This interview was originally published by “club Zy.” in Japanese. JROCK NEWS is partnering with club Zy. with the aim to popularize Japanese visual kei globally. Learn more about our partnership here.

In the first part of HIZAKI’s origin story, the guitarist shared his struggles as a child and teenager, up to the point where KAMIJO tried to recruit him. For the second part of the story, we’ll explore more about the different projects HIZAKI is involved in, as well as how each of them is distinctly approached differently.


“More than my technical skills, I think my ability to create melodies is where I excel, so I try to make the best use of it.” —HIZAKI

So you joined Versailles while continuing your solo activities, and later you also joined Jupiter. In other words, you are currently involved in three different projects.

HIZAKI: Yes, that’s right [laughs]. Well, Jupiter started after Versailles split up the first time, and at the beginning of Jupiter, both bands were pretty similar—except for the singer, the members were the same. Then, Versailles came back, so we set distinct directions for each band. The main difference between Versailles and the current Jupiter is the vocalist’s key.

Jupiter’s singer has a powerful, masculine voice with transcendent high tones while Versailles’ vocalist has a mid-range voice with a great aesthetic appeal. The key is different, thus our approach when composing is different as well. In that way, these bands are unrelated in my mind. Also, originally I like bands like Helloween and such, but I couldn’t have imagined having the chance to be in a band with a vocalist such as KUZE. I’m happy that, with Jupiter, I can make music in a style that I’ve liked for a long time.

Between Versailles and Jupiter, there’s a clear distinction between both despite relying on the same foundation of “metal”. Yet even in two distinctly different bands, you are able to remain uniquely “HIZAKI”.

HIZAKI: Indeed, we can say Jupiter is mostly a metal band, and we share the stage with mostly metal bands when it comes to events or festivals, so we are often associated with metal. If we were to actually put ourselves out there as a metal band, it would probably be better to wear less make-up. But then that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? [Laughs] It has that element that makes people stop and catches their attention, and I don’t plan on changing my ways. If the band eventually did change its visual style, I’d rather have them replace me with somebody else.

I agree with that. How about your solo activities, how do you perceive them?

HIZAKI: The focus of my solo work is guitar instrumental tracks, so it’s another way of working. However, these guitar-focused instrumental songs aren’t exercise tracks or improvisation, but rather about creating the main melody with the guitar. Essentially, it’s like replacing the vocalist with a guitarist, that’s the idea.

If we listen to your solo album “Back to Nature” released on November 27, 2019, we can clearly see that. More than making a display of your technical skills through instrumental songs, the style of your album is the expression of your worldview.

HIZAKI: In terms of technical abilities, I couldn’t beat guitarists who are 100% focusing on them, and actually, I don’t really want to beat them [laughs]. More than my technical skills, I think my ability to create melodies is where I excel, so I try to make the best use of it. When I started guitar, I used to cover the songs of artists such as Shizuka Kudo, Seiko Matsuda, and Akina Nakamori. I wasn’t just following the melodies with my guitar, I was also imitating the vibrato of Shizuka Kudo or Akina Nakamori. It was really fun, and it’s tied to my current solo work, too.

Many guitarists in bands say that playing the song melody on a guitar is pretty difficult, but in your case, it seems to be your specialty.

HIZAKI: I also think that this is my strength. And I think the way I create guitar solos as part of a band is quite different compared to others. I’m not trying to match the general flow of the song and insert my solo, I’m trying to bring the song into another dimension. There are a lot of solos out there that are played over the top of the hook, but the way I proceed is totally different. It’s like creating a song within a song. Maybe I am influenced by She-Ja (Gargoyle, Animetal, VOLCANO, etc.) in this regard. I like him a lot and he used to play the types of solos which can be described as “completely irrelevant to the song”-solos [laughs]. These words resonated deeply in my heart, so much so that I adopted this approach as well.

And multiplying the fun of your guitar solos is the result of that approach. The Versailles and Jupiter solos aren’t just flying around on the strings and going crazy, on the contrary, many of them have their own pace, with great importance allowed to the nuances for an emotional dimension.

HIZAKI: I like emotional solos a lot indeed, and I think that kind of solo touches the listeners more easily. But you know, playing an instrumental song on guitar for four or five minutes is pretty tough [laughs]. Especially during shows which last like two hours.

Standing in the center of the stage never happened until my solo work. You are in the middle, standing in front of everyone, and they are just watching you play guitar for two hours.

During my first show, I thought “It’s not like I have divine powers or anything…” [laughs]. When I watch Steve Vai’s performance, I’m truly amazed. Even though I’ve performed solo many times now, I feel like I need to take it to the next level.

That’s a stoic attitude you’ve got there. And your high speed, yet clear, playing style is also very distinctive. We can understand how accurate your picking technique is through it.

HIZAKI: Is it really accurate? Actually, I never do guitar practice. I really hate training like mad [laughs].

What, seriously?

HIZAKI: Yes. If I had to define myself, I’d say I’m the kind of person who wants to create music whenever I have a guitar in my hands. Practicing studiously is something I really hate, so I almost never do it.

