Despite being well-known through being a member of legendary band LUNA SEA, there is much more to SUGIZO than just this band. As well as his solo career, he has set up countless projects, such as the impromptu electronic unit S.T.K. (Sensual Technology Kooks) with writer and well-known activist Tetra Tanizaki, psychedelic jam band SHAG, which was formed to search for the ecstasy of impromptu performances, and the ‘super band' S.K.I.N. with fellow musical legends GACKT, miyavi and YOSHIKI (X JAPAN).
As well as this, SUGIZO has written books, acted in films and even performed in a dance production. With seemingly no end to this man's talents, JaME took the opportunity to ask him about his many collaborations, influences and activist work.
You started your solo activities in 1997 and have had a long career. Until now, you co-starred with various artists, such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mick Karn (ex. JAPAN), DJ KRUSH, Tsuchiya Masami and others, launched the labels CROSS and EMBRYO, organized events including NEO ASCENSION GROOVE with SHAG, and you even extended your activities to dancing and acting. At one point you named yourself as a ‘spiritual activist', as in more of an ‘activist' than an ‘artist'. Could you tell us about this?
SUGIZO: Of course, I'm a musician, but there was a time when I worked mainly for environmental awareness, peace, and other positive activities with politicians. But I used my music as a tool to assist in doing that. Now I am back to create music, concentrating more on musical details. For me, music is a tool. What is important is guiding the world to a better place, making it more beautiful. I know that I don't have that much power over things, but I know that I am better than nothing. So I do my thing through my music. It's not as though people would die without music. Food, clothing and shelter is another story, but people can still exist without art and music. But I think that without music, people's hearts would die. It is my goal to be able to help people's hearts as well as how they live in the real world. That way, we can leave other important things to politicians, who we support and who we think to be right. I think that music is good in politics too. I think that it is important that people who have the foresight to see what is needed in the future for society to guide others. So this has really become the base for my activities. I think that about three years ago was my peak, when I was like that most.
Three years ago was when you did various activities such as organizing NEO ASCENSION GROOVE as SHAG, forming the impromptu electronic unit S.T.K. with writer and well-known activist Tetra Tanizaki and acting with electric trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, right?
You have also had experience in appearing in movies, such as Ken Nikai's Soundtrack, in which you were the musical director and the leading actor, and Isao Yukisada's "Rock'n'roll Mishin". What did you think of acting?
SUGIZO: I don't remember very much as it was long time ago (laugh). I was offered the part. You know, I really liked movies ever since I was a child and I was influenced by movie music so much that I had longed to be a musician who produced music for movies. I had received various offers before and the timing was good as LUNA SEA had finished. For me, I think that the creation of movie music is my thing. Of course, I was also interested in being in dramas, but more as music being my main thing with an additional performance, but I got an offer to be the leading actor, so I took it.
Was there any part of acting that was similar to your music activities?
SUGIZO: Thinking back, yes, I think so. I remember they were similar. There are various types of acting, but the movie that I first had a role in, "Soundtrack", was a very musical movie, and the director was a genius… and weird. I was told to make almost all of the music before we started shooting the movie! (laugh)
Oh, Really? So he created his images inspired from your music?
SUGIZO: I listened to the various images that the producer had and wrote many songs. The songs that would become the theme song of the movie or would be used point by point were decided, then the shooting was done while the music was piped into the studio. There weren't many lines, so it was almost like a silent movie. It was like a European silent movie which was profound and comical, and the quality was wonderful. As a result, to act according to the music which I made as background music was very close to shooting promotional videos for a new release. So it was sort of like an extension to my musical experiences in the previous ten years up until then. I was very lucky, I think, as I was able to get into the world of movies through a way which was, for me, such a natural process.
Did you act differently in "Rock'n'roll Mishin"?
SUGIZO: I think there was a bit of acting in that (laugh).
In 2001, you produced and performed in contemporary dance company H. Art Chaos' production Suichoku no Yume. Did you actually dance?
SUGIZO: Yes. It was a dance, but it was a very extreme dance.
Was it like creative dance?
SUGIZO: It was contemporary dance.
Was it the challenge of expressing your art through dancing?
SUGIZO: I was going to produce the music, but I was asked to stand on the stage, so I thought I would just stand on the stage and play an instrument, but I was told to dance too, so I was like: “What..!” (laugh) It was eight years ago, so I don't know what I thought about it then, but I wanted to do various things. It was just after LUNA SEA finished, which meant I had graduated from my home base, which I was something that I had been working on for more than ten years, and I wanted to try various things. I think that while doing that I tried to find ‘Where my music really is'. But now what I really want to do is to create music.
