SUGIZO about Charity and Music

interview - 11.05.2011 20:01

After LUNA SEA's charity concert, we spoke to SUGIZO about his volunteer work after the earthquake and his musical activities including his upcoming two album releases.

A few days after LUNA SEA held their A Promise to the Brave charity concert for the victims of the Tohoku natural disaster, we met up with SUGIZO in his management’s office. We talked about his charitable involvements and how he helped clean up the affected area, as well as his music activities and the two new albums the multi-faceted artist will be releasing in December.

First of all, how did the LUNA SEA charity concert go, what were your thoughts about the show?

SUGIZO: The concert was of course very important to me and it was a very different concert. That night was so beautiful. Almost all the fans had the same thoughts, the same purpose and I think therefore it was a very special concert. It was a very beautiful night. The concert was for charity, so it was very different from usual. It had a different set list, attitude, and stage lighting system. Of course we should save electricity so we shouldn’t use too much stage pyrotechnics or any gorgeous effects. The most important thing was our love for them, and love for music. Our attitude was the most important, it was more important than pyrotechnics or too gorgeous a lighting system. But I think we did well.

You helped clean the area affected by the earthquake and tsunami. What was that experience like?

SUGIZO: Of course it was really sad but I really wanted to do something after the earthquake I thought the most important power is human power. Not music, not entertainment, not money, just our human power and I thought that was needed very much. I just felt I had to go. It was a very curious feeling to be there, but it was very beautiful. So many volunteers came there and joined, from each Japanese area and from many countries. And of course their purpose was not money, not business; they just wanted to help. So did I, of course. The mindset was very beautiful. I thought ‘the world is one now’. Of course it was very sad and there are such huge problems, but the human relationship was very strong. It was such an important experience.

Weren’t you a little worried about your own health?

SUGIZO: Yes, very. I think that in this area at the time, there weren’t many radioactivity problems. However, the air was too dirty, and there was a lot of dirt and sludge. It was too dirty and we had to worry about the air, and drinking water, lots of things. Of course we couldn’t take a shower for a week, there was no water, no electricity and the hygiene was very poor so there were a lot of bacteria and viruses.

And how about the radiation, were you worried about that?

SUGIZO: Of course we needed to wear masks but I think there wasn’t much more in the Tohoku area than there is here. Right now you should just not drink tap water, I think it’s dangerous. Usually I really care about this, but when I’m in a restaurant I can't protect myself. So it’s very difficult, but I think we should care about it. You should also care about the rain, it’s very dangerous. We should protect ourselves so an umbrella is very important.

What do you think of the role the Japanese government had after the disaster?

SUGIZO: I think the Japanese government was stupid in this case. They couldn’t move, they couldn’t do anything. It was very sad, very disappointing. They didn’t know what to do. I was very disappointed with our leader. I thought we had to do something, any small thing was important. Help, power, money, love, everything was needed but the Japanese government couldn’t do anything. There were so many Japanese people or people from other countries, and we did our best. And still now, we should do our best.

To change the topic to music: you will be releasing two new albums in December: Flower of Life and Tree of Life. Why did you choose to release two instead of just one?

SUGIZO: Just because I had too many songs. These two years I released so many digital singles, at first I thought I needed to choose songs for one album. However, many people, many fans wanted all the tracks I’ve released on CD. So that was too many songs. That’s why I decided that it was better to do two albums, not a double CD but just two albums. One album is my pure, original music, the other includes remixes and collaborations.

How many new songs are on the albums?

SUGIZO: Forty percent is new songs, but all of them have been mixed newly and all the songs have been arranged anew. Some songs are re-recorded.

Are you already finished with the recordings?

SUGIZO: I just need to master them. I’m about 95 percent done; I hope to do it tomorrow. But tomorrow I also need to go to Seoul for X JAPAN’s concert. I’m really busy.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the concept of each album?

SUGIZO: Flower of Life is my fourth original album. At first the image is very psychedelic, spiritual, cosmic and electronic. My guitar sound is very important too. Not all of them, but a few songs have very important messages. This album is totally instrumental, there are no lyrics, but they have very important messages and meanings.

