20s – From Indies To Break Out
Forming The Yellow Monkey
…And then my money finally ran out. I had to sell all of the equipment that I bought for 800,000 yen: Even a really expensive guitar that I got from the guy that I went to see Iron Maiden in Shizuoka with. I thought “I’m sorry” as I sold it. It all went for about 400,000 yen, half of what I paid for it. And with that 400,000 in hand, I bought another cheaper guitar and a bass for 200,000 something and set the rest aside for living expenses. Why did I sell my other bass? I heard that Heesey’s band wasn’t doing too well and thought that maybe he’d join mine…
I didn’t like playing bass after all, and Heesey was way better than me. He agreed, and said “Let’s form a band that sounds like Lou Reed singing ABBA songs”. I was guitar, Matsuo was vocals, and drums was a guy from a band called Killer May that Matsuo knew: Annie (Eiji Kikuchi). This was The Yellow Monkey’s second lineup. I switched to guitar the moment that Heesey joined on bass, and that was the lineup for our first show. We had it at an outdoor mall or something.
The lineup would change unexpectedly, but I was friends with Heesey from the start. In fact I’d often stay over at his parent’s place, where he lived at the time. We liked a lot of the same artists, and I was very happy that he was our bassist. Our vocalist at the time was a lot like Steven Tyler, and was good friends with Annie. Though I hadn’t really talked to Annie much at that point.
I’d actually decided on the name “The Yellow Monkey” for the band before I even found the members. To me, The Yellow Monkey had to be a band with good looking members that were taller than average: That was the one concept that I had in mind for the band. Back then I thought “Regular people can’t play glam rock like this!”, even though I was fat. How shameless. Annie was once called the Yousuke Eguchi (a poet, actor and singer who is considered to be very good looking) of the glam rock world, so he was in from the start. I guess we all just found each other naturally.
I took up guitar because at that time I was listening to Mick Ronson’s solo album and thought “Ahh, I might be able to play like this”. Then I had the vague notion that “I’ll be a guitarist, and one day I’ll sing too”. I probably just wanted the cushion of being a guitarist in the mean time. I’d been anxious about this for a long time, so it’s not something I could just change all of the sudden. I was probably insecure about it.
At first I wanted to play what you might call candy pop. I had a strong image of it being like The Who covering a Beatles song. There was a band a long time ago called The Raspberries, and I always said that it would be great to have a sound like theirs. I liked the pop aspects of more B-grade glam rock, the kind that you’d hear on a compilation album: Like Slade or Sweet. And then add in some rough edges, like the New York Dolls. And then some more intellectual aspects, like Lou Reed. And of course some David Bowie too. Those are the feelings that I had at the start.
I’d say that I had some…differing opinions with the vocalist at the time, but the truth is I’d gotten to the point where I wanted to sing more and more. So even though we had a vocalist, I started singing some songs live. And then, well…he left. I wasn’t a very good guitarist, so we couldn’t stay just a trio. Annie’s brother Emma (Hideaki Kikuchi) hadn’t been doing anything since Killer May broke up, so he joined on guitar.
We recorded a four track demo tape through a friend of Heesey’s right after the vocalist quit. And after I hearing it I thought “Oh man, we can do this! You can’t find songs like these anywhere!”. It gave me a lot of confidence, even though we didn’t end up selling that tape at all.
Explosion of Ego
I lost that weight when I was 18, but I was still young and a bit chubby. As soon as I formed The Yellow Monkey and became the vocalist, I thought “I’ve got to lose some more”. I set my goal to be right around David Bowie’s weight, and did a lot of bad things to my body in the process.
My face didn’t look reptilian like his. No matter how I looked at it, it was more like a raccoon. Thinking “I’ve got to do something to make myself look more reptilian!”, everyday I’d look in the mirror and and try to figure out how I could get myself looking more that way, and how I could get those creases alongside my lips like David Bowie. And thinking “How can I get my voice to sound like his?”, I’d go into the bathroom and force that voice out. It was like using your imagination to do plastic surgery! I really thought that a person could change the muscles in their face through sheer force of will!
And through all of that, I managed to change my very nature. My friends at the time all said “You’re a great guy”, and all of my friends were guys. There were no girls at all. Then from 18 on, all of my friends were girls. I had no guy friends, except for the other band members. I just thought that if I was going to have fun with someone, I wanted it to be a girl.
I was terrible at talking to the audience when I first started singing, everything I said was just so cynical. Though we never had that many people who came to see us. I was the type that would never say anything like “Alright everybody, let’s get crazy!”. I’d maybe say something like “Come on, at least dance around a little!”
I was a good guy back when I was fat. I wonder why I was so good natured then… It’s probably because I didn’t have much of an ego. Instead of suppressing it, I cast it aside. I said some really horrible things in conversations during studio rehearsals, and to the other band members. I think I turned into a pretty unpleasant guy. I became that way after losing all that weight, and my true nature came out.
I’d touch girls that I didn’t know, mostly girlfriends of guys from other bands. Those guys would say things like “I’m gonna kill that guy one day”, and of course they’d take notice of me. “You slept with my girl and stole her!”. Even though that wasn’t a phrase that people really said.
I didn’t just go from one girl to the next like a comic book character though. I would actually date girls…
Outlook on Love
I thought that I was talented, and that women were attracted to me because of my talent rather than my appearance. That’s why instead of being around really attractive girls, I was always around girls who understood when I talked to them about being confident yet lonely, or why my music was the way it was. That’s why I never had any interest in normal girls who worked in an office or something, even if they were attractive. They were all the same to me. And that’s how my fear of girls gradually decreased. Though it didn’t go away completely.
There was a girl that I really grew to like since I had started singing. Naturally she also really liked David Bowie, Japan (the British rock band) and other aesthetic and intellectual rock. So I paired up with this girl, who also had some emotional problems herself. But because I’d slept with a couple of her friends, we didn’t always get along very well. It was an awful time. Having been with two friends of the girl I was dating, I really had changed. It even registered with me at the time that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I wasn’t thinking about marriage, just about writing a bunch more songs and getting signed to a label. When the band took off, I sort of separated my relationships with women out. I thought of them as getting in the way.
The Birth of Kazuya Yoshii, the Vocalist
Actually, I joined a band that had been around before Urgh Police as the vocalist before I played bass. I did a few live performances with them, and I have a confession to make: I was really terrible! At that time I was singing heavy metal, and I didn’t sing in a high voice. The general outlook was that a vocalist who couldn’t sing in a high voice just couldn’t sing at all. But David Bowie caused people to lighten up on that and realize that it’s fine if someone doesn’t sing that high. That was always with me unconsciously. I felt all sorts of different ways about it, but ultimately since I had no confidence I ended up thinking “Well I can’t sing, so I wonder if I can play bass”. And I excused that with “Well as long as I’m making music, it’s fine”. But my desire and confidence gradually grew.
The thing is, I was always singing. Not in a loud voice or anything, just at home or on the train. I’d always sing the lyrics to western songs perfectly in my head, but I thought it was just because I liked those songs. I’d always sing to myself on the train, and come up with different arrangements.
Once Emma joined, the first thing we did was have a live show. And one afternoon after he’d done a couple of shows with us, Emma called me. He started saying “I think I’m going to quit”. Our musical views went together really well, and I was tired from just having woken up so I asked “Eh? Why?”. Then he responded “Well…because your songs aren’t any good”. I panicked and said “Please, just give it six more months! I’ll do something about it!”. But that’s Emma for you! Just the other day I sarcastically said to him “You said my songs weren’t any good back then, and here you are still with me after I’ve gone solo!”. He just said “Yeah, I guess so!”.
