•February 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As I’m sure you all know by now, since I never really stop talking about it, I’ve been in Avery Watts for almost four years.  I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band.  When I decided to become a professional musician being in a rock band was one of my two goals (the other is to be a top call studio musician) and it wasn’t until after I got my Masters degree that I got the opportunity. 

I hope by now you’ve all seen the official video for “A Cut Above”:

This is, obviously, only a taste of our live show.  What’s not obvious is the fact that nearly everything done to make that video was done by Avery himself.  He created the timing on the LED screen in the background.  He shot everything he’s not in.  He programmed the lights to coordinate to the music (as happens during the live show) and he edited and produced the entire thing.  BY HIMSELF.  He recorded, mixed, and produced the entire TAKEOVER album BY HIMSELF.  (Note: He put in string parts through a synthesizer and we collectively decide which ones Rick and I play during the show, which ones we record with actual viola and cello, and which one we leave as backing tracks.)

We’ve gotten invites to play all over the world, but cannot fulfill those requests for one simple and annoying fact. We don’t have the money. So Avery came up with an idea. Just as he’s worked to get everything to happen with the band, and found equally hard working musicians to contribute and stand by him, why not get the support of the fans to bring us places where they can finally see us live?  Not only that, let’s get fans up on stage, and on the albums, and on album covers.  Let’s get local bands to open for us at each stop rather than take one or two supporting acts with us.  Let’s make it EQUAL.

This is inspiring.  Knowing that all of us in the band have worked equally hard throughout our lives to get where we are today, and will KEEP working that hard, even when (not “if”) we’ve met success… you don’t find that anymore in the world.  It’s all about who you know or how much money you’ve got, or how much you’re willing to whore yourself out and how much of yourself you’re willing to give up in order to make it. 

THE TAKEOVER seeks to change that.

If you’re tired of seeing mediocre acts win all sorts of awards, tired of feeling like real music is dead to the world, support us, get us on tour, and most importantly, GET YOUR VOICE HEARD!

Please watch the following video, then head over to http://www.wearethetakeover.com and support our cause.  Support the hard working musicians worldwide.  If you can’t financially support us, that’s fine, but please SHARE THIS.  Share the video, share the website, get as many people as possible to see it and see how far it can go.  Do it for anyone and everyone you’ve ever known who wants to fulfill their dreams.


•June 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about life, about stuff, about music… everything, really.  There have been a lot of things going on, both good and bad, but hey, that’s life.  But one of the biggest things that’s been on my mind is my own personal career and what I want out of it.  For those that follow astrology, I’m at the tail end of my Saturn Return (and being a double Capricorn, and with Saturn making it’s move to Scorpio – consequently where it falls in my chart – it has NOT been easy!).  For those that don’t, let’s just say there have been many transitions and the universe is basically deciding what stays in my life and what goes. 


I saw the Scorpions live last Friday night.  They were amazing to watch, so incredible and inspiring.  It was shortly after that concert I realized the exact reasons my top three bands are so close to my heart.  Then I realized I haven’t updated this blog in forever, and thought I’d put my thoughts into written words.

Rin’s #1 Band in the World:  X Japan

I won’t tell the whole “How I Got Into X Japan” story again, but long story short I found their music at a time in my life when I was not in a happy place.  As I learned about them, about their struggles as a band and how hard they worked to make it in the 80s Japanese music industry, I learned that persistence pays off.  X Japan have a huge following all over the world because they’ve never given up.  Even while they were broken up, their name and reputation made it around the internet to thousands upon thousands of new fans, myself included.  They’ve since reunited and done shows around the world.  But if they’d ever thrown in the towel when they got frustrated or early on when the industry wouldn’t take them seriously, they would not have accomplished anything.  Their success inspires me to never give up.

