Interview with Imai Hisashi
Text by Onojima Dai
Translation by Lola

When you formed the band, did you have a some sort of vision as to the kind of music you wanted to do, the sound you wanted and what kind of band you wanted it to be?
Not.......especially, no. Back then I loved the Stalin so.......well, I just wanted to stand out like they did initially. In the beginning, I never even thought about being original. But no one else was like the Stalin at the time even though some tried but no one else had such a strong impact with their sound like they did.

But after awhile I guess you started thinking about going pro?

Even though you began as a copy band, it seems like that was just a step towards what came next.
Yes, it was. But, when we finally decided to be original, it was insanely hard. Like, 'what? this isn't original yet?' *smiles*. It took a long time to try to do something original, Yuuta was beginning to wonder how many more months it'd be like that. It was so annoying at first. But that's probably just because I'm lazy.

Do you remember what sort of song you wrote at first?
At that point, I was real~ly influenced by the Stalin and the fast beat of punk music. So, naturally that's the beat my songs had. And the songs that came out had that feeling.

For how long did you continue with the punk sound? was really only for the first few months. Eventually over time, I became more fascinated by melody. And more and more, that's what I wanted to come out in the song even if there were a lot of variations around the melody, I wanted the melody to stand out. That's when I became absorbed in composition. With different ways of using the was around that time that I really became hooked on writing music.

You were unsatisfied with doing things simply and straightforwardly.
That's right.

It was beginning then that you really thought about the different points of song writing.

So tell me about the melody.
Right........well of course......there's a lot of importance placed on the melody.

And that means? to say it......I just couldn't accept the idea that a melody is something that should come naturally, I thought no, there must be something more to it than that. So I kept tinkering with it, even to the point of forcing it to adapt......

First you write the melody, from then you decide the chord progression......
Yes, that's how it was at first.

So you're saying that's only how you wrote songs in the early days?
Yes. I think even I've changed since then.

Usually now, while you're strumming your guitar, first you decide the chord progression and then you adapt the melody to it.
Yes. But I think that defines the melody in a way. Because within the chords I've chosen, there are certain things I can't do.

I see. The band also changed vocalists along the way. How did that influence you?
It really brought the whole band closer together. Suddenly we were all psyched to do things. The previous vocalist sadly lacked power. It was from that point on that I really could go where I wanted with the melody.

The previous vocalist couldn't meet your demands Imai-kun but I think Sakurai-kun does so amazingly well.
Yeah yeah, it's true. And then Anii came to drum with us and that really strengthened our rhythm section.

If you had to sum up Buck-Tick's early music in one word, what would it be?
......I don't know......we did a lot of pop stuff......but the way I think of songs hasn't really changed, even now. Somewhere along the way, I just got hooked......

What about your goal as a songwriter?
No......well I really like Hotei-san's work but.....I wouldn't say that I have a goal per say.

So, you're saying there isn't really any one particular person whose example you follow.......?
No, there isn't.

What did it feel like to record for the first time?
Anii and Yuuta were the first ones to say we should try to record. Probably because I knew nothing about how things worked to record live music. They made me finish four whole songs in one day, even up till the track down. At the time, I thought ok, I guess this is just how things go I suck. I was ultra-bad at it *smiles*.

Up till then you had only performed on stage.
That's right. I found that there's quite a difference between playing standing up and playing sitting down.

After that you released your first album 'Hurry Up Mode' (with Taiyou Records) which I think was a good thing because it pushed you to continue.
Yes. After that our recording really increased.

It led to you signing a contract with Victor for your major debut but had you thought of what you wanted to do when you became major?
No, nothing specific anyway. At first, I just wanted to keep going and see what came from that.

You put out your first video and did your debut album, 'Sexual XXXXX' but even though it was a major album it still kept the same feel as your indies work.
Yes. Well, I mean if you're talking about the way I wrote songs then yes but gradually my way of recording the melody......or rather, the work I could do with it changed. I made an amazing amount of progress in my way of joining the melody with the chords. Between 'Hurry Up Mode' and 'Sexual XXXXX'.

It's like you finally were able to do things uniquely in your own way.
Ah, yes. Something like that.

What about your second major album, 'Seventh Heaven'?
There was no change. At least not in regards to my approach of melody.

Around that time your schedule became rather packed didn't it?
Yes, yes.

So did that end up influencing your way of working on music?
Ah, it did yeah. Especially during recording, I hated it but there was nothing I could do about it you know. *smiles* I had to write a song a day and when I was done, I'd tell everyone I did it and we'd record it. I'd do it all at home, then I'd go into the studio and do it all again, everyday was like that, over and over again. We did lives and interviews during that time too. All I really wanted was a vacation.

How do you feel about the albums you had to put out during that hectic early period?
Well......even if it killed me, uh, at least I got it all done.

But I mean when you look back at it now, are you happy with them or do you wish you had done things differently here and there?
Ah, well when I listen to them's the tempo that bothers me I guess.

Too fast?
Yes. The whole album feels......rushed because of it.

Why do you think that is? Do you think it's a reflection of your state of mind at the time?
No *smiles*. Well, perhaps it was natural for that sort of tempo to come out at the time but......I think it's more because I didn't want to do anything easy.

Then you recorded your third album, 'TABOO' in London right.
Yes. We.......really had no time at all for that. We did the songs but I found that in the end they just didn't all mesh together well at all.