But if you want to convey a message with a song, don’t you think it would be easier to do this with lyrics?

SUGIZO: I think so, but usually I write my messages. I just wanted free space for music. So if the listener is touched by my music I hope they can imagine a vision. I want them to feel one strong image. Any free inspiration from music has a very important meaning for me. Please listen to it. I wanted to write an instrumental album, but for vocals, maybe I would need a good male vocalist, but not me.

You don’t like to sing yourself?

SUGIZO: Sometimes I do. From the point of view of producer SUGIZO, if he wants SUGIZO’s voice, okay, I can do it. But usually producer SUGIZO thinks he’s not a very good vocalist. But if I want a good vocalist, I’ll find one producer SUGIZO wants to use. I’m just too busy to find time to train for being a vocalist. I think my guitar and my violin work is very important and I think I should train with these more. Usually just for my fan club members I can sing, with my acoustic guitar. It’s very comfortable for me, in a very private setting, but it shouldn’t be too big. So it’s a very compact and private, but also a very deep, show. I like that feeling a lot.

How about the second album, Tree of Life?

SUGIZO: This album contains a lot of collaborations and remixes. Each artist that I worked with was very great. For example, SYSTEM 7 is my favorite techno artist. As you know I’m part of JUNO REACTOR, and this song is very psychedelic trance music. YOUTH is also doing psychedelic techno music. He is part of Killing Joke, which is a very legendary new wave punk band from the 1980’s. Toshinori Kondo is a very big trumpet-player. He is over sixty years old, but his skills, his musicianship is very beautiful. I respect him a lot. And MaZDA is one of my partners. For this album I really needed his skills. His arranging and programming work joined my work, and it’s very great.

When did you compose the songs?

SUGIZO: Some songs are really old, others are very new. For example, CONSCIENTIA I wrote almost two years ago. The first step of this album was about three years ago. But ARC MOON is very new, and so is LEMURIA. I wrote LEMURIA only two weeks ago (laughs).

What were your sources of inspiration?

SUGIZO: For each song it’s different. For example CONSCIENTIA has a very big meaning. I was inspired a lot by crusaders, like the Christian crusaders in the middle ages. And Islamic war and disaster. Even now they are still fighting. I really want to say we should awaken, we should do something together. And ENOLA GAY, this is an expression from genbaku, the atomic bomb. The song is very hard and sad, but ultimately it leads to concepts of 'prayer' and 'wish'. FOLLY is about Burma, Myanmar’s problems, there is so much war. Each song has a very strong meaning to me. But no lyrics, just images, feelings, just inspiration I wanted to create. Usually I like my words and I speak so much, but I didn’t want it in the music.

You are part of LUNA SEA and X JAPAN, which are both quite famous bands in Japan. However, you are also playing overseas with JUNO REACTOR. Do you have the feeling that during these concerts you have to work harder to prove yourself to the JUNO REACTOR fans?

SUGIZO: JUNO REACTOR’s shows are very comfortable for me because the feeling is so free. Our own input on stage is very important and it is very inspiring. It’s very difficult but at the same time very comfortable and beautiful, I love them a lot. Of course they are my good friends and the Africans are so very sweet, I really love their group. I am just so happy to play with them, especially with Mabi, he is the oldest with 65 years and he is one of my favorite, legendary musicians from South Africa. Usually I get very inspired by JUNO’s sound. It’s good for me and my skills too. Every time I learn important secrets of music from them. It’s very different from LUNA SEA and X JAPAN.

So you don’t feel that you have to try harder when you play with them, because you’re not as famous for the JUNO REACTOR fans as you are to LUNA SEA and X JAPAN fans?

SUGIZO: No, it’s very natural for me. Any style, any situation is good for me. I just love music.

Did you find it difficult to build a name for yourself as a solo-artist, instead of being “SUGIZO of LUNA SEA”?

SUGIZO: At that time, I felt I really needed to make my own music. I had so many, too many musical ideas and I thought maybe I should write music for myself. I think it was fourteen years ago? LUNA SEA is mainly a rock band, with a rock band style music. Of course it’s very beautiful and very important, but my own music isn’t just rock. It's also in a classical or dance style and such, and I think these styles are more near to myself. Just rock band and guitarist is a different side of me, though of course I need that.

