Exclusive Interview with Syu
JaME interviewed guitar hero Syu in Japan, to talk about his bands Aushvitz, Galneryus and ANIMETAL.
Before their last live, Syu, member of ANIMETAL, made time for an interview with JaME before their sound check. He spoke with us about his three bands including Galneryus and his thoughts about guitar playing.
How did you start playing the guitar?
Syu: My parents played piano and I started to play violin at six years old. Just before that, I played the piano a little bit, but I soon stopped. (laughs) I had been playing violin from six years old to twelve-thirteen years old. When I was in fourth grade in my elementary school, I discovered X JAPAN and I fell in love with the drums.
In cross-Large you played drums first. Why did you stop playing the drums?
Syu: Cross-Large! I haven't heard that name for a long time (laugh). As I told you I played violin like this (Syu mimics playing violin), and playing guitar is like this (he mimics playing guitar), so I could easily change from violin to guitar. I also played the drums, but I chose guitar because guitar was easier to play and I can convey my messages better. At first I liked Yoshiki of X JAPAN very much, and I aimed to be like him, but unfortunately I didn't meet good band members, and so I changed from drums to guitar. I thought playing the guitar and singing was the best way to convey meanings musically.
Syu, you belong to three bands: Galneryus, Aushvitz, and ANIMETAL. Why did you join these three bands?
Syu: I started Galneryus, just before my Visual kei band Valkyr disbanded. After Valkyr broke up, I made Galneryus and Aushvitz with the remaining members. I was doing Galneryus and Aushvitz on an Indies label, and my producer Mr. Hisatake asked me "Why dont you play in ANIMETAL?" I said "Ill do it!", then it became three bands.
Valkyr was very visual. Do you like Visual kei?
Syu: Well, I really liked X JAPAN, LUNA SEA, etc, during their prime. But these days, I can't be into visual kei so much because most of them just look good on the surface.
How do you manage three different styles of music in each three bands?
Syu: I divide the styles instinctively. ANIMETAL is the band in which Eizo Sakamoto stands out, and its good for my training. Galneryus is the band with a beautiful classical style, which is affected by Swedish style and Dream Theater and treasures the ensemble. Aushvitz is the band in which I can do what I want and has a theme of violence, hardness, and extreme sorrow.
How did you meet members in each band?
Syu: As for Galneryus, I started this band with the vocalist, YAMA-B. When I was in a live house in Kujo, Osaka, I listened to his voice on the radio and I said "I like this man! I want to work with him!" Then everything went from there. At the beginning, when we were in a studio, I played guitar and YAMA-B shouted "Ahhhh------!" and we said "Oh, its good!" (laughs)
So your prompt to start Galneryus was a radio show. You are from Kansai, right?
Syu: Yes, YAMA-B was from Wakayama; we're both locals of the Kansai area.
You have composed lots of music for Galneryus and Aushvitz, but they are really different. How do you proceed to write different kind of songs?
Syu: I'm not really aware of that at all... I think about how the vocalists sing. I imagine YAMA-Bs voice, how he sings, and if his voice matches the songs, at my discretion. Moreover, Galneryus has a keyboard, so I can enlarge the world I'm creating and be adventurous. On the contrary, Aushvitz is three piece band, so we are limited to playing with three people. I'll do as I want to, but always remember that Aushvitz should be absolutely violent.
Why did you choose to sing in Japanese for Aushvitz and in English with Galneryus?
Syu: This is also a matter of instincts (laughs). In Galneryus, YAMA-B writes the lyrics, and in Aushvitz, I write the lyrics. We just thought whether the band matches for English or Japanese, and thats all. But I'll tell you, the next new song of Galneryus will be in Japanese.
Really? It's the first time, isn't it?
Syu: Yes, because I'm Japanese, so I'll try to do it in Japanese. I got adventurous this time (laughs).
Do you have any fears about using Japanese in your music?
Syu: Maybe. We imagine metal in English. But English is not our native tongue, so it's hard to convey our feelings in it, and Japanese listeners listen to our voice just as melodies, I guess. So if we sing in Japanese, I think we can convey more of what we feel.
About singing, Aushvitz is the only one of your bands in which you do the vocals, but in Galneryus, YAMA-B is the main singer. How is it different for you?
Syu: About Galneryus, I can't reach such high tones with my voice (laughs). And I treasure YAMA-B's character.
His high pitched voice is awesome. You create songs while you imagine that he can hit this high key, don't you?
Syu: Well... these days, I have been getting carried away and have been making it a little too high (bursts out laughing). But, he can make it! It's amazing! (laughs) My voice doesn't have such a wide range, and I want to make a death voice (laughs), so I can see what I want to do in Aushvitz, within my limited range.
Isn't it hard to play guitar while you sing?
Syu: Well, it was very hard at first, but over time it became easier for me.
On Aushvitz's homepage, its written that you named the band this way, wishing for peace and putting unforgettable memories into it. Is that the reason you named your band Aushvitz?