When we first started out, well it was bad! The songs were really, really bad. And of course no one ever told us that we were any good. Oomori, who would be the President of our future management company Bowinman Music (at the time he was La.mama’s booking manager) said “Anyway, you guys are bad. The band is bad, and the songs are bad”. But when we were making that demo tape, I felt like I could do something about my song writing. They weren’t very rock-feeling songs at all. If you took out the melody, they were just pop songs.
Anxious to Get Signed
Back then you could say I was in the nightlife business, that’s to say I worked in a bar. That allowed me to progress enough to where I’d sing at karaoke, which I thought of as practice. One night after I’d sung some enka, I started singing some pop music. That attracted the attention of a regular customer: He looked at me and asked “Are you in a band?”. He managed a band that had been signed recently. When he asked “Do you have a tape?” and I let him listen to the four track one we had made, and he just said “Oh!”. So at that time I was thinking “I wonder if there isn’t something I can do, even if it’s just something small”.
If I wasn’t able to get signed by the time I was 25, I decided that I’d give up and quit. My mother even said something like “That’s a good age”. My father died at 26, after all. I told her “My life isn’t going to be over at 26, you know”, even though I’d thought “I might die when I’m 26” when I was much younger. I had the impression that I’d have a short lifespan, since a guy who sold signature stamps said something about it to me once.
My father was actually an orphan. It’s pretty common among traveling performers: They have a kid, and there’s no one else there to take care of it. So now that kid’s an orphan. He never really knew the truth though, since he didn’t have any relatives. But no matter how you do the math, there’s no way that his “mother” had him at her age, and I’d heard that his real father had passed some time ago. That’s why I was certain that I’d have a short lifespan, and I’m sure it was connected to back when I worked at that restaurant when I thought I should just die. “I might die at 26” and “I have a short lifespan” were things that were imprinted in me. So I decided “I’ll do this until I’m 25, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll go back to the countryside”, and was trying to come to grips with it.
The Introduction of a Drag Queen Character Personality
We were having a lot of our shows at a venue called Shibuya La.mama, the front-line of a small glam rock movement. They had an event that I don’t really understand the name of called “London Boots Night”, and it was a gathering of dolled-up people wearing…london boots, I suppose! There was a band called Tyrannosaurus that had a vocalist named Karibow, that I became really good friends with. I went over to his place to hang out a lot. Bands like Scanch were just getting signed, and Marchosias Vamp had just gotten popular with the song “ikaten”, and we were a very glam band too. I said before that I was very cynical when talking to the audience, so I decided to try to inject some humor into it. I felt I should take on a personality that would make people laugh a little bit more, so that’s what I did.
Scanch’s “Koi no Magic Potion” (Magic Love Potion)
Marchosias Vamp’s “Bara ga Suki” (I Love Roses)
That’s how bad I was at talking to the audience. I was so bad that Heesey asked “Should I do it?”. But the moment I tried out a drag queen character personality as a joke (though I didn’t go too effeminate) and thought “I should just do this like they would see in a bar” (like in a gay bar that has stage shows), I was really able to get up there and talk. Then everyone said “This guy can really talk”. So people ended up coming to our shows because they heard “He’s so cool” and “His conversations with the audience are really good”. Terrible isn’t it?
I’ve always enjoyed when things that I say go over well with people. So I was able to bring that part of myself out through putting on makeup and adopting this effeminate personality. When I put on that makeup, I was really able to be myself. That’s why my makeup was so thick back then. It was really, really thick. So why is it that I was just able to do it all of the sudden, I wonder? But it’s not as though I just decided to talk to the audience like that one day, just out of the blue. It may be that I was able to after putting out “Bunched Birth” (our indie album). It released in July, and the show that we announced it during was our first headlining show. Releasing that CD probably gave me a lot of confidence, and that’s when I suddenly started talking to the audience in that style.
As soon as I adopted that personality, things were different: I wrote songs to fit that personality. A lot of the songs before that were dark, like “Welcome To My Doghouse”. I’d sing about things like cutting out your innards, then lighting candles and having a birthday party or something. So I took those sort of erotic and grotesque lyrics and made them a little bit more comical.
Of the people who came to our shows back then, about 10% of them were male…maybe? They were almost all women, and mostly ones that were older than us. Well they said that most people who liked glam rock were in the 25 to 30 age range, and I was 23 or 24. It seemed like Heesey always wanted more guys to show up though. Nirvana had debuted right around then, and guys went to see bands like them, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Pearl Jam. And of course I liked Nirvana, because I liked metal. I thought that I’d never be able to achieve a Nirvana-like sound with the music I’m making right now.
The La.mama Era
It was so much fun. The amount of people that turned up for our shows doubled just like that! When we were signed to a label, the money that the band got paid for ticket sales reached 500-600,000 yen. Maybe it was even more? At any rate, we made a lot of money. I was previously selling tickets directly to friends and such, but I’d just taken all of the tickets that I was selling without paying for them myself. I said something to the other members like “I’m sorry. I’ll pay it back one day”. After we were signed I did the math and divided it up between the members. It ended up being like 200-300,000 yen per person…maybe even more. Of course I didn’t get a share of that, but that’s how paying your debts works!
It was maybe the most dramatic change in my life. Just like that my days of being fat, having no redeeming qualities, being unpopular with women and working in cafes were over. And I, who had no prospects in life, was now singing songs, writing music, standing in front of people, had women who wanted to be around me and money. It all made me feel very drunk. But the most fun was in being able to write songs that got reactions like “Wow! This is a good song, isn’t it!?”. I hadn’t written very many, and the ones I had were all fairly simplistic. And I was able to write some really weird lyrics.
“Lovers On Backstreet” was the first song I wrote the music for in The Yellow Monkey, but it was very complex. They told me “You overdid it” back then. The song had a different melody when we had our previous vocalist, and different lyrics as well. So I changed the melody and rewrote the lyrics so I could sing it myself. When I came up with the phrase “I have a flower for you too”, I knew I could work with the song. With just that single phrase. But it’s a song about a prostitute, so I thought “There isn’t any Japanese rock like this”. From that point on I wrote like something new had been opened up in me, like I was possessed by something.
But I didn’t know anything about music theory at all, and I couldn’t do much multiplication either. So while I didn’t really have the right foundation to be doing any of this, I wanted to do it so badly. When I was writing the song I mentioned earlier about cutting out your innards and such (it was called “Fur Coat Blues”), I really hit a wall. I kept thinking “I can’t go anywhere with this from here! I don’t know enough about chords!”. And I really dwelled and dwelled on that…
The girl that I was dating at the time cut her wrists all the time. I couldn’t stitch up wounds from something like a utility knife, so I decided to try something like thin cuts from a razor on myself. I thought to myself “You’re such a wimp!”, but also realized I hated the stitching. Ultimately I was okay with it though, because it seemed like it bled enough. It was really stupid and dangerous. Apparently one time I got drunk and suddenly pulled out a kitchen knife and said “I’m going to kill myself!”. I don’t remember it at all, but some old friends told me that it happened. Even though my life had changed so dramatically, I guess all of that was still a part of me.
When I hit a wall with my writing, I’d go to the ossuary in Ikebukuro that my father’s remains were in. I’d gone every month since I was 18. The old woman who worked at the shop that sold star anise and incense sticks was really impressed. “You’re very diligent about coming to visit your father’s resting place, aren’t you?”. When I thought about what I should ask him for, I said “I can’t think of an intro, will you help me out? Will you give me an idea?”. Then I came up with the intro for our debut single, “Romantist Taste”. He gave me a hint. Whenever I go to see him, I’m always able to come up with some sort of phrase, even though I realize that they’re coming from my own mind. I told that girl I was dating that I was going to visit his grave, and she asked to come with me. And after I was done, she went up to the grave, folded her hands together and said “He’s not alive anymore, but…”. What are you doing just coming along to someone else’s father’s grave anyway?!
