In 2011 a new mutation appeared to the music scene. Something dangerous and new to this generation. Mejibray. They play with such amplified violence onstage that viewers are prepared for death with such resolution to a do-or-die spirit. We pluck the string of the personal story of bassist Koichi, who is bound to shock us. In such a surreal setting as his hometown of Takaosan, such an extremely avant-garde man tells his story.
So the setting for today's interview is Mount Takao.Yes. It's my hometown. I was born and raised in Takao. I think I've climbed the mountain about a hundred times.
Really?! It's said that if it's close, we often go the opposite.People who live in sight seeing areas say that a lot, but Hachiouji people are different. Hachioji people love this area over anywhere else and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Of course! Like Maximum the Hormone and Funky Monkey Babys?
Doesn't everyone know? Every band and artist from here always mentions it. I don't know anyone who doesn't want to say that they are! Any opportunity to mention it is a good one (laughs).
Hahahaha! So, what was it like growing up?When I was in primary school my hair was as long as it is now. It was bleached too.
And what did your teachers say?They hated it but they didn't really say anything. I was a kid who didn't listen to anyone (laughs). I didn't do anything I hated, I just wanted to do whatever I enjoyed doing.
And your parents?
My parents didn't get angry about that kind of thing. They believed in letting me live how I want to. Is that called a laissez-faire ideal? Anyway, so long as I didn't bother other people, it was okay.
So this was from primary school?Yes. My mum bleached my hair for me for the first time.
Is that right? And what about your relationship with friends?I had more friends than anyone else. I'm proud about that. I'd bring home about ten people to play. We'd play wrestling on my bed but we didn't have any pattern or rules to it (laughs). We made a hole though. You can still see the marks in the house, even now. All the holes in the walls (laughs).
Right, and what were you like in class?I always had people around me. I like to stand out anyway. Ever since I was little I always wanted to be flashier than other people. I think that's why I attract people. People will be drawn to me because they think I look interesting.
But didn't teachers keep an eye on you when you entered middle school with bleached hair?They did (laughs). The strongest guy in middle school was an older foreign boy. He had crew cut blond hair and he definitely didn't look like a middle schooler. He was really scary (laughs). He called out to me when I went into middle school.
Scary... What did he say?
He meant well and we ended up getting on (laughs). Back then people who were older than me always had the impression I was cute. By hanging out with a lot of different people, things didn't go amiss (laughs).
What did you do when you hung out together?We went to the older guy's house. Because his room was prefab, it was starting to look like a studio. He had a drum kit and bass and guitar amps.
Ah, so when your interest in music started, your school friend was a big influence?No. I thought he was cool playing drums, but that was about it. I wasn't really interested in music then.
When did you start listening to music?
My dad loved Yazawa Eikichi, Cools and Carol and stuff. He played Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi in the car too, and that's where I'd listen.
There aren't a lot of people of your generation who'd know who Cools are.I don't know. But in my parents' home it was custom to listen to my dad's music so it was natural to think that a group with Yazawa Eikichi or Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi were good. I only started listening to my own music when I was in middle school.
We'll talk about that more later. What was high school life like?If I wanted to skip a class, I did. I was really bad at sports. I did everything right in primary school but when I entered middle school my grade went down in P.E for not attending.
Are you a reformed delinquent?No, it's not like that (laughs).
What were other classes you didn't skip?
That's a surprising subject!
I liked using the sewing machine when we were sewing.
So you had an interest in fashion?
Yeah, that's right. That was around the time I started getting interested in fashion. I wanted to wear clothes that no one else did.
So did you make your own clothes?
I did. At the time damaged denim was in fashion then, and I wanted some at any means. I had no money so I went to a second hand shop and found cheap jeans. After I sandpapered, cut and sewed them they looked like I got them in a shop.
Is that right? But because you skipped classes that means you didn't graduate, doesn't it?
Well, my teachers did something about it for me. They wrote something along the lines of I was a good kid really. Back then I'd do as much as I liked and someone would always follow (laughs).
Hahaha. So, you went on into a higher class level?
Yeah. I thought it would be good but it turned out to be different from what I expected. I left after two months. I was more lazy after that.
How was it different from how you thought it would be?
Well, going on rail on the train was boring. Because I didn't go to class I thought about what I would become. To graduate and get a job I'd have to study and work hard. To get into university I'd have to pass the entrance exams. Anyway, thinking like that made my head start to spin. How many years would it have taken me to realise how pointless it is?