Around that time, you made the acid rock unit The FLARE with vocalist YUNA, formed S.T.K. with Tetra Tanizaki and started working with electric trumpeter Toshinori Kondou, broadening your musical activities. Was the reason for you doing this because you met these people?
SUGIZO: Yes. I really wanted to express myself in various ways. I often went to outdoor parties, environmental events, and peace gatherings, so it was easy to do events like SHAG and S.T.K., because we would all say things like: “We'll do a live concert tomorrow!” and our schedule would fit, and we would just improvise using our instruments. We didn't do any big lives or tours as we would have to have had the time and lots of staff, but we were in the position that if we got an offer we could accept it and then send our message to the people who came.
Ah, so you improvised like jam sessions. Were you not afraid of improvising like that?
SUGIZO: I always liked improvising, it's when I feel most comfortable (laugh).
So you like to play freely more than to play what's written in front of you?
SUGIZO: Yes. But in saying that there are things that are already determined, but I don't play the same things every time. The length of my performances is different day by day, so the songs change with that. Over those few years I felt like I was in samurai training, training for impromptu performances. I think that Toshinori Kondou is a prince of impromptu performances, so I learned a lot from him.
Did you have the desire to expand onto other instruments at that time too?
SUGIZO: No I didn't really have a desire to, it just happened.
You have co-starred with various different artists up until now. Has the type of audience as well as the reaction of the audience in front of you has been different depending on the stage?
SUGIZO: Yes I think so, but once I start playing the audience becomes closer to me, no matter where they are from or what project I am doing. I just express myself then and there. If I was to try too hard to make myself stand out I think that it would be kind of uncool, and if I played too modestly I think that I would come across too weak. So I learned a lot about adjusting how I express myself. I think that it is important not to be too greedy for the spotlight, but not too modest, especially when the audience wants more.
So are you are good at doing that?
SUGIZO: I don't try to be, but I suppose that it just comes to me through feeling it.
You released the remix album, SPIRITUARISE, in December 2007, in which artists both in Japan and overseas remixed your original tracks, and also your first best-of album, COSMOSCAPE, on July 23rd 2008. This best-of album has various types of songs such as rock, trans, jazz, classic, bossa nova etc. Can we think of this album as your corpus of music over ten years?
SUGIZO: Yes. I wanted to collect work which had been the core of my music for ten years and work that was very much me.
So we can probably feel the influences from the people you worked with in each period?
SUGIZO: Of course you can, but the main thing in this album is not when work was made, but more what was going on within me. There are songs which may reflect that particular time, but the main songs are what came to me naturally rather than being influenced; me or searching for something in particular.
In the liner notes, you wrote “I chose songs believing in my inspiration.”
SUGIZO: I think that most of the music came to me rather accidentally, or just came out of me. I think that music is born when you are influenced by outside sources in combination with your own feelings and desires. I think that if you put too much of yourself into it that when you come back to it five or ten years later it feels really old (laugh). So with COSMOSCAPE, I decided that I wanted to overcome the time factor and not feel the oldness in the music.
So you selected the music through your present view point?
In the beginning of the liner notes, you wrote: “This album isn't a so-called best-of album, nor does it include catchy songs. It's music born naturally from me, for SUGIZO mania fans.” Does that mean that your music is not made to fit the world, but more a natural musical expression of what is inside you?
SUGIZO: Yes. Particularly with this album.
When did the idea to release a best-of album come to you? Was this release one of your projects for the 10th anniversary of your solo career?
SUGIZO: Yes. I actually wanted to release it in 2007, but I was busy so I postponed it (laugh).
How do you feel after finishing it and looking back over your ten years?
SUGIZO: Um... I think that this is my standard now. I think you can say: “SUGIZO's music is like this” and hand someone this CD and they will get a good understanding of my music.
Did it take a long time to choose the songs?
SUGIZO: No, I did it quite quickly.
You did your solo live SUGIZO GIG 2008 RISE TO COSMIC DANCE at Shibuya AX on December 19th in 2008, which was 4 years and 9 months since the last one, and you released the live DVD in March this year. There, your solo best-of album was reproduced very well with various stage directions such as a belly dancer and percussion sessions incorporated into the performance. With your stage performance, drums and percussion seem to be emphasized quite a lot.
SUGIZO: I like to create driving rhythms. Rhythm is the primitive part of humans; it makes us think about the earth and the origin of music.
Were the belly dancers symbolic of something spiritual?
SUGIZO: I wanted to fuse my music with dance. As I did music collaborating with contemporary dance, I felt it necessary to fuse music into body movement and I have wanted to do it for a long time now. I happened to invite belly dancers because they are my friends (laugh). The song INITIATION was born from the long-time rivalry between Israel and Palestine, and it very much has a taste of the Middle and Near East or Asia, so I thought belly dancers could fit to the image of the song.