Rin’s #2 Band in the World:  Dir en grey

Here’s a different case of persistence.  Dir en grey are not afraid to change their sound or their music for their own sake as artists, despite what the fan base cries out for.  Each of their albums is decidedly different from the last, and yet everything falls into place and fits their style.  I like that they’ve recently, as B-sides to singles, chosen older songs to re-release in their new style.  (Seriously, listen to the old “Tsumi to Batsu” off of Gauze then go to the new one that was the B-side to “Different Sense.”  You’ll see what I mean.)  They also put on an amazing live show, full of energy.  Fans respect them and continue to see them, again, all over the world, because they’ve stuck to their own vision and ideas.  They’re inspirational because they stay true to themselves and their ideas.

Rin’s #3 Band in the World:  Scorpions

If nothing else, the Scorpions’ show last Friday proved why they’ve been around for 40 years and been relevant the entire time.  They have their sound, their ideas, their music, and seriously have not gotten the recognition in the United States that they deserve.  I only got into them three years ago but have consistently been amazed at the level of music.  If all you know of them is the stuff that came out in the mid- to late- 80s and the early 90s, find all their music spanning their career.  You’ll be amazed at the sounds and music these guys have created over their long lifetime.

So in the end, I want to have the determination of X Japan, the artistic integrity of Dir en grey, and the career longevity of Scorpions.  I want to have as energetic and transfixing a live show as all three of them and be able to stand for something bigger than myself.  And that’s that for now.

Gigging 101 Part A: For the Hired

•April 5, 2012 • 2 Comments

For musicians and other artists, gigs are a way of life.  As a freelance musician I gig frequently, in various places and for various people.  I’ve been doing it for years, and in that time have observed many different behaviors from both the hired and the hiring.  What follows are some basic rules (in this post, for the hired, aka other musicians) that I’d like to call


All are from my POV (obviously; I’m the writer!) so feel free to add your own experiences, two cents, or questions.

For those HIRED

1)  There is no gig “too small”

…especially when you’re in school or just starting your professional career.  You never know who you’ll meet at a gig, what impression you’ll make on people at a gig, or what lesson(s) you’ll learn from a gig.  Watch what you say and how you act, for you don’t know who’s watching you, deciding if they’ll hire you back or, in the case of fellow musicians, they’ll hire you at all.  (This is something I’m always working on, personally.  I have a big mouth and don’t always think before I speak.  It’s caused some awkward moments, but the ones that turn out good I add to an ongoing saga I have with one of my friends entitled “Rin Needs to Learn to Keep Her Mouth Shut.”)


There is nothing more infuriating than having to stop a rehearsal, or more embarrassing than having to stop a performance, because somebody did not count their rests or their rhythms properly.  Now, everyone makes mistakes, so that’s not to say that one miscount equates dismissal, but a GOOD musician can get back on track without too much of a disturbance to the rest of the group and will not make the same mistake twice.  The same good musician will take responsibility for their goof and apologize SINCERELY to the rest.  Rhythm is always more important than the notes.  As a friend once pointed out, without rhythm, the opening of “Joy to the World” is just a descending major scale.

3)  Keep a Schedule

No matter how good your memory is, if you’re gigging to survive you will be busy and driving all over the place.  I know they say “the definition of optimism is a violist with a beeper,” but make sure you have as many ways as you need to remember when and where each gig is.  I carry around a student planner (since the orchestral season is nearly identical to the school year) and put EVERYTHING on those pages.  On my wall I have a calendar, dry erase board, and bulletin board.  Each week, I take out the planner and put the upcoming events on the dry erase board.  They’re color coded.  Each time I pass, I see them.  This works for me.  Non-archaic technology works better for others.  Point is, know where you have to be and when, which segues nicely into the next point…

4)  Early is “On Time” and On Time is “LATE

Things happen.  It’s called life.  But you know what?  YOU CAN PLAN FOR IT.  Especially if you’re keeping a schedule.  Always have the contact number of someone at the gig, most likely the person who hired you, in case there is some unforseen emergency or something that will prevent you from getting to the gig on time.  Plan to arrive at the gig earlier than you need to be there.  Learn the traffic patterns around your gig area and the times of day when traffic is bad.  It also doesn’t hurt to look up the location of the gig on online maps so you can get an idea of parking, landmarks you’ll recognize while driving, and see alternate routes in case the one you’re taking is blocked for some reason.  Additionally, if you know your schedule is tight for that gig, let the person hiring you know in advance.  That’s just common courtesy.

