Translated by Cayce
In the hustle and bustle since their debut, what must they have been thinking about?
They made a start toward their new dream.
The record company executives who had seen Buck-Tick’s live at the Toyoto Public Hall began to make moves to sign the band to their various labels. Sawaki conducted the negotiations in lieu of the members themselves, and met with countless different directors. He carefully negotiated with the various record companies that wanted to sign Buck-Tick, taking his time and evaluating their plans, enthusiasm, and terms in detail. The band themselves had a few terms that they refused to compromise on, no matter how good their offer was.
First they said, “Never make us change our hairstyle, makeup, costumes, or anything about the general image we’ve had up till now.”
Second, “The members are the five of us and that’s that.”
Third, “When we record, never appoint us studio musicians.”
Fourth, “Don’t give us a producer; we want to self-produce.”
The members didn’t want to go professional if these terms could not be accepted. They were so sure of it that if the terms weren’t accepted, they didn’t want to make a major debut. They felt this way because they’d heard stories of bands going professional, only to have their members scattered, their images changed beyond recognition, and their music twisted into something that would sell, but that they didn’t want to play. Their feeling was, if it wasn’t the five of them, it wasn’t Buck-Tick. Even if people thought they were being arrogant, they did not intend to allow their wills to be bent.
In the end, a number of record companies had to fight it out. Two different sections of Victor, “Studio 5” and “Studio 2 (Invitation),” put forth offers almost at the same time. Tanaka Jun’ichi, the director of Studio 5, who had seen Buck-Tick’s live at the Toyoto Public Hall, felt that the band’s live style and character were “necessary for music creation from now on.” Among an indies scene full of bands that lacked the talent to express feelings to their audiences, Buck-Tick stood out as a band with the talent and vitality to really bring their music across. The members each made their individual personalities clear, and rather that fitting into any preexisting genre, they wanted more than anything to stick out. Tanaka soon decided he definitely wanted to work with Buck-Tick.
On the other hand, Takagaki Ken, of Invitation, had also made contact with the band. Both sections of Victor had been very forward in their approaches to the band, but the two did strategically combine their powers at least as far as they had to to compete against other companies and make sure Buck-Tick didn’t get signed by someone else instead. Of course, all the negotiations would have to be in addition to the acceptance of the terms laid forth by the band. The days passed, full of meetings between the band and the staff of various record labels, as well as meetings of the members themselves. Meeting the executives was all well and good, but once the members began talking to them, they realized that the labels would not even meet the first of their terms. Nothing went as the band expected it to. No matter how good the contract money was, if they had no guarantee that they could continue with the five members the way they were, there was no point in signing. Their resolution on this only grew stronger than before.
In the midst of this, the band met Takagaki. On the first floor lobby of Victor Aoyama Studio, he looked the band members straight in the eyes and talked about what an individual and attractive band he thought Buck-Tick was. “That’s why I want the five members as they are now, and that’s why I want the band as it has been,” he said. He accepted the band’s terms without changing them. He put his schedule at their mercy, saying, “From tomorrow, I’d love you to start using the studio here.” He even offered it as a practice space.
That night, the band members held a meeting to make their final decision. Out of all the record companies whose representatives they’d met with, which one would let them operate most to their own liking? The answer was Victor Invitation.
It was June 16th. Six hundred people had gathered for “BUCK-TICK PHENOMENON II,” that was happening at the Shibuya Live Inn. The whole place was blocked off with yellow ropes. The security was very tight. The small live house was jam-packed, and even before the band members came onstage, the seats were shaking in waves. These were all people who had come to know Buck-Tick through their record release and their second sticker campaign. They had also gotten a tiny bit of magazine exposure as “a notable band in the indies scene,” and some people had come to the show just because they had been interested in the article.
Even though their much-longed-for ticket to becoming professional was right before their eyes, they felt a little strange for some reason. It had only been two months since they released Hurry Up Mode. When they thought about the time since then, they realized it was all something that had happened in the blink of an eye. In a moment, the resolution, “We’ll go pro. There’s no way we can’t!” that they had held for so many months and years had become a reality.
