BRIDGE -vol.73- December 2012
Interview with Sakurai Atsushi
Text by Inoue Takako
Translation by Lola

Please begin with your date and place of birth.
I was born March 7th, the 41st year of Showa. In the city of Fujioka, Gunma prefecture.

What is your earliest memory, the first moment you recall?
I did a similar interview a long time ago...anyway, I think my first memory is of being carried on my mother's back and being prickled by her hair which I didn't like at all. I guess I would say I was around two years old at the time.

Is that a happy memory for you?
Now it is, yes. At the time though it just felt like, ah, something keeps prickling me. But of course now, it is a most treasured memory.

Had you ever told your mother about that?
No, I did not get the chance.

Regarding your have an older brother right?
Yes. One older brother.

What kind of family was it?
I know I've said this a number of times but, it was exceedingly melancholy... When I was little, I felt this ominous gloom even when all the lights were on. My father would drink and then would go on a rampage and when he was wild like that, he would resort to violence with my mother. That's what I grew up watching.

So while that was happening and you were with your brother, what would you do...?
I was frightened, I'd just tremble and hope all the terrible things that were happening would just end as soon as possible. What made it worse was, I couldn't ever do anything about it. I mean all I could do really was tremble and cry. As for my brother, I'm not sure if he was in kindergarten or had just entered grade school at the time but, he begged my father to stop in tears saying, "Please don't be so hard on us".

What about on a normal day, how was it when your father wasn't drinking?
Well, he was in the construction industry so, he'd come home covered in mud and dirt and that just made him more foul tempered. He was often out of work too. So because of that, he'd be drinking in the middle of the afternoon, that's the kind of father he was.

And were you close with your big brother?
As you might expect, because of the family we're from, I'd say our bond is stronger than some other siblings. We were still very close even up till junior high school.

What about when you were little, what kind of child were you?
I'd go around glued to my brother's back. It was like I couldn't do anything on my own, even the circle of friends that I had were because of my brother. Because I was really introverted, people often told me they couldn't tell whether I was there or not.

You've felt that way for a long time haven't you? Even right now, I'm not even sure if you're really all here or not because you're so quiet... *smiles*.
Well, it's still me. That part of myself is still there of course.

Did you go to kindergarten or daycare?
I was in daycare.

And you felt meek when you were there too?
I'm so sorry, but yes *smiles*. I really felt like that was my existence, not really being sure if I was there or not.

*smiles* And how was elementary school?
The same. Just with report cards. It's not like I was the best in anything but nor was I exceptionally bad, I was just under average. And that's the reason why no one ever asked me to work on stuff with them or to do anything for them so I just ended up doing everything on my own. You know when you get picked on by the teacher to answer a question? Well even though I knew the answer, I could never bring myself to respond, I'd just be completely silent. It was so awful, I hated it.

So school held no interest for you?
No. No matter what we did I couldn't bring myself to enjoy it.

In those days, was there anything you were interested in, with which you could immerse yourself?
I had my Microman figures (1). I had an incredible affinity for them because I could always play with them by myself. And I loved to play alone. My brother was pretty energetic so he'd play outside. Meanwhile, I'd stay in the house and play with my action figures.

Microman was popular, incredibly so.
Yeah, they were awesome. You could even take the arm off one and put it on another that it didn't belong to and this might sound bad but you could also take off the arm and just play with that part.

Ha ha ha ha. Did anything change when you entered junior high?
Of course there was a slight change in my surroundings, and my friends were a little different than the kids I hung out with back in elementary school and that's also when I hit puberty. From around the time I was in elementary school I really loved listening to pop songs. Then when I hit junior high, my sempai, well I guess you could say they were a bad bunch. And when I saw my sempai with their rebel punk attitudes and fashion, I wanted to be like that too because for some reason I thought that they were really cool. Then I started heading down that bad road with my friends more and more, it just seemed natural for me to follow I guess. I think it was the COOLS and the BLACK CATS in high school? Anyway when everyone got together to hang out, they'd listen to rock'n'roll and rockabilly music as you might expect and so I ended up listening to it too.

Do you remember the first record you bought?
When I was in elementary school, my friend had a stereo at his house, and when I told his family I wanted one too, they bought one for me along with Harada Shinji-san's album because I really liked it. And that was the first LP that was bought for me.

You know, back then during your elementary school days, LPs were expensive. That must have really affected you, being given that.
It was because my friend's father was basically very fond of me. And I think that LP that was bought for me was the first time I actually asked for something that I was interested in.

