The official website of Japanese visual kei powerhouse metal/ballad band X Japan has a real-time clock counting down to the millisecond until the band’s show at Madison Square Garden on October 11. The concert marks the band’s first appearance in New York since it played Roseland Ballroom in 2010, and it’s clear that it’s a highly anticipated event. X Japan frontman Yoshiki arrived from Baltimore the morning of August 11 for a one-night stay in New York to do 20 scheduled interviews promoting the gig. He went to Madison Square Garden for a meeting to plan the staging of the production before attending a press conference at Japan Society to face members of the media.
In complete denial of the 80-degree temperatures, Yoshiki was clad in black leather from head to toe as he graciously answered questions about the concert, touring, New York Comic Con and Stan Lee.
X Japan was formed in 1982 and originally went by the name X. They’ve sold more than 30 million records and sold out the 55,000-seat capacity Tokyo Dome an unprecedented 18 times.
“We play really, really heavy songs and also ballads with piano and vocal. When we started touring Japan and before we even signed to some records, people couldn’t define our genre. So we’re kind of like the black sheep of the industry. Everyone hated us, actually. Every single record company told us, ‘Decide. You should do heavy music OR ballads and soft music. I love both.”
After signing a deal with Atlantic Records, the band held a press conference at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center in 1992, their first press conference outside of Japan.
“The problem was we didn’t speak English,” says Yoshiki. “Actually, we were bombarded by all those media people. ‘How do you think you can be successful in American and you can’t speak English?’ You’re right. So I learned English.”
“We were doing well, but in 1997 our band broke up, and we reunited in 2007. We have two deceased members [Hideto Matsumoto, who died in 1998, and Taiji Sawada, who died in 2011]. It was hard for us to reunite. We did a North American tour in 2010 . . . In 2011 we went to 15 countries in Europe, Southeast Asia. During that tour an original member passed away, so we had to take a break for a few years. Then we decided to come back to New York and play at Madison Square Garden.”
“Madison Square Garden is a symbolic place for any musician. I was just at MSG. Tokyo Dome holds 55,000. We played there 18 times. For some reason Madison Square Garden [capacity 18,200] seemed much bigger.”
“This is the first time we are bringing the full set, the full production outside of Japan. We have every single pyro you can think of. I wouldn’t say the band is called “KISS Times Ten,” but something like that. So basically, burn down the stage and everything. Because of that, we decided not to have an opening band because we’ll have enormous rehearsal and production time.”
“In Japan when we play shows, sometimes three generations of people show up. Some people say, ‘I came here with my father and my daughter.’ That’s very interesting. When I go overseas I see a lot of younger generation people, which is amazing . . . Twenty years ago there’s no Internet . . . so I feel that there was a huge wall between the East and West. But these days I feel like the world is getting smaller.”
“My biggest inspiration is my fans. During those ten years our band didn’t exist, our fans kept supporting us . . . When X Japan broke up and hide the guitar player passed away the following year, I was pretty much convinced that I was not even going to play onstage anymore. I didn’t want to give up music because music is all I have, so I was trying to become a composer. Two years later I was asked to compose the Emperor’s song [to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Emperor’s reign] . . . I performed a piano concerto at the Emperor’s palace. A lot of fans showed up and I heard their screaming voices, so I thought, ‘Maybe the stage is the place to be.’
“We want to be much more aggressive, aggressively touring outside Japan. The reason we chose Madison Square Garden is we’re kind of making a statement: X Japan is here. We’re not like a household name here, not even close, but I’m going to try really hard . . . I know it’s not easy for a band from Asia to work into the Western market, but I always think that nothing is impossible. We had a lot of ups and downs. Two of our original members passed away. But going overseas, becoming a household name, to rock the world was our band members’ dream as well. So we kept our dream alive. Again, it’s not easy; I know that. I’ve been living in Los Angeles more than 15 years. I’m pretty much determined, so I’m going to make it happen.”
“The day before the show, October 10, I’ll be having a panel with Stan Lee. Stan Lee is the founder of Marvel Comics. He made me a super hero called Blood Red Dragon. We had a press conference Sunday at Comic Con a few years ago. This time – actually, I can’t talk about what we’re doing – we’ll be announcing something very exciting on October 10 at New York Comic Con.”
The collaboration between Stan Lee and Yoshiki may seem unlikely. The two met serendipitously at one of the parties Yoshiki hosts for his charity foundation, Yoshiki Foundation America, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
“He happened to sit next to me. I didn’t know who he was . . . I said, ‘What do you do?’ He said, ‘I create super heroes. What do you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I create music’ . . . We already released four comic books called Blood Red Dragon. I’m a super hero, and my name is actually Yoshiki in the comic book. I have an interesting power. I wish I could have that power.”