“Is this what it feels like for a dream to turn into a reality?” Imai thought. But even if the indies and the major scenes were different, that didn’t mean that Buck-Tick had to change. Higuchi, however, felt that with going pro, his sense of responsibility toward the band became bigger than it ever had been before. The thought of “professional consciousness” became very important to him. Onstage, looking at the seething crowd, Hoshino thought that here, again, was a new start for the band. He thought, “It all starts here. It’s not like our dream is ending.”
Due to the waves of people pushing up against the front of the stage, the live was interrupted again and again. Although it was a very dangerous situation, Yagami felt very happy when he looked at the power of the crowd. After the show had been stopped for the umpteenth time, Sakurai announced that the band had signed a contract with Victor Invitation. He finished by saying, “Please support us from now on!”
From July 26th to August 18th, the band went into recording for their first album since their major debut.
“We’ll do lots of different things and make sure we’ve got variation.”
“Since this is our first major album, we really want to go “Bang!” We want to surprise people.”
“We want to make something with a lot of energy that has a live feel to it.”
“We want to make record to really stir up the Japanese music scene,” they thought, and set about cutting these various ideas into this one album.
The release was set for November 21st. But before that, they planned to release a live video of the performance at the Live Inn on June 16th. They were thinking about visual impact. This was why they decided to combine their music with the appeal of their lives through video, to really make an impression. With the video “ Buck-Tick At the Live Inn,” they made their visual debut before their album was released. It started at number 4 on the “Original Confidence” (Oricon) industry video charts. Even now (1989) it is long seller that people continue to buy.
With the success of their debut, there was one more thing that Buck-Tick had to quickly decide about: their administrative office. Up until now, Sawaki had taken care of all their external management and negotiations, but now that they had made their professional debut, they would have much more scheduling and financial business. Of course, it was getting difficult for Sawaki to handle it all. Sawaki had an old acquaintance of his, Masuoka Yoshihiko, become an advisor for Buck-Tick. At the many lives of the band that he had been to, he had been charmed by their individuality, even though they were still rough around the edges. He felt that this kind of strong individuality was necessary for new bands. After Buck-Tick’s show at the Live Inn, he set about establishing an office for them.
Both the members and their understanding staff members felt that the establishment of this office was a big step towards their future. They wanted to join hands with many different people and do bigger and broader things than they had before, and that was why they named the office “Shaking Hands.” On September 3rd, their personal office was born.
On their 18-stop national “ Buck-Tick Phenomenon Tour,” the band went to Tohoku for the first time. When they went to new places and performed for people who had never seen them before, they couldn’t help but notice that the strange mania about them that affected Tokyo had not spread elsewhere.
“The next time we come here, let’s get ten times as many people to come see us,” the thought. Rather than feeling regretful, they learned how much further they still had to go, and they felt filled with a powerful drive.
On the other hand, their first concert in Tokyo after their major debut had been set for December 11th at the Nihon Seinen Kaikan. Could they possibly fill the 1,360-person capacity hall not two months after their debut? They’d made it onto the charts, and they’d begun to get coverage in magazines, but on their first professional 9-stop tour, the only place that they could manage to play a hall live was Tokyo.
They thought “We’ve got no choice but to put out all the power we have now.” Selling out the hall wasn’t really their goal. Their live spaces might have gotten prettier, their number of fans might have grown, and the stage might be wider, but the five of them were still the five of them, and Buck-Tick was still Buck-Tick, so they didn’t care.
It was in mid October that some better news than they’d ever expected reached their ears. A mere two days after going on sale, the tickets for the show at the Nihon Seinen Kaikan had sold out. “Really? We wanted them to sell out, but that fast…” The members were very surprised that Buck-Tick was gaining so much notice so much more quickly than they’d thought possible.
On November 21st, their first major album, Sexual XXXXX!, was released. It debuted at number 33 on the charts, which was unbelievably good sales for an indies band just gone major. For the band members, being “number 33” was difficult to process quickly. How many people across Japan had bought their album to give them this high a number? After they saw the faces of hundreds of people at their lives and heard their happy, cheering voices, though, they felt closer to their own popularity.
