Being in the presence of a rock god — even with strict social distancing measures in place — can be daunting. But with Sugizo, it’s easy. He takes time to remember our names. He asks our thoughts on various topics as the interview progresses. Though Sugizo is best known as the legendary guitarist and multi-instrumentalist for Luna Sea and X Japan, he is also countless other things: father, environmentalist, anti-war and anti-nuclear activist, lifetime learner. TW met him at an undisclosed Tokyo studio to learn more about the man behind the music.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you?
Usually, I want to stay home because it’s comfortable. And I really needed the rest because I had to work so much. I was so busy all the time with Luna Sea and other projects. But [because of the pandemic] I had to give up my own solo project. I wanted to make an album featuring some female vocalists, which would be a sequel to my last one from three years ago, called Oneness M. For that album, I really wanted to play sessions with other musicians in London. Of course, that had to be given up. Then, my mind changed. I realized I should make a healing ambient album for a post-pandemic world. It was good for me because I made it on my own — only me. That became Love & Tranquility. I really wanted to communicate a feeling of peace and the message that the future is never negative.
My album is a message of hope in this time. We still have hunger, refugees, and war in this world. The Covid-19 disaster is another test for us. We can make it. So many people died by suicide, lost their jobs, money and opportunities. Don’t give up on life. This album has a message of light like this. Everyone has power within them. Please don’t give up your power. We can change. We can change the world for the better. Music is one of the best tools for this feeling, I believe.
Now that you’ve spent more time than usual at home, what does the word home mean to you?
Home is a very important to me. One of my favorite songs that I wrote is called “The Voyage Home.” At first I wanted to make it especially for Syrian refugees, but after that it became a song for victims of natural disasters, too. After the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, I visited many places of disasters. They lost their hometowns, couldn’t return to their houses. The concept is that “every person can return home.” Of course, home can mean hometown, your house or home country, but also it can mean knowing your higher self. I believe your heart can be your home.
Do you think music has a place in that home?
For example, this timing, with corona, so many people couldn’t move or work the way they normally would. They experienced shock and pain. During that time, music, movies, even anime and games — entertainment as a whole — was very important. I really feel in my bones that music can save lives, especially this past year. In the past, I’ve played at refugee camps. I believe that they need, first of all, things to sustain them for life. But they also need fun. Music, movies, dance. Any musician can deliver a free and peaceful feeling for many people. That’s my feeling, my opinion.
Some time ago, I started inviting children in asylum to my own and Luna Sea shows — usually about 50 people a time. They felt happy to watch our band and we felt warm sharing that experience. Maybe that is the purpose for my music. I want to play for all people so people can return to their own true home, wherever that may be.
You performed recently with SHAG, one of your improv projects. How was that?
The last time we played as SHAG was 12 years ago? I believe that the improvisation approach is the most important way for musical expression. The Luna Sea and X Japan approach to performance is very much a rock show. It is my origin style but now jazz and avant-garde styles are my favorite arts.
Why is it your favorite?
I feel there is an infinity of options. And it is a like a journey. I mean I’m a musician — I’m a guitarist and violinist. I want to try to progress all the time. Of course rock and roll is very stimulating to me but the improvisation approach is my favorite way to progress for me. I don’t know why. Also my solo music sounds like techno and psychedelic trance and ambient style. It’s very different from my improv project and my rock band.
How do you stay creative and keep coming up with new ideas?
I’m sorry, I don’t know. (Laughs) Because first, I never think that I have to keep this feeling. Because usually, I’m too busy. There are so many things I want to do. Maybe I’m just creative. From 30 years ago until the day I die. I feel like I live in a cage called time. I really want to break it open. I don’t know why, but I want to do something at every moment of the day. Make music? Of course. Make movies? Of course. I want to read books and watch movies, but I don’t have time. All the time, I want to take a break and go to an onsen. (Laughs) This is my only healing time.
Any hot springs you can recommend?
Usually, I go to Hakone, because it’s very close to Tokyo. But honestly, if you’re going to a hot spring, anywhere is great. A few months ago, we went to Yakushima. It was for the photoshoot for the Love & Tranquility album. That was the main purpose, but I also needed recordings of nature sounds. Yakushima cedars have been living over 1,000 years and their power is unbelievable. I felt that being in real nature made me feel healed. And, Yakushima Island’s onsen was great. It was too hot! (Laughs)
What are your plans for 2021?
I want to continue with SHAG. It’s a stimulating project and great opportunity for my progress. I am just a guitarist and violinist. I really need to learn and practice more. The most important thing I need though is discipline. For my skill as a musician.
Do you feel you don’t have enough discipline?
My feeling is the same as a high school student. (Laughs) SHAG’s drummer, for example, he is a great drummer. He’s only 22 years old. He is two years younger than my daughter but he’s a genius. I respect him a lot. I couldn’t play like that when I was his age. Of course, it’s the same with my bassist, KenKen. He was already too great when he was 17 because he is a super genius. But I am not. Of course, they are great friends and so on, but I am really jealous of them. I want to play like that! I need to practice, because I’m not a genius.
I think many people would disagree.
But I know it — it’s my truth. It’s the truth. I need discipline and practice because I am only an apprentice of music. I am not a master. Yet.
What more Sugizo? We met with the legend himself in his studio for a 5-minute rapid-fire Q&A:
Sugizo’s latest album, Love & Tranquility, is available in stores and online.
Regular edition ¥3,300
Premium edition ¥11,000
Buy it here: