Fool's Mate July 2009
Interview with Sakurai Atsushi
Text by Masuda You
Translation by Lola

Your performance in Shizuoka the other day was wonderful. Though if I may be honest, I felt the opening performance of the tour was sort of a little awkward.
That is to be expected from the first show of a tour too though. No matter how many times we do this. In the beginning, I'm always preoccupied wondering whether the show will be good or bad. Unlike now where I feel I can do it and have it be amazing. And now because I think I can do it, I actually can. At first when the tour began, I was on the verge of believing I could do it and because of that partial doubt, I was unable to do some things.

Were there things in your head you thought you could do, but couldn't in practice?
Yes. Especially on the first day. Like if I took too long to do something and then the moment passed. I was terribly sluggish, I felt rather vexed after. Then on top of how I was feeling, I was dealing with various people's thoughts about the tour too......everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but, when they say thoughtless things, I can't let it bother me. So in order for me to not be bothered by all that, I have to focus on my own thoughts and feelings and if I can do that, then that makes it better as a whole in the end.

Certainly you must know it's impossible to make everyone happy. So don't you think it's more important to be true to yourself than to force yourself to try to please others?
Yes. Well, most of the time I do have my heart set on something *smiles*. Perhaps if I had to do something I didn't care about, I'd likely end up being rather dull on stage.

You're so honest, as usual *smiles*. Actually, even during the opening show, it definitely felt like you were dissatisfied with something and not because you made any mistake either. Mainly, it seemed like the problem was just with how you were feeling. But you were aware of being unable to shake that feeling. Which is why you ended up feeling frustrated.
That was part of it yes. I'm sorry, I feel bad for all those who came to see the opening show of the tour but, of course because it was the first show, I was still figuring things out myself bit by bit. It's more than just figuring out what to do, it's a whole process of absorbing various things and steadily building on those things until I can do them convincingly. And I can't do that sort of work during rehearsal. So of course, when fans come to see the first show, it's the first time when I can realize whether certain things are possible in actuality.

So in this way what you're saying is, as the tour progresses Sakurai-san, you get closer to having the image you want come through?
That's how it seems to be, yes. Because, no matter how many times I get asked the general question, "What do you think the next tour will be like?", I answer something vague like, "The image I have in mind is like this" but that's because in the end, an image is just an image. I can only truly know once I've lived it, that's what makes it concrete for me.......because a mere image won't go very far. Since I never have any preconceptions, the first step is to imagine how it will be. So I just answer because I am asked but it's hard to talk about something I haven't actually done yet *smiles*. I can't know something if I haven't tried it yet. Mm, yet nonetheless there are those who feel it's irresponsible of me to answer in such a way *smiles*.

I'm sorry. Now I feel like I'm forcing answers out of you *smiles*.
No, no. But on the other hand, it's bad if I keep silent too *smiles*. Well, in the end, what I'm trying to say is that the image can end up being completely different than expected sometimes.

In what way is the image different than how you previously imagined?
I'm very stubborn when it comes to getting my point of view across but I'd say the physical aspect of it is the toughest to convey. I'm trying to convey life in an uplifting and energetic way. Even if it's only a little, that's what I want the viewers to see. While that's what I want them to see no matter what, from their point of view, what they're seeing might not actually be so fun. And ideally, the epitome of a rock concert is to have fun. Of course part of thinking about it is also thinking about how it will be seen by others, but I also want people to feel it in their skin, to be able to enjoy the show with all five senses......that's what I want to convey through the songs and the performance. I'm trying to say, "I'm alive" and "I'm a human being". Because of course I am human *smiles*. Then after relishing the live, I'd like for people to listen to the CD once again, to find themselves within it and to enjoy it all the more.

The theme ruling "memento mori" is "Love and Death" and that's rather heavy but because of the way you've handled it and because of your energy on stage, instead of it feeling heavy we feel "life", is that what you were aiming for?
Yes. That's right.

That's why it feels like it's not the end yet with this tour, I'll avoid going into a detailed account for the readers who haven't seen it yet but, I think the opening of the live is something people absolutely can't miss. Where did you get the idea to open the show like that?
That was a proposal from our stage designer. When I told him, "I'd like to do something like this but, how would I do that?" he said, "A picture is worth a thousand words". And I thought, 'I won't know until I try it' so I said, "Let's try it out".

This probably all sounds like gibberish for the readers who don't know what we're talking about but, during the opening, even though you were suddenly above the stage Sakurai-san, you couldn't see anyone. Surely, that must have felt very different for you?
I was apprehensive of course *smiles*. It wasn't just the audience I couldn't see, I couldn't see the other band members either. I just listened to the beat of the drums and the guitar sound. Because that's all I had to rely on. When I tried it the first time, I couldn't see a single audience member and it freaked me out, I thought no one was there, I didn't know what to do *smiles*. Well, but of course now it's funny *smiles*. Anyway, basically I just had to concentrate. Otherwise, it could be fatal.