5)  Practice Music That Gets Sent to You

Or at least look it over for spots that might be tricky.  If the person hiring you took the time to send you music, it’s just common courtesy to give the music a quick look before going to the rehearsal.  Unless you’re used to sight reading at studio musician level, don’t leave anything to chance.  Remember, THEY know they sent you the music in advance.  It looks bad on you if you can’t play it.  This rule is particularly important when working with new music composers and music arrangers of both the professional and student levels.  It gives you the opportunity to ask questions directly to the source before stepping into the rehearsal (and potentially wasting time on something trivial) or you may find a mistake or inconsistency in the part that would have wasted rehearsal time.

6)  Don’t Back Out of a Gig Unless It’s ABSOLUTELY Necessary

Once you make a commitment to be at a gig, you better be at that gig.  There are legitimate reasons for having to back out or get a sub, like getting seriously ill or dealing with a death, but – and this goes along with the whole “keeping a schedule” thing – as long as you are organized you should not be double booked.  Additionally, there may be times when you get a call for a better paying gig at the same time as a gig you’ve already got.  Instead of backing out of your previous commitment, recommend a friend for the other gig that came up.  If your friend is cool, they’ll hook you up later on.  And if they’re not, well, you don’t have to hire them again!

7)  Ignore Your Cell Phone While on the Job

This one’s getting particularly bad with current high school and college students, and some adults who love technology.  Unless you are an on-call doctor, you do not need your cell phone during rehearsal.  I remember one rehearsal where a violinist took out her cell phone and started texting people during a tacet (for non-musicians: a whole movement of a piece where you don’t play) and I thought to myself, “You’re a student.  You’re not THAT important yet.  Put your phone away.”  Typically during a tacet you’d clarify things in other movements with your section principals and listen for themes and rhythms that may come up later on, so you know what the conductor expects when they happen (and it will earn you bonus points for knowing and remembering what the conductor expects).  You can check your phone for messages during rehearsal breaks, and make any necessary calls or texts then.  If someone calls you for  a gig, they will understand that you were in rehearsal and could not respond.

Additionally, you do not want to be “that guy” who ruins a recording because their cell phone went off.  People DO get fired and blacklisted for things like that.  If you’re asked to turn off your phone, do so.  Your legions of followers will still be there when your gig is done.

8)  Show Respect, Even If “You Know More”

This should go without saying, but not everyone who works in music formally studied it, and even those who formally studied it will have their strengths and weaknesses.  A songwriter may not realize they wrote notes out of your range (happens frequently on viola), so if you notice unplayable notes, simply ask if the writer would like them up an octave, or ask what else you could play there.  Always be willing to work WITH the person who hired you.  When it comes to classical music, what the conductor says is what you play, whether it’s historically accurate or not.  Orchestras are not a democracy.  If you want to gripe, just remember the part of Rule #1 where you don’t know who is at your gig and who may overhear you.

I think that’s all for now.  Got any stories or things to share?


•December 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is just because I’m wondering.  Please listen/watch the following two videos, and share your thoughts.

Malice Mizer: Gekka no Yasoukyoku


D: Gekka no Yasoukyoku

Anime and Classical Music Revival

•September 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Having studied music through both college and graduate school, I encountered many different types of people.  In my day-to-day rehearsals and gigs, I continue to encounter many different types of people.  We are all individuals, just with one common thread – our countless hours of practicing classical music.  When you’re a classical musician, “outside” people think you are odd, or that you see yourself as above the rest of the world.  Within the orchestra, there are the competitive ones who feel they have to validate their existence by being the best.  There are others who seem to joke around and not take things seriously, and there are those with little confidence in their abilities, even if they are really good musicians.  An orchestra is its own slice of society, but from the outside it looks weird.

