Interview with YAMA-B
The ex-vocalist of Galneryus told us about his plans to conquer Europe.
First off, we are really curious as to what the "B" in your nickname stands for.
YAMA-B: YAMA-B is a nickname I got in my school days. My real name is Yamaguchi, and the Japanese usually shorten that to "Yama". As it happens, "Yamaguchi" is really popular as a name in Japan, so there were a few Yamaguchis in my school. In order to tell us apart, they started calling us "Yamaguchi-A", "Yamaguchi-B", "Yamaguchi-C", or rather "Yama-A", "Yama-B", "Yama-C". I got "Yama-B" and it sort of stayed with me for life.
The general audience will most likely remember you as the vocalist for Galneryus. A lot of people are wondering about the reasons behind you going your separate ways, considering you were not only one of the founders of this band, but you were also the author of many of the songs as well.
YAMA-B: From the very beginning Syu and I had different opinions on what constituted a good melody. Syu was a fan of Japanese rock bands from the 80's and 90's, such as X-JAPAN, whereas I preferred anime songs from 70's and 80's and I also listened to a lot of American and European heavy metal.
In the beginning our different tastes were not much of a problem, however with each new release the differences intensified. At some point, instead of doing music we loved, the band started to chase after new sounds, trying to sound new and modern. Syu in particular has this quality that makes him chase new inspirations in the spur of the moment, forgetting completely about the background, style and the concept so far. With me, it's quite the opposite--I'm a guy who likes to stick to a certain set of rules, concepts. I also consider what the fans expect. Their support is really precious to me.
Considering that both Syu's spontaneous approach has its sense and point, and my own attitude has its value, I decided that instead of us pushing against each other and trying to impose our ideas on each other, it's best to split so that we can both have a chance to be free to realize our own visions and do our own things.
Working in a popular band has its upsides and downsides. Which part of being in such a group did you enjoy the most?
YAMA-B: Obviously the effects of working with the best musicians in Japan are a treasure that will last a lifetime. I experienced what it means to be "on top". Having worked with one of the major Japanese labels is something I also consider a luxury. What is also valuable to me is the fact that under these circumstances I had the chance to polish my vocal abilities.
On the other hand, you are currently an independent artist. Don't you sometimes just have no time and strength to do everything by yourself? Don't you miss having people who would take care of things for you?
YAMA-B: In order to do what you wanna do and how you wanna do it, you really do need to work pretty hard. At this moment, however, I have a manager who works really hard, and who keeps giving me new tasks and goals all the time--but I don't complain! Quite the opposite. I'm grateful and happy. I love what we're doing.
You've also been giving vocal lessons for some time now. Did you use that kind of help when you were first learning to sing, or are you self-taught?
YAMA-B: As a metal vocalist I can safely say I am self-taught. However, I did have some sort of introduction to classical singing from my mother, who learned vocal techniques from a private tutor. We used to talk about it and sing during dinner.
Are you still teaching? What are your goals as a vocal instructor? Do you only teach a "heavy metal” style of singing, or do you also have, let's say, amateur pop singers who seek advice on vocal techniques?
YAMA-B: Yes, I still work as a voice teacher at a music institute in Osaka. The students who come to me have different motivations, but they're usually interested in singing metal music. But if somebody is not interested in metal but in pop or opera, it's not really a problem either, because some standards of vocal technique are universal and useful in every genre.
When you sing, your English really stands out of the general crowd of Japanese singers as being near perfect. What is the reason behind this? Did you learn English in class, or did you learn how to sing by copying western vocalists?
YAMA-B: You may not know this, but there are plenty of vocalists in Japan who can sing perfectly in English. As far as I'm concerned, my pronunciation still has a lot of room for improvement. I learned English by myself. I never had a teacher. Actually, it was just like you said--listening to songs in English--I tried to copy the pronunciation.
Are you as fluent in spoken English as you are while you sing?
YAMA-B: My English is really bad. But I hope that in the nearest future I will have a chance to use it more often, and thus make progress.
Don't you worry that the language and cultural barrier may be a problem in your work and trying to gain popularity in Europe, or is that something you consider as your strong side?
YAMA-B: I'm sure there is a language barrier. But even more than that, we are aware that we are going to a different world than the one we live in, the one we know. We're really positive about it. We hope this experience will inspire us. This is our big chance.
Are your roots important to you as an artist - do you consider yourself a Japanese artist, or perhaps a metal musician who, just so happens, is from Japan?
YAMA-B: I think proudly of my country. I do have some fears that when we go to a different country we will be reminded about our being Japanese to the point of getting sick of it. Obviously, my main goal is to be active on an international scale, but it would be unnatural for me to forget where I come from. Having said all that, first and foremost I consider myself a person who loves metal more than anyone else in the world!
Amongst your favourite artists you mention Kai Hansen and Iron Maiden. What do you like best about them?
YAMA-B: Kai Hansen is a wonderful musician, who created melodic power metal. He created a genre and that's such a great thing! Iron Maiden, on the other hand, are great for having reformed rock, for pulling it out of the constraints of the pentatonic scale. Their melodic lines contain many elements of the diatonic scale, and I also consider that great progress.
Do only the "classics" inspire you, or are there any contemporary artists that you admire?
YAMA-B: I definitely love classic metal. I listen to it just as much nowadays and it still inspires me. But I also like to listen to the younger bands, for example I like Killswitch Engage and the German Caliban.
Did you grow up with heavy metal or is it something you only discovered after years of searching for your own style?
YAMA-B: Once I started listening to European and American music, it was heavy metal from the beginning. That was because in the 80's, metal was really popular and the charts featured many metal songs. Those were great times! Metal was within even a child's reach!
