Translated by Cayce
They were forced to make a decision.
To have the vocalist leave the band was the answer they gave.
Yagami Toll took up the drums and his new name in honor of his brother Touru, five years his senior, who died when he was fifteen.
Yagami’s brother died suddenly in a car accident, and his mother, most likely full of grief at the death of her son, decided to pack his drum set away. That was in May 1977, right after his death.
“If you’re just going to put them in storage, I’ll play them instead,” Yagami said.
It was probably too painful for Yagami to allow the cherished drum set to vanish along with his brother.
Up until that time, he’d liked music, but he’d been a boy with no particular interest in playing an instrument. If you'd asked him which instrument he liked best, he’d have said guitar. But when he tried playing the cheap SG-type guitar in his house, he realized that memorizing chords was time consuming and troublesome, and he soon cast the guitar aside.
Three months after he started to play his brother’s drums, however, Yagami became interested in the idea of having a band. He was hoping to play at his junior high school culture festival. He gathered a group of his classmates to be his band members. The band had no name, but Yagami Toll decided that they should cover songs by Carol, a Japanese band who were popular at the time.
Yagami's thoughts had not yet moved beyond a band for the culture festival, but as high school moved ever nearer, he found that the idea of being a drummer had become very important to him; even more important than the entrance exams.
He began to think vaguely, “What if I were always in a band?”
Yagami graduated from junior high, but the band that he had started for the culture festival kept playing together. He named the band “Shout,” and they continued to perform covers of songs by Japanese rock ’n’ roll artists like Carol and Cools. They played an independent concert, and performed at a disco in Maebashi. Yagami had never liked school to begin with, and now, completely consumed with thoughts of the band, he stopped attending. His attendance record for the first semester was insufficient, so in the summer of his first year of high school, he dropped out.
For the time being, he started a job in an iron rebar factory, but was constantly thinking about how it conflicted with the time he wanted to spend on the band. Furthermore, the other members could not match Yagami’s enthusiasm for the band, and he became dissatisfied.
“I want to join up with guys who are aiming to be pros,” he thought. He began to search among the members of the other bands he met at indie concerts for people with a drive to match his own.
It was 1983. Yagami had started a new band, which he had called “Spots,” in a code-like reference to the Sex Pistols. The first members of “Spots” were Kosakabashi (vocals), Kanne (guitar), and Ooda (bass), with Yagami on the drums. With the start of “Spots,” he began to identify himself as Yagami Toll. He said, “When I play with the band, I want to be a person different from my regular self, with a different personality.” This was the reason why he changed his name. He picked “Yagami,” written in katakana, because he liked its pointy, angular look. He took the name “Toll” in honor of his deceased brother Touru.
“My younger brother’s name is Higuchi Yutaka, so why is my last name different from his? Everyone thinks it’s odd, but while I’m playing in the band, I’m Yagami Toll. I’m not using my real name.” Yagami has to this day refused to release his real name to the public.
Yagami’s younger brother Higuchi Yutaka regularly went to see Spots’s live shows. One day, hanging out together with his friends in Imai’s room, he and the rest of them excitedly decided to start their own band, and later Higuchi dragged all the prospective members along to a Spots show. After the band formed, Higuchi begged his brother many times to allow them to play a live together with Spots. Yagami noticed that his brother’s band had a certain unique something, even if their technique left much to be desired. Imai wrote most of the music and lyrics, and Yagami had to acknowledge the promise in his melodies.
“He’s a guy who writes melody lines that no one else could have come up with. He just throws in all these different chords until you have no idea where the root is anymore. And he’s such a weird guitarist—he’s right handed, but he does the picking with his left hand.”
Imai was a guitarist and composer unlike any of the members of any of the bands Yagami had yet seen.
As someone older than they were who was also in a band, Yagami was a good person for Imai and his friends to ask when they needed advice. Also, when Sakurai’s parents got angry with him and forbade him to play drums in their house, Yagami offered his own room as a space where Sakurai could practice. Before Buck-Tick was ever even “Toll’s little brother’s band,” there was no denying that Yagami was a close friend and confidante of the band members.
Even when Spots changed their name to “S.P.,” they continued to go through dramatic changes in membership. Yagami, who wanted to go pro more than any of the other members ever did, kept insisting on more practice sessions. The other members were all full-time workers, and gradually, their enthusiasm would turn to frustration, and they would quit the band. This was the general pattern.
Yagami himself was feeling the strain of playing in the band while working, so he understood how his bandmates felt. Unlike them, however, he quit his job at the iron factory in order to keep up the band and live a life centered around making music. However, he was unable to force his band members to choose the same path.
“I have to find guys who really want to go for it,” he decided, and when his band members left, he made no move to stop them.
In order to go pro, Yagami was fiercely pushing S.P. to enter a contest, the winner of which would win a record deal. This was the only reason they were entering, but even if they had been the best band in Gunma, and entered in competitions for all of Kanto or all of Japan and won every time, they would never have been able to keep the band together. Their impatience and anger mounted, and on October 10th, 1985, without ever entering the East-West Japan Contest or laying hands on a ticket to go pro, S.P. broke up. It had been eight years since Yagami had first started playing.