“Number 33 on the charts.” “Sold out in two days.” Maybe the band members felt like it was someone other than themselves who had set those records.
Starting around this time, following on the wave of their skyrocketing popularity, more magazines began to print articles introducing Buck-Tick. They’d been interviewed many times already, but they started to wonder if, in addition to doing lives and releasing albums, this was part of what it meant to be pro.
“Why do you put your hair up?”
“How do you get your hair to stand up like that?”
“What are the differences between major and indies?”
The interviewers threw all sorts of questions at the band members. Sometimes Imai and Hoshino, who were not good at explaining themselves in words, would say nothing at all during an interview. Higuchi and Yagami represented the band, and answered many questions. At the time of the band’s major debut, this was the general pattern.
“Everyone tells us about the differences between indies and major, but we haven’t really been thinking about it that way, so we don’t really know how to answer…”
That was one reason Imai couldn’t answer questions. Hoshino felt uncomfortable talking to interviewers for the first time, and he found interviews with interviewers who misunderstood the band to be very painful. It was like everyone wanted the band members’ hair color, spiky hairstyles and makeup to have some special significance. The band members just thought it looked cool. There didn’t need to be a reason behind it. Often, the band members couldn’t make themselves properly understood for fear of being impolite.
“Do you try to stick out so you’ll sell well?”
It was completely the opposite. Buck-Tick weren’t making music as a band to sell records. They were just doing what they wanted to do. They couldn’t help but feel that people were prejudiced against them and that they were misunderstood.
Their showy looks and outlandish images, together with their even pop melodies and love songs—the more extreme the difference between the two became, the less the band fit into any existing scene or genre. As they were scolded by the scandal-loving media, they learned the difficult side of free self-expression.
Starting at the Nihon Seinen Kaikan in on December 11th, then continuing in April at the Toyoto Public Hall, and then in June at the Shibuya Live Inn, the new tour was christened “Buck-Tick Phenomenon III.” Since Buck-Tick had started using their sticker strategy, the number of stickers advertising bands had only increased around the city, and it was all thanks to Buck-Tick. They had advertised themselves as a phenomenon, and they’d gotten popular so fast that they’d now indeed become one. But at this point what the band members wanted to do most was just express their individuality as much as possible at the upcoming live at the Nihon Seinen Kaikan.
A huge, black, semitransparent curtain with Buck-Tick’s logo woven into it over and over hung in front of the stage, and that was all the band members focused on as they stood behind it and waited for the moment when it would drop. The production and the lighting design were both magnificent, and the band saluted the efforts made by their staff members, but all original ideas had come from the members themselves. To bring the image they had in their heads to life and fully show off the “Buck-Tick style,” the band wanted to take maximum advantage of both the width and height of the stage. But no matter how wonderful the set dressing was, even while performing with it, the band always felt that they could probably make it even cooler. They were confident that they could.
The live started thirty minutes behind schedule. When it finally started, the irritated audience members all cheered at once. Imai had dyed his hair red, and as always, Hoshino kept jumping as high as he could. Higuchi stayed steady on the bass while Sakurai sang, romantic and wild. Yagami stared out past the other members’ backs at the crowd of 1,360 people. During the intro, the lights shone so brightly silver that they practically lit up the members down to their bones as they moved and breathed freely on the stage. The band were deeply touched by the crowd response to their performance, though maybe they didn’t feel like they’d quite broken through to something bigger yet. However, as they played, they thought back on the time they’d spent since forming Buck-Tick.
“Thank god we kept the band going!” they thought. They had success in their hands now, and they felt once again how much fun the whole band thing really was.
On December 31st, Buck-Tick appeared in Niigata for an event called “Rock'n'Roll Band Stand” that happened simultaneously in six different locations around Japan. At the Niigata Industry Promotional Center, before a crowd of 5,000 people, Buck-Tick got to see other mature professional bands up close.