I wasn’t completely convinced that I could actually write songs, that wouldn’t happen until “Love Communication” (our fifth single). It’s a rather embarrassing thing to admit, but I was really desperate at the time. Because if I didn’t race toward finding a character to write from the perspective of, or some amusing set of lyrics, my sense of being a singer would completely disappear. It was too embarrassing for me to just say “I’m a singer”, so I said “I’m a musician”. Come to think of it, I’m still a little embarrassed to call myself “a singer” even now.
Indie Album “Bunched Birth”
Oomori, the booking manager at La.mama (He’d later be the President of our management company), asked us “Do you want to put out a CD on our indie label?”. “Oomori asked us, do you guys wanna make one?” “But there’s that other guy too…” (“That other guy” being the regular customer from my previous job). Those are the kind of conversations we had as a band, in the studio. It ended up as “Well you know, we don’t have to pay anything for this. They’re going to pay for it, so should we just try and make one?”. From that point on, I was a little underhanded. I was thinking “When we release this CD, it’s definitely not going to be our real debut.”. But I was thinking that way until around our second album after we had in fact debuted. I thought we should dole out the songs we played that were popular (there were around 10 of them then), and not put all of them on this album. Then we should write new songs. We’d have around 3 main songs for the CD, and the rest would be like bonuses.
I came up with “Bunched Birth” from the Japanese term “shuuchuu shussan” (集中出産), but thought to myself “Is that an actual phrase in English?”. It was like “Hey hey, this is the title you’re giving it, but what is bunched birth?”. But I knew it would be the title as soon as I thought of it. We did a lot of recording, but it was really interesting. Making a CD is fun! The most fun thing was all of that recording though. I’ll never forget it, it was the most fun part.
I listened to it all the time up until our debut album came out, every chance I got. Actually, I listened to it a lot even after we debuted. The album of ours that I’ve listened to the most is probably either “Sicks” or “Bunched Birth”. I listened to it several times when it was just pressed, to make sure it worked. It has a strange energy to it. It may not sound very good as a whole, but I’ve often thought that some of the songs sound amazing. I’ve also often thought that we overdid them. Either way, we haven’t had that clear of a sound since our debut. Though I wanted to create an amazingly clear and kaleidoscope-esque sound (like the band 10cc), it came out stagnant no matter what I did. Because it didn’t end up sounding good, I feel like I’ll never make an album like that again. I also really love “Sicks”. I wanted that one to have a little bit more of a depressed but easier to understand sound to it.
You may ask “Why is that?”, and that’s because in the middle of The Yellow Monkey’s life, I developed a big problem. Being around the same group of musicians all the time got me thinking “Why are things turning out this way?”. The only time that I thought “Ahh, this is really great” about anything musically at that time, was “Jam”. I knew that it was something special, and it was really going to sell. But that opened my eyes, and because it was such a silky sound I started wondering if the problem wasn’t with me. If I was a drummer I’d have been asking myself “Is it because I changed my drum set?”. If I was a bassist I’d have been asking myself “Is it that amp?”.
When I think about it now…well there may have been any number of technical reasons, but it’s probably because the world I lived in was made from breaking things down and mashing them together. I realize now that it’s a sound that I just couldn’t clearly wrap my head around back then. You can’t really produce your own unique sound if you don’t have a good deal of potential. So that’s why I think my method then was to break different aspects down to the point that they were unrecognizable, mash them all together, and boom.
There was a time when I thought “I can’t believe I made that” about “Bunched Birth”, and that was during “smile” (4th album). I didn’t listen to it during that time, when I was in the mental state of heading toward pop with everything I had.
You know, recording “Bunched Birth” was really fun. I took the train to the studio every day…and was there there until about 5 in the morning. I butted in with my own guitar parts too. I should have just let Emma play them, but the more recording we did, the more harmonies I added in. The joy of saying “You wouldn’t normally put a 12 string guitar in this kind of song”…Giving my melodies a form and leaving them on something just made me happy. I listened to them every day! I was already getting narcissistic.
Anyway…we were recording. We only had 24 tracks to work with on the mixer, and the engineer would always say “You want to add more!?”. I thought we had to, or it wouldn’t be good enough! I thought the same way during our next album too. I’d think “Huh, why doesn’t everyone else want to add more too?”. It wasn’t going to be good enough if we didn’t, after all! When we recorded the next album I’d say “Some of these songs don’t sound very good…” and they’d tell me “You overdid it on the mixing!”.
Taking the melodies I wrote and putting harmonies to them is a feeling so good that it’s beyond comparison. It’s pure ecstasy. It felt really good recording that 4 song demo tape too. On the song “Hang Onto Yourself”, there’s a guitar that’s continuously harmonizing at the end. I played all of that, I wouldn’t let Emma do it. I told him “It just feels right, so let me do it”. I was probably working on that until morning.
Basically it was the happiness of being able to establish a form for the things that happened during those two years that dramatically changed my life. “I can write songs! I can sing! And I can put a form to all of this! And put it on a CD!”. This all made me very happy. I think I just wanted to know that my life and what I was doing had some meaning. And all of that is why I don’t think the other members had any fun during recording. I’m sure they were thinking “We don’t need two bass parts, so just stop it! We don’t need to add in a distorted bass or anything like that!” I was pretty intolerable!
The other members didn’t say anything about it at all though. “There’s nothing for it, he’s just selfish. Let’s just listen to what he has to say” is how they probably felt. They weren’t particularly strong opinionated in the first place, because they were very clever. That’s why they listened to whatever I had to say. Even though I couldn’t even sing very well yet, they listened to me saying things like “This kind of phrasing would be good”, “Step on the wah pedal here”, or even giving direction on guitar effects. I’d say things like “That was just a little too fast”. Emma could use whatever guitar phrasing he wanted in songs that he wrote, but in songs that I wrote I’d tell him the riffs and even solos that I wanted, telling him things like “Start the part going into the solo with this kind of phrasing”. But Emma was very mature about it, probably thinking “As long as the song turns out well, it’s fine”. That’s just the kind of band members they were, and all four of us realized that’s just how we worked as a band.
I was always happy eating delivery food at night afterward too. When he brought the delivery ramen or whatever into the room that had the mics for the bass amps set up in it, the delivery guy bumped one of them with his butt and Heesey got really mad!
I could already vaguely imagine our debut on a major label. I seriously thought “When we make our major label debut we’ll be able to do even more mixing!”. I remember asking someone “We should be doing more mixing, right?”. That’s like asking someone “You’ll record us with a much better sound, right?”. We had a small magazine write about us, and gave us a rave review. Oomori heard this and thought something like “These guys are going to be okay”. We didn’t sound very cutting edge for the time, but the review said something like “You can’t find this anywhere else”. So we were able to create something unique.
The last song that we performed during the encore of our Tokyo Dome concert before we halted activity as a band was “Welcome To My Doghouse”. It was like the desire to improve by getting to the other side of my sense of being a victim and my ill will toward society and others just exploded. Though those that I’d blame for that change on a case by case basis. At that point it was just me asserting myself though, saying “I can write something like this too!”. So the guy who made that assertion and wrote “Welcome To My Doghouse” continued on, asking all the while “Do you know why I wrote this song?!”, and took the fans along with him. Because I was responsible for planting the seed that “Welcome To My Doghouse” was such an important song for those who had been fans since “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” (“The Sun is Burning”), I felt I had to end it with that song.
So we’d made a demo tape, made a CD and increased concert attendance. This meant I was at the level where I was aware that I was a rock star. I was at the point where I thought things like “I’m David Bowie now”. It was a pretty extreme point of view, but that’s the kind of person I am. If I could say something to myself from back then, I’d say “It’s fine to be that way”. Our CD made it to Columbia Records and For Life Music, and the Directors of both companies came to see us. Oomori, our booking manager, asked us “What are you going to do? Which are you going to pick?”.
