Hotei Tomoyasu (布袋 寅泰), internationally famous for his music in Kill Bill, is a musician and singer-songwriter with a career spanning over 35 years. Playing alongside legendary names including The Rolling Stones, collaborating with Iggy Pop, Hotei has most recently he completed a European tour and performed in Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Milan and ending in London. We had the opportunity to pick his brains about changes in rock music, how he started his career and also talk about Fist of Northern Star characters who starred in his latest music video 202X.
We attended the London show on October 20, 2018, to capture his performance at Shepherds Bush, London. Please enjoy, and let’s get right to it:
Thank you for speaking with us, you’ve recently completed your EURO Tour 2018? How was it?
It was rather a small tour since it was only in four cities. However, I had an amazing experience in each city, meeting so many new people. There’s no way for people to fully understand by watching YouTube or reading on Wikipedia. I take pride in connecting with the audience—it’s the only way to demonstrate what I am capable of. I have reconfirmed this philosophy through this tour once again.
What I enjoyed the most during the tour is to witness very reserved audience at the beginning of the show always deeply engaged around the middle of the set, and start dancing to my music then finish with a huge smile in the end with a loud round of applaud! It’s always encouraging to see local Japanese people supporting me and being there too.
Congratulations on your 30th year going solo. Looking back on your career and work, what would you say is the most memorable event?
It is indeed a miracle that I was able to keep pursuing as a professional musician for over 30 years, and realizing how fortunate I was always surrounded by great fan and staff. Without them, I don’t I was able to be where I am now and really grateful. Have performed at the closing ceremony of Atlanta Olympic, shared stage with David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and with Zucchero in Verona and San Marco Square in Venice—there are so many unforgettable moments in my life. But at the stage of Shepherd’s Bush Empire this year, I have confirmed with myself the path I chose was not a mistake and motivated more than ever that I will stand on the stage of Royal Albert Hall someday. It felt more real than just a dream. That show has somewhat helped me regain my confidence. No regret, just have hope for a brighter future.
Tell us about your latest single 202X—it’s interesting you used animated characters in the music video instead of real people?
Hokuto No Ken (Fist of Northern Star) is one of the globally well-known anime. I really enjoy writing music for the starring role character besides myself! I always have this moment of ‘growing pain’ when I am making albums for myself. But making a music for movie brings me limitless imagination. Star Wars, Blade Runner, Mad Max etc.—we are living in the world where the world has somewhat been described in the movies from over 30 years ago.
It is true there are so many things, including technology have advanced dramatically compare to 30 years ago, but we are still suffering from new problems now, including wars and terrorisms. In the song, 202X, I wanted to deliver a message that our life is not forever lasting, we should leave no regret while we last. Check out music video for this song on YouTube. I have a virtual band with Kenshiro and Laou, two of the main characters from this anime. This band is the fearless band! I felt so safe because there are two strong men guarding me on stage! [laugh]
The evolution of rock music is constantly changing, what are your thoughts on the music now compared to before? What do you think will happen in the next 5 years?
Unlike the past, it is becoming more difficult to envision the future 5 years from now. Looks like the new generation of technology to be introduced next year, said to be the most impactful invention since the internet was first introduced. It will definitely advance people’s lives, but nobody would know the downsides of it. If you get used to the environment where you can find everything you want, you will lose the sense of ‘hunger’. I think it implies to love, too. If everything became reality, the word ‘dream’ will disappear. I believe quality music, true art, will last forever, but can’t ignore the fact that I’m pessimistic about the future—what are we heading to?
We’re aware that the kickstart of your music career started off at the age of 14 where you walked by your local music shop in your neighborhood and seeing a black and white photo of Marc Bolan holding his guitar and just feeling mesmerized by it. To your audiences who are inspired by you and aspire to be a legendary guitarist like you one day, what kind of advice would you have for them? What pushed you in the very beginning to continue playing guitar? And what to do when they feel like giving up?
The photographer who shot that Marc Bolan’s poster, as well as David Bowie’s Heroes album sleeve, was at my London show asked me if I allow him to take photos—of course, yes, isn’t it?! How could I say no to such an honorable request! His name is Mr. Sukita (Masayoshi Sukita), globally well-known photographer. Imagine, what he has captured through his finder changed my life!
Guitar is the best instrument I can think of, but it is a challenge to create an original sound. Originality on guitar is to find a unique style. It is important to learn a technique, but I think your heart will overcome any skillful technique. Even with the same sound, it all comes down to how much emotion you can put into the sound. My philosophy of originality is to combine technique with rhythm. I think it always helps to practice music from all sorts of genres of music. Something like the background music of cooking program on TV, techno-beat with no chord, and yes, playing to classical music will take you a to whole different world. Cutting sound is as important as producing sound. My motto is ‘something different, something strange’.
