French version

Back in December 2023, we had the opportunity to spend time with YOSHIKI over a couple of days as he attended the premiere for his new movie YOSHIKI: Under The Sky. First stop was the Mandarin Oriental hotel for a dinner in honor of Maison Yoshiki, his new fashion line. We headed to his room the following day for an interview, followed by the screening of the movie on the Champs-Elysées where a short aftershow took place. We already posted an extensive account of these events in the following article : « YOSHIKI under the Paris sky ».
What we didn’t disclose was that prior to this meeting, we conducted a much longer interview with YOSHIKI in September, on Zoom. This hour long conversation allowed us to dive into YOSHIKI’s mind perhaps like never before: YOSHIKI and cinema ; the creative process and his ways of composing ; his favorite melodies ; Guns N’ Roses ; his health ; the collab that never was ; the mysterious projects such as Violet UK or Kiss the sky ; living in Paris in the near future and much more… Everything you ever wanted to know about YOSHIKI!


Playboy France : Hello! Can you hear me?


First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this. I hope you’ve been feeling better lately because I know you’ve had some health issues in the past.

I try… As of now, I can perform but I feel pain every time I hit the piano.

Is it mostly your left wrist that’s hurting because it seemed to me, watching your recent performances, that you were trying to shake away the pain in your left hand?

Yes… It was my left so I was trying to do, trying to cover up, trying not to use that much left hand and using more right hand in general so now it’s kind of a mix of both.

So you’ve recently been immortalized at the Chinese Theatre, how did you feel about that?

I feel very grateful. I was like « How do I deserve this honor? », right? I feel like I was dreaming but obviously I was not, it was real.

When you were a child, were you even dreaming about going to Hollywood? Now that you have your hand prints in the cement there, it must be a pretty surreal feeling.

Yes, it’s pretty crazy. I said in my speech that when I first came here, I was in my late twenties and I couldn’t speak english. So I have had to start from scratch. I never really thought about any of this.

You’ve also directed your first movie recently but is it really the first because it feels like every concert you’ve played with X Japan, at the Tokyo Dome for instance, was like a movie already? It seems to me it was always a conscious effort to give your performances and your life in general a cinematic feel. To me, you were already « directing » when you were playing drums in a sense.

Great question! You are so right. I was doing pretty much the same thing but I was asked to put my name as a director this time. I’ve been directing music videos for a while and I have always been involved in the entire process so it’s not something I’m new to.

With Under the sky, what were the motivations behind the directing, how did you choose the artists performing and why?

I wanted to collaborate with artists that are very edgy but also trying to make it pretty diverse. Because I do classical music and rock music and everything in between I tried to incorporate all those elements in the movie.

Is it going to be coming on YouTube soon?

As of now, it’s going to be released in theatres in Japan and possibly in other countries too. I have yet to finalize all the details. [The movie will be available on Amazon Prime soon]

Talking about movies, have you ever been asked to score an entire movie?

Actually good question… I’d love to but at the same time, scoring an entire movie would be very time consuming so if there’s an opportunity I would like to.

If you could choose… Do you have a favourite director that you would like to work with?

Somebody like Francis Coppola or Martin Scorsese. Of course, I also like action movies so James Gunn comes to mind.

Did this experience with Under the sky make you want to direct movies in the future?

Yes actually I didn’t really think so at the beginning but after showing it at various locations, seeing the reaction of everyone involved, I’m sure I will in the future.

All this also made me think that your life itself is more interesting than a movie so have you ever been approached to do a Yoshikii biopic?

How do you know? Yes, several times actually. My life does seem too crazy to be true…

Was that a japanese project or were there american people interested as well?

Actually both.

So who would you want to play your part?

I don’t know… I can’t think of the actor yet.

Moving on to your music more specifically, would you say that the way that you compose has changed between a song like Tears and now, Requiem or Kiss the sky? It feels like you don’t really use the same chord progressions as you used to.

That is true… I kinda compose the melody first. When I compose music, I don’t really use an instrument, I just write on a score… Usually I will write the melody and then the chord progression on top of the melody. It’s a very unusual way of composing. For Requiem, the chord progression is very different from my previous ballads but that’s because of the melody. Since it comes first, then the chord progression can be anything.