“We want as many people as possible to learn about Buck-Tick!” the band members thought. There was no end to their optimism. Everything had happened so quickly in 1987, and now the year was over, and 1988 was beginning. It would be a year they would never forget.
Their first job for 1988 was recording their 12-inch album Romanesque, which was scheduled for release in March. It wasn’t a full album, it was just a four-track EP including a new version of the song “Romaneqsue,” which had appeared on Hurry Up Mode; the song “Automatic Blue,” which they hadn’t released yet but was very popular at lives; and some new songs. They’d decided this presentation would be best. On the CD, there would also be a special mix version of “Romanesque” made by the members themselves.
“We want a sound that you can’t hear a live; a sound you can only get on an album” they decided. With this 12-inch record (they called it a 4-song album) they aimed to open a new world for Buck-Tick’s sound. Every time they made a recording, they wanted to play live, and when they played live, they just wanted to do more recording.
In order to turn this selfish kind of thinking into a reality, they held a secret gig at Shinjuku Loft on January 24th. It was also Higuchi’s birthday that day. Changing their name to “Bluck-Tlick” for the evening, they performed on the stage at Loft for the first time in a year. In was a very nostalgic experience for them. They played many songs and instrumentals from before their major debut, they got to enjoy the live house atmosphere that they’d been missing for a while.
“Even though we’re able to play big places now, we’d always like to be able to return to playing shows at small live houses,” the five of them agreed after they finished the show, dizzy, disheveled, and dripping with sweat.
The tour that began in March was a large-scale tour with 33 different stops on it. It also included the “Tohoku Rock Circuit” event, meaning the band had a tough schedule to keep to. In addition, they had to fit in recording sessions for their second album. Physically and mentally, it was a very taxing time for the band. They had to come and go between Tokyo and the cities they were touring in, and that alone took time, but on top of that, they had radio and television appearances and magazine interviews. Their schedule was packed to the gills. Every day, they ended up completely exhausted, fell into bed, and slept like the dead until morning, when they had to start the whole routine over.
Imai was thinking vaguely of a concept for their new album. He had all sorts of ideas, but no time to make anything out of them. He regretted it, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was used to composing at home in his messy room. The hotel rooms the band was staying in were too clean, and Imai felt constrained and unable to relax into the right mental state to write melodies and lyrics. Even though he was tired to the bone, he wanted to write music in his own room.
One night while he was playing guitar at home, Imai started to record phrases and melodies into his 4-channel deck. Even though he hadn’t slept properly in days, he continued to stay up late. The deadline for the album was coming ever nearer. Even so, one night, he fell asleep in spite of himself. When he woke up again and noticed he had been sleeping, he was very surprised—even though he’d been sleeping, he’d continued to play guitar. Every day, the new album was a constant thought in his mind, but there just wasn’t enough time as he wanted there to be.
Sakurai had a complex about his voice. As the tour progressed, his throat started to bother him. However, he couldn’t sing less well at each live just to go easy on his throat. Rather, each night while he was singing, he couldn’t think about the next day at all. Before their major debut, Sakurai had had voice training for a short time. Until then he’d been self-taught, but when the band went major, they had to play more lives more frequently, and a staff member had suggested that Sakurai learn the basics of how to articulate and use his throat from voice teacher. The band’s busy schedule meant that Sakurai only ever got a few lessons, but one thing he learned from his teacher was that as a vocalist, he had to do everything possible to take care of his throat. Sakurai wanted to sing, but it was frustrating for him when he couldn’t make himself sound the way he wanted to. He had the regret of the vocalist who stands on stage and has no voice. During the tour, Sakurai decided to stop drinking alcohol completely, even on the days when they didn’t play lives.
In only two hours, the 3,000 tickets for the band’s “P-T” concert on April 1st had sold out. Everything was moving so fast around the band that they found it impossible to imagine the slow pace their lives had moved at only the previous year. Amidst all the business, they didn’t want to lose sight of themselves and Buck-Tick. Whenever they felt there was danger of that happening, they would find some free time, or even just make time while they were on the road in their tour bus, and have a meeting. The members talked thoroughly about a plan to keep any accidents from happening.