Then that means the high accuracy of your picking technique is even more impressive.

HIZAKI: I couldn’t say [laughs]. But what I’m sure of, is that I have a heavy way of picking. Pretty heavy. If you play lightly, even at high speed, you won’t understand what you are playing, especially during shows. So if people try to play like I do, in a heavy way, it affects the clarity of the sound. However, I’m not really sure about how precise I am [laughs].

I think you are very precise. But, not practicing at all is… I mean, aren’t you afraid of regressing if you don’t?

HIZAKI: Yes, I do regress [laughs]. I totally lose my touch [laughs]. That’s why I still do my best to practice before shows. I’m quite busy, and recently it has become more frequent that I don’t play for two days in a row. It’s been on my mind lately.

“But I definitely think it would be better if that way of thinking could change. Just think of all the new, exciting possibilities that could be born!” —HIZAKI

Regarding your approach to guitar, your ability to wield harmony as a lead guitarist really stands out.

HIZAKI: Until four years ago, I was still creating harmonies in a stiff way, based on theory, but recently the way I create has become more flexible. Now, I am able to understand in a flash whether the harmony fits the general flow of the song or not, so I try to make good use of this sense.

You said you created them based on theory, so you were taught music theory, right?

HIZAKI: No, not at all. It was all self-education. I tried my hand at orchestral arrangements and learned a lot through it. I utilized that knowledge at first but later studied harmony theory by myself. I believe it helped me to expand my ideas regarding harmony.

We can definitely feel that you possess not just an academic side, but also a rocker’s soul. Alright, let’s talk about current activities. On April 8, 2020, Jupiter released its single “Warrior of Liberation”, and Versailles’ new single as well as HIZAKI Grace Project’s single “PAVANE” are scheduled to release at the same time on July 15.

HIZAKI: Actually, a new single by Jupiter will also be released in July.

What! Three different projects will release new works at the same time?

HIZAKI: Yes [laughs]. I don’t even remember how many years ago Versailles released its last single, maybe around three years ago. We think about composing aggressive tracks for Versailles.

Regarding Jupiter, we wondered if “Warrior of Liberation” would suit the vocalist, but realized that when KUZE sings, he really makes it his own, and gives it a manly aspect. Therefore, we felt that we had opened a new gate through this unexpected effect, so I think our next single, which will be released in July, will be 100% metal.

About my solo project, I have incorporated vocals this time. Of course, I still give great importance to my characteristic melodies, but maybe people will be surprised by that new work, so I want them to look forward to it.

July is definitely very much awaited. It’s amazing that, despite the similarities in setup, you’re able to give all three projects a unique identity.

HIZAKI: Since we were able to find vocalists who could make these differences stand out, I thought I could add a vocalist to my solo work too. When you have the feeling you can create great music, wouldn’t it be a waste not to materialize that? I am personally very excited as well.

If your own creations get you excited, it means they’ve reached an ideal stage, doesn’t it? You are managing three projects side-by-side which are all highly esteemed, so I guess we can say that you are leading a successful life as a musician.

HIZAKI: But it’s tiresome [laughs]. I’m not only a musician but also the manager of my own label. Although I only make what I’m comfortable with, and because I restrict what I do in this way, I don’t reach the point where I become overwhelmed.

Also, the sense of “focusing on only one band is beautiful” is something that probably only exists strongly in Japan. It’s not really true in metal recently, but in visual kei, if you are in a band, it feels like there’s this general mindset that still lingers, that you can’t be part of other projects. But I definitely think it would be better if that way of thinking could change. Just think of all the new, exciting possibilities that could be born!

Indeed, I guess it would stimulate the market. One more thing—they call you the “Flag-bearer of Symphonic Metal”, but have you ever considered creating music in a genre other than metal?

HIZAKI: No, not really. I don’t even consider myself to be in the “symphonic metal” genre. In my mind, the music I’m creating is pop. I think that’s because of my experiences at a major label, or rather, that major labels take chart positions very seriously and if you don’t sell, you won’t succeed.

You have to research what kind of music sells well so you can improve the quality of your own work—even now that’s the process.

In the first place, I’ve never liked things you could consider B-rank. In the metal world, there are cases in which these second-rate works are considered good, but what I want to do is “first-class music”. I approach music with this mindset.

Indeed, high-quality music will reach and charm a large number of listeners, no matter what genre it is. Then, where will you go from here?

HIZAKI: My goal now would be to go to more places around the world. I’ve already experienced traveling abroad, but you know, there are people who love metal everywhere. If you go to the airport or somewhere like that, you will almost certainly see someone wearing a Metallica T-shirt or a Guns N’ Roses shirt, and so on.

When you’re doing shows, there are so many people that you wonder where they all came from [laughs]. I want these people, I want the world to know that our metal was born in Japan.

HIZAKI’s story is truly inspiring and admirable, and his passion for guitar has thankfully brought him together with other like-minded and skillful people. As many of you seemed to enjoy this type of content, we’ll try to continue to do more of these, so make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to stay tuned!

Powered by: club Zy.

Original article:

Interviewer: Murakami Takayuki (club Zy.)

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