By Carl Begai
Japanese fusion guitarist Nozomi Itani is a musical personality that, up until recently, has been flying below the rock scene’s radar. He’s been flying for quite some time though, and not only in his homeland. Itani’s roots as a musician were planted in Germany, where he lived from the age of four for over 30 years when his father – a pioneering businessman that helped introduce Japanese companies to the Western world – moved to Europe in 1962. In that time he carved out a successful albeit behind-the-scenes career, which eventually brought him home. These days he spends the bulk of his time teaching music, but Itani still managed to write and record and new instrumental album to showcase his talents, appropriately titled Station To Station.
“My mother studied classical piano, and she always wanted the kids to learn how to play an instrument,” Itani says of his start in music. “I started playing piano and violin when I was a kid but I was very lazy (laughs). I took lessons for a few years but I gave up. I didn’t want to play a musical instrument, but by the time I turned 16 rock n’ roll was something very special. It was the time when rock n’ roll was really cool, so to have an electric guitar was very special. When I bought my first Deep Purple LP, my mother saw the picture of the band members and shouted ‘Oh my God, they’re terrorists!’ (laughs). When I started playing guitar I really loved to listen to Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and all kinds of progressive rock stuff like Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant. Most of my friends listened to pop music, Top 10 hits, but I wasn’t very interested in that.”
“The cool thing was that at the end of the ’70s and in the early ’80s, there was this big punk movement and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and on the other hand there was this big jazz fusion movement. I listened to all these so-called studio guitarists, and the heavy metal thing was interesting too because there were guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but I think my real roots are in jazz fusion. On the other hand, I really love to play power chords on the guitar (laughs). This is the balance in my music. I always have this image of playing chord progressions and melodies that are linked to jazz but should sound like hard rock and heavy metal. My vision is to play a jazz standard on a Flying V one day (laughs).” Continue reading ITANI – Guitar Kid In A Candy Store
By Carl Begai
Call it irony at its finest when a band called United can lay dubious claim to 14 line-up changes over the course of their career. Then again, that career has lasted 30 years, and 2011 saw the band cough up what is considered even by their toughest critics to be their strongest album to date. Proof, perhaps, that everything happens for a reason… especially if the band’s rehearsal room comes equipped with a revolving door.
“I don’t think there’s any specific secret to why we’ve been around this long, but one thing I can say for sure is I’m the #1 fan of United myself,” says bassist and manager Akihiro Yokoyama, who has been a part of the band since 1983. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it would last this long when I joined the band (laughs). Replacing singers would usually bring a major change to a band’s sound, but as far as we’re concerned I think that’s never been the case because the three of us in the string section (featuring Yoshifumi ‘Hally’ Yoshida and Singo Otani on guitars) have been playing together for 20 years. Just with the three playing together, it naturally produces the United sound.”
Like any band with three decades under its belt, United have had their highs and lows, moving in unexpected – in some cases, unpopular – musical directions to keep things fresh for themselves. And, on some level, to justify their existence on a changing music scene, as was the case in the late ’90s.
“In the early days, we used to play pretty authentic heavy metal influenced by Judas Priest, as you can see from the name of the band. But the guitar player at that time was also into hardcore punk, so we were naturally going for more extreme direction. What we call thrash metal came into the scene shortly after that, and I think the basic musical direction of the band was established around that time. As time went by, we started listening to broader styles of music, wanted to pursue dark and heavy sound like Pantera, Korn or Tool, and made albums like Reload (’97) and Distorted Vision (’99). I don’t think they were in the realm of thrash metal. The experimental trials ended up not as cool as we had wanted, and we realized we weren’t skillful enough to do those kind of cheap tricks, so we returned to where we knew we belonged (laughs). Our new album is the heaviest and the fastest album in the entire history of United.” Continue reading UNITED – Thirty Years Of Thrash And Burn
Some loud and obnoxious activity in and coming out of Japan these days; check out the rundown below. And for the record, we finish things off with an exclusive X Japan-related history lesson…
Veteran bashers Anthem are gearing up for the release of their new album, Heraldic Device, due to hit shelves (yes, I still have a record store mentality) in July. Fans outside Japan can pre-order it here. This marks the band’s 14th studio album since 1985 and in reportedly in the vein as their last few records. So, no big surprises, but a guarantee of quality shred.
Click here for the complete tracklist and the band’s tour schedule for Japan. No word as to whether Heraldic Device will receive an official release outside Japan, but it’s doubtful considering they haven’t had one since No Smoke Without Fire in 1990.
X Japan are due to release their first ever internationally distributed single, ‘Jade’, on June 28th in all available digital formats. Live recordings of the song have been plastered all over YouTube for months, and I believe a rough studio mix is floating around as well, but a properly mixed sample of ‘Jade’ is now available at this location. The song is the precursor to X Japan’s full length international debut, which is still a work in progress at the moment.
In the meantime, check out my interview with drummer / founder Yoshiki, conducted in the fall last year, available in two parts here and there.
Continue reading Japandemonium – June 2011: ANTHEM, X JAPAN, BLOOD STAIN CHILD, And UNITED Offers An X JAPAN History Lesson…