When you first started as a solo-artist, did people see you as solely a rock guitarist? Was it difficult for you to change their minds, to show them “I do more than just rock?”

SUGIZO: Of course it was a very big change. Yes, some people said to me “please don’t do this, it’s too dangerous, it’s too risky. You are a visual kei artist and the people need this” but at the time I just didn’t care. I just needed to follow my inspiration. I think it was difficult at the time but I think it was good for me. Because now I have my own style, my own music. It’s very spiritual and private stuff. It’s not very commercial, not business-like, not entertainment stuff but it’s important for my music life.

You have been in the music business for more than half of your life and, as mentioned before, you've been in famous bands. How do you think fame has affected your personality?

SUGIZO: I must keep a good balance, this is very important to me but also very difficult. Some people lose too hard, some people lose success, some people lose any will for studying. A balance is very important. Of course still know it is difficult, but I just love music. Maybe if my mind changed a lot it might be time to end. But now I really need to make music and I should learn how to keep my pure, musical side.

Are there times when you find it difficult to deal with being famous?

SUGIZO: I’m sorry, I never think I’m famous. Usually I can walk around the city - just recently I went to Disney Land. Usually no one knows me.

But still there were a lot of people screaming your name at the concert…

SUGIZO: I hope so… Maybe on stage I’m a rock musician, but outside of the stage I’m just a man. Usually I don’t think I’m famous. Before, I did think so, but I have had so many experiences, and so much hurt and a lot of bad things happening, but now I’m very pure. But I just love music, and when I’m working in the studio I’m just so happy. Of course if I were very famous, it would be a very big pleasure to me, but I still make my music.

You’re touring and traveling a lot, how many nights have you slept at home the past year?

SUGIZO: Maybe… Three months? I think about a third of the year.

Are you ever frustrated with this hectic lifestyle?

SUGIZO: I just miss a comfortable day. I really need just a quiet day. I like the quiet life. Not partying, not drinking too much, but I don’t like any noisy places. I just want it quiet, comfortable, have an ocean view, nice sunshine.

When you’re traveling, what music is on your mp3-player?

SUGIZO: So many… Recently I’m listening to Pink Floyd, I’m very fond of them this year. I went back again to David Sylvian. Any electronic, ambient, classical orchestra music. Usually I don’t need any rock music, though I really love Primal Scream, and Pink Floyd’s music is kind of rock too right? And of course I’m listening to techno; SYSTEM 7 is my favorite.

But if you don’t you don’t listen to rock music any more, isn’t it difficult for you to play LUNA SEA songs?

SUGIZO: I don’t think so, I can get good inspiration from anything. Usually I don’t even need to listen to music, it’s in my head already.

What are your plans for the future?

SUGIZO: Next year I have plans to make a soundtrack for a play. Maybe next year LUNA SEA will become active again. We want to make new songs, we want to make a new album of course but nothing is sure yet. For X JAPAN, the tour is still going and next year I think X JAPAN will play a big concert in Tokyo. And I'll still keep my solo project going; I have ideas for a new album already. But I really need a day off next year.

So if you had the chance to get on a plane tomorrow and go anywhere for a holiday, where would you go?

SUGIZO: I really want to go to Hawaii again, or Greece, I really like Greece. I like the ocean. And I want to go diving, I love that. And to go skydiving again too. That's fantastic.

Finally, please give a message to our readers.

SUGIZO: I always really want to thank you so much for your support. We need you and I need to make more beautiful music for you. Because you saved me, you saved us and you gave me good dreams. I really want to give you good spirituality. We've already learned how to become one. I think when I play music for any country, with people from any country, my feeling is one. There is no religion, no border, all problems are gone, music has no border. That is very important to me, and I believe it. It’s good for our minds and I really want to keep this beautiful relationship, and to have it grow stronger.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Many thanks to SUGIZO and Takeshi Asai for making this interview possible.
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