Then you had a skull with you everywhere you went. While the music is meant to express "life", a skull symbolizes "death".
That's right. The truth is, at first I hadn't given it any thought. Then one day it came up in conversation and I was asked, "How about using the skull you used for the BMG CD jacket?". Honestly at the time I had completely forgotten about that but, then I requested if we could straight away. I asked, "would it be all right if we used it?" *smiles*. And they pleasantly agreed *smiles*.

During 'MOTEL 13' you spent the whole song singing to the skull, like a dialogue.
Yes. I thought it would give the song more depth by adding the 'you' mentioned in the song, instead of just me singing by myself. I'm all about the live, and what makes a rock concert so part of that is the visual element and I like making it into a show. Some might say I stole the idea from David Bowie though as he did it before I did but *smiles*, I can't help it because I like what he does. And actually, I found it fit the lyrics well personally, so I thought it'd be really interesting to try out. It's not like "Death" has a specific form right? Yet we judge it as an existing thing......and then become meaninglessly entangled by that *smiles*.

By using the skull motif though it becomes much easier for people to understand right.
Yes. Of course because even if I use words like 'death' in songs, it's not something that can be seen. So I present something concrete for people to be able see. Because that sort of understanding is something even I seek.

When I compare the opening performance of the tour with the show in Shizuoka, even the set lists were different, during the first show you ended the main set with 'Jonathan Jet-Coaster'. I was quite surprised but at the same time, I was really thrilled by it.
Thank you, I'm glad to hear that. People had a lot of different feelings about that. As for myself, at first I thought I'd like to have it as the last encore, so that it all fit as one package. But then I thought that might make everything a little too formal in the end. The other members pointed that out as well saying, "The encore is the encore" and so after some thought, we amended the set list. It was quite a challenge for me to have to wait to perform 'Jonathan Jet-Coaster' at the end of the main set. I'd venture to say that ending the main set with that song made it feel like huh? Is it over? We ended with sort of a break away feeling and then, at the last moment, we brought it all together with the encore. But when it was all over, I'd say that the way to get people to understand, is to actually make it easy to understand.

In fact, I felt it was increasingly easy to understand the good meaning behind it myself as well. I know you change the songs for the encore each day but, in Shizuoka, Imai-san added a phrase from 'memento mori' to an older song didn't he? At first I thought he was just doing it purely for the sake of having fun but somehow, when I was watching I felt that "memento mori" the album was joined with Buck-Tick's past and it made me once again feel as though the connection between this album and the rest was undeniable.
He gave me a nice assist there *smiles*. Of course that was partially the point but if I were to put it more simply, I would say that doing it this way made the story flow better as a whole and made it feel complete so people could really enjoy it more, and be happy and truly not wish for it to be over. I think it's better that way isn't it?

Were you sad for the show to end as well Sakurai-san?
When I was actually doing it, it was hard for me to say goodbye too *smiles*. But, recently I really feel like it's ok, I can still do a lot more, even for the finale. But then because I'm also human, when it started I felt like, damn, it's gonna be difficult but then when it's all over I feel lonely.

So you do it all over again. You've mainly had shows on weekends during this tour right. You don't really get to rest on your days off though do you?
It's always this way, although I might have the day off, I'm always thinking about where the next live is. Ok I might be exaggerating a little but, before I go to sleep I'm thinking, 'I wonder how it would be if I did it like this next time?' and I'm still thinking about it when I wake up. Even on days when there are no lives, that's what I think about. But that's what makes it really easy for me to slip into live mode on the weekends.

So it's not something you can suddenly turn on and off then.
No. Perhaps it would truly be better if I could do that.

It would certainly be convenient. But because you're a vocalist, you have to think about your throat so it's better if you don't really talk and I'm sure you have a variety of other restrictions you're forced to go along with too right? As long as you follow those rules it's fine but if you don't, couldn't it be painful for you?
Certainly. But, I'm already accustomed to it by now. I mean I have been doing this for a long while *smiles*. So for instance after rehearsal, even though there's a week until the live I'll think, 'Ah, I'd love to eat something spicy today but I wonder if I should?' because I'm always worried about my throat. After the show, everyone seems to be having fun and can laugh loudly but, I have to avoid that as much as possible *smiles*. This was a long time ago but when I used to see a vocal trainer, that's what I was told. "Don't laugh. Please don't talk. And please try not to listen to music."