What did your parents think about that?
They said nothing in particular. The most they said about it was "oh, really?"
So then what did you want to do until you quit?
What I wanted to do was work in a clothes shop. But in the end I got lazy after about a year. The kids I hung out with in middle school didn't really like high school so everyone quit. That's what drew us all together. I wonder if that was a peek into my life (laughs). I don't know if it was the best time of my life but back then I thought I could get on my bike and drive far away from anything.
What stands out in your memory from that time in your life?
I probably shouldn't say (laughs). But getting a part time job and working to earn money for the first time was a shock. That was difficult. My very first job wasn't in a clothes shop but in a traditional Japanese sweet shop. It was a shop at the foot of Mount Takao called "Yuukido honten", which is a well known shop in Takao for their delicious sweets. They make omanjyuu (steamed meat buns) there on the premises. After that I worked in an old clothes shop, I moved around jobs a lot. I'd get a new job and quit three months later. I worked in three different clothes shops.
So before you decided to apply yourself to music, you were quite lazy.
Yeah. But then I got in a big accident with my motorbike. We were all racing down Koushuukaidou and I was leading. I was driving about 180km/h and I crashed full force. I woke up in the ICU.
So you woke up in the hospital covered in cuts and bruises.
Yep. My bones are really strong. I crashed and was thrown 7 metres midair and I managed not to break a bone. But I had so many cuts. I still have a scar on the back of my right hand. My friends were absolutely panicked. They thought I was dead. It was funny seeing them rush into the hospital.
I bet they didn't think it was funny. (Dry laugh).
But at the time I thought it was a good thing because I had so many friends. If I called someone my friend, they'd come out with me expressly. After that I thought about my parents first. Letting me do whatever I wanted was great but at the time they were so angry with me they didn't want to help. I got angry too, to an extent and asked why they wouldn't if they let me do what I wanted all the time before. But then I started helping myself after the accident. Isn't that living more fairly? (laughs) So from there I began my second life.
The accident was a turning point.
I'd upset everyone and annoyed them so I gave up the bike. That was when I bought my bass.
Ah, so it was like that for a while but then you decided to work more seriously.
That accident ended that part of my life. I don't know if it could have killed me but I don't know if I could have made up for everything if my parents decided not to help me. So now I think of the life I have now as something given to me by accident. So if I ever become a star I think I want my friends and everyone to be surprised. I want to be the most proud of all my friends. If I have the most friends and my life is something to be proud of I think my friends will work towards living a life like mine.
So for example anyone can say with confidence that they're your friend but they might not know anything about you. By getting famous you'll gain a lot of people close to you. Is that completely okay?
Completely. I think people are proud to have me as a friend and I'm proud to have them. And of course I want my father to be proud to have me as a son.
Is that right? So anyway, you bought a bass guitar?
Yes. I didn't play in a band so I didn't know which basses were good or bad. So I went to the Shinseido (Japanese book, music and sporting goods retail chain) in Hachiouji and chose a G&L L2000 because I thought it looked cool and strong (laughs).
Why did you choose bass guitar?
Yazawa Eikichi plays bass. My dad told me when I was little that if I ever joined a band I should be the bassist. He said the bass was the most elegant and the coolest. So without any training I started picking put Cools songs by ear. My dad used to play guitar and he taught me some things when I was younger. Around that time it was fashionable to put speakers on your motorbike. Every kid who had one had speakers on their bikes! I put a woofer on mine. I thought back then that the bass beat was cool.
How did a kid who liked playing Cools songs get into visual kei?
I listened to a lot of music back then and I liked flashier bands best. When I was starting to play in bands I thought "who is the flashiest band?" and I thought it was SHAZNA. Aren't they amazing? Men wearing make up to look like women - that's flashy. I wanted something that was a different kind of flashy and eccentric, so I went for visual kei.
Did you form a band soon after that? Was it hard getting people to join?
I was really lucky with that (laughs). A friend introduced me. I told my friends I was looking once I decided I wanted to play in a band and the word was spread in one go. Soon after that, a band wanted me.
It's a good thing you had a lot of friends then.
Yeah, it really is. A friend introduced me to Tsuzuku. But in order to play with him I had to really think things through. Before, people used the word avant-garde to describe me, really avant-garde. If I was going to persist in restarting my life, I'd have to live by a motto of always putting myself out there.
You definitely use that word in your blog a lot. I know you'll be vague and obscure, but what is extreme avant-garde to you?