So that was the first time you expressed your want?
Well, I often got told that I wasn't allowed to want things. Like when you'd go to the department store and all the kids would be squealing over all the stuff in the toy section and I'd get told not to be like those kids.

So you wanted things, but you were forced to deny yourself.
I was. I knew that if I said anything, I'd just get into more trouble again. Even when visiting relatives, I was told not to take any sweets.

Huh? Why?
Why indeed. I think it was because we weren't supposed to express our desires openly. In other words, I wasn't able to act naturally as a child would.

In a lot of ways I guess that was part of how you learned to repress your feelings right.

What about your brother?
My brother was strong. I mean he has willpower coupled with an incredibly strong sense of justice. So maybe given our different dispositions, he would react differently to being told not to go for the sweets than I did.

Ok so, you did manage to say that you wanted the Harada Shinji album and that got it bought for you at the time so, I imagine you must have been rather happy about that?
Oh yes, I was incredibly happy. When I was in elementary school, I was constantly listening to the radio or the TV to hear any recording of him. I'd often listen for him on the Best 10 that played on the radio and the TV. So like Sundays, I'd sit there all by myself listening for him to come on the radio no matter how many hours it took. And as I listened I'd ask myself what kind of boy spends his entire Sundays listening to the radio by himself?

*smiles* Like (RKB)'s Top 50 hit songs.
That's it, yes.

That was a long program. It ran till evening.
Right, it was about three hours.

A lot of listeners called in with requests, had you ever...?
I couldn't even imagine doing something like that but oh how into it I was.

Ha ha ha ha.
What's amazing about the songs of that time is that even now, the melodies really do linger in my heart. I liked Harada Shinji-san from the moment he appeared on the music scene, and I also liked (Sera Masanori &) Twist and Char's songs. For a long while before that I was always listening to Ken Naoko-san's songs which I absolutely loved and similar types of music. Even though the songs were rather dark, I've been incredibly drawn to that kind of music since then.

You know when you mentioned Harada Shinji I was thinking, "Oh! I see now!". Songs like "Time Travel" while being pop, have a strange sort of unsettled feeling about them.
I thought "Time Travel" was absolutely amazing when I listened to it. As you said just now, it has this sort of feeling like it will take you away. It was pure escapism.

It was a novel thing to have words like "Sphinx" used in pop songs wasn't it. But those lyrics, "You set off for the desert of the sleeping Sphinx/Illuminated by the waning moon", after hearing that you feel like you were in a dream or something and that's also a common theme in your lyrics Sakurai-san. In other words, your stories by nature have that fantasy outlook. Because you liked that all along.

So, you played with Microman figures while listening to Harada Shinji.
Yes. And I listened to Ken Naoko-san during my fifth year of elementary school.

Going back to our earlier discussion, when you were in junior high, you were suddenly exposed to the punk culture and rock'n'roll, things that were different from anything you knew before and you found those things interesting right?
Yes, I did. I wonder if it wasn't that I had been fooling myself into thinking that I had been changed by that.

But, weren't many of the people you said you liked rather high spirited?

So you thought you had changed a little, personally, from being exposed to that culture?
Well, it's just that I used to hide behind people. Only the thing is, the people I looked up to were bad friends and they got worse, became so bossy. Even so I still clung to them, even though I just couldn't bring myself to be bad.

Was high school the same as well?
Ah well I kinda thought it didn't matter what I did in high school. Like I thought it'd be ok for me to even get a job, since my friends told me to just get it out of the way. It's a terrible thing for me to say but, I just went to the school that was closest and half-assed it. I didn't study, didn't even end up working, it was like I was just there.

What about club activities-?
Absolutely not!

*smiles* Even in junior high?
Well it was mandatory in junior high. So I was in softball tennis.

Oo~ and did you wear the little short shorts?
And what a solemn child I was in them. So serious but I mean, I did enjoy doing it though it seemed so bourgeois. I mean really, with that kind of outfit.

Right now I'm getting the feeling you really weren't that into it.
I wasn't, from what I remember I didn't play very much at all.

So you basically felt the same way in junior high, and in high school and were hanging out with a bad bunch of people right?
My friends from junior high and I ended up going separate ways for a variety of reasons. But in the end whether we went to school or not, we'd all hang out at this one friend's house. It was so terrible though, this high school teacher who didn't even know my friend showed up at his house and basically told us, "Get out!". It was crazy.

Seriously? Wow *smiles*. So you went to an all boys school?
Yes, I went to an all boys school.