How is it bad to "listen" to music?
Because I'll end up singing along, I can't help it. And if I did that, then my throat wouldn't get any rest at all. So then when I said, "What am I then? Some kind of invalid?", my trainer answered, "Yes, exactly" without batting an eye *smiles*.

I'd be pretty scared if I was told that *smiles*. I'd like to thank you for being able to see you this time around because of the tour scheduling.
It's good for everyone else and myself as well since we're getting on in years *smiles*.

As you get older it takes longer for you to recover, I know even for me my body has a hard time recovering but at the same time, as long as I go slowly, eventually I can trick my body into doing things. But you guys in Buck-Tick, don't hold back at all. Actually, you have an incredibly straightforward approach to the lives don't you. Even seems that way with the music itself.
I can't really trick my body into anything you know. It's stupid like that *smiles*. My body hates me. Feeling as though I suck makes me unable to do things too. So, I try to think, 'it's ok, it's good' *smiles*.

As you've been touring in various places, have your feelings towards the "memento mori" album changed?
To be honest, in the beginning I thought it would end up feeling serious. But actually, it turned out to be rather light as a whole. The lives felt that way too. Some things were dark without being heavy and serious and it was like, "I'm human after all so, shouldn't I be able to act like one?". We're all human, we all live and we're all going to die.

I just thought about this now but, wasn't it rather important to have that light uplifting feeling with "memento mori"? For the 20 years you've been together as a band you've always explored deep themes with great insight without delving into "Love & Death" and now you're approaching it very open-mindedly. So given that the album is open and light, doesn't it follow that the lives would be so?
Yes. Though of course I want to avoid trivializing "death". The thing about Japan is, there is a strong tendency to perceive death in a negative way and to speak of death in a lighter way is thought to be reckless. But, I think that's not necessarily right. I'm sure it would be better if we talked about it more openly, and it would be good if we listened more to other people's revelations about it. Because we shouldn't force our views on others......

You're right. Well anyway, you've got the finale coming up. What do you think you should do from now on to make the theme work better Sakurai-san?
......I'd like to settle the gap between the physical and the mental aspect of it.

What would be necessary for you to do so?
A proper degree of moderation between exercise and alone time *smiles*. That's important for me. Actually I prefer both together. Well, if I were to explain simply, I'd say I just like running by myself while listening to music *smiles*. That alone time is quite important for me. Not just physically, but mentally as well, that's just how I am.

Is it because that's the easiest way for you to be alone Sakurai-san?
Well, when I seriously want to be alone, I just close all the window shutters *smiles*. But, when I'm running I'm able to think about things like, "What am I going to do?" and another thing is, building my physical strength more helps my self-confidence too. Moreover, I know people pay a lot of money to come and see me. So you know I wouldn't look very cool if I didn't keep my physique *smiles*.

Well whether it's for sales or just to keep in shape, it seems difficult to maintain that strength.
Yes. But the point is I'd like to at least keep up the minimum. It's not like I'm proud of the fact that I have to run *smiles*. I'd much prefer if I could say something like, "I can jog without running out of breath" *smiles*. Although I think of myself as lazy, I'm always worried about how other people will see me. Because I'm certainly not the kind of person who puts serious effort into it. You know, I run, then I drink after so it's like a positive action, then a negative one so I end up at zero *smiles*. But, well, it really doesn't matter. I listen to unwholesome music while walking through the park in the evening as a means of gaining perspective. The dim light at that time is much better suited to my thoughts *smiles*.

It also keeps you in a serious mood for the lives right?
I just realized it now that you said it *smiles*.

But, of course it's better for you to keep yourself in live mode even on your time off.
Of course I can't completely sever my stage self from my daily life. Because the person on stage is still me, I can't escape that. But perhaps it's better that I'm aware of that fact.

While you've been touring, have you seen anything that gave you any ideas for what you'd like to do next time?
No, I haven't really given it any thought but, as long as I can do something I like then I'm happy. Basically. Whether it's something old or new....... But I don't think there's really anything that is absolutely brand new anymore. In any case, as long as I can do what I like in a manner that I enjoy then it's good. Of course isn't that always the case, that if you love it you'll become good at it? We're always doing things at a different level every time, and that brings new challenges but, if I didn't love it fundamentally then I think that would come out in a variety of terrible ways.

So even if you've done something extensively in the past, if you can think of it again with a different perspective then that's a challenge.
Yes. Of course if I always did what I loved in the exact same way, I would be unsatisfied with it.

So even though "memento mori" is packed with songs I wouldn't really say it's 'perfectly new'. But for everyone who knows Buck-Tick well, it certainly seems like a different perspective on what has come before. Isn't that what you were going for?
Yes. I've been trying to show that I'll be here as long as it is fully possible. But, if I let myself be objective about it, of course I know that it won't always be.