A lot of bands debuted at La.mama: Jun Sky Walker(s), Kome Kome Club and Ziggy all did. All of them knew Oomori and helped the place out with their own performances. I like to think of him as saying something like “I want to work with you guys”, but he actually said something like “You guys are the only ones I’ve got”. I was so happy that the booking manager of the place that I stood on stage at for the first time in Argh Police when I was 18 years old was helping to launch us. He made it all happen for us. Heesey would often say things like “That’s what he gets!”, and “That old bearded guy finally figured out how good we are!”.
The reason we chose the record company that we did wasn’t because of what they were offering, the amount was basically the same. Our staff thought they were both good choices, and they both had very successful artists signed to them. Columbia was a very old fashioned company, and For Life tended to have a lot of folk music artists, so I really agonized over the choice. But for some reason, it ended up coming down to me to make the decision. Up until then I’d just said “Oomori, you pick one”. But then one day, Hibari Misora appeared to me in a dream and said “I’ll leave the rest up to you”. So the next day I told him “We’ll go with Columbia”, since that was the label she was on. Granted I was half joking, but I’ll never be able to forget that dream. Later on I’d come to think of it as being the right choice, but at the time I sort of thought that I couldn’t possibly have anything to do with such an influential person. And besides, I was a rock musician, not an enka musician. But looking back on it now, it really was an amazing dream.
Hibari Misora’s “kawa no nagare no you ni” (Like The Flow Of The River)
After releasing “Bunched Birth”, we were ready to move on. I wrote a song called “shinjuiro no kakumei jidai (Pearl Light of Revolution)” before our major label debut album (though that’s the one we’d end up recording it for), but escaping from my previous crappy life was just the motivation I needed to get it out there at that point. It’s also right around when I first met my wife. Now that we’d gotten signed, I figured it was about time to starting acting like a decent human being. Then we had a concert to announce that we’ve been signed to a label (On 12/14/1991 at Shibuya La.mama), at which I unseemly wept as I sung “Pearl Light of Revolution”. Why did I do that? It was probably just all of my feelings welling up…and me gaining the confidence that something new was really beginning within myself. Happiness from change, feelings about the past, and all sorts of different emotions.
But when we actually made our debut, things completely changed. In the 6 months between making Bunched Birth and getting signed to a major label, I felt invincible. I just had so much energy. But I didn’t feel anywhere near as much happiness when recording our first album on that major label. It felt so much more dull. I wasn’t such a good singer during the recording of Bunched Birth, but it all felt so good. But the songs on our first major label album were actually painful to sing, and I didn’t do a very good job at all. It’s not that I couldn’t physically sing them, but more like it just never came out right when I did. The pressure of actually being on a label was mounting.
I actually got married right around the time we debuted on our new label. We met just before, because she actually made our stage clothes for us. She was originally with an older guy, and he was pretty complicated. She told me “I’m in a bit of a complicated relationship right now, and he doesn’t give me too much freedom. He hits me sometimes too”. She also told me that all she wants is to have my children. “I want to run away from all this and just live my life working and living in an old inn out in the country, pregnant with that child”. I was going from woman to woman at that time, so I told her “Yeah, okay”. Then the guy she was seeing came to one of the venues we were playing at to look for her. I thought I was done for at that point, but I didn’t want to break things off just because things were getting a little scary, so I said “Let’s get married!”. We could just call the cops if this guy tried anything, and I loved her. Plus her mother would probably feel a lot more at ease if we just went ahead and did it.
But when we went over the local ward office to do it, they told us that getting married wasn’t quite that easy. We needed witnesses, so Oomori and Heesey agreed to do that. So then we were married, and rented a one room, six tatami mat apartment. This was all right when we were recording that ablum. There were times when I thought she might leave me for someone else, she made clothes for other bands at La.mama too after all. But I knew she wanted to keep me around when she said “No, I’m only doing this for The Yellow Monkey now”. What a petty man I was!
There was one time awhile back when she came running barefoot into the place where we rehearsed, in the winter. I felt really bad for her. So I said “Let’s go to a family restaurant after we’re done rehearsing”. As we were wandering around Suginami, that guy she was seeing at the time was out looking for her. When we ran into him he confronted me too. He said something like “I’ll kill you, asshole!”, and I backed off a little bit. Hey, I’d heard that he kept a bunch of guns in his closet! I’m not making this up! Though maybe my wife did! I’ve since thought that it might have been a plan of his to say to her “Look at what a wimp he is, what are you doing with him?” But I was happy to feel like I was a necessary part of her life, and thought to myself “I have to help her”. And I prayed everyday “I won’t do anything bad anymore, just please make this guy go away”. And I actually would look out the peep hole every day before I left to make sure he wasn’t waiting there.
Since we were attracted to each other, of course that meant she had some emotional damage as well. Even so, she did tell me that she thought I was talented, and we did get married. She knew that I had a history of fooling around, but I couldn’t keep doing that stuff if I was going to be her husband. Even so, I couldn’t just change my life just by simply saying “Okay, I’ve got it”.
I was still potentially being followed by that guy, and so I thought I couldn’t really do anything to stand out. So I adopted a very passive personality. A show of ours called The Convention Live (our debut show on our new label at Shibuya Club Quattro, aimed at other people in the music industry) was a real mess. I just couldn’t get myself very hyped up because I was living my life in such a frightened way.
It was so very different from the life that I’d lived up until that point…and it was probably because I felt responsible for it all. For the first time I began to feel that I really needed to stop doing all that stuff, and realized that I didn’t want to be known for all that. But that was just the way I lived my life, so I couldn’t really change it. I couldn’t just turn into a more ideal person all of the sudden. So I felt this strange pressure ever since we got signed, and I wasn’t able to enjoy myself very much at all.
I hadn’t really thought about marriage much, I just figured I’d be single until I was in my 30s. But looking at it now…the main reasons for it were not only that I loved her, but also that I really wanted to put her parents’ minds at ease too. My monthly income at the time was still only about 100,000 yen, but me thinking “Okay” in response to her previous “All I want is to have your children” meant that I obviously wanted some too. Even though that wasn’t really possible at the time. I actually really like kids. In grade school I always held and played with our relatives kids until they’d tell me “Come on, put them down already”. I wonder why I feel that way? I like kids, even though I’m not particularly fond of cats or dogs.
Anyway, I wanted to talk about this back on my radio show (a late night show on FM NACK 5 called “Kazuya Yoshii’s Midnight Rock City”. It ran from October 1992 to March 1995), but I was told “Those aren’t the sort of things you should talk about!” in regard to all of this. But I think that it can’t actually be reality unless you say them out loud. When I’d be featured in magazines they’d say “Make sure you don’t let anyone know that you’re married”. If it’s that important, what exactly am I expressing myself through music for then?
But I kept writing songs through all of that. The first album was completed, and it was time to promote it and get ready for the next album. I felt very excited because “Suck Of Life”, a popular song that we’d been playing since our indie days was finally going to be recorded for the next album! I was also really excited for “Avant-garde de ikou yo” (“Let’s Go Avant-garde”).
First Album Miscalculations
I got the impression that things weren’t supposed to have turned out the way they did. But we did have a weird band name, and it definitely didn’t sell enough copies to be popular. During Bunched Birth we thought “The album we make after we get signed is going to be awesome! We’re going to be a sensation and be big stars immediately!”, but that’s not what happened at all. There was no sensation, and our promotional videos made us look like a cavalcade of insects or something! The only places that wanted to talk to us were visual kei magazines, even though that’s not really the kind of music that we played. I knew that what was inside of me was much more pop than that, but I was frightened and very worried.