Because of cuts to the arts, it’s difficult for younger students today to access the classical music world and learn to appreciate something different.  Even if they don’t DO anything with it, countless studies show how beneficial music education is to students’ brains.  I’m currently reading a book about how music affects the mind (which I intend to blog about once I finish, but we shall see if it actually gets done) and what it comes down to is that it really doesn’t matter how much you know about music, but how well you feel the music.  But nothing seems to bridge that gap between the classical world and the regular world.

At least, not in America.

There are two Japanese anime series (that I known of) which take place in music school.  One is Nodame Cantabile, about students studying music in college and how their aspirations fuel their friendships.  They all learn from each other.  There is always some competition, either between the students themselves or the students and the real world – the timpanist’s goal is to be timpanist in a major orchestra, for example – but the students all learn from each other.  It shows that musicians / music students are people, too, and not completely in their own little world all the time.  Nodame Cantabile used a lot of classical music for its soundtrack and within the series itself, with the characters performing different works for their exams and performances.  The series, aimed primarily at teenage girls, consequently created a revival of interest in classical music among the youth of Japan.

But what about during high school, when one has to balance music with all the other academic subjects and extra-curricular activities?  Enter La Corda D’oro.  While the plot is less realistic than Nodame, the focus of La Corda D’oro is on music’s effect on people.  The main character is Kahoko, a girl who has never played a musical instrument, but she encounters a musical fairy that watches over her high school, which has a prestigious, separate music school attached to it.  The fairy, named Lili, gives Kahoko a magical violin that anyone can play and enters her in the school’s annual music competition.  This, of course, brings Kahoko a new array of things to think about and do.  She has to learn music, to practice, to face fears.  She also has to deal with music students jealous that they were not selected for the competition.  And yet, the other competitors (minus the violinist, surprise surprise) are intrigued by Kahoko and her simple love of music.  She strives for the sound, for the overall beauty, and does not focus on every single note and perfecting every moment, as so often a musician can end up doing without even realizing.  Kahoko hasn’t been taught that every note must be executed perfectly; she just wants the music to sound good.  The other competitors help her, each in their own way, and even though they’re all looking to win the competition, they support each other.  There’s also the high school “drama” that comes up, as many of the male competitors seem to have feelings for Kahoko (but it’s an anime aimed at teenage girls, so it’s easy to overlook that part for the deeper meaning) and many of the girls are jealous Kahoko gets to spend so much time with the desirable guys.  I’ve only seen the first group of episodes, but the purity of the meaning of music is contagious even this early on in the series.  As Lili’s words so often echo in Kahoko’s mind, “Music [in Japanese] comes from ‘fun’ and ‘sound’!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if, in America, we could have some television programs that showed musicians like this, without the backstabbing, without the silly drama, and highlight what makes music MUSIC?  Shows that enlighten others to the beauty of orchestral works instead of showcasing the orchestra as another collection of geeks?  Ah, to dream.

Illegal Downloads

•July 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

DISCLAIMER:  As both a professional musician and fan of many bands, I can see both sides of this eternal argument.  These are my opinions and they may insult or upset you.  I make no apology for that.  I am getting on my soapbox for this entry.  Consider yourself warned.

Twice in the past two months, Kyo of Dir en grey has expressed his displeasure that the band’s latest single, “Different Sense,” and their upcoming album, Dum Spiro Spero leaked a few days and a full week, respectively, of their release dates.  Leaked releases are nothing new to the industry, especially now that everything is digital and as close to instantaneous as one can get without having direct implants into the brain, but what concerns me is a lot of fans’ nonchalance over the whole thing.  Fans, not just of Dir en grey but of many bands throughout the industry, seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with this practice.  I’ve heard fans claim at concerts that the band members are all rich, that the bands make so much money, blah blah blah, the list of “reasons” for not buying albums or merchandise goes on.

Well, let me shed some light on this.  First of all, bands are not rich.  Record labels are rich, not the artists.  I’ve said it before, you’ve all heard it many times before, LET IT SINK IN.  Read about the distribution of royalties and see how comparatively little the artists make here.  Keep in mind, it is the record label’s money that the band or artists uses for tours and to create the album in the first place.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s so gratifying to see an independent band succeed and get recognition.  They had to do everything themselves, and if fans don’t financially support the band, the band cannot sustain itself.