Why did you end up going to an all boys school?
Because it was closest.

*smiles* When was your first love, by the way?
About the time of my last year in elementary school, I kinda had a ridiculous crush on a friend of mine. It was bad.

You were popular with girls obviously though, right?
Well, not with my personality.

Ha ha ha ha ha. How could that be?
Well c'mon! There was Ken Naoko!

Ha ha ha ha ha.
I feel bad. I loved her so much. (Nakajima) Miyuki-san composed the music for her but it was kinda dark. Not at all the type of music she would write herself you know. It's bad and so backwards but that's what I was completely stuck on. Then I hit puberty, and somehow I got a lot of attention from the opposite sex but, I couldn't care less. But if you're asking whether I was popular or not with girls, well, I guess I was.

Ha ha ha ha. So like for Valentine's, did you get a lot of chocolate?
Right well, in my second and third year of high school, there were girls in my class. And even though it was about 40 students per class, I did get some.

Wow! Aren't you extremely proud of that?
Please, you can cut this part out.

No, no, no, we are so printing this *smiles*. But really, weren't you happy? And here you thought no one noticed you....
Well, getting chocolate doesn't actually mean getting recognized.... It just felt like here, have chocolate because you're hot. So uh yeah, I was just brimming with happiness.

You should have been happy though! *smiles*
Some were. *smiles*

Ha ha ha ha. So did you end up going out with anyone?
I know that is normally what happens when in high school. But it's really just the same old story.

Did you go to festivals or anything?
Yeah. But being shy, it wasn't something I did too often. I was pretty much always hanging out with a group of guys, and you know my friends would bring their girlfriends along with them. I'd just stick to my friends because that was my pattern.

Of course, so being with your friends was the most enjoyable for you?
Because it distracted me. I knew that inevitably, I would have to go home to my family. But when I was with my friends, they would distract me from that.

What sort of music did you listen to in high school?
Of course I listened to pop songs my first and second year of high school and some songs that were a little rock. Then after that I came to listen to music from the West. That was about the time of MTV and promotion videos. And at first I was just like, "The hell is this about?". But I found them interesting to watch soon enough. I've always absolutely loved people like Julie...Sawada Kenji-san (2). Even now I still like him. Seeing his videos though, that's what got me into them more and more.

So when you were watching Julie on the television, did you sing and dance along to his songs?
No, I never did that sort of thing. I don't know if I can call it my room exactly but, that's where I'd listen to him all the time. And no matter how many countless times I listened, I would always look at the lyric booklet. I suppose it was my one solace while my parents fought outside. I hated being in that house too, I felt like it didn't matter whether I existed or not but at the same time I felt as though they might be sad, if I didn't exist anymore.

When you were small, and your father went into his rages, you were scared of course but by the time high school came around, you never rebelled against him? Never told him, "Stop it!"? Or anything like that?
I had always thought I would one day. Since about junior high. Then of course by the time I went to high school, I had also gotten bigger and I was hanging out with a bad crowd so yeah, I really had thought I would do something about it the next time something happened. But I just couldn't do it, I realized that if I did something like that to my father, everything would fall apart. He would have fallen apart. Although he was always hurting others, I began wondering if the truth was that he himself was broken. That's why I couldn't bring myself to do anything. So even if he'd hit me, I'd tell myself, I guess it's ok for a parent to strike their child. But if a child hits their parent, I thought everything would fall apart and that frightened me.

On the contrary, you were afraid precisely because you came to understand that you might win.
My father was also crazy strong though. Because of all the physical labor he did but then he'd get drunk and stagger around and when he was like that, I could've done something for sure. But, that's not something I could ever bring myself to do.

Wasn't it in high school that you met Imai-san (Hisashi/ guitar) and formed a band?
Around the end of my third year of high school, it seemed like forming a band was the thing to do. I had gotten into some trouble with my bad gang of friends and so things were already falling apart on that front. I never wanted to do anything or go anywhere anymore so one of my friends said, "Hey, wanna hang out at Imai's?" and when I went it was just incredible to me, it was this whole other world of music. I got to listen to techno music and new wave, most notably YMO, and it was all so astounding to me.

Being exposed to that new world of music, did you feel like, "Wow~! This is so fascinating!"?
I did. But of course even though I spent time there and it was something for me to cling to, I still couldn't really bring myself to be fully into it, not yet. I mean even when people talked about forming a band and I said, "Alright then, I'll play the drums", it was just because in junior high I had played around on the drums in the music room before, that's all.

