okay, it’s okay! If it doesn’t exist, I will create one!
You also have a birthday next month, how are you going to celebrate it?
That’s right! I will eat a lot of cake!
Chocolate cake [laugh]?
Cheesecake! I want to drink a lot of red wine… Maybe I will have a bathtub, filled with red wine, like a blood-red bathtub. That sounds so cool… [Laugh]
So on this cool note [laugh], we would like to conclude this interview and thank you so much for letting us take your time!
Thank you for having me!
It was an honor for JROCK NEWS to interview Yoshiki, we want humbly thank him and the staff members for inviting us and giving us this amazing opportunity!