More important than the financial aspect, though, is the fact that a song or album is the band’s collective creative product.  They have put in hours of time writing, recording, arranging, and mixing, selecting the songs that work best together for the album.  They promote the album through interviews and television appearances.  During this time they don’t get to do much of anything else outside of their work.  They anticipate the album’s release even more than the fans because they want to see the fans’ reactions to their hard work.  They want to show the fans what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve created.  If the album leaks,  it shows disrespect to the amount of work the artists have done.

Some respond as Kyo did, in a few simple words for everyone to read, while others, like Cinema Bizarre back in 2009, respond as so:

I keep trying to come up with an analogy for the situation, and the only thing I can think of is the following scenario:  You write a story that you plan to read aloud to a crowd on a specific date.  This story is better than any you’ve come up with before.  To make sure it really is good and not just your imagination and ego letting you think it’s good, you have a friend read it over.  The friend loves it, compliments you about it, and can’t wait to hear you read it aloud!  You’re all excited, you’ve picked out your outfit, have decided where you’re going to put certain pauses for effect; you’ve got the whole thing ready to go.  Then, a few days before your grand unveiling, you discover your friend who read the story told a bunch of your mutual friends all about it – the plot, the characters, the main climax, the resolution, even the twists – just because your friend was too excited to keep it a secret.  That crushed feeling you get in the pit of your stomach thinking about how nobody will be surprised and the anger at your friend for not keeping their mouth shut?  THAT is what the artists feel when they learn their album leaked.

Fans, I have some harsh reality for you.  Bands and artists owe you NOTHING.  They create music for themselves that they want to SHARE with you.  Every band and artist loves their fans and knows that without them, they are just another person in this world, and they show their appreciation in the form of more songs and albums.  Every time you illegally download their work, you insult them.  Why should they bother spending all that time carefully crafting art just so you can take it for free?  You deny the artists their recognition.  You deny the labels the money to keep the artist working.  In the end, you’re not sticking it to the man or making any statement.  You’re hurting yourself and other fans in addition to the artists.

You are not a fan if you illegally download music.

“But I’m broke and can’t afford to buy it right now!” is a cry heard from a lot of fans, especially in this day and age.  Whatever happened to saving up for something you want?  Asking for it as a present for a birthday?  Finding a way to legitimately purchase it on your own?  People have become so entitled over the past years that most don’t realize nothing has changed.  If you want something, you have to work for it.  That is the way life will always be, and it is much more gratifying when you’ve accomplished something on your own.  Maybe you have to wait a little longer than the rest of the world, but there is no shame in that.  It’s not like the music is going to just leave its places of purchase anytime soon.

I, for one, love the anticipation of the new album, of getting it in the mail or purchasing it in the store and immediately driving around with it playing in my car so I can listen and hear the new stuff.  I love sitting later in a quiet room and discovering all the layers of sound, the way the channels panned to create aural illusions, the way the music all comes together to resonate with the listener’s soul.  I love the thought that I waited for this element of perfection, and look forward to the upcoming tour which will surely follow the new release.  Maybe people heard it days or weeks before me, but now I get to hear it and feel the sound for myself.  There’s something magical in the first notes of a new song.  Isn’t that worth the wait?

No?  Then kindly remove yourself from the band’s presence.  They don’t need a “fan” like you.

Rest in Peace, Sawada Taiji-san

•July 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In 2008, I got to see my favorite band in the world, X Japan, live for their reunion concerts in Japan.  The only thing that could have made those concerts more amazing was if their original bassist, Taiji, had been a part of the concert.  While that was not to be, a year later a different opportunity appeared.  Taiji came to L.A. with The Killing Red Addiction, a band of Japanese hard rock legends who commanded the stage of the Whisky-a-Go-Go.  I remember tearing up when the roadies brought out Taiji’s beautiful black bass with the phoenix mother-of-pearl inlay.  That moment made everything real, and watching Taiji play bass was the final moment in seeing all the living members of X live in concert.