In your live performance, did you improvise quite a lot?
SUGIZO: Yes. With my solo performance, I improvise a lot. But it was different from SHAG, which was the band where we mainly played impromptu, so it was like we determined 60-70%, and we improvised 30-40%.
In some songs, you could be seen jamming quite a lot. Did you play freely?
SUGIZO: Yes. I completely took control, giving signs and developing songs more and more.
I was impressed by another thing in your live; the words ‘No more nucs play the music' were projected again and again on stage. We could feel the strong message of world peace with your music. In 2005, you joined Earth Day Tokyo, one of the biggest environment and peace events held in Japan, published the book Rokkasho, a message to the earth after 24 thousand years (A message book that talked about the danger of a nuclear fuel re-treating plant in Rokkasho, Japan), and appeared in many environmental events and talks concerning problems with nuclear and atomic power and global warming. Do you think that those projects are your life work?
SUGIZO: I don't know. But for me, participating in that work is very natural. Or maybe it is me. I became more interested in that kind of work in the latter half of the 90s, as I couldn't help but notice changes occurring in the world. I think that there are various types of music and art, and I don't think that everybody should have something in particular to say to the world, but in my case, it was very natural to do that. I believe that we should abandon nuclear weapons, we should graduate from nuclear power, and we should apply money to the development of renewable energy. I think that there are problems caused when trying to do this because people who have power and money are involved, so people should notice that more.
As we live our daily lives, there are quite a lot of people who don't have the time to get into these problems, although they may have heard of them. It's great that you are able to act so conscientiously.
SUGIZO: If we consider things, it becomes part of our lives. I think that people are programmed not to notice more important mechanisms in the world, because if they do, it becomes troublesome. However, unless we do notice and wake up and realize some things, the future is going to be very difficult. When faced with a difficult situation, some people do their best to escape from it. By doing this they bring despair upon themselves. It is important to face a difficult situation and then grow from it. I'm the type of person who never gives up, ignores things or escapes.
You debuted as LUNA SEA's composer and guitarist in May 1992, and the band. who had led the Japanese rock scene in the 90's, disbanded at the end of 2000.
SUGIZO: Actually we formed in 1989. What's more, the body of LUNA SEA was formed with high school students including J about three years before that. Generally speaking, five members gathered and formed LUNA SEA in 1989, so this year is just the 20th anniversary.
At that time the band name was LUNACY, right? LUNA SEA did a revival live in Tokyo Dome on December 24th 2007. How did you feel playing with the band members after such a long time?
SUGIZO: I felt that that all of members have grown so much. I also recognized that LUNA SEA has kept evolving even though the band has been frozen for seven years.
You also played together at the hide memorial summit in May 2008, didn't you?
SUGIZO: Yes. I think that everyone in the band kept working on their skills, and are still at the forefront of what they do. It was so fresh to go back to LUNA SEA, and I realized that the growing process is very important for a musician.
Did you remember any old memories of LUNA SEA?
SUGIZO: Yes, sometimes. But I wanted to play with my present feelings. As the members grow into adults, and I mean that in a good way, we don't fret about things anymore. And we don't act meaninglessly or selfishly or unreasonably. Of course, when we think we need something, we each express our opinions. I think that all the members, including me, have become more philosophical about how to use our willpower, so things go very smoothly.
How long did it take in rehearsal?
SUGIZO: About two weeks.
As I wrote the live report in the media press area, I saw some people moved to tears.
SUGIZO: I'm honored to hear that.
As for the super band S.K.I.N., you formed this with YOSHIKI, GACKT, and miyavi and had the first live at Anime Expo , in Los Angeles in June 2007. About 5,000 people gathered in the Long Beach Arena for the performance. How was that experience?
SUGIZO: We just tried it once, so I'm not sure how it will go from now on. Well, we want to continue it, but we all are too busy get together at the same time in the same place (laugh).
Was the experience fresh?
SUGIZO: Thinking about it now, I think that it was an important time for me to return to my rock stance. At around that time, I was immersed in environmental activities and musical impromptu performances, so I needed to be forcibly drawn back to ‘rock', with rock riffs that I hadn't played for several years. Of course things came back quickly. But I think that it helped me to get my balance. In that way, I think that it was a very good time for me.
What will happen with S.K.I.N. from now on?
SUGIZO: I don't know, it's a mystery (laugh). Well, I think it will continue.
In 2006, you appeared at the dance music event Nagisa Ongaku Sai as a guitarist for legendary trans unit JUNO REACTOR. How did you meet them?
