X Japan formed in 1982 and released their first full-length album in 1988 with Vanishing Visions. They put out five full-length albums over the course of their career which included 1989’s Blue Blood, 1991’s Jealousy, 1993’s Art Of Life, and their last full-length release in 1996, Dahlia. In 1997, the band played their final show together called the Last Live at Tokyo Dome to a sold-out crowd of 55,000 people. The following year in 1998, X Japan’s lead guitarist, Hide, who appeared on all five studio albums, passed away. As of 2008, Hide’s parts have been performed by Sugizo. Taiji Sawada was on X Japan’s first three albums as bassist and quit the band in 1992, and was replaced by Heath. Taiji passed away in 2011. In 2007, X Japan resurfaced for their first public appearance since 1997’s Last Live concert in Tokyo, and in 2008, they played three consecutive dates at the Tokyo Dome from March 28 to 30.
X Japan’s current lineup is Yoshiki on drums and piano, Toshi on vocals, Pata and Sugizo on guitars, and Heath on bass. I got a chance to speak with Yoshiki about their tour stop at MSG on Oct. 11, his drumming, movies and more.
Do you remember what it was like playing the Tokyo Dome for the first time?
That was a long time ago. It was in August, and we were recording. I said to our record company [Sony] at the time, “I want to perform at the Tokyo Dome.” They were like, “What?!” There was a confidence to sell out, but the record company did not have that confidence. Anyway, we ended up selling out. That same year we did three nights at the Tokyo Dome. When we performed at the Tokyo Dome, we felt like we made it (laughs). We performed at the Tokyo Dome 18 times over the years. We played there so many times it’s kind of like our home by now.
What inspired you to book Madison Square Garden for a live performance?
We toured America in 2010. We performed in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto, and New York. We played a 2,000-person capacity venue in New York. The reaction was amazing. In 2011, we went to 15 countries. We performed in 2,000-10,000-person capacity venues. Then we had a break for a few years. There was some internal drama in the band. We thought Madison Square Garden would be the perfect place to depart from. I don’t think it’s easy to pack that place especially coming from a band from Asia, but I think it’s a good challenge, so I decided to take it on.
Can you tell me about the setlist that you are planning for the MSG concert?
We are bringing drum risers, lasers, and everything outside of Japan. Because this is Madison Square Garden, this is the first time we are bringing the full production of X Japan’s live experience. We are going to have drum solos, piano solos, guitar solos, stuff like that. It’s going to be a really dramatic show. We will be performing our best hits, as well as some new songs we have never performed before. In addition to that, we will play several songs from Blue Blood as well.
Did you find that you had to change any techniques in your drumming style after your doctor advised you to start wearing a neck brace?
I think in 2009 I had neck surgery, so the doctor told me not to play drums anymore. I said back to the doctor, “I am a drummer, I cannot not play drums.” He said, “You have to wear a neck brace, otherwise it is almost fatal if you injure your neck again.” When I wear the neck brace, I sometimes cannot see the senior drum, or the tom the way I used to. So I had to practice wearing the neck brace. That doesn’t mean I play less, I will still play very aggressively.
I’ve read in past interviews from you that you have been working on a new album and that “Jade” was to be the first song from it. Can you update me on its progress?
I think “Jade” is the best track to be first for the new album. We just did a recording in Tokyo last week of a new song. We are planning on doing another recording in Los Angeles. We are getting closer and closer to finishing the new album.
Thinking about you releasing your song “I.V.” for the American horror film Saw IV. Are you a fan of any 1980s horror films from Japan like Evil Dead Trap (Shiryo No Wana)?
(Laughs) To be honest, I am kind of scared of horror films. Saw was not completely horror. It’s more like a mentally deranged film. When I composed the theme song, I was scared to watch Saw. I did the theme song for Saw IV so I had to watch Saw I, II, and III. I liked it. I’ve never been a fan of horror films before.
Are there any songs that are sung in Japanese that are in the works right now?
The last North American tour, we played a song called “Kurenai (Blue Blood).” We wrote it entirely in English. Then people started asking during the tour that they want to hear more Japanese. I thought that was very interesting. So at the end of the tour, we started adapting more original Japanese lyrics into it. The verse was English and the chorus was Japanese. On the new album, I am intentionally adding some Japanese lyrics to it. I would say on the next album it is going to be about 70-80 percent English with the rest being Japanese.
Do you have any interest in composing speed metal songs like from the album Blue Blood?
As long as it’s cool. I did write something super fast. We’ll see, we have about two or three songs left to finish the complete album. Right now we are deciding on the last one or two songs. Maybe, we don’t know yet at this point. When I write music, I write in the music score. I don’t even use any instruments. Even with drums, I use a music score. Then when I decide on the song, I program it and give it to the members of the band. All the songs are completed in the music score. Right now I am composing X Japan’s album. Actually, I have another project I am composing, you will know soon. I am doing that right this moment. I probably will announce it next month or so.
What type of subject matter is X Japan planning to use for the composition of the majority of the songs on this upcoming album?
There’s a variety, but the main subject is life. When we had hard times, our band has had hard times, with death and personally my father committed suicide. We have a lot of lyrics talking about death and love.
Tell me your experiences with composing the Golden Globe Awards theme.
I was invited to go to the Golden Globe Awards and then became friends with a member of the Hollywood Press Association. Then one day, I was asked to compose the theme song for the Golden Globe Awards. Some of the members of the Hollywood Press Association knew that I composed the theme song for the 10-year anniversary of the Emperor of Japan. I composed a piano concerto. The Golden Globes are very prestigious. At the same time, the Golden Globes has a party-type vibe to it. It’s looked at like an Academy Award or a Grammy. I was very proud to be asked.
What part of your program on Sirius XM was the most rewarding for you?
I used to have Yoshiki Radio. I really enjoyed doing that (laughs). Then we had a two- or three- year break. Now we are coming back. If there is a chance, I might want to do that again.
Do you think you might do one episode a few weeks before the concert at Madison Square Garden?
(Laughs) Actually, I was just having a meeting about that. That is interesting that you asked me. I hope so.
I just want to say to my fans, X Japan has had a lot of drama. We started in Japan doing arenas, then a world tour. Before that we broke up, and a member passed away. Our fans are all we have. We are trying to create one of the most memorable moments by our performance at Madison Square Garden. I would like our fans to join us for that show. Without you guys, we don’t exist. Thank you for being part of X Japan’s life.
X Japan will be playing at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 11. For more information, go to xjapanmusic.com.