Yagami was tired out from so much anxious pushing towards becoming professional. He began to think that maybe he should just let music be a hobby.
“Whatever, I don’t care anymore,” he thought.
He felt like a large hole had opened in his heart, and he lost the desire to do anything. The band that he had poured all his most earnest effort into was no more.
“Maybe I’ll stop being in bands,” Yagami thought. He’d just turned 23.
Buck-Tick practiced on weekends, when Imai and Araki, who had moved to Tokyo, returned home. Thanks to Higuchi, who did his utmost to schedule them, they were able to play a local live once or twice every month, and ever so gradually, their popularity was increasing.
Imai was also writing more and more original songs, and with each live they played, the members became more enamored with the idea of the band. Time went on, and every weekend after the band finished practicing, Sunday night would turn into Monday morning, and Imai and Araki would be expected to return to Tokyo. But Monday would become Tuesday, and Tuesday would become Wednesday, and they wouldn’t go home at all. As the band began to play live more and more, the band members would stay at the houses of their various friends in town, so their parents wouldn’t find out they were skipping class. As the band and the live shows became more and more interesting to them, they inevitably lost interest in going to school.
They quit school and got part time jobs in order to keep the band going. The reason why they never quit the band even though their parents protested fiercely was, according to Imai, that they were always thinking of vaguely of the concept of being professional; thinking “maybe we’ll go pro one day.”
It was one year since they’d started playing local lives. Now, they’d graduated from live houses, and were able to fill mid-sized concert halls with their oneman shows. At this point, their fantasy, “maybe we’ll go professional,” became a conviction: “we definitely will.”
In the spring of 1985, Higuchi and Hoshino moved to Tokyo to attend vocational school—Higuchi in management, Hoshino in culinary arts. However, school was really just an excuse to move to Tokyo, as it had been for Imai and Araki.
Even if Buck-Tick was slowly coming to be known in Gunma, no one knew who they were in Tokyo. “Maybe the best thing we could do would be to start playing live houses in Tokyo, and try to increase our following,” Higuchi suggested, and the other members agreed.
Once this was decided, Sakurai, who was working full time at a local company, had to go back and forth between Gunma and Tokyo for band activities. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to move to Tokyo; his intractable father didn’t leave the decision up to him.
In April 1984, Sakurai, who had just started a full time job, had been doing the same thing every day, and was getting sick of it. He wasn’t the type to actively open up to people, and on top of that, thanks to his hair, which he had bleached brown, his coworkers often left him alone. He was alone so much he started to become confused and doubtful of himself. When he felt this way, he would often leave his house, and without going to work, he would zip off in his beloved car, a black Skyline R. S., to the nearby mountains, where he would jack up the speed and drive around aimlessly. Sometimes he would go to work, sometimes he wouldn’t. Finally, he quit his first job after working for less than a year.
His feeling was, “I’m not a robot!”
Sakurai’s boredom and rebelliousness didn’t spring from the band’s activities, but from another place.
“The band was definitely interesting. But at that point, the band wasn’t something that was consuming my whole consciousness. Also, my company job was boring me, and my health started to deteriorate. I kept thinking ‘I can’t do this,’ but I didn’t want to worry my mother. When I did something stupid, my father would hit her, and I really didn’t want that to happen,” Sakurai said.
But even after his father passed away in October of that year, he couldn’t just do whatever he wanted. His father had always severely curtailed his personal freedom, but even though he was gone, Sakurai couldn’t just move right to Tokyo like the other members of Buck-Tick had.
“After my father died, I was able to love him, so I couldn’t take off just like that. I felt full of regret when I imagined people thinking that I’d let my father just die in my heart. I even thought I was an idiot to think so. Because it’s better to do what you love.”
Sakurai quit his first job and found a job at another company, but within a month, he quit that job, too. Every day, he would loiter around without really doing anything. Even though with Buck-Tick’s busy live activities, he had many opportunities to go to Tokyo, he still hadn’t gotten up the determination to move there yet. He couldn’t even manage to throw himself fully into band activities, and he was feeling miserable. He felt angry at himself that he was the only one left in Gunma and he couldn’t even manage to get himself to Tokyo.
“I can’t keep on like this,” he kept thinking, but he couldn’t make himself leave, so it was a real dilemma. He wanted to get out of Gunma no matter what, but it seemed he was waiting for something to make him leave, and he didn’t know what it was yet.
Because he spent so much time by himself, he ended up going frequently to live shows, to pass the time. While he was watching bands live on stage or on television, he began to notice something.
“The person who really creates the atmosphere of the band is always the vocalist. If I were the vocalist of a band like Buck-Tick, I think I could make us so much cooler. I think if I were the vocalist, we could try a really out-there style and pull it off.” Sakurai was surprised at himself for having thought such a thing.
“I wondered if I’d never actually done anything that I really, really cared about up to that point…and I’d already been filling the role of the drummer in Buck-Tick.”