“We don’t want to just be swept along. We don’t want music and the band to just be a job.”
Unsurprisingly, the hot topic of the meeting ended up being time. The band members wanted time to relax, mentally and physically. In order to do that, they decided to rearrange their schedule. They decided to do whatever they needed to to get the things that would help them keep Buck-Tick as Buck-Tick.
On June 21st, their second major-label full-length album, Seventh Heaven, was released. The concepts were “angels and devils” and “heaven and hell.” In the lyrics, which centered on these contrasts and the keyword “heaven,” Sakurai and Imai expressed their individuality clearly—Sakurai focused on emotions, while Imai focused more on descriptions.
After the band finished making the album, the stage concept for their tour that would begin in October became clear in their minds. But before they could start thinking about how much they wanted to play live, they had to make another album, which was due before the end of the year. Starting in September, they had a month of recording overseas. On the first of September, they headed to London.
They were frustrated that they didn’t get to rehearse as much as they wanted and that the lyrics didn’t always come out right; they were homesick; and the food was unappetizing, but the completion of their third album, Taboo, made them forget all of this. Their feeling was, “We went and made an awesome record!”
They wanted to show off their new sound in Japan immediately. Their new tour would start on October 13th at the Shibuya Kokaido and end with their first-ever performance at the Nippon Budoukan. They would even be playing two days at the Budoukan, and they would stand on that famous stage only one year and two months since their debut. However, the October tour concept focused on their second album. They had to adjust their minds quickly. As performers, they were dissatisfied that they couldn’t play their most recent work.
During the tour, Sakurai noticed he was very nervous. The band’s schedule was too busy and he just couldn’t manage to do everything he was supposed to do for Buck-Tick. When he thought about it, he felt like he’d been slipping into a manic-depressive state. He tried to control his mind so that he wouldn’t let his feelings show during lives. He struggled desperately not cave in to all the pressure that was on him.
Released on October 26th, “Just One More Kiss,” Buck-Tick’s first single, made it into the Top 10. The band decided to perform on a music television program. That way, during those three minutes on the tube, they, Buck-Tick, would be able to appeal with their individuality to countless hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of people. More than their bleached, spiked-up hair, their makeup, or their looks, they had confidence in the band as a whole and the melody and lyrics of the song. They began to show this new attitude in the magazine interviews tied in with the tour, as well. They’d gained more confidence after making their third album and they wanted to show it by being more self-directed and forward-thinking.
Magazine interviewers continued to be interested only in the band’s looks, and again and again, the band shot down their questions with the answer “No.” The five of them decided to handle it this way because they didn’t want everyone to get hung up on just one thing about them.
“When will you let your hair down?” they were asked.
They were a band that had always done whatever they felt like if they thought it was cool.
“We’ll take our hair down when we feel like it,” was their answer.
And so they spent the incredibly busy year of 1988, right down to the party celebrating the Japan Record Awards, at which they won “Rookie of the Year.” They felt as if three years had gone by in the past year, and it had all happened so fast. Perhaps it wasn’t their most free year, but they couldn’t have done more than they did in those 365 days.
Their third album Taboo, which was released on January 18th, 1989, broke 25,000 copies in pre-order sales even before its release, and the tickets for their two concerts at the Budoukan on the 19th and 20th of January sold out in a single day. Buck-Tick once again felt like they were making a fresh start with the beginning of 1989—this was the new, “free Buck-Tick.” At the Budoukan and with their third album, they wanted to make everyone hear this in their music.
After the Budoukan, where would they go? What would Buck-Tick do now? Everyone around them was calling them “the hasty guys.” However, the members thought, “We’ll just do what we want, when we want to do it.”
Staring up at the high, wide ceiling of the Budoukan, Sakurai spoke for all five members as he said to the audience, “That was the best night ever!” and then, through the cheering voices pouring down even from the top of the third balcony, he added, “Someday, somewhere, let’s love each other again!”