There was always hope, as X Japan resumed activities, that Taiji would make a guest appearance and fans would get to see him with X.  For two concerts in Japan, fans got their wish and Taiji joined X Japan for performances of their song “X” and everyone got to hear Toshi shout, “On bass:  TAIJI!” along with the rest of the band.  Even though Taiji had said that he was never a member of X Japan (his departure from the band coincided with their name change from X to X Japan) he was important to the band’s history and evolution, and their early success.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I admire Yoshiki, so consider this next statement.  Taiji was just as important to X as Yoshiki.  Taiji was the one willing to argue with Yoshiki and announced his creative differences.  Towards the end of his time in X, Taiji’s contract was even different than the rest of the members’.  Fans always debate over whether the better bassist for the band is Heath or Taiji.  In the end, it would turn to an “agree to disagree” moment, as the two bassists’ styles are different and not really meant to be compared.

Taiji was both an amazing bass player and guitar player, as well as a great songwriter.  Here are the songs he wrote for X:

“Dear Loser” the opening instrumental for their first album, Vanishing Vision, here as their entrance to day two of their three-day Tokyo Dome concerts in 1992, also Taiji’s last concerts with the band.  Taiji’s the one in the cowboy hat.

“Phantom of Guilt” also from Vanishing Vision, and #7 of my top 10 favorite X Japan songs.  I wanted to orchestrate this song in college for Orchestration class but was assigned Bartok instead.  Both Taiji and hide sing harmonies with Toshi.

“Desperate Angel” from 1991’s Jealousy, which is a favorite of mine to karaoke.  Also one of the three X songs to use a cowbell.

“Voiceless Screaming”, also from Jealousy, is #3 on my top 10 X Japan songs list, and my favorite X Japan ballad.  Ironic because it’s the one ballad Yoshiki, my idol, had absolutely nothing to do with.  Taiji plays guitar here, and sings harmony again.  This is my favorite performance of this song.

Then there are moments of bass bad-assery, like in “Give Me the Pleasure”, from Vanishing Vision:

the PV for “Week End” (a single off of Blue Blood) where he dances in splits (see 2:41)

and, of course, his legendary bass solo from the Rose and Blood Tour – notice he’s missing part of his middle finger on his right hand:

Last, but certainly not least, Taiji’s guest appearance with X Japan in 2010, Yokohama, Japan:

“Just like the people who have found an interest in music for the first time, I wanted to make music like the music which was able to influence me.”

~Taiji Sawada (7/12/1966 – 7/17/2011)





•July 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m sitting here at work, knowing nobody will come in for a bit, and my mind wanders.  I poke around on facebook and see a few bands advertising their new songs, or their upcoming summer tours, you know, the usual.  I read a few of the comments and always see “Please come to [insert country here]!”  After many years in the Jrock fandom it’s a very recognizable request, especially when you live in a place less traveled.  But then my brain reverses it.  The bands I happened to see these comments on today are American in origin, so fans wonder when said bands will tour to their homes.  I wonder, why is it always the American bands?  What is it about our music industry that has created this mold that other countries’ bands see it as success when they’ve made it in the American music industry?

I don’t mean this to open up a debate about quality or funding or anything, I just wonder.  I know there’s other good music internationally.  There are amazing bands with sales records and tour attendance that, when you consider they haven’t “made it” in the U.S. market, are quite astounding numbers.  So what makes the American bands so appealing internationally?

Let’s have a discussion, shall we?

Regarding Japan

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I feel like I should say something, but every time I try to it all sounds cliche.  If this comes across as a giant cliche, I’m sorry.  I just have to get this out.

Everyone always has this mentality of “It can’t happen to me.”  Well, when it comes to nature, anything can happen anywhere.  You can’t fight it, you can’t run from it, you just have to deal with it.  And when you’re on the outside looking in, you know you’re lucky that it hasn’t happened to you, but at the same time – if you have a soul – your heart aches because you see the devastation, the desperation, and the problems and you wish there was something you could DO, something more tangible than donating money.  The worst thing anyone on the outside can do in this kind of situation is nothing.  Understandably, times are tough for all, but there has to be something that can be done.