In those days, it was a cover band right?
Right, we were a Stalin cover band. The whole time I played the drums it was just rough and fast.

That's so completely different from the pop songs you had been listening to up till that point so how did you find it?
I felt like, "Hey, if this is punk, I'm down with it." Instead of a performance, it's just one explosive moment of energy and power. That's what I liked about it.

Given what you've said up till now Sakurai-san, when you were hiding behind the wrong kind of crowd, you didn't have an emotional outlet. If you think about it, the drums were your first real outlet for your passion, so did you feel they let you bang out your emotions?
Well, but that was just me sticking with what everyone else was doing again. Seriously, I couldn't even imagine becoming a professional drummer. I just figured I'd do it till I got sick of it. While everyone else was saying things like they were going to find a steady job or go on to university, Imai and the kid who was the vocalist at the time were planning to go to Tokyo to become famous. Meanwhile, I still lived at home and hadn't given any thought to where I was going with my life. Because I wasn't into anything.

So it was only in the moment when you were playing the drums that you felt anything?

That's an awful long time to be just killing time.
Saying I was just killing time makes it sounds cool but I was just existing. Not really doing anything, no will to do anything either.

What made you start to change?
I got a job working at a local car factory. Because it's not like there was anything in particular I really wanted to do. Then when I was 18, my father died. After that, it seemed like all the past mistakes, all those bad things were over. At first I felt like peaceful days would begin at last. But that was also the time, being 18, that I started turning to alcohol as an escape. I used it to deceive myself....

This was before your father passed away?
I think it was. Everyone I knew was either working or gone and since I wasn't really doing anything else, I ended up drinking like my father. Then he died. So I figured, hey, I'll master being a drunk too and this is nasty but I'd drink every day until I threw up countless times. I didn't go to Tokyo to pursue music with everyone else. I was just living a dull life in my hometown and in doing so, lost myself in despair. That hadn't even gone on for a full year when seeing me like that, my mom couldn't just stand by and do nothing and so she very kindly told me, "It's ok, go on". I think she knew how sad I was, how much I needed her to say that to me.

Until she said those words, you had always felt that you couldn't leave?
Of course, because I'm a complete sap. Well, sentimental about family. But suddenly when I felt I was able to go, it was like, "Ok, well I'm off!". From the moment I reached the Age of Reason I drank even though I knew it was bad and then I'd whimper and sob...about much I hated my life, I hated it so much but I couldn't do anything about it. But even though I felt that way I still couldn't bring myself to leave my house.

It's funny isn't it. Do you think it was because of your soft spot for your mother?
No, no, no, no, it was just because I didn't have the guts to do it. It seemed like my mother was very fond of telling me things like, "But you're just a child..." back then. I've heard from people though that that's what parents think when they only have one or two children. That's all. But that aside, I didn't have the guts to leave either so, yeah. Well I had become completely listless.

Perhaps the reason you felt you couldn't leave was also due to the fact that you had yet to find that one thing that made you feel like, "This is what I must do!".

Undoubtedly your mother understood that. And I'm sure she felt that her son wanting to be in a band was something she could bear.
Yeah, and you know it seemed I was also heading down the same path as my father. And I'm sure she couldn't stand watching her 18 or 19 year old kid sitting around at home and drinking himself sick.

I'm sure it was heartbreaking. But neither of you knew how to get things started.

When she gave you her blessing to go to Tokyo, you switched positions in the band?
But at that point, I still wasn't being completely honest. I'd just hang out with everyone and was just happy to be doing music. For whatever the reason. Naturally, because I was a follower. Back then, the whole time I'd be on the drums I'd just be spaced out because I was hidden in the back.

Ha ha ha. So for you to decide to be the front man was a huge change for you.
Right. But that's the reaction of a twenty year old right? I knew I wanted to do something that would let me be more passionate, I wanted an outlet, a sense of fulfillment. And from my vantage from the back of the band, the vocalist was the other extreme and being in that position, I thought it must be exciting and involve such incredible emotion. Even though I had absolutely no experience being a vocalist, I decided it's what I wanted to do.... and I wanted to be the vocalist of Anii's (Yagami Toll/Drums) band. At the time Anii's band had changed vocalists a number of times already so I told him, "I wanna do it".

Oh, so, he wasn't in the same band as you and Imai-san?
No. So I told him I wanted to be the vocalist in his band. And he said, "But Acchan, you're already BUCK-TICK's drummer so I think it would be best if you continued drumming with them."