Hmmmm, for example, if everyone's wearing a shirt with just one button, I'll wear one with a hundred.
It's normal to see people wear something with 3 or 5, but suddenly a hundred?
Yeah. I have to be one or two steps ahead of people all the time.
But if you're too avant-garde no one will get it.
That's very possible (laughs).
For example, with paintings throughout the world, you know they exist but it's only after they go missing that they become famous. I think it's a difficult risk.
Music is the food I eat. And unsurprisingly I want our CDs to sell and for our songs to be known all over the world. So I don't really have those feelings. Being in a band for me is like, it's not ultra avant-garde (laughs). Because it's always going to be like that it's nice not to be evaluated by others. In knowing that I can continue happy in life. It's good to start living so you don't regret anything if you were to die tomorrow.
That's right. So we understand that you're the type with a lot of friends. I'm interested to see how you think about that. Have you thought about it yourself? Why do you keep a lot of friends?
I have but I really don't know (laughs). I wonder why that is.
What words do your friends often use to describe you?
What words? Well, "weird", and "as weird as I thought" are both said about me a lot.
Have they said that since you were a kid?
Yeah. Especially teachers because aren't the weird kids supposed to isolate themselves?
So you didn't feel alienated at that time?
Not at all. I had a lot of friends of course. Teachers helped me in class but no one stopped being my friend over it. Everyone was there to help me.
You really had your friends to back you up. Do you think there's a lot of people dropping out because of such isolation in school?
Yeah. It's a feature in Hachioji. It's definitely become true now. If you're weird and no one likes you you'll have no friends. But that's not the case here. Here in my hometown, being a little weird draws people to you. So if I hadn't been born in Hachioji and still grew up as a dark child, maybe I would've killed myself.
Hachioji and friends have shaped your personality.
Yeah. Those two and avant-garde are words that describe me.
Let's talk more about your bass. You use a Rickenbacker. You don't see many people in this scene using one of those. Did you pick it because it was more avant-garde?
No, it was just on how it looked. A lot of people choose their instruments based on sound and when I hold this bass I want it to give a good sound. For example it won’t give a weird noise but I it would sing. So it was based 100% on appearances. In choosing a Rickenbacker I’m using a cool instrument so I won't be uncool and hate it. If it doesn't suit me then I won't be avant-garde. If I'm using a bass I think isn't cool then I'd rather quit the band than play.
You said before that you wanted to be a star. Of course for that to happen you have to play live shows. Mejibray play very intense live shows.
I feel like I'm going to die right after a live show. When I feel like that I don't know if I can keep going. I'm so exhausted I want to stop. But what I have with the other members is above absolutely anything else. So I tell myself that I have to keep going for them. What you do in the band is basically up to yourself. It's not a case of "should I do this" but "I'll do this!". We have a sense of cooperation so that we don't have to talk things through at a time.
So there's no rules?
Well, first of all we never arrive late. We don't break the trust we have in each other. Once we keep that between us we can do what we want; on stage, in PVs, in composition.
That's not just true in the music scene but in the rest of society too. There's that respectful mood between you. It's best to do it that way in order to be successful. If you keep going that way, seem completely crazy.
That sounds right (laughs).
But it's the craziness, the freedom to do what you want within the band and the amazing heat that draws fans in.
Yeah. To me, if no one's paying attention then there's no relationship towards you (laughs). That's why I do what I really like doing. If I wasn't in this business and I wasn't a musician for example, there'd be nothing else for me do to. I wouldn't do anything else.
But if you keep acting on impulse, surely the band won't last long.
Eh, that's true. But even if the band doesn't last long, we'll have had a good run. Maybe we'll all die soon (laughs). I can't see us living past thirty.
The rock star image in your generation is to seem like the boy next door. From a listener's standpoint they feel close to you. That's close to the mark, isn't it?
Well, that's because I want to drive to the tobacco shop in my neighbourhood in a Mercedes Benz.
Oh wow! I didn't know your roots ran so deep to home that your goal would be to go back.
But you’re doing what you've always wanted to do.
Yeah. I mean, who says I'll still be performing onstage when I'm old? Or continuing to perform at all? I don't think in such a way that I’ll find myself trapped. Isn't that the way when you get bigger? You hear a lot more opinions. Keep your own opinion, no matter how long it takes you to reject those others forced on you. Isn't that what avant-garde is, laid back with all the time in the world.