When I listen to them now, the songs on that album were very frightened ones. Because I was so scared of something or other, I wasn’t singing from my chest. Was it a case of “The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean”? Everything was beyond my control, and my surroundings were no longer familiar. Thinking about it now, the president of our record company was probably wondering how he could possibly sell that album. Even people who liked us in our indie days criticized us and said things like “They got signed and now they suck”.
For that first album we stayed in Kawaguchiko for recording and then went back to Tokyo. But that was also the day that Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out. So the recording engineer bought it and brought it back with him, and we listened to it on cassette. I couldn’t get over how amazing it sounded. I couldn’t stop thinking “How did they get this sound!?”, because it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. So “Foxy Blue Love” was the first song that the recording engineer started on during mixing, and he made it sound like Nirvana! But I listened to it and said “I’m sorry, let’s just give up. This is great, but it’s just not right”. Then I played a Finger 5 CD for him and said “Please try to make it sound something like this”. Then I played him Pink Lady or something and said “Give the snare drum a thick sound, like this”. A nice thick analog sound like Sweet had. I told him “Something that sounds like it was from ’75 or ’76 would be nice”, but then it turned into a little bit of a disagreement. The recording engineer was worried, but he went along with it. I was probably trying to revive “Yoake no Scat” (“Dawn Scat”), and all the music I listened to when I was a kid right then and there. It’s the foundation of why I make music, after all. I want people to hear something that has a cool sound to it.
Just before this, Lenny Kravitz put out the album “Mama Said”. No one would really say this now, but I think it was a really revolutionary recording. He was probably the first person on a major label to use that kind of analog sound during that time. And I think the rest of the world changed their sound around that. It wasn’t that lame mid-80s sound that was still hanging around up until then. I asked the recording engineer to give us a sound like that too, but he told me that just wasn’t possible.
The Second Album Where I Said Goodbye To My Mother, “Unaired Experience Movie” (“Mikoukai Experience Movie”)
During the recording of our second album, that “complicated” guy (my wife’s former lover) stopped following us around for some reason. It was finally over. He didn’t try to call anymore, so it was fine now.
So then things took a sharp turn for us. We sent a clear message: “This is the kind of band that we are!”. Though our record company felt more like “Don’t you dare make another album like that first one!”.
I was listening to Morio Agata at the time, and something really shocked me. I thought of Agata as a folk musician, but suddenly starting feeling that he was a lot more closer to me because the base of his music came from artists like Brian Eno. So I started thinking “Oh, this is another way of expressing yourself. Isn’t this just disguising itself as contemporary Japanese music?” He had an album called “Song of an Eternal and Far Off Land” (“eien no engoku no uta”), which was very fantastical. I purposefully took a ride on a fairy boat when we had a concert in Sapporo, and I listened to that CD as I looked up at the night sky. It really left quite an impression on me. From that point on I began to understand that there was a part of me that had a good bit of Japan nostalgia, and was able to make this album. I think I owe a lot to Agata as far as my ability to express my private matters in a prosaic way. And that’s allowed me to think of songs not just as individual parts, but as complete stories. When I wrote the song “Madam With Silk Scarf and Hat” (“silk scarf ni boushi no madam”), I thought about just how wonderful songs really are. Hearing Agata sing can bring me to tears, and it made me realize that I should strive to do the same thing.
Morio Agata’s “Submarine”
But even after we’d released our second album, nothing changed for us. We were able to have our first concert in a live hall (Nippon Seinen-Kan Hall) though, so we were gradually moving up. I also got my own show as a late night radio DJ, so I was becoming more visible to more fans since getting signed to a major record label. But the album only sold about 8000 copies.
During that concert at Nippon Seinen-Kan Hall…we had topless women with bags over their heads on stage with us during the opening song. We played some footage from the movie “Santa Sangre” (a 1989 Mexican-Italian avant-garde horror film) as the opening too. That movie is the story of a boy with a mother complex, for a mother who’s had both of her arms cut off by the father. I don’t know why, but that’s just the image that I had in my mind for that concert.
My interactions with women also changed in a lot of ways. I think that up until then I’d looked to other women for the emotions that I didn’t get from my mother. But being married meant that I didn’t need to do that anymore. You might say it was my own internal farewell to my mother…But then all of the sudden her and my wife started butting heads more. And this happened because they were both parts of my life, even if it wasn’t stated out loud. My wife didn’t generally get along well with my mother at the time, so she just avoided interacting with her.
Pressure was coming at me from all directions, restraining me twice as much. My wife was there to head things off with my mother, but she also ended up constraining me in different ways. I thought about rubbing one of those topless women’s breasts during a break in the song, but I didn’t because I thought my wife would get mad if I did. I really wanted to, but just for show! But I just sort of writhed around instead. Those sorts of things are what I used to energize me while making this second album.
It was S&M on full display at that Nippon Seinen-Kan Hall concert, it was really intense. It felt kind of like…being back in our indie days. But if too many fans see this kind of thing, it might drive a lot of them away. That’s probably what made me back off of it.
The Third Album That Let My Father Rest in Peace, “Jaguar Hard Pain”
The mood from our record company around this time was “Make a third album that actually sells, Yoshii”. And I thought “Well the third one is going to be a concept album, so this is no laughing matter!”. I was thinking that our third album would be a concept album from the time we debuted. For some reason I imagined it to be like “Ziggy Stardust” (The concept album that was the crowning achievement of David Bowie’s glam rock era), David Bowie’s “third album” that I love so much. I was very influenced by David Bowie, and this was the third album since he started working with his right-hand man, guitarist Mick Ronson. And that was really my selfish and only reason for wanting to do a concept album at that point. Because I loved David Bowie and Mick Ronson just as much as Keith and Mick from the Rolling Stones.
Right around that time there was a segment on Space Shower TV (A Japanese music TV station) in which a spiritualist was doing spiritual readings for bands that couldn’t sell albums, to tell them how they could start selling. We were told “Hey, it’ll get you on TV. This will be a great promotion opportunity”, so Heesey and I went on. That spiritualist actually ended up being Hiroyuki Ehara (a now famous spiritual counselor). Ehara hadn’t made a name for himself at that point, but people were still saying he was amazing. As I mentioned before, I was convinced that I was going to die at 26 years old. I cooked up a story something like that I’d probably be stabbed to death by wife’s secret boyfriend. Even though there was no such secret boyfriend. But during that spiritual reading, I was told that I wasn’t going to die. Even though none of it was arranged beforehand, he just got everything. He said that he was speaking to my father’s real mother, and I was on the verge of tears. He also said that she was telling me to just keep focusing on music. And when he told me “It’s a cycle of death, breakups, divorces and such when you’re young. You’ve been causing us particularly a lot of trouble on that front, but all of your ancestors are backing you up. So you’ll definitely succeed”, then it all just washed over me. From there it turned into a bit of a come-back story…and probably right about then that the character of Jaguar came out from within me, tying this all back to “Ziggy Stardust”.
When I think about Jaguar now, it was probably my father. This may just be an observation after the fact, but my father was born in war time, in 1944. And the name of our band was The Yellow Monkey, after all. Maybe you could call it nationalism or something, I don’t know. The character was themed after my father and Yukio Mishima…even though I don’t know a whole lot about Yukio Mishima. In the end I think I just wanted to be understood. I wanted people to understand not just me as a person, but also my roots. At this point my ability to speak to the crowd also had grown worse since we debuted. Back then I did it in a sort of personality of a somewhat masculine drag queen, but I lost the ability to do that completely after we were signed. Our director even told me that I was really bad at doing it. He told me to talk to them in a way that gets them more excited, so I thought to myself “Well I guess it’s time to shave my head and be more manly!”. So I’ve always thought to myself that I may have created that character to transform the band yet again.
