Yoshiki wearing Bohemian Society in the May issue of Flaunt Magazine
Posted on 02 July 2014
A bumblebee lands on my windshield at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland on my way to meet Yoshiki, Japanese rock legend and composer, philanthropist and entrepreneur. I’m idling at a stoplight watching tourists, many of whom look let down—they’d clearly hoped to see Brad Pitt munching on a Fatburger—but I become transfixed by the bee, its abdomen wagging, its proboscis pressed flat against the glass. I could start up my windshield wipers; it could fly in here and sting my face. But we seem to have reached a subtle and primordial understanding. The bee hitches a ride until I merge onto the 101, where it loses footing and disappears. Around Universal City, I jerk the wheel and swerve to avoid a roll of carpeting in the carpool lane that I mistake for a human body. I’m distracted—it’s not every day you meet a rock god.
Yoshiki’s studio is in an unmarked building attached to a hotel. I’m greeted in back by his Project Coordinator, Yaz, and we head inside. Yoshiki isn’t here yet, she tells me, he’s been shooting a music video all day and has been submerged in an outdoor pool in Burbank for the last five hours. It has been—by Los Angeles standards—a chilly day, and Yoshiki is currently defrosting at his home across town. I’m led into a stark white living space; sleek leather furniture, stainless steel kitchen, lit with the kind of apparitional glow favored by gallery spaces. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooks the artist’s actual studio: there are a number of instruments and other things, including the Kawai Crystal II Grand Piano Yoshiki played while dueling with his own hologram at Flaunt’s SXSW event. It feels a little like gazing into the slapdash laboratory of a wildly creative mad scientist, the doodads and whatsits, the organs in jars. Yaz and I take a seat and chat about earthquakes and being robbed at gunpoint. I show her a picture of my Chihuahua.
Yoshiki finally arrives—dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt—and he’s very apologetic. He got there as fast as he could, he explains. Traffic is mentioned. He’s winded but unfazed, and he smiles and bows, shaking my hand. Seeing Yoshiki in this way, having shed his theatrical persona in the familial locus of his studio, feels pretty surreal. It’s like spotting Willy Wonka outside the Chocolate Factory, at the grocery store, say, buying milk.
“I had some film scoring project going on, too, so I didn’t sleep,” he mentions. “I worked all night.”
“No sleep whatsoever?”
He laughs. “That’s the tradeoff.”
Yoshiki has been a busy man. Recent collaborations include: Hello Kitty (to launch his own doll, Yoshikitty) and SOUL (to launch his own headphones, SL 150). Additionally, he’s teamed up with Stan Lee in the launch of Blood Red Dragon (illustrated by Todd McFarlane), a comic book based on Yoshiki’s alter ego. He’s written songs like “I.V.” for the film Saw IV, “Depraved Heart Murder at Sanitarium Square” for the futuristic shock musical Repo! The Genetic Opera (think Rocky Horror Picture Show with disembowelment and Paris Hilton), composed the theme for the 70th Golden Globe Awards, amongst others. He’s got a line of credit cards with Visa and Mastercard, a line of Chardonnay and Cabernet with Michael Mondavi (“I get carded all the time,” he says, laughing. “It’s crazy.”), and a line of clothing and jewelry. Moreover, he’s about to kick off his solo world tour, hitting everywhere from Mexico City to Moscow. One of his recent tweets reads: “Just got home from the #MV shooting and #interviews and #recording.. #vampire is dead.”
I ask if he ever gets totally burned out.
“Well, I’m so lucky to be in this position,” he says. “Always, my fans are around, so I don’t really feel completely exhausted. They are my energy.”
It makes sense that Yoshiki can in some way draw this seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy from his fans; there are thousands upon thousands of them all over the globe. As bandleader/songwriter/drummer/pianist/producer of X Japan, the most successful rock ‘n’ roll act in the history of their namesake country, Yoshiki and his band sold out all 55,000 seats in the Tokyo Dome a record-setting 18 times. His solo career has been ridiculously successful as well. He was recently given an exhibit at the Grammy Museum right after Ringo Star’s exhibit. His third classical music album Yoshiki Classical (which includes “Anniversary,” a song composed and performed at the request of the Japanese government for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Emperor Akihito’s enthronement) debuted on the Billboard Traditional Chart at number eight, and number one on iTunes in ten different countries. But it’s not as if Yoshiki hasn’t earned his keep: he wears a neck brace while drumming due to an injury suffered while drumming.
“I’m not a great drummer, I’m not a great pianist,” he tells me. “I still practice piano a lot, still practice drums a lot. You have to at least double the practice, you know? If you are only doing piano, you can practice six hours a day or eight hours a day. But you cannot practice eight hours a day on the drums, eight hours a day on the piano.” He pauses. “Yeah, it’s not that easy.”
Between music (it’s 11:45 p.m., his dinner has been cooling on the kitchen table for about an hour, and he’s scheduled to do some recording as soon as this interview is over), multiple business ventures, and charity (his non-profit benefit organization, Yoshiki Foundation, has made sweeping efforts following the devastation of the Kobe, Sichuan, and Tōhoku earthquakes in Japan; donating relief funds, holding benefit concerts for orphanages, and bolstering damaged schools by supplying them with several instruments), I have to ask: “What do you do to unwind?”
“The crazy part is, I don’t know where to draw the line,” he says, “between my work and my hobby. I don’t feel like I’m working when I’m creating music. Sometimes, when I’m drinking wine, I feel like I’m working because I’m creating the wine. So, it kind of drives me crazy. Am I working or am I just relaxing?” He pauses. “The problem is that I don’t know when to relax. I don’t have to, probably. Maybe I’m relaxing when I play the piano on the stage.”
After a few goodbyes, I show myself out. I climb into my car and glance at the adjacent hotel, at the lamps in its windows. I think about the guests staying there, families from Idaho or Minnesota eager to wake up and storm Universal Studios, with no way of knowing that their neighbor for the night is a rock god and maestro composer from Japan, a man who cares deeply about the world around him, who will labor at his crystal piano deep into the night, neither knowing how nor wanting to stop.
Stylist: Todd Pearce
Hair: Paul Desmarre
Makeup: Garret Gervais
Written by Andrew Stark
Photographed by Yoshino