Ha ha ha ha ha. He turned you down?
He let me down gently *smiles*. Then it just happened around the same time that I got a call from Tokyo saying that BUCK-TICK wanted to change vocalists. But I was still in Gunma at that time. Still I figured it was the time to say something so I said, "Ok, I'll do it." They were stunned at first and then they told me, "But then we'd lose our drummer." But I really kept pushing it and reiterated, "Look, I want to do it." I was pushing so hard because I knew they kind of had some other candidates in mind already. They told me they wanted to try to convince some local vocalist from an amateur band to join us. So I said, "No, I wanna do it". "Ok but then what are we gonna do about the drums?" was the reply. But then Yuuta (Higuchi Yutaka/Bass) mentioned that he thought things weren't going too well with Anii's band and that we could have him be our drummer *smiles*.

Ha ha ha ha. And that's how you all ended up together. You know, in a way it's like you did end up being the singer for Anii's band.
Well yes, I suppose. I think that's about the time I went to Tokyo.

But I'm guessing everyone was surprised though right?
I think they probably were surprised. I loved singing though you know. So I would sing the chorus while playing the drums. That's when I started to really love harmonizing. While we did cover Stalin, gradually we were also making our own original songs. It felt like the more melodious songs were always better when there was harmony in them. So I said, "Let me be the vocalist." Whatever the reason, they agreed, and welcomed me to make my debut as the vocalist.

How was your first performance in a live house as a vocalist?
Well, I don't really remember anything. Though I do know I had liquid encouragement....

Ha ha ha ha!
I think I just screamed my whole way through. Back then I still looked kind of threatening so, I just screamed and glared my way through it. I think there were three bands or something like that, performing and trying to sell our stuff.

How did you feel, being right in front of the audience?
Oh I completely flipped out. It was more chaotic than fun. I just flailed my body around and screamed. But afterwards, I had this amazing feeling of exhilaration, I had never experienced anything quite like that before even though during it felt like my heart would explode from nervousness, at the same time, I had never felt so alive.

It was the first time you put yourself out there....
That was the moment, yes. Where for the first time I expressed myself and did something I really wanted to do.

And what did the other members think of you? Sakurai Atsushi, the vocalist.
I wonder? It's not like I was that great you know. They probably just thought something like, "Ah well, he's got a nice mug so he'll do." *smiles*

In those days, what sort of costumes did you wear?
Back then I had the good fortune of having a girlfriend who was incredibly nimble fingered. Her mother helped me too....

Are you saying your girlfriend and her mother made you your stage clothes?!
They did. It just happened that when I landed in Tokyo at first I found myself living with my girlfriend. It's amazing, how much she did for me. I think she made me two or three costumes. Just for me though. While everyone else was in their prêt-a-porter stuff, I alone got haute couture *smiles*.

Ha ha ha ha ha. As is worthy of a vocalist.
Like I was the only one who had a costume made of lamé and it was so incredibly sparkly. And oh how proud I was of it *smiles*.

No, no, but that was an improvement for you right. I mean didn't your personality change from that? Up till then it seems you wanted to hide and you had that sort of disposition where you refused to say what you really felt or thought.
Well, fundamentally I didn't change at all. I was only different when I was on stage. Off stage I was still the same. I still had no vision. I still never really thought about the future or what we should do. Meanwhile it seemed like the other members were thinking of all these different things we could do. And I was just happy to do lives two or three times a month. I really led the worst kind of life back then.

Ok, did you have a part-time job or anything at the time?
Nothing that really stuck for more than three days. Actually, having a job for three days straight would have been pretty good for part time. (3)

Ha ha ha ha.
Of course there's a fast turnover rate in the service industry right. But I told myself it's because working in a restaurant didn't suit me at all. So that's how I ended up selling shoes in a women's shoe store in Shinjuku station.

Wow. And did that seem to suit you?
No, no.

I can just see it you searching for whom the glass slipper fits.
Ha ha ha ha ha. What are you trying to say? *smiles*

Nothing, nothing. I was just thinking the customers must have been happy.
Well I'd say they probably just thought I was funny because of the faces I made. My boss would tell me, "Sakurai-kun, please show some expression." Because I'd just stand there looking blank. Then in the evenings, the women I worked with would come up to me and be all, "Excuse me~ won't you be a dear and show me these shoes?" And I'd say, "Well? What do you think? Do they suit me?" To which they would say, "Huh?" and I would go on with, "Well. Aren't you supposed to tell me how good I look in them now?".