If nothing else, everyone needs to learn from this tragedy and prepare themselves for something like this to happen to them.  Japan is a nation prepared for natural disasters.  They know their location on the tectonic plates, they know tsunami can hit them; they’re an advanced nation with technology and warning systems the U.S. doesn’t have.  They KNEW there would be an earthquake and tsunami.  They took all the drills seriously.  They knew what to do, the evacuation routes, everything.  Nature is just stronger than we humans.

Make your plans now.  Create an emergency bag for yourself and anyone for whom you are responsible.  Figure out how you’re going to let people know you’re okay.  Learn how to stay calm in an emergency.  Understand and accept that nature will always win.

And while you’re doing all that, donate what you can to help Japan.  This literally is an event that changed the world, and we all know the results of this event are only starting to unfold.

I cannot properly express the emotions I feel.  My heart goes out to all affected by this tragedy.

Why I Love… X Japan

•February 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This post is seriously overdue, but I have an issue in writing it.  It’s not that I don’t WANT to write it, it’s that X Japan and their music mean more to me than I feel I can properly express in words without sounding completely obsessed.  To me, X Japan represent all I hope to become one day as a musician.  If I could even have half the influence in the music industry as they have, I would consider myself successful.  When it comes to X Japan, it’s like reality is suspended and I’m in “a place where life and dreams become one.”  (To quote their 90s opening monologue.)

Let’s start at the beginning.

It was April of 2003.  I was in my sophomore year of college, going through a lot with classes and personal issues.  Through a project for one of my classes, I discovered the online radio station Japan-A-Radio.  I’d been listening to anime theme songs (aka Jpop, though I didn’t consider it that since everything I listened to came from an anime) since sophomore year of high school, so I thought a whole radio station dedicated to the music was awesome.  As I did my homework one fateful afternoon, I heard a song that made me stop and just listen for its entirety.  It started with a lone, raspy kind of voice, then the piano came in with this beautiful melody.  It was the piano that transfixed me, which was weird because the piano is one of my least favorite instruments (sorry, pianists!  It’s nothing personal, I assure you!)  I checked the streaming info on my player and it told me the song was “Unfinished” by the band X Japan.  I made a mental note of it, and when the song was over I had to run to rehearsal, all the while replaying the song in my head.

About a week later, after constantly hearing the song in my mind, Japan-A-Radio played it again.  I listened with a huge smile on my face, and when the song was over I jumped on KaZaA and looked up the song, along with any others I could find.  I ended up with ten songs; five ballads and five rock.  To my delight, the piano came through on all the ballads and even one of the rock songs (“Silent Jealousy”) so I knew the pianist I admired was actually part of the band and not just a session musician.  I decided not to research the band right away and just blindly love their music.  I told all my friends about this new band I’d come across and even remember saying to one friend, “For all I know, they broke up years ago and one of their members is dead.”

I was so mad a few months later when I discovered that statement was true, but it didn’t change anything.  I still loved the music, and music can last forever.  I collected all the albums and listened to them non-stop.  I got one of my best friends into X (and rock in general) when I locked her in my car on a trip to the mall and played “Art of Life” the whole way there and the whole way back.  “Art of Life” became my favorite song of all-time.  It is a deep song, tortured yet hopeful, amazing in its construction and admirable for the amount of skill and concentration it would take to play it.  “Art of Life” changed something inside of me, and learning about X Japan’s story and the stories of all the members inspired me.  I wanted to do what they had done.

Yoshiki’s story stuck with me the most, as the band had been his dream and he did so much to bring it to fruition.  I decided I wanted to learn from him and work for him, and this gave me the courage to alter my major and take a different path than the one I’d been traveling.  I collected everything I could of X Japan releases and memorabilia and wistfully dreamed of what it would have been like to see them perform.  Whenever I was upset, their music consoled me.  I could quote it, I could cry to it, I could dream to it.  To me, it’s the most powerful kind of music:  The music that merges with your soul and expresses the words you can’t speak, unleashes the emotions you can’t feel, and provides the hope even when everything is futile.