Another reason I thought about shaving my head was admiration for Sinead O’Connor. I also thought it might get some attention if I did it. Appearing in nothing but visual kei magazines always had me thinking “But we’re so different from that”. We weren’t a hardcore band, and even though I knew we would be accepted more eventually, I probably wanted to shave my head just to address that sooner rather than later. Then I wanted to try giving myself a bloody nose for the music video, or something. Everyone just kind of backed away from that, since it didn’t have anything to do with them. I ended up backing off of it myself. Anyway, for the first time since we got signed I constantly had an intense feeling of needing to succeed in my mind. But I also didn’t want to betray our fans that we’d made up until this point. And I didn’t think there was any way that I could just start writing pop songs all of the sudden. But I had a sense that this would all end up coming together.
I acted out the story for Jaguar Hard Pain (which is one of the spirit of a man who died during war in 1944 resurrected in a 1994 Tokyo) over the course of a year-long tour, and it was right around then that I was really into theatre. I often went to Shimokita to see plays, so the influence of that on me at the time was pretty strong. I was able to express it since glam had theatrical elements to it, but afterward I felt like I should stop being so theatrical. Acting ran in my family though after all, so it was part of my roots. So during the tour for that album, my inner military man came out on stage. Money was scattered about on stage at some points, it was all very theatrical.
Everything went great with all of this. In short, this wasn’t fantasy fiction, it was real fiction: To a certain extent this was inevitable for me, but this was me pushing myself closer to my father in a completely fictional setting. To put it a different way, this is a period in my life that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Somewhere within myself I was probably running away from entrusting my own private life to this Jaguar character. The result of this ended up being that all of the themes I was going for were just falling into place, one by one. I felt like I couldn’t move forward without everything in order. It was probably more like that after this album came out, the tour ended, and heading into the next album that would be the real battle. It was probably all about me just making preparations for that. That’s why the tour was so much fun.
The Meaning Of Getting Popular
I really thought that we weren’t selling because of trends. I thought that maybe we had to create a Nirvana-like sound for ourselves. Maybe it wasn’t going to work carrying on with this Finger 5 sort of sound that we had, and maybe I shouldn’t be doing the drag queen thing on stage anymore. I was feeling insecure. During our first and second major label albums, I felt that even though my life shouldn’t be heading backward, it still felt like it was.
We met with our director at a cafe to talk about the future of the band. He asked us “Would you rather be a band that’s loved by 100 people for your entire lifetime, or one that grows and is loved by tens of thousands?”. We replied “Of course a band that’s loved by tens of thousands”. And then he said “Well that’s impossible if you’re not at the right stage for it”. The process was everything to me, after all. I wanted it to be what brought people together. And I couldn’t work through that unless Jaguar’s story (that is to say, the tour for that album) ended. I just couldn’t understand that, though.
“Getting popular” to me had a pretty different meaning than it did to most other people. For example, It was never about “It would be fun if we could make a hit and get popular”, “I wish I had more money”, or “I’ll be able to put out the next album if a bunch of people come to our concert”. And it certainly was never about “Even though society doesn’t accept me, it’s okay because I’m making all this great music”. I was in a band because it was a confirmation of my reason for being. Not being acknowledged by everyone in being told “Kazuya Yoshii, you’ve done enough” took me back to my life from before I was 18, and I was doing this to say a resounding “NO!” to that life. That’s why it was all pretty tough…
Getting popular was important, but it wasn’t so simple as that. If I had been asked why I wanted to be popular, I would have said that it was because I wanted to be told that it was okay for me to exist by others. Without being certain of that, there’s no real ecstasy to be found in others getting enthused over you. That’s why there was no point in showing this necessity being born inside of me, while society was still so unaccepting. And what’s more, even if I was told to make pop songs that would sell, I would have said “Well, I can make them, but…” And if I couldn’t, I would have turned on them and said “I can’t make those, you asshole!”. I had to put some meaning behind my life story after all. And Jaguar was probably in direct conflict with that.
Birth Of My First Child
During “Jaguar Hard Pain” I somehow started putting on weight again. Panic! And after I’d managed to get down to the weight of your average Judo practitioner. That’s why I desperately slimmed down again in the summer after the album released, when we released the single “Nettaiya”. And that was an especially crazy year, because that’s when my oldest daughter was born. But that’s how it goes. When she was born I was up for 24 hours straight for the child birth, rubbing my wife’s back and supporting her the whole time. I eventually couldn’t help but think how tired I was getting though. My daughter was born at 10 PM, and at that point I also couldn’t help but think “She’s finally born, thank god!”. It was a bit of a busy time for me, but I helped with everything! I suppose it’s a bit weird to say “everything”…when that really just means I gave her milk and changed her diapers. She sure was cute though.
I like kids, and babies in particular. So sometimes on my days off I’ll go to the hospital where my 4th son was born, over to the window where you can see the babies that were just born that day in the room where they keep them. They’re discharged from the hospital on a sliding chart in the order that they were born, and new babies are moved in. I like to go watch all of that from the other side of the glass sometimes, on my days off. Even though they’re other people’s children.
My face really ended up changing from all of it…I think I ended up looking more like my father. But well…I was really busy with work. It was even more important for me to make something happen at that point. I even told my wife “Things are definitely going to be better in the future, so just hang in there a little bit longer!”
First Album On The Oricon Charts, In 4th Place: “smile”
It wasn’t all darkness, we could finally see the light. And after the Jaguar Hard Pain tour ended, we managed to get ourselves on the books for a show at the Budokan, which I was thrilled about. But that made me think that since we were going to be Budokan-playing artists, we kind of need ourselves a hit song. So that’s when I wrote “Love Communication”.
Actually, when it came to song writing, I was really in a big slump during “smile” (our fourth album). “Love Communication” was me heatedly saying “You want pop songs?! I can make as many of them as you want, whenever you want!” in a very frantic way. When actually, that song was tacked on: It wasn’t originally supposed to be on “smile” at all. I said that I wanted to make “Venus no Hana” the single, but everyone else said it wasn’t strong enough. I thought “It isn’t strong enough!?”, and lost my temper. I said “Alright, you just wait and see!”, then I wrote it. “nageku nari wa ga yoru no Fantasy” was the last in the series of songs we had stored away from our indie days to release later. Everything after that were songs that we wrote since getting signed. We were definitely pretty baffled as to how we should face up to being signed to a major record label. So we started with “skimming the fat”, so to speak.
Also my upbringing in Kita Ward and family history involving traveling performers became a bit of a nuisance, just after “Jaguar” came out. I’d think “This isn’t who I am, I’m a more stylish person than this!”. Shibuya-kei was the popular style at the time, so I’d think “But I’m Shibuya-kei too!” or “But I’m electronica too!”. I felt that I had a domestic feeling about me, or smelled like tatami mats or something, and I hated it. And I was annoyed that my father had been a traveling performer too. Anyway, everything was all muddled for me: The movies I watched, Kyuusaku Yumeno’s book Dogra Magra, a Shuuji Terayama-like world…I’d just say “Yeah whatever, it’s fine”. Because I’d already gone to those extremes in “Jaguar Hard Pain”. And that all brought about these misunderstandings on my part that “I’m a more stylish person than this” and “I want to have a air of Nishi-Azabu about me”.
So then my daughter was born, and my wife never left her side. I’d always let her hear the songs that I wrote up until that point, but then I stopped because we were both so busy. That led to me feeling like I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand me. I’m not really sure who it was I was looking for though? Ha ha. But there was this woman who ended up filling that role for me. She was very stylish, and I started thinking “This is like how I’m supposed to be!”. So as I told myself to not let things turn into anything bad, I began to use her to sort of validate my own existence…I was the worst! I threw all of this into “Love Communication”. That’s why it turned into such an enthusiastic and strange strong. As an album it feels very much like I’m going full throttle, but there’s a strong feeling of me forcing myself to do it in there too. “smile” reached number 4 on the Oricon charts, but of course I wanted it to be number 1. So that feeling of “We finally did it!” still wasn’t there for me yet: It would only come for the first time later on, with the release of “SICKS”.