Do you have a favourite melody that you ever composed?

It’s very simple but Endless Rain or Tears… Recently, it has to be Requiem because it’s such an emotional song for me because I dedicated it to my mother who passed away last year.

Did you realize that you’ve invented a way of playing piano and you can also feel it in the way you play drums, to me they’re very similar. I’m guessing you didn’t really mean to come up with something new but you just did so I was curious to know if you were aware of the fact that you invented a sound.

Thank you for saying that. I practice piano a lot with several teachers around the world, trying to learn how Chopin is supposed to be played, how Beethoven is supposed to be played but at the same time, I want to translate all this classical music in the rock world, including my music, in my own way. Drums, also piano, they’re both percussive instruments… I also play guitar but not to the degree I play piano and drums… So how you hit the drums or the piano is very important so I divided my MIDI keyboard, where the velocity usually goes from 1-100 to 1-10,000 so I can play a very soft sound or a very loud sound. That’s the best way I can convey my emotions. Sometimes I touch the piano like I’m caressing a body or something like this.

Or it can be the opposite. The piano solo in Art of Life for example, can also sound like drums, with the clusters and everything.

Yeah, almost like trying to break the piano.

So what do you consider to be your best achievement musically? Is there one song or one project that sticks out?

Good question… I do not know. I don’t feel like I achieved that much yet.

Not many people are asked to compose music for the Emperor of Japan tho

That’s true…

Was there one song, when you were younger, that made you realize that you had a gift for composing music?

My mother was telling me that I was writing very simple songs when I was 8 or 9 years old… Classical music was always by my side.

Did you have a favourite composer growing up?

Beethoven… My dad actually bought me a biography of Beethoven and it was a very dramatic and sad story. His life… I could always feel the pain in his melodies and his music. Beethoven inspired me a lot.

Did you ever go to Vienna where he would spend time to try and better his health?

I went there a few years ago for a film premiere. This is very strange but the hotel I was staying at, they had a statue of Beethoven in my room. I was like wow, it was cool but also a little bit scary at night because it felt like the statue was looking at me. This is how I encountered Beethoven in Vienna!

If you could be the drummer of your fantasy band, who would you pick to play piano, guitar, bass and vocals… Alive or dead.

Interesting. If I could collaborate with Beethoven, I would play a drum solo behind Beethoven playing piano. But I’m also into heavy music as you know. I was talking to Lars from Metallica a few weeks ago, saying Metallica doesn’t have a pianist, do they? I can play a few songs.

That’s interesting. They really should use piano more, if only on Nothing else matters.

Exactly, that would be perfect.

Your trajectory with X Japan reminds me of Guns N’ Roses a little bit in the sense that at first it was the really heavy songs and then they came out with November Rain and you had Endless Rain yourself – it feels like as soon as piano was involved, it turned the music into something much different.

Yeah I mean I love Guns N’ Roses, they’re the most amazing band in the world. I happen to know Richard Fortus actually.

Oh right, he played with you too.

He actually played during the X Japan reunion shows and at Coachella as well in 2018. I think he actually played Endless Rain live with Guns N’ Roses…

He did! As a guitar duet with Robin Finck in 2006. So do you ever wonder what your professional life would have looked like if you had been American? Do you think there would have been X Japan instead of Guns N’ Roses?

Interesting. I never really thought about that before… I don’t know. 20-30 years ago, a long time ago, when I came here and said « I’m a japanese rock star », nobody cared. I felt like nobody cared anyway. The way asian artists are perceived in America has changed a lot in the past few decades. I think western culture is accepting eastern culture more than ever.

Even with K-pop for example.

That’s right, amazing achievement.

The cultures are so different, now that you’ve been living in L.A for 20-30 years now, do you feel like you have a bit of western culture in you as well as japanese culture now? And do you feel like some parts of the world are more inclined than others to understand your music?