SUGIZO: I asked them to remix my work, and that's when I met them. They were charismatic artists from 1990s and I respect them very much, so I asked them to remix three pieces. Then we just hit it off.
In the lives of JUNO REACTOR, do you take a totally different role in comparison to your other projects? Do you play impromptu there?
SUGIZO: The clear and determined parts and improvised parts are very clear cut. I think that it is impossible for a guitarist not to play impromptu.
You joined JUNO REACTOR's world tour as the guitarist and performed all over the world from April to the end of 2008. Also, in April 2009, you joined their European tour and performed all around Europe.
SUGIZO: It continues even now. I'm playing in Hungary in August, and in Slovenia in September.
What was it like being part of their world tour and travelling to all of those different countries? Was it hard at times?
SUGIZO: It's hard, but I like the challenge.
Which parts are hard?
SUGIZO: I didn't think I would do everything by myself at my age, such as bringing my instruments, setting them on the stage, taking them apart and loading them into a van (laugh). We don't have any other staff, only the members. I feel like I'm back 20 yeas ago (laugh). But I am thankful for it as I don't think that many other musicians get to have the same experience.
How do you mean?
SUGIZO: Well it is hard, but when I remember my original intention I know there is a reason to it all. All of the other members are non-Japanese, so it is great that we can understand one another through music. There are two British and one Jamaican, we used to have four Africans until last year, the drummer is American, and I'm Japanese, so there is no limit really to nationality.
Do you communicate in English?
SUGIZO: We all talk in English. Sometimes we can't understand each other's English, but we get used to it.
Are the customs of members different?
SUGIZO: They are different. Well, but the differences of customs and languages don't influence music so much. We are the same, once we stand on the stage. Even we Japanese have different customs, so I don't care about the difference of customs at all.
After performing as a support guitarist for X JAPAN at various performances, such as their ten year comeback performances in 2008 and the hide memorial summit in May this year, you announced at the X JAPAN WORLD TOUR LIVE IN TOKYO in May that you had officially become X JAPAN's guitarist. Having become an official member of X JAPAN, what do you get from it and what do have to sacrifice?
SUGIZO: Actually I don't sacrifice so much, as I can manage my schedule for the present. If I would dare to say so, I spent quite a lot of time learning songs. But that is for me really, it's not a sacrifice.
Are you asked to play as written in the band?
SUGIZO: Yes. So I had to fit to the style which wasn't mine, and I needed quite a lot of time. However, it was such a wonderful experience increasing my skills an artist, so I am thankful.
Do you have any plans for releases or lives which you can tell us about?
SUGIZO: Currently, I am working on a solo project to make songs and pre-production. I think that I already have a few albums' worth of images created. I keep creating more and more songs, so I would like to release an album early next year.
You travel a lot. Is there a place in the world that makes you feel peaceful?
SUGIZO: It's hard to tell. I have never been asked that before. A place where I felt at peace was Sedona of Arizona in the USA. It's the sacred place for Native Indians, and also a strong power spot. Sedona is also a tourist attraction, and there is a self-contained community whose name is Aquarian concepts community and I stayed there.
Had you hoped to go and stay there?
SUGIZO: I had wanted to visit there for a long time. I felt most peaceful on the days that I had with the people of Aquarian concepts community. And I really like Greece. I like Athena and I love Mikonos and Santorini in the Aegean Sea as they are the most beautiful. I haven't been yet, but I really want to go Hawaii. It would be beautiful and peaceful I think.
I didn't expect that you would say that you want to go Hawaii as it's a place where many Japanese people go for sightseeing.
SUGIZO: I haven't been to those places where a lot of others seem to go, such as Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. But when I imagine Hawaii I think of the energy there, I don't think of it as a tourist attraction. So maybe not Honolulu, I think.
Where is home for you?
SUGIZO: It's my home town, Tsurumaki in Hatano city! (all burst into laughter) My parents' home. Musically, it's LUNA SEA. But I have various places... earth. And it may even be the Pleiades stars. I feel like my home was the star Lyra, and I came from there to the earth.
Please give your message to overseas fans.
SUGIZO: I think that it's wonderful that the internet can connect so many people together, breaking the boundaries of distance and time. Through this connection I want to go to where you are, and to see you in reality. I think that this reality is the road to be able to understand one another, so I want to bring my music and share my time with people in all over the world as much as I can. Please continue your support!
Interview with SUGIZO
interview - 04.10.2009 01:01
SUGIZO spoke to us about LUNA SEA, S.K.I.N., JUNO REACTOR, his many collaborations and projects and his activist work.