Syu: Originally, I named it because I hope it wont happen again and I wanted to express my heart-rending feelings. But when Aushvitz will release its next CD, we'll change the band name.
Its also written that Aushvitz is a Visual Death Slash Band and you rampage around in a cage!?
Syu: (laughs) Because we are prisoners and visual kei.
I saw one of your members wrapping his whole body in a bandage. Your lives seem very complicated .
Syu: (laughs) I'll tell the stories of our lyrics. We are death row prisoners doing lives. One of our death row prisoners will be executed by various methods. But he falls in love with a female executioner. He never gets his wish of being with her because he is executed and she is the executioner. The world is like this.
Thats why its sad.
Syu: Yes. We have to be deadly hard and heart-rending.
What do the people coming to your lives wear?
Syu: We wear prison overalls doing our lives, and the fans that always support us wear the same kinds of overalls as we do, and come to our lives to headbang.
So if I see the people who go to your lives, they would look odd to me.
Syu: (laughs) Not really. We are used to it (laughs).
Galneryus also had an evolution in their visuals. How did you change?
Syu: At first, we just wanted to stand out and we thought about various things like trying to put on armour, but now we want to be more catchy (laughs).
Did your costumes become lighter?
Syu: Yes. At first, our vocalist wore armour and I wore a red enamel costume so we really stuck out. We did many things to draw peoples attention, but most of all, I want to convey our music. So we changed our thinking. The better we are, the more attention we will get.
Galneryus released three albums. Do these albums have serial stories?
Syu: Yes, it's not so profound but there are stories.
Did you make stories after you collected songs?
Syu: Of course, I thought about the order of the songs when I made the albums, but if I would make like.... 'Last time, the story ended like that, so the following story should absolutely be like this.' If I did that, I couldn't play them in lives when the order of songs in the set list would change (laughs). So I thought it would be better like the stories might be continued.
What are the stories?
Syu: (he points at the jacket of the 1st album) The name of this man on this 1st album is Galneri, and the story is about his adventure. Well, if YAMA-B was here, he would be able to talk better about this story but Ill tell as much as I know - uh , you might ask why I don't know! (bursts out laughing) Once upon a time, there was a bad guy and Galneri went to beat him, but there were many things happening on the first album. Galneri couldn't beat the bad guy in the first album, so he was going to go again in the second album, but his friends died one after another until finally only Galneri was left and he fell into despair when the second album ended. On the third album, he made friends with a dragon and decided to try again! He had a fight with a dragon on the way, made up and then worked together, finally beating the bad guy. The hero and the dragon died in the end, but the last song, [Rebirth], is a song about a woman who fell in love with the hero before he died and became pregnant. So the story continues ..
Well, I get the feeling the next chapter will be just as interesting! Do you like anime and games?
Syu: I only watch mainstream anime, but I love video games! (laughs)
Your three album jackets were designed by Yoshitaka Amano who designed [Final Fantasy XII]. How did you get to work with him?
Syu: That was mostly through a connection of our record company, VAP (laughs). Of course, I wanted to ask him, but VAP negotiated with Mr. Amano and he accepted. I am very thankful to both of them.
This time, the Swedish metal sound-create team SHEP mixed and mastered your album. How was that?
Syu: They were best! Originally, Japanese metal was imported, so there is a limit to what you can do in Japan. For example, SHEP made drums sounds which we can't make in Japan. And there's more variety in sounds, too. For example, cymbal sounds are very important. They made heavy sounds just like heavy metal.
Do they use different equipment?
Syu: I guess their equipment is almost the same. But the way of turning up and down the fader is different I think. In Japan, we usually turn it up like Please turn up until around here. But overseas, they are more decisive like Its cool, so turn it up until you burst!! (laughs).
Do you think this is because of the difference of human nature?
Syu: I think they are more positive, like 'Venture more than protect,' which draws more advantages, and they are very clear on distinguishing needed things and needless things. In Japan, we usually think like 'This part is not necessary so lets turn it down.' But they are like 'Lets just delete this part!' (laughs)
So was it a good experience for you?
Syu: Yes! For example, they distorted even normal Hammond Organ sounds! I was surprised Uoooohhh----!!! They do that!? (laughs)
Is it usually done overseas?
Syu: I think so. I thought Metal should be essentially like this. We do as we want to.
When I saw your profile on your homepage, I thought was it interesting that you were affected strongly by a classical composer, Vivaldi, in making music. Do you like classic music?
Syu: I was playing classic music on the violin and I acquired a taste for it because of my childhood, so I apply it to making music.
When you write music, do you imagine scenes?
Syu: Yes, its important for me. I can't write songs without imagining the scenery of the songs.
So you first imagine scenes, then make a melody to fit that scene?
Syu: Yes. Our band has a keyboardist, YUHKI and he makes the world I imagine and he helps me a lot.
We can see you in lots of guitar magazines such as [Young Guitar], and you have also been involved in videos with some other people like Jani Liimatainen from Sonata Arctica. How do you feel about this?