I have a very strong connection with european people for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love american people too. But at the beginning, when I was trying to go international, people from Europe seemed to accept our music more. These days I go to France a lot, working on champagne, with Baccarat or launching my fashion line (Maison Yoshiki Paris) so I go to Paris a lot. I love being there, I felt an immediate connection with the city and the people, I get amazing vibes from there. I don’t feel like I’m in a foreign country when I’m there. It was the first country I ever visited actually. Anyway being a foreigner in America, I don’t really feel like an outsider anymore but it took 30 years!

You recently started singing when you performed Angel on TV. What did you think of your performance knowing how much of a perfectionist you are? Did you ever consider singing for X Japan or since Toshi was there, you were just like « Oh well he’s better than me, he can do it… »?

I’m lucky that I’ve always had amazing vocalists around me so… I was actually the vocalist for my first band when I was 12 years old or something. That song Angel was a special performance for a show and the theme was something that influenced your life or something so I decided to dedicate and sing the song for my mother for this particular event. In general, I may sing in the future but I have so many amazing singers around me, I don’t have to.

Did you like it though?

I don’t hate it. If it’s the right song and if there’s a reason for me to be singing, I would do it.

What’s your process in the studio? Do you record yourself as many ideas as you can and then other musicians will come in and maybe add their own parts?

Usually I write with pen and paper. Then I’ll program the piano or guitars in MIDI and pretty much complete the song before anyone else joins me. With X Japan, I will always listen to how the other members « translate » my arrangements. But I usually will complete everything in the studio by myself…

Do you think you will do something with Violet UK or did you just completely shelf it?

Amazing question actually so this year, I had a lot on my plate but next year, I’ll try and finish a lot of things that I’ve been working on for the past 30 years and let them come to life. So I was just thinking about all that… I may not even use the name Violet UK, it could be under Yoshiki. Since I started Violet UK as an experimental project, it evolved through the years so I may just release it as Yoshiki. There are a lot of interesting and edgy songs so I will release those.

It would also be really nice if you could release Kiss the sky at some point.

Yes, it’s a long song, a very complicated song. It’s a long process! Recording is done, mixing is pretty much done too. It’s just a matter of timing. It’s kind of like an Art of Life. Kiss the sky isn’t that long but it’s still pretty long…

You must have a thousand tracks in Pro Tools for it…

Yes, it’s very complicated.

What’s the part of the creative process that you like best? Is it when you first come up with a melody, is it arranging the song or performing it?

I think it’s a combination but coming up with a melody that can really touch your heart… I may have a death wish, I don’t know why I’m still in this world after so many tragedies but a melody can help me make it through. Melody is very powerful! The idea is to try and possibly save people’s lives. It’s one of the reasons I’m still alive I guess.

Do you have a favourite memory of you playing a certain melody in a concert?

Not to sound overly religious or anything but there have been a few moments when I was playing Carnegie Hall in New York in 2017 and one of them was when I was playing Moonlight Sonata – I was kind of like listening to or watching what I was performing. My fingers were just moving, I was not really thinking anything. It was amazing… I was literally watching me perform. It’s kind of a weird experience I had, almost out of body.

I actually was in the audience when you were playing classical show in Paris in 2014 and I also met you when you flying in from L.A to do Japan Expo in 2011 and I was with my brother at the airport and we met you there briefly – I even gave you a copy of my album at the time.

Oh yes, Toshi was there too!

Are we gonna find out more about Maison Yoshiki soon?

We were actually going to launch and do a fashion show this month. So many things are happening this month… I don’t know if I’ll have enough time so I decided to postpone it until early next year.

(Ed. YOSHIKI actually unveiled his brand and his first collection with a huge runway show at the Fashion Week in Milan !)

Did you work with another designer or do you do the designing yourself?

I work with a development team in Paris.

Thank you so much for your time, I just might see you in London cause I think I will be going to the show.

Please! I plan on doing something pretty shocking…

Oh that’s right, I read somewhere that you were planning on playing drums.

How did you know?

I just know! Again, thank you for taking the time to do the interview, bye!

Bye, good night.

Interview conducted by David Vesper, September 26th 2023, on Zoom, Paris-Los Angeles.