Sakurai remembered that the vocalist of Yagami’s band, S.P., had just quit. The next morning, he got into his Skyline R.S. and drove at top speed to Yagami’s house.
“I want to be the vocalist of S.P.,” he said. “Please, let me be in the band.”
Yagami, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, was very surprised at Sakurai’s “vocalist proposal.”
“But you’re the drummer of Buck-Tick!” he responded.
“Yes, but I really want to be a vocalist instead. Will you please let me into your band?”
He asked again and again, but Yagami’s answer continued to be “No.” Yagami’s reason was simple.
“S.P.’s already broken up. Also,” he began, “you’re a drummer, and I haven’t ever heard you sing. I don’t know how well you can sing on stage. And now that I think about it, your position on stage as vocalist would be totally different. Even if S.P. hadn’t broken up, I still couldn’t let someone with no proof of his achievements join my band.”
Maybe Yagami said it a bit harshly. But even so, Sakurai knew that what he was saying was right.
“Vocalists are born, not made. It’s totally different from playing an instrument. You can’t do it on practice alone. You could practice for years and still get nowhere.”
Yagami’s word went straight into Sakurai’s heart. Just when he’d found something he thought he really, really wanted to do…
“You can’t be the vocalist of S.P. But since you want to do vocals so much more than drums, you don’t want to keep it with drums, either. But even if you wanted to be Buck-Tick’s vocalist, you couldn’t be, because you guys already have a vocalist.” Sakurai didn’t know what to do anymore.
Buck-Tick’s first live in Tokyo was on August 4th, 1985, at an event at Shinjuku Jam. Thanks to Higuchi, who had made them known on the live house circuit, when they began to play in Tokyo, they were able to appear at live houses in the afternoon, or even in the evening for short sets. However, they had to sell their own tickets, and there were the studio rental costs, as well as regular Tokyo living expenses, of course. But though they never had any money, the five members spent their days together, focused on the band.
Imai, who was the de facto manager, was always thinking about the band’s image. “Our visual style was very radical,” he said, “But we played pop melodies. The phrase that always stuck in my head was, ‘think about beautiful melodies more than punk.’ I wanted to do something that was more than just the radical/destructive thing that post-punk style bands had been doing up until that time.” Imai’s way of thinking became clearly visible during the band’s live performances and practice sessions. Suddenly, the songs Imai was writing started to sound poppy.
The other members had no quarrel with BUCK-TICK making melodious music. But singing Imai’s imagistic pop tunes and unique melodies required real vocal technique. As the band played more and more lives, it was becoming apparent that this was technique that Araki didn’t quite have. When it got to the point when all the members, including Araki himself, couldn’t help but notice, they decided to fire him.
At the beginning of the band, Araki had been a great vocalist for a post-punk type sound. He was very good at the tough, rock style, but when it came to more melodious songs, the roughness of his voice began to stand out too much. He especially didn’t match with Imai’s songs, because he was pushing too hard.
Higuchi was the one who mentioned it first, in a phone call to Imai. “As it stands, Buck-Tick can’t go where we want it to. What are you thinking about the vocals?”
Imai confessed that even before Higuchi had phoned him, he’d been thinking “It sucks like this.” Hoshino thought so as well.
Sakurai, back in Gunma, thought as he received Higuchi’s call, “Have things already progressed to that point in Tokyo?” He was surprised. Their current vocalist definitely couldn’t sing Imai’s songs. Though he had noticed that, Sakurai was still thinking too hard about his frustration that he had to keep being the drummer and that he couldn’t move to Tokyo. He felt like he’d been a bad band member, because he’d been too wrapped up in himself.
Even so, since the formation of the band, it had been something that the five of them had always done together. Imai and Araki had been friends since middle school, and when they’d moved to Tokyo, they’d even decided to room together to save money. Even though it was for the sake of the band, Araki was their friend, so how could they possible fire him?
Higuchi wanted to know how Imai felt about it. “It’s going to be the toughest for you, Imai, isn’t it?” he asked.
Imai was thinking hard about Buck-Tick. Araki the vocalist was still Araki. Araki the friend was Araki, too. But Buck-Tick couldn’t work with Araki the vocalist anymore.
“We can’t do what we want to if Araki’s the vocalist.” He thought. He thought maybe he was imagining that he was too cool for Araki. But he told the members that they should probably tell Araki that they thought he wasn’t the right vocalist for them.
It was October. After they finished rehearsing at the expensive Pull Studio, the band headed out to the local bar, Nonbee (“Drunkard”). They’d decided they had to tell Araki the news that night. Sitting around the table, drinking sake, they had to start talking. Maybe they felt that they couldn’t say what needed to be said unless they were drunk.
“Hey everybody, I think we’re going in different directions,” Sakurai started saying.
Araki said, “I was thinking that too.”
That was the moment when the five-man group that had worked together for so long lost a member. Though it was a decision they’d made together, and Araki agreed with it, they couldn’t help it at that moment, and they started to cry. Araki, who had been an original member of Buck-Tick since they had called themselves “Hinan Go-Go” left the band that night.