It was also your first time producing wasn't it.
I tried really hard though. I studied a lot about guitars. So that I would know what Hide and I should do. I learnt a lot about guitar arrangements. But it regards to how we did things during recording, I still....couldn't see how to do everything. I still didn't understand how to make it sound like a whole ensemble you know. So often, I couldn't even really judge whether something was good or bad.

You still weren't seeing things from a producer's standpoint.
Yes, exactly. I tried to, with everything I had in me. First I'd do the rhythm, then the guitars, then I'd put in the bass line, all this without destroying the image of the song, then after that I'd listen to the vocals but I still......wasn't paying attention to things like sound quality you know.

And then next was 'Aku no Hana'.
'Aku no Hana' is like 'TABOO' in that it's a dark album but of course by that point, things had changed a little bit......maybe I was thinking too much about the melody. I was too self-conscious about making a melody that would fit in well. Because I still didn't feel like I had made a good melody up till that point. They sounded awkward to me. The tone felt a little too conservative.

You put a lot of effort into the recording though.
I put an insane amount of work into it, yeah. But even so I felt like the balance between the melody and the musical performance somehow fell apart in the end.

Next was 'Kurutta Taiyou'. I think this was an amazing epoch making album as far as Buck-Tick is concerned. I think it was a breakthrough album, Buck-Tick had never done anything like that before, I think it really showed how much you all evolved.
.......yeah, I mean I guess so......we were actually actively pursuing what we wanted and I think that was a first. I was able to do things that I liked too so of course I wanted to do it.

You had refrained from doing so completely up till that point.
Yes. For the sake of the other 4 members. Even though I'd think about changing some things, I thought that no, I shouldn't, then I'll be doing too much. Plus I was afraid that if I'd say anything they'd quit. So as a result I did things that I didn't really want to do. Then I had to think of whether we could actually do the things I wanted during lives. It's not just about being able to do it during recording.......I had to think about what would be good for the other members.

I heard from your director from before you turned major that you guys were good at listening to each other. Buck-Tick's outward appearance in the early days may have been flashy and jumbled but your melodies were like The Checkers. (1)

Well, I think that was part of Buck-Tick's charm at the time but you guys seemed uncomfortable with it. Oddly, it was like you weren't comfortable with writing popular songs......
Yes, yes, exactly.

But I think your discomfort with that, instead of rattling you, it really brought you closer together as a band for 'Kurutta Taiyou' and solidified your individuality.
It's true. Even I was aware that this was an album of change. I felt like I achieved my personal goal with it.

Sakurai-kun's lyrics were a part of that too.
Yes. They did a complete 180. They felt incredibly vivid to me.

After that was 'Koroshi no shirabe' right. Which featured remakes of old songs, like a best of album.
We were able to do that because we did 'Kurutta Taiyou'. We approached the remakes the same way we did the songs for 'Kurutta Taiyou'.

And next came 'DARKER THAN DARKNESS'. I think it's around this time that your strength and stability as a band really came through.
Well that.........well you know I was already a little late with adding bits of sound and so I started to think that well, it'll be ok as it is. But I didn't want it to have a simple and clear rock sound. So I started to play with it a little. First, I worked on the heavy songs. Made them have a jagged feel.

Do you think Buck-Tick's music should be most known for that?
Yes. That's what I want us to be most known for.

But I don't really think that's the case is it?
Well, that's can I put it? Being most known for a certain album is....... different than say, being known for a certain catch phrase.

Melody is very important to pop music, do you find this is true for you personally?
No, gradually I've changed how I feel about melody. Even without melody, songs can still progress. I think that's clear in songs like 'ICONOCLASM' but it still feels very pop to me.

But it was your initial attachment to melody that led you to creating a more complete whole that has a great impact.
That is true, yes.

And from now on, what direction shall you go in?
I'm not sure.........I think I'd like to try to do something a little more honest. I'll continue to rework some things and make it more smooth and natural. Until now, I've been trying to be natural but I couldn't understand how. For a long time my inability to show myself as I am really bothered me. I didn't know what to do. Then as I was thinking about it, I'd ask myself what did I want to express with this song, but I wouldn't know. My head would get tired from over thinking everything and by morning I'd reach the point where I no longer knew if something was good or bad. That's when I knew that I wanted to go with an image that was genuinely me.........nothing else.

I see. Are you afraid that that idea, that inspiration inside you will one day wither away?
Not now.

Oh. Ok then, do you recall any particular hardships you went through while song writing?
...up till now, no I haven't had any. Well, sometimes it's hard when I run out of time but it's not like it ruins everything.

Pff......that's just because you're such a genius though right? *smiles*.
No *smiles*. I don't think so.

What sort of person do you think a genius is?
Hmm.........someone who can do things.......that no one else can.

But, isn't that exactly the same as you? Going by what you've said. *smiles*.
*smiles* No, the bad thing with me actually takes me a lot of effort to do what I do. You know, even if people don't see it *smiles*.

(1) A Japanese rock group made up of seven members. For whom Fujii Fumiya was the lead vocalist! *o* I'm sorry, random I know but I love Fujii Fumiya. He was one of the first Japanese singers I ever heard when I was a teenager and he sings beautiful ballads. Anyway, the group formed in 1980 I think. They also put out an album by the title of 'Seven Heaven' in 1989, you know...just thought I'd point that out. Interesting isn't it, that the band CAROL, is what made him want to do music? Well I think's so fascinating to me how all these Japanese musicians end up being connected together in various ways.