Back then I was so busy with work that I wasn’t really at home very much…I directed my first music video with “Love Communication”. I really didn’t like the feel of most Japanese music videos at that point, so I proposed doing it myself…just like usual. I got really busy doing that, and appearing as a regular on two late night radio programs: Midnight Rock City aired from 1:00 to 3:00 AM on Saitama’s NACK 5, with another broadcast in Nagoya at the same time slot, once a week. I was also a regular panelist on a TV Kanagawa music program called “LIVEY”, which was actually pretty hard. It was the hardest one of them all.
I started appearing on the radio around the time of our second album, and at first I was barely able to speak well at all. I really didn’t like doing it, especially reading from a script. So much so that I just couldn’t really speak well. But the director insisted that I’d get used to doing it, so I was able to hang in there. There was also a guy at our record company named Shige Nakahara who was one those people who would laugh at everything you said, but that made talking much easier. He helped pull the talent out of people who worked in the TV and radio industries.
Our concert at the Budokan was already booked around the time we put out “smile”, and it completely sold out the same day it was announced. But the weird thing was, we didn’t have the record sales to match. And that was the most frustrating thing of all for me. I was at the point where I was asking “Why are there captive audiences at our concerts, but not for the albums!?”. It was a period where I was thinking about it very desperately, like I had use the air waves to increase our listeners. These are the kinds of things I did to give myself a kick in the ass, but it was all a lot of fun. I got to pick all of the songs myself, which was very interesting amidst all of that. What made me realize that I could actually talk on those programs was…well maybe it’s because I have three instances of the character for “mouth” in my name. Ha ha. But the difference between when I got very confident and when I wasn’t at all was really dramatic.
In fifth and sixth grade I was the type of kid who would just speak out in a loud voice during the middle of class, and would make retorts to the teacher. That particular teacher would roll with it and give it right back to me though, so the whole class would just laugh. To me, it reinforced the idea that this meant both the teacher and the class were accepting me, so I did it a lot. And then when I got into middle school, I stopped doing that again. Of course I still talked with my friends, since I’d kind of let my guard down around them. But from that point on I kind of lost the stance I had previously of wanting to be the popular kid in class.
I think that I really get talking when I open my heart. I talk when I think I’m being accepted and approved of. That’s why I still can’t really speak all that well at big music festivals. There’s nothing more embarrassing than trying to tell a joke to a crowd to get them to accept you, and they end up just being confused. But I’m fine at concerts I’m actually headlining. I feel like I can pick up on the crowd’s mood very well when it comes to MCs I’m giving while on stage. When the crowd was against me, I tried pulling out my drag queen personality. But then I found myself unable to talk like that anymore. During “Jaguar” all I did was say lines to the crowd in-character, which was interesting in its own way. For our first concert at the Budokan during “smile”, I don’t think I gave any gimmicky MCs like that. I think I just talked to the crowd with a lot of enthusiasm. The tour for the next album (“Four Seasons”) was called “Proof of Wildness”, and was our first longer tour. And that’s when I finally took off, realizing that I should at least try writing my MCs before hand. There were some cases where I talked for 20 minutes!
At that time I was already a personality on All Night Nippon, and the amount of fans we had greatly increased. On the day of our Star Festival (July 7th) concert, there were a ton of people lined up in yukata. And even though they were just wearing them because it was the day of the Star Festival, to me it just seemed like they were all very beautiful people. Things like that happened to us pretty often, during recording and such. Emma would make a mistake or something, but it ended up that the “mistake” was actually better, and everyone would just think of it as a godsend. Dumb things like that just kept happening, like me talking to the crowd for 20 minutes. It was fun though!
From the “smile” tour onward, I stopped drinking alcohol before concerts altogether. My father loved One Cup Ozeki sake, and when I go to visit his grave every month I always bring one along. I would drink two of those though, and so I was drunk during a lot of our older shows. I say that I had a lot of vigor during the Jaguar Hard Pain tour, but the truth is I was just drunk. I was completely drunk before the first song started, and it would last until about the middle of our set. Mixing engineers would tell me that my voice was already going, so if I wanted to get signed I should stop drinking before singing. And it ended up being pretty hard to quit!
As for why I was drinking in the first place, it’s because I was scared when we performed live. Really scared. It still happens to me now, in fact as recently as the “Thank You Yoshii Kazuya” tour. It happened right from the very opening. My legs always shake when I play stadiums. I go back to being myself again after I give the first MC, but I couldn’t help feeling scared at the beginning. I was scared of everything…but especially of being up in front of people. I think I was probably scared of being told “No, we don’t need you”. That’s why when we appeared in the lineup at the first Fuji Rock festival and got such heavy criticism for it, I felt like I had died. I just couldn’t recover from it.
It’s always that same feeling of dread. Worrying about what I’ll do if I’m told that I’m not needed, what I’ll do if I’m told that my existence has no meaning. That’s why I drink. It was the same even when we were at the height of our popularity as Yemon…you change a little bit when you drink, after all. That’s why I have to have a drink when I’m with a woman, ha ha.
It ended up that I was the heir to the Yoshii family name after all. I was the only one left: My father didn’t have a brother, and it wasn’t really clear where he grew up so I didn’t know if he had any family. I think my grandmother or someone planted the seed in my mind that I had to have children so I could make heirs, a common way of thinking. Though theoretically you could also look at it as a pretty big restraint. Anyway, by doing that I was really always fighting with the dilemma of having to be functioning well. I really struggled with it.
I was really busy, so I wouldn’t end up getting home until the early hours of the morning. And what’s more, I was always told not to talk about how I have a child. They’d even tell me not to go outside with her too much. I didn’t have a driver’s license at that point, so I could only take her places by going on the train. But that’s something I wasn’t supposed to be doing, so we only ever ended up going to the neighborhood park. We were living in Nakano, but never really left.
I had a dilemma between that feeling of futility and the idea and thinking things like “I’ve made it this far with music, so I’ve got to succeed. Plus I have to put food on the table for my daughter…”. That’s the kind of bad version of myself that I was. To think that I’d come home like this to the one person who brings me peace. Before we had our daughter, my wife and I would watch movies, listen to music, or just talk about this and that until morning. And now we couldn’t do any of that. She didn’t have the energy for it either. And so I sought that out elsewhere, because I was still a dumb kid.
After our Budokan concert, there was this fan club trip. When I heard about it, I thought “Huh?!”. Basically we were going to take fan club members with us to England, and have a concert there. But the only people who were going to that concert were the fan club members. And I thought “Isn’t this kind of an old-timey thing to do?”. When I told my wife, I made a joke out of it by saying “Doesn’t it feel like something an Enka singer would do?”. But we got into a big fight over it. I was supposed to get a break after the Budokan concert, and it was rough for her to be the only one with our daughter, and so why was I going on a trip like this? I was between a rock and a hard place. She was angry with me until late at night, even though it was all for work. She said “This isn’t how you told me it would be!”. And I was childish again, and said “But you’re with me so that I can make as music as I want, right?”. I think that she was suspicious of me in many different ways, looking back on it now.
First Budokan Concert
I was so ridiculously nervous about our first concert at the Budokan, I was a mess. You could say I was there in body, but not in spirit. It felt like it ended in the blink of an eye, kind of like…having sex for the first time. After a “Wahh!” it’s just over, ha ha. It was probably because it was a place I always yearned to be playing at…so I wasn’t able to approach it full of confidence. I was really reeling from it. The other band members…well I don’t actually know for sure what they were thinking, but they seemed to be full of confidence since we were able to make it to the Budokan without compromising our vision. Everyone was very proud, and some of them had sort of a “We made it! Suck on that!” kind of attitude. I think our state as a band was a very good one.