Syu: I thought he had wide variety of guitar riffs. He has a totally different playing style from me, but he also plays guitar making as much music as I do, trying not to play like a guitarists one man band.
How did you feel playing with him in the video?
Syu: We had a session together, playing guitar solos one after the other. I played impromptu, but Jani played wonderful performances which he had practiced well. I thought "Oh, no! Im so bad!" (laughs) He is a man who really works hard.
Does the word guitar hero in the title of the video have a special meaning for you?
Syu: Uh~n, it doesn't mean a lot. (laughs) For example, guitarists of classic rock such as Yngwie Malmsteen are called guitar hero, but I'm not interested in what I'm called. (laughs) For me, I'm happy as long as my band is going well, and I'm a part of the band. Of course. I have a feeling I want to stand out, but I think the vocalist should stand out the most.
Syu, you seem gorgeous on stage, so people look at you naturally as a young guitar hero.
Syu: (laughs) Thank you. But if guitarists had the initiative in lives or releasing music, it would be mostly guitar music, which I dont like very much. I like music in which a vocalist sings catchy tunes and then I play the guitar.
You were affected by three guitarists: John Petrucci, Ulrich Roth, and Paul Gilbert.
Syu: There are more. (laughs) Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen- there will be no end if I give you all of the names. Now, I'm strongly affected by Ulrich Roth and Michael Schenker.
What is your goal when you play guitar? Do you want to emphasize on your technique and skills, or do you want to emphasize good sound, regardless whether it's hard to play or not?
Syu: Neither. I just want to play comfortably. (laughs) Concerning technique, I am happy with what I can do and want to concentrate on music. At around 17-18 years old, I studied and practiced various music and riffs, but now I'm aware of melodies, not phrases nor skills. I want to play good melodies. Good sound includes skills of course, but I'm talking about more musical things, whether my guitar playing is good music.
How did your work with ESP on your custom guitar go?
Syu: It was the best! My new one is named Crying Star which I could make from scratch, so I could make anything. So it has great sound and is very comfortable to play. Moreover, the shape is so cool! I think it will appear in ESPs HP around November 1st, and it will also appear in the newest magazines such as [Young Guitar].
Do you have advice for young guitarists?
Syu: I think young people rather like techniques. If you play the same style as me, you would be better learning techniques now and play more musically. If you play just for fun, I don't have anything to say. I advise you not to strain yourself for techniques too much, or you will become an 'otaku.'
You have played in a lot of events and with a lot of artists. Who are the groups and artists you have the best memories with?
Syu: Its difficult to say best because I learnt from everyone working with me, but Eizo Sakamoto's ANTHEM, I think.
Do you have a dream to play with someone now?
Syu: I have lots. Now I'm working with Eizo Sakamoto in ANIMETAL, and I want to work with him more, in time.
Apart from music, what do you do?
Syu: I write songs, otherwise, I'm always playing games at home. (laughs)
In your profile on your HP, its written 'In my holidays, I erase my existence and turn into the air.' What does that mean?
Syu: (laughs) I wrote that a long time ago. (laughs) At that time, I had had enough holidays, and had lots of days to do nothing, but now I want to enjoy my holidays.
You also wrote To relieve my stress, I shout while putting my face into a basin full of water. (laugh)
Syu: (laugh) Well, the best way is shouting. And going to karaoke with my friends after drinking. Putting my face into a basin full of water just means not to trouble others with my noise (laughs).
What are your memories after your concert in France with ANIMETAL?
Syu: It was the best! I really want to do it again, but today's live will be the last live and ANIMETAL will unfortunately stop their activities again.
Do you plan to come to Europe with Aushvitz or Galneryus?
Syu: Well, I hope so. (laughs) If you invite us, we'll go.
How was the audience's reaction in Paris?
Syu: I was really surprised, like, Wow! because we hadn't released CDs here yet. I realized then that Japanese anime culture has spread all over the world.
Was the audience mostly males?
Syu: There were a lot women too. The ratio of males and females were about 6 to 4, I think.
How is the ratio in Japan?
Syu: Recently, the ratio is about 7 to 3, I think. There were more males before.
Really!? 70% were males?
Manager: Since Syu joined ANIMETAL, female fans have been increasing (laughs).
Usually, at the lives of visual kei bands, the audience is almost completely female. When I went to PURE ROCK JAPAN LIVE (Shibuya O-EAST, 2006/9/17), most fans were 30-40 year old males, which was impressive.
Syu: Now, most metal fans are male, so male fans are increasing.
Are most of them guitarists?
Syu: Of course, there are guitarists, but many fans are listeners who love metal music very much.
I heard many French guitarists came to see ANIMETAL's Paris live.
Syu: Heh~, is it true? At that time my playing was awful. Ha, ha, ha,ha .! But I was so comfortable and didn't care about my playing at all that day (laughs).
What is your next release?
Syu: Galneryus will release a live DVD on November 22nd. The CD will contain a new song.
Finally, please give your message to foreign fans.
Syu: I'll work hard in Japan to be invited overseas. I want to see you, so please invite me!