Ha ha ha ha.
It's funny when I think about it now. I worked there for about two weeks I think. But of course, you know, it being a shop for women's shoes you have to talk to women and I had no idea what sort of things to say. So I was told, "It's bad if you don't pay the ladies at least one compliment." And I thought, "Wow, this is kinda crazy." Well after that I didn't really continue working part time because I was also mooching off my mother, I mooched till she had nothing left to offer. Now when I think about it, it really seems like such a terrible thing to me. My brother used to give my mother his hard earned money and then she'd turn around and send it to me. Because she felt bad for me. My brother was so pissed that all the money he was sending to my mother was going to me. That was really me at my lowest.

Did your mother ever come to the city to watch you perform a live?
No, no. But there were a couple of times when she came to see me because we were performing in the Takasaki music centre. "I'm so happy you were able to come play here," she said. So at least I was able to give her that. And that makes me incredibly happy.

When did you begin to think that being a vocalist was a way for you to be personally influential to others?
Well, never actually. I mean even when we debuted, how could I possibly influence others when I myself didn't know what I was doing? I didn't even really know what I was doing when it came to my singing style. I just did whatever I thought was cool.

Was there a certain kind of vocalist you were aiming to be, that you thought would be cool?
Of course there were those I loved to listen to like David Bowie and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus because they had these deep solid voices that I was really drawn to. But rather than think about how they sang like that, I just wished for my own voice to be nice like theirs.

That was about the time David Bowie got his big break with "Let's Dance" but what was it about the views portrayed in his work at that time that drew you in?
His music had an incredibly strong impact on me because of course, it was dark. And to put it simply, back then for me, dark=cool so that was kind of the outline for myself that I followed. So looking back, "Low" and "Heroes" were my favorite albums of his back then.

What did you make of the melodies of the pop songs you were listening to up till then?
What drew me in with them was the beauty of their style which was fresh for me. All the songs that were similar to the pop ones I listened to had incredibly beautiful melodies. So for instance rather than listen to what was at the top of the charts like (The Sex Pistols song) "God Save the Queen", I was listening to "Hotel California" by the Eagles because that was the type of song that touched me emotionally.

I see. Was it then that you really began to feel like a vocalist?
Not really, no. I finished our first album (first major album, "SEXUAL XXXXX"/'87) still not understanding what it was to be a vocalist. For the second album ("SEVENTH HEAVEN"/'88), I seemed to have that same style too. I felt so restrained by the fact that we would be touring while also recording and at the same time promoting ourselves that I honestly had no time to think about anything else. So I guess it was only about from our third album, "TABOO" ('89).

Because it was recorded overseas you were able to think about what you wanted to express carefully and then with the next album, "Aku no Hana" ('90) you established the perspective you wanted to express.
It was trial and error really. It felt like finally from the third album I was able to sort of begin to fumble my way through.

When it comes to lyrics filling you with a sense of accomplishment, which album would you say did that for you the most while you were writing the lyrics for it, while they were taking shape?
Well if I'm going to judge I'd say "Kurutta Taiyou" (fifth album/'91) was the first time for me. Up till then I was just grazing the surface of things, I feel like there was no depth in them at all. There was nothing remotely profound about them, it was just about surface, to everyone who bought those albums, I am very sorry.

But you seemed to be able to express your inner feelings though right? Since a part of writing stories and choosing the right words to fit the melody is about saying the things you want to say and putting feelings into words.
Yes, without a doubt. But with "Aku no Hana" for instance, at the time I had already seen Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal" (4) and thought it was so cool. I think perhaps it may only be now though that I can think about pieces by Goethe and Hesse critically. Back then, when I think about it, it seems I was only borrowing words. Then we finished "Aku no Hana", and finally with "Kurutta Taiyou" the words that I expressed were my own.

Previously, you've released a tribute album in which various artists participated and for a lot of people, it may be the first time they hear these songs being sung, so in a way, I think it's like being able to show the truth about what you wanted to say back then again. I mean, it's another way to show your reality at that time, your feelings.
Well, I guess the thing is I'm insanely hard on myself, because it's me. But when I listened to the tribute album I felt as though it was quite solid.

Indeed it is *smiles*. For instance listening to "MACHINE" sung by Kishidan, it's like hearing the song in a different way. Like the lines that go, "The thing I have faith in is that there is no god, there is only the smell of blood rushing" and "The thing I believe in is that there is no such thing as dreams, there is only this me, breaking into a run" while you sing them with a sort of cool headedness, they do it completely different and sing with such passion....
I do feel it came across that way, yes. With cali?gari 's version of "MISTY ZONE" as well, I can tell that that they really wanted to do it and I think that comes across in the song.