We weren’t just friends, we were together everyday. For interviews, rehearsals, and concerts. We were even together for meals. Not one of us ever said “I’m going back to the hotel”. We were always together right up until we all went back there to go to sleep. It was actually a lot of fun. Of course we’re all still friends now. There’s no place I’ve been with them that I didn’t like. That’s why sometimes we still, maybe once or twice a year, get together and drink. And things just go back to the way they used to be, but with no stress whatsoever.
Ambition – “Four Seasons”
You could say that “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” was my last resort, or sort of a foul in its own way. And that’s because it made a lot of the fans that had stuck with us since the old days really mad: They were like “What the hell is this song!?”. They were really scathing toward us, saying that The Yellow Monkey didn’t need to be doing songs like this. What the hell is this new, eloquent route that we were on?! And so this time I felt afraid that I’d abandoned the people who had supported me, so I just couldn’t feel any joy in it. It was all just really, really frustrating! That’s why I didn’t leave anything on the table for “Sicks”, the next album after this one. When we released it I was just thinking “God dammit you guys!”.
The first lyric in the title track of the album is “I’m going to break it all apart” (“mazu boku wa kowasu”). This is me saying that no matter if you’re a dark person or a lonely one, your life doesn’t have to be sad. You should try to bring out the sun that’s inside of you with a big bang. I was really thinking about breaking out of the shell that I’d shut myself into, and that was the theme of the album.
When we played our first time at the Hibiya Open Air Concert Hall the previous year, I was asked what a concert there would be like from a band who didn’t particularly make you think of nature, like the sun and the sky. And my answer to that was they’d probably sing songs like “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” and “Sora no Ao to Hontou no Kimochi”. It took a little bit of courage to get to that point, but I sung them because I was confident about what was inside of me. Those songs were so much fun to write, but…When I asked myself whether or not they brought out all of the appeal in my song writing, I realized that they weren’t quite there yet.
Sense of Duty as a Father – “Father”
I wrote the song “Father” because I became one myself. Up until then a father was a scary person who just stood by and kept watch, and didn’t appear very much in my songs. I think that was the simple motivation I needed to understand a father’s feelings. But I also think my realization of what being a father meant was still a bit naive. I was still only around 29 years old, so still contemplating on how I could be a proper father.
I had to be unwavering in loving my wife and children properly. Some months earlier, my daughter had fallen out of bed, right on her head. That sent me wife into a fury, and I really started thinking about it a lot. It was a period where I was thinking that I had to be absolutely unwavering in order to keep them safe. So I stopped faltering, which led to me becoming more stoic again. These were songs that I made during that period, so…I wonder if the kind of fans that would say something like “What?! There’s no way a guy like that is married!” are the ones who hated this album.
My feelings of needing to do something for my family or needing to live my life as a father were incredibly strong. And since I lost my own father so early in life, it was always in the back of my mind that leaving my own children in the same way was inevitable. “Father” was a song that came out of being in the middle of that whole process. When I was recording for this album in London, my wife sent me a letter with a picture of her holding my daughter for the first time that I took from the balcony after she was born. I was probably looking at it when I wrote this song.
Four Seasons was a real turning point album for us, and “Father” was a fairly refreshing tune for the band. The rest of the members were really surprised, they told me they didn’t think I’d write a song with these kinds of themes. Because I hadn’t done anything like it when I typically write songs and we rehearse them here in Japan. I was just so happy to be actually recording an album in London, and that’s what came out of me as a result. Anyway, I guess the keyword “father” came out of the hope I was filled with from living right there in the moment. It ended up being a time where I wanted be seen as just a regular person who had a child.
I didn’t want to hide it, but I knew there would be people who would get really angry if I said it out-loud. It was an equation I didn’t know how to solve that ended in “Keep your mouth shut about it until you can sell albums”, though I understood what it meant since I’d gone along with it myself up until then. It’s true that the people who supported us were all women: Magazine editors, radio station hosts, etc. I think the fear was that if it got out to them, you never know what will happen when it comes to a woman’s heart.
I was in London to record for about a month and a half, and there was a lot of give and take: I thought it was kind of a long time to be away from home. I was always there at home giving off these vibes that said “I’m doing my best around here! I’m doing my best!” and telling myself this kind of life was all I needed, ha-ha-ha. But because I was an idiot, I’d look at myself trying so hard in the mirror and think about how lame I was: This isn’t the way I want to look! What’s up with this nice guy face?! Then it all came back: Me wondering how kids could be so un-cool with their bowl cuts! I was thinking I wanted to be more like Kurt Cobain, without even thinking how good I had it as the adult that I was. I kept telling myself this kind of life was all I needed.
First Time Recording in London
We recorded our debut album in a tiny little lodge in Kawaguchiko, and Hiroyuki Munekiyo (our director) really took care of everything for us. Four Seasons was our first time recording in London, and it was a fun process. But I could feel this gap between my own ideas and his. I felt that his idea of what was good because it would sell was clashing with my idea of the kind of rock I wanted to express myself with. That’s why recording in London wasn’t quite the way I imagined it would be: It was much more full of conflict. But thinking about it now, I realize just how wrong I was about everything…
There’s a song on the album called “Tsuki no Uta” (“Song of the Moon”), which was originally called “Shinchuu” (“True Motives”). When I ran that title by Munekiyo, we got into a fight about it. He said “It’s a bad omen. Don’t go pulling out something that sounds like it’s from Jaguar Hard Pain like this when you’re trying to make a pop album!”. But thinking back on it, he was right. But of course back then I just thought “Oh shut the hell up!”. He was against using that as the title, but he hadn’t even heard the song yet! I couldn’t even imagine why he’d say anything like that, so I was feeling very rebellious. But after all, he did let us do whatever we wanted for our second and third albums, and we had to make this one sell. So I ended up listening to what he had to say. That’s why I look at “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” as something like returning the favor to him. Part of me was thinking “Yeah, I bet a song like this will make him happy, won’t it?” as I was writing it.
Well…I guess it was really half and half. “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” is, well…not really written in my usual style, is it? It doesn’t really have any of my song writing quirks in it, and if I’m being honest I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the lyrics. It’s a song that was written with very pure feelings, but maybe it didn’t particularly have much danger, charm, or desire to it? Keep in mind I didn’t think that about the album as a whole, mostly just this song. I’m able to look at it in a completely different light these days, but that’s how I felt back then. I was always wondering what long-time fans of the band would think of the song as I was writing it, and I felt really sorry that I couldn’t make a lot of them happy and still bring in a lot of new fans as well.
First Number One on the Charts
When this album finally got to number one on the charts, it felt amazing! I was so incredibly happy. The record company even bought me a new car, which they’d actually ordered as soon as they heard the demo tape. I guess it was easy to understand, ha-ha-ha! I was in a really great mood, and it was a really hot period for us as a band.
But things started adding up in a way where I couldn’t really be happy about it all any more. It was mostly because the mid 90s was a time where you were expected to sell one million copies of any single that you released. Being a part of the main stream meant that we had to, or they’d just tell you to quit being a pro musician if you couldn’t. That’s the place we were at. Mr. Children came out of La.mama too after all, and they can sell one million copies of a single. So it was probably something of a status symbol. And since we were starting to compete more on the singles front, there wasn’t as much of a sense of accomplishment from an album getting to number one as a single. Even if the record company asked me to make the next single one more like “Taiyou ga Moeteiru” that sold even more, that song really should have been number 3 or 4 on the charts. And so when they did ask me that, I could only think “You’ve got to be kidding me!”