Throughout the remainder of college and graduate school auditions, Yoshiki and X Japan were the driving force to keep me going.  One warm June night in 2006, I was talking online to aforementioned best friend about how jealous we were of those in the L.A. area for their anime convention, Anime Expo, and the guests they had.  I then received news of a very special guest heading to Otakon, the large east coast anime convention, later that summer:  Yoshiki.  We immediately bought passes and started planning.  I got to meet my musical idol.  About a month later, I moved to L.A. and eventually got into grad school.

My grad school education was rough, and in the midst of all the craziness one thing happened that kept me going.  X Japan reunited, and through luck and friends in Japan, I got to attend all three nights of their reunion concerts at Tokyo Dome in Japan.  It was an experience like none other, complete with performances of every single song I could have hoped for, including “Art of Life.”  I ended up losing my voice completely, but it was all worth it.  I knew that if I could see X Japan perform live, anything was possible.

I cannot give up on my dreams if my idols never do.

X Japan did a small tour of North America back in the fall, a little over a month after their U.S. debut at Lollapalooza.  The first show of the tour was in L.A., at a much smaller venue than the Tokyo Dome.  (Tokyo Dome concert capacity = 50,000.)  I managed to get a spot in the standing room only crowd just above the pit, with a perfect view of the stage and nobody in front of me.  I watched in awe and amazement as they commanded the stage and gave the same effort to this smaller show that they did their Tokyo Dome lives.  And I cried.  I full on sobbed and had no control over any of it.  Watching my idols perform, and watching my two biggest influences, Yoshiki and Sugizo, right in front of me was more than I could ever imagine.  They started “Art of Life” with Sugizo playing a violin solo before Yoshiki went into the piano solo.  It was amazing.  It was incredible.  And it was all I could do but wonder at how much power the music had over me.

Individually, each member of X Japan is very talented and very different.  Yoshiki is both a drummer and pianist, balancing his hard rock edge with soft, classical piano…most of the time.  Heath’s bass is simple in its execution compared to the programming of his solo works.  Pata’s shredding guitar does not happen all that often nowadays (but he did do a solo at Tokyo Dome!) but his skill on the acoustic should not be overlooked.  Sugizo brings his own flair and energy into the band and proves his adaptability and wide knowledge of music styles bouncing among X Japan and all the other projects he is a part of.  And above it all, Toshi’s voice soars with a purity and ring all its own.  He is a charismatic front man who shines through even the darkest times of his life.

Over time their music has changed.  They started out as 80s heavy metal in 1982 and progressed into hair metal in the late 80s and early 90s.  They pulled a Metallica and cut their hair in the mid-90s, and with the change of look came a change of style.  Their sound went from 80s metal to 90s rock with electronic elements and programming instead of shredding guitars.  Beautiful power ballads are the constant link through all the changes.  Nowadays they combine rock and ballad, dark and light, heavy and ethereal, and somehow it works.  Their first U.S. single comes out in March, and I cannot wait.

And here, since you’re probably curious, are my top 10 favorite songs:

  1. Art of Life (The first time they ever performed it live.)
  2. kurenai (Their first major single.  The link has video of hide in it, too!)
  3. Voiceless Screaming (with original bassist, Taiji)
  4. Standing Sex (Pata on the mic!)
  5. Forever Love (Understand this is from their final concert in 1997, and it’s towards the end of the set)
  6. Rose of Pain (X rocked out with an orchestra in 1991, long before Metallica, the Scorpions, or KISS thought to… Just sayin’ ^_-)
  7. Unfinished (The song that started it all for me.  This is my favorite performance of it.)
  8. Phantom of Guilt (I wish they did this one live more often!)
  9. Drain (LOVE the siren lights!)
  10. Week End (Snagged the actual PV for this one.)

And other songs worth checking out, in no particular order:

  • Scars
  • Dahlia
  • Dear Loser
  • Sadistic Desire
  • Silent Jealousy
  • Endless Rain
  • Rusty Nail
  • I.V.
  • Jade