On your website, amongst your favourite artists you mention Isao Sasaki, a voice actor and singer who performed many anime themes. Does that mean you're an anime fan? If that's true, which do you prefer: old-school shows such as the ones Isao Sasaki supplied music to, or do you still discover new ones?
YAMA-B: Everyone in Japan knows I'm a huge anime fan. There's a big manga and anime event in Tokyo twice a year, and for the past two years I've been participating in that event with my own booth. In order to have your own booth there you have to win, have to be chosen. It was great luck for me to be able to take part in that in these past years. And by the way, yes, I do like old shows, but I also like to be up to date with the new stuff.
Galneryus had a few of their cd covers designed by the famous artists Yoshitaka Amano. Would you like to repeat working with him, or with some other illustrator in the future?
YAMA-B: As you know, there are a lot of designers in Japan who trace their roots to manga and animation. Yoshitaka Amano is just one of them. I think that the person with the most cult status, both in Japan and abroad, is Mamoru Nagano. If he could design a cover for me one day that’d be quite an honour!
You're really active as a musician. Your website lists several different projects, both as a soloist and with other musicians. Let's start with REKION: this year you're planning to release a CD. Can you tell us more about it?
YAMA-B: As far as REKION is concerned we do have a new album planned for release this year. However, REKION for me is more of a side project. These days, I'm more excited about the project simply called YAMA-B, under which I work with artists from all over the world. You've probably already heard the song I recorded with this great Norwegian vocalist, PelleK, and any moment now you'll be able to listen to new songs recorded with the Spanish band Phoenix Rising, the Brazilian Opus V and the Argentinian composer Rodrigo Diaz.
With your other band, GUNBRIDGE, you'll soon be visiting Poland. Poland is quite an unusual choice for a workplace when you're a foreign artist. Why Poland?
YAMA-B: The main reason is that our manager is Polish. Aside from that, I think Poland is really well-located, just right for a base camp. We start with Poland, but we want to visit other European countries as well.
You also have other plans for Poland--a photo session, live shows, a base camp for going to other concerts in Europe. Will your stay here be focused on work only, or maybe there is something you would like to do or see here, just for fun?
YAMA-B: Our main goal is professional. We put that first. But I heard you have wonderful beaches by the Baltic coast. I'd like to take a trip to the Polish seaside. I also have to see Warsaw and Krakow. Traditional old European cities are something we don't really get to see in Japan.
Is there any venue in Japan or anywhere in the world that you'd like to perform at in particular? For many artists, that place is the Budokan, Madison Square Garden or Wembley. What about you? Or perhaps you prefer small clubs?
YAMA-B: The most wonderful place in the world is the one where people gather to listen to my music. It doesn't matter if it's small or big.
December witnessed the release of a maxi single from GUNBRIDGE. What are your future release plans? Do you have an album planned?
YAMA-B: This year, as I mentioned earlier, I plan to release an album with REKION. There's also going to be a few singles from the YAMA-B project.
You have plans for a live show in London. Can you tell us more about it? Will this be a GUNBRIDGE or a YAMA-B concert? Will you be inviting guest artists on stage, perhaps PelleK?
YAMA-B: I was invited by the staff of London Anime Con. The event will take place on 20th and 21st of July and I will be performing twice, during both days. I will be performing both my own songs, as well as those from Galneryus and some popular anime tracks.
How do you manage to work on some many projects? I understand they're not all active at the same time, but can you tell us why there are so many of them? Is it because this enables you to create different music and work with different musicians? Can you explain shortly how they differ from each other?
YAMA-B: I don't think there are that many of them! My main project is GUNBRIDGE. In this one, I sing in English and aim to reach an international audience. REKION, as I said earlier, is a side-project and I don't spend much time or attention on it, nor do I intend to. The only new thing is the YAMA-B project, whose main concept is the search for a new quality, experimentation, and this is the one which excites me, the one that I intend to be involved in.
Aside from being a vocalist you also play the guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, and you use these skills while recording for your solo projects. Why the versatility? Is that because as a child, you tried everything to find your perfect instrument, or did you learn how to play them all only after you started your solo career, to control the whole process of arranging and recording your own music?
YAMA-B: I started to play so many instruments with the thought that it's much easier, faster and more reliable to do something by yourself instead of trying to find someone that could do it for you. Obviously I spent a lot of time acquiring these skills and I feel fairly confident with my guitar. On stage, apart from vocals, I'm also responsible for bass and keyboards so I had to practice these two in particular to achieve a certain level of precision. As far as the drums go, my abilities are barely basic. While recording solo albums, I used a drum machine.
What gave you the idea to go abroad and work with foreign artists in the first place?
YAMA-B: Many ideas come from my Polish manager. At this point we slowly put them into action. This interview is one of those little steps!
What can you tell us about the metal scene in Japan?
YAMA-B: Currently, the most popular bands in the Japanese metal scene are female bands. This trend is called "jyo-metal". Record labels these days are most strongly interested in signing female bands.
Also the visual kei movement has been popular for a long time now. However, even though many visual kei bands are often simply metal, in Japan they're considered a different genre. What's more, this movement has a completely separate fanbase, and so the "true" metalheads don't interact with visual kei fans. As far as the metal scene goes, the popularity of Galneryus doesn't seem to change. And even though I'm no longer a member, it still makes me happy!
Finally, is there anything else you'd like to tell your European fans?
YAMA-B: This will be our first overseas tour and our first trip abroad. We really want to tighten our relations with Europe. We intend to do our best, but at the same time we need your support. I'll do my best!
Our thanks go to YAMA-B's manager, Dorota "Nika" Janiszewska, for organizing and translating the interview!
If you'd like to find out more, please visit YAMA-B's facebook profile.