What’s been one of the most difficult songs you’ve composed in your career?
I would say Metropolis, can be found on the album, Guitarhythm 2. It is impossible to reciprocate on a live stage.
What would you say is a major difference between recording a song when you first started and now?
I was a record collector from teenager era. I’m fortunate to have listened to so many outstanding albums.
At the age of 19, I started my professional career and made debut in the band called, BOØWY. When I listened to the mastered album, I was really upset with myself—it sounded so cheap. Sonically it was so empty, uncreative and horribly arranged. That pushed me to learn harder in how to do a great job in recording and mixing. I don’t think I have improved my guitar play skills, but I can say my sound now have so much more emotion. I think my music has matured. The album released last year, Paradox was the best album thus far to meet my ideal creation.
Your album Strangers contains collabs with Iggy Pop, Matt Tuck, Richard Z. Kruspe, Noko and Shea Seager. How was working together with these great artists? What differed between each of them?
As a ‘gentleman’ residing in the country of ‘lady first’ spirit (Hotei moved to England in 2012), I must make comment on Shea. She’s an amazing singer. Iggy is a living legend. He’s so cool, even his cough makes him look so slick! People have a totally different perception on him from his actual self. He’s a respectful gentleman. And Noko, we share an exact same birthday—including the year we were born! That makes us a twin from different mothers, and explains why we think very much alike! Matt, he’s experimented with things he can’t with Bullet’s (Bullet for My Valentine) project. And Richard—such a fascinating person! He shared his story of when he escaped from East Germany to West Germany, which made me speechless. I truly believe all these great collaborations were possible because I am a guitarist. If I was a vocalist, it would’ve been quite a nasty competition!! [laugh]
With you being in the music industry for so many years and experiencing so many amazing things, have you ever thought about writing a bibliography book about your life?
Perhaps I should. But I’m still walking my journey, and anticipating more interesting moments in my life. But I’m not so sure if it is a right thing for me to write with my words because sometime I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast! [laugh].
I must say what I’ve experienced is not for everybody—all these opportunities I have thus far collaborated with Quentin Tarantino, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Zucchero! I can say I’m the one and only on this planet!
It’s been 6 years since you moved to London. After living here for so long, what would you say are the biggest differences between the British and Japanese culturally?
The biggest difference I can think of is people in the UK take weekend completely off, but Japanese don’t. [laugh]. I have adopted UK style, so stopped replying to my management office in Tokyo over the weekend, so they are not happy.
Personally, since I’m unknown here, I can be free, without having to worry about people’s eyes. I can eat a hamburger in the park with no concern about paparazzi!! That’s freedom! If I was to have dinner with a lady, the next morning you will see an article on the internet saying “Hotei’s having an affair!” People here have respect for privacy which I am thoroughly enjoying! I was able to be a human again!
What’s a typical HOTEI day like in London?
To be honest, I just lost my loving dog at her age of 11 and I’m still mourning. I have been walking her every morning for 90mins, first thing, so it is torturous to wake up in the morning lately. During the day, I’m working on music in my studio. I also enjoy cooking for my family. Perhaps it is not what you visualize for rock star’s life. I’ve drunk alcohol enough for a lifetime when I was younger, so I don’t have to drink as much lately!
We noticed many floral photos on your Instagram. If you could have an afterlife as any flower or plant in the world, what would you choose and why?
My late mother taught me that it is men’s responsibility to keep the house full of flowers. Men have to stay strong but at the same time stay gentle, too. If I was to choose one to take with me, it would be hydrangea because that’s what my mother loved the most.
If you were chosen to play at the opening ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which one of your songs would you choose to play and why?
It would definitely be Battle without Honor or Humanity because everybody knows that tune even if they don’t know me. For me, that tune is a perfect collaborative sound of west and east. Olympic is not a festival, it is the competition of athletes. I am confident that it will encourage competitors with a fighting spirit! It will be a great opportunity, but unfortunately, I don’t have much connection in politics! [laugh]
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. To finish off this interview can you leave a message to our readers?
To all who have checked out my interview—if you felt some interest in me through these comments, please do check out my music! I will make sure to play live soon, so please do come to check me out—because you don’t know what you are missing!!! [laughs]. Thank you JROCK NEWS for giving me this opportunity!!