There are some keywords that keep turning up consistently in your lyrics like "dream", "madness", "solitary" and "cosmos" . Only, I would say certain words like "dream" you have come to use in different ways. Like the line in "LOVE ME", "No matter what I dream of, I am always alone once I realize it" where that time when you're dreaming is a time of unreality and yet it's also enjoyable but once you awaken from the dream, there's that phrase stating that you're alone and I think that's fairly common to find in songs. But now, when you write things like "dream" it takes on a far greater and more eternal meaning, it feels as though it becomes something that envelops everyone. What do you think?
Fundamentally, I don't think I've changed at all. But I do agree that perhaps my way of using certain words has. Of course it's still basically a way for humans to escape reality, that hasn't changed. I mean the very word "dream" implies evasion but, it's not just about running's like, it's ok to dream, even if it is an escape. But instead of using it as a way to forget about all the bad things, think about the fun things, when you close your eyes, just try to recall all the things you enjoy. That's how I can say, it's ok, even if it's a lie.

From listening to what you've said up till now, I thought you wouldn't have thought to presume to think about dreaming positively...I mean you went from dreams being drowning in alcohol as an escape to the idea of dreaming with your imagination with a positive aspect to it.
Is it positive? *smiles* Well, you know in the past I felt like I had to be positive but there were also times where I was pressuring myself to be so. So I would force myself to be positive but of course, it wasn't how I really felt. And because of that I planned on quitting. I wasn't being true to myself so of course I came to feel uneasy. Rather than do things without even thinking, I thought it might be ok to run away.

I see. You don't like conflict Sakurai-san, you really are a pacifist. But then when we see you on stage you've got this undeniable fighting spirit as well you know.
Do you know something about me that I don't? *smiles*

Well no, no of course not, I don't know you deeply at all *smiles*.
I am a pacifist, you're right. Just leave me to graze.

*smiles* But you were rather feisty in the early days, even in the way you sang you would shout a lot.
Of course because I love both extremes. I like fierceness and strength...I mean it's fiction but, I like stories with that kind of feeling, that style, of going all the way till the ends of the world with that kind of tenacity. On the other hand, if I'm going to say it simply, there is something about stories that are filled with love, that have a mystical element while at the same time searching for peace and tranquility that I am attracted to. But I think if I say I like stories that are spiritual it sounds a little funny. It's more that kind of inner psychological world, that we don't know, that we don't see, that's what really draws me in.

I think you get asked this fairly often but, is there a difference between Sakurai Atsushi of BUCK-TICK and Sakurai Atsushi the ordinary man? And if so, what is it?
Hmm, I don't know. That is something only I would know right. Of course the thing is, even when I'm riding the bus by myself on the way to the station, I'm still aware that I am Sakurai Atsushi of BUCK-TICK. Just like I'm aware of it when I'm on tour and I'm reclining in my seat on the Shinkansen (5). There's no real definitive line. I do often get asked that kind of thing, "How do you split yourself between you're on self and off self" as though I have some kind of self-awareness about it. But to me, it's not something you can switch on and off you know.

But is there a clear difference for you then? Between when you're on and off stage?
Of course, I want there to be. I am different but I am the same. Like on stage, there's the whole show aspect, the making people listen aspect and of course making things look good and I'm aware of that and so I want to be there because it's like, "I'm about to show you something artistic now, please watch". And then, it's ok because I'm aware of everything, even the tips of my fingers and I try to use that when I'm performing.

That's the greatest difference right there isn't it. Because as an ordinary guy, you Sakurai Atsushi have no real motivation to show yourself which means....
Please don't look at me.

Ha ha ha ha.
I'd rather be hiding over there *points to a corner of the room*. Seriously.

Yet there is a part of you that shows but you manage to balance it. Because you were forced to conceal your feelings when you were young, you're always quiet now. But that's not the only reason right? It's also because you grew up in violence....
I think perhaps there was a certain part that I wasn't able to come to terms with, that now, I have reclaimed. Not that I can really analyze myself. But sometimes I ask myself, I wonder why I'm doing this and I know it's not about looking good for me and I mean, obviously I do enjoy singing and I find it interesting...and though it is arduous at times, I do enjoy it.

