The interview I conducted with X Japan's Yoshiki, the mercurial and mysterious figure at the center of Stephen Kijak's We Are X, was one of the strangest interviews I've ever sat for.
Here's a guy who's sold tens of millions of metal albums, is considered a rock god by a decent portion of the world's population, and who - until very recently - I'd never heard of. Add to that the fact that Yoshiki is a genuinely magnetic presence, and that our interview took place in a cavernous hotel suite with multiple photographers swirling about and taking both of our photos, and you end up with one of the most surreal professional interactions I've ever had.
Here's what happened.
BMD: Hey. How you doing?
Great. I have some questions for you. Let's start with an icebreaker. What's your favorite movie?
If it's easier: what's your favorite kind of movie?
Drama? What's the best thing you've seen recently? Do you even have time to see movies? You seem like a busy dude.
Not these days. But I try to watch movies on the plane, or something like that.
Y'know, I saw that one film last year ... Whiplash?
Whiplash? Yeah! Of course you'd like Whiplash.
That's an intense movie. Did you find a lot to relate to in that? Did you ever have someone like JK Simmons' character in your life?
Oh, completely. It's ... I mean, you practice and practice and practice until you bleed. That's just what you do.
Speaking of which: I saw the movie earlier today, and it's obvious you give everything you have to music. Do you think there would ever come a point where you wouldn't be able to go on performing? Or do you think you'll do this until the day you die?
I think about that, too. I just came from a three-day festival in Japan, last week. And, y'know, X Japan songs are very fast. I've been doing this for many years. And sometimes I think, how am I going to be able to bang the drum that fast, and that hard? Physically it's very painful. But I can't forget the pain inside. But physical pain is nothing compared to mental pain. I think I might be doing this kind of thing until the end, I guess.
If you woke up tomorrow and you absolutely couldn't do what you're doing now, like if you had to be in another profession, what would you want to do?
I think I am also a composer. Y'know, one time I wanted to quit music, when my vocalist got brainwashed and my guitar player passed away. I said, I can't do this. But without music, I am nothing. So I think I would like to become a composer.
Would you have any interest in composing for film, do you think?
I would love to!
That's something other musicians have gotten into. Trent Reznor, for instance.
Yeah, yeah. He's great. I'm interested in doing that in the future.
How important do you feel theatrics are to a show? Your setup is really elaborate.
I just want to give them everything, y'know? You can listen to music in your home or wherever, but coming to the show, you're not only listening to the music, but I want people to experience or to see something crazy. All those senses - smell and hearing and what you're seeing. All those pyrotechnics, something exploding - that's always cool.
Is that ever distracting? I feel like if I had to do my job while explosions were going off, I'd be in a lot of trouble.
But are you just so locked in on the beat that it doesn't matter?
It's part of rock'n'roll, y'know?
What is it like playing a show at Madison Square Garden? And what I'm getting at here is: what is it like to sit in an arena that big, surrounded by that many people, playing music that you've written? Do all the shows sorta blur together, or does a Madison Square Garden gig feel particularly weighty to you?
They're all different. Even though we've played (a venue) that's three times bigger than Madison Square Garden. We played eighteen times, so --
What, consecutive nights?
You'd need a nap after that.
Haha, no. Just eighteen times. Three consecutive nights. But anyway, for some reason, Madison Square Garden seemed bigger. It's kind of a symbol to the whole world, y'know? It was a very kind of sacred moment. But I could feel the emotion from all of my fans. It was a very positive feeling. Every time it's different, but every time it makes me feel alive.
I imagine. Do you pay attention to new music?
I try to.
What're you into right now?
What am I into right now. Hm. (long pause) I don't know.
Oh, yeah, those guys. They're all over the radio right now.
Do you have pets? A little dog or something? I'm trying to imagine you with a pet.
Yes! I used to have a little dog, a dachsund. Now I have a maltese.
What's its name?
Of course. What's it like going from the environment I'm sure you're used to in Japan, where you're instantly recognized by virtually everyone, to being in the States, where you maintain some sense of anonymity? Do you enjoy that?
Well, I've been living in Los Angeles for almost 20 years.
Haha, oh. Sorry.
No, no, I mean, I go back and forth all the time. I honestly don't really think about it, being famous in one place or another. I try to be just myself. It doesn't really affect me.
Do you get used to this, though? (points around the room at the small army of photographers who are silently, endlessly circling and taking photos) Doesn't this feel weird to you?
Well, y'know, when we made the film, the director was shocked by how much footage they had to work with. When I was young, my mother told (the people at) Sony records that I was not going to live long, and to try and capture my life as much as they could, while they could. And that's what started it. And I guess I just got used to it.
Final question: what do you want your legacy to be?
Oh. Hm. I am a composer, as well, so I would like to compose a song that some people will ... look, the reason we decided to create this film was not to introduce our band to the world. At first I didn't want to make this film. It was all very painful to talk about in 2014, but people around me convinced me that my story, our story, could help other people's lives. That's why we decided to create this film. And for me, I would like to compose a piece of music that can do the same for people's lives. Personally, I would like to write a symphony or something like that.
Special thanks to the folks at Fons PR, Drafthouse Films, and Yoshiki himself for taking the time to speak with us. See We Are X in select theaters now, and stay tuned for my chat with director Stephen Kijak.