But you don't even seem to express your feelings, your desires or your thoughts to your friends or anyone else. So of course for you Sakurai-san, it's on stage that you express yourself...and when you were a child, it was with the world you created with Microman because there it seems perhaps you were at last able to fully be engrossed.
Right. Those two hours when I'm on stage are great, it's true. And yet I'm a sloth by nature, the kind of person who finds most things to be tedious, but I can't be thinking that everything is so terribly troublesome.

Meanwhile you felt you were barely getting by as it is *smiles*.
That's why I would get intoxicated. The thing about drugs is, even though you might think things like "I can't take it anymore, I'm so tired", it just makes you feel so lonely. For me part of it was that I felt I was being crushed to death for twenty years, at least I think it might be that.

I see, and with your debut you transcended those first twenty years of your life.
I overcame them, yes *smiles*.

There's no doubt about that.
Because what I went through with my brother is something only we can really understand, I do find it difficult to talk about it but, that's because as a child my life truly was hell.

But, I think there are a lot of children that go through that. And then they end up straying and running away from home.
Good, that's better for their health.

It's so hard though. Perhaps it seems to you like your father won because you were never able to strike him back but, you couldn't because you are such a gentle and loving person.
It warps you in so many ways though, to the point where you think it would be better if you disappeared.

I'm so glad you didn't disappear.
Ha ha ha ha.

Because you're Japan's great vocalist.
Well no, I highly doubt that. I know for a fact there are a lot of other people much greater than I am *smiles*.

Of course there are other great people but no one is a vocalist like you Sakurai-san. I'm so glad you decided you wanted to sing.
Well, maybe you should be happy Anii gently turned me down.

Ha ha ha ha ha. I think it's so wonderful though that you didn't give up and challenged him......instead of just falling into a persecution complex and turning to alcohol.
Well, that's why I'm so grateful to Imai-san, truly.

When did you think you were glad you decided to be a singer?
When am I glad that I'm a singer? The simplest things make me happy like being told I have a nice voice. But what makes me glad that I decided to sing......well now the thing with the internet is, because of the anonymity, people are viciously brutal. And I can't tell you how much I hate that kind of thing. But amidst the slander and name calling, there are also points that are heart-warming. Like people who even though they might suffer from a serious illness, they're able to find encouragement in our music. Or when I'm told that someone lost their son but he really loved our songs. When I get these kinds of messages, they make me cry and really, I think that's when I'm truly glad I decided to do this. It seems that people find things in my songs that I didn't see myself, like courage and hope and when that happens it's just so's kind of an 'aha' moment.

From what you told me of your childhood, about how you felt you were living in a sort of daze, I imagine you never once thought you could have this effect on people. But it played a part in you becoming who you are now and you are happy about that right?
It's true, if I hadn't listened to Ken Naoko's "Kamome wa kamome" (6) back then, I think I might not have turned out this way. And when I'm told, "I would not be this way without you" then I can say yes, I am really glad that I sing.

I see. Alright well, this is my last question so, if you had a door that could take you anywhere you wanted just once, where would you go and what would you do?
Well, that's not something I really think about you know. I consciously try not to think about that actually. I'm not sure. Do you mean in my own lifetime?

Or not, either way is fine.
I think I would return to a point in time in my life when my father was still alive. And say something like, "It's YOU who did this!" *smiles*.

If you could say one thing to him, of course it would be something like that.
I would like to say that. And then tell him he's the one who lost out in the end *smiles*.

Ha ha ha ha ha. That's a good one too.
Yeah. I think so.

You never did get to have a heart to heart with him with both of you standing as equals but I imagine it's something you would have liked right?
Yes. When I think about it now, we never once were able to really have a conversation. At least that's how it seems, I mean for the 18 years we had he was always drunk or raging and when he was like that of course there was no way we could have talked. Well, I suppose it will remain an unfulfilled dream but I imagine if we had been able to, it would have been an interesting conversation.

I bet. Thank you so much for doing this.
Well that was depressing *smiles*.

(1) Microman action figures were known for their high number of articulation points. They were the original Transformers.
(2) Julie was Sawada Kenji's nickname because he had a great love for Julie Andrews.
(3) There was a play on words here with the word "三日坊主" which means a person who has no power of perseverance, or a person who can't stick to anything and the fact that the first part of that word literally means "three days".
(4) Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal" translates as "Aku no Hana" in Japanese.
(5) The Shinkansen is the Japanese bullet train.
(6) I've seen this song title translated as "A seagull may never be a woman" or "A gull is a gull".