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FT 096 Sakurai Atsushi Interview

FT: What did you do during the stay-at-home period?

Sakurai: I relaxed. Read books, watched films. That kind of thing.

FT: Did you still have any lyrics left to write?

Sakurai: I was mostly finished with writing lyrics, but the more time I had, I was looking at my computer every day thinking, that's not it, neither is this. Every day I kept going over them. I had too much time on my hands, so I kept kneading them.

FT: Is that so? This kind of event, where people around the world are having the same experience, doesn't happen often. What did you feel, and do you think it will have an impact on your future output?

Sakurai: What I feel right now is that novel coronavirus or whatever is happening, I don't want to let it interfere with my work. I don't like it when people adopt an excessively "nice" style of expression in order to make themselves look good. That's what I mean when I say I don't want to let it influence me. That might be part of why I was revising my lyrics every day. Like, hey, are you jumping on the bandwagon? I felt like I was quickly turning into a hypocrite, so maybe that's what I was revising. I will keep being myself (laughs).

FT: Buck-Tick were forced to postpone the fan club and mobile site members only tour that was scheduled for May. What did you think about that?

Sakurai: At first, we had the tour coming, so we thought we'd set that as a goal and try to finish recording by May. But in April, the state of emergency was declared, and we decided we would do what we could to protect people. It puts the staff members in a tough position with their jobs, but we don't want to put them in danger. The studio is an enclosed space. Health is more important than anything. That's why, at that time, we decided to go along with the rest of the world and stay at home. The event promoter was wondering till the last minute what to do about the concerts. But since it's a live house tour, they decided to postpone. I felt very relieved.

FT: It's too bad, but it protects the audience members.

Sakurai: Various live houses have been painted as villains due to infections at live houses, though it is too bad. We don't know the nature of the virus, so we have no choice but to calmly go along with this.

FT: In the midst of that, you brought up something fun, with the live streams of past Buck-Tick concerts.

Sakurai: The staff members came up with lots of ideas. I'm very happy and grateful that everyone can have so much fun even at a time when the band members can't do anything. We received many messages from fans saying, "we're so relieved you postponed the tour," or, "it doesn't matter if the album release is postponed, take care of yourselves." Those kind messages encouraged us.

FT: Now, you've resumed recording. How much work do you have left to do?

Sakurai: Anii still has to do drums for two or three songs, Imai's got a little more guitar work, and we've got vocals and backing vocals for four songs. In June, it's just Anii, Imai and me who have to work hard.

FT: I see. Now, I'd like to ask about the lead single, "Moonlight Escape." How did you get the inspiration for these lyrics?

Sakurai: This was a song I'd already written back before "Datenshi," when nobody even knew the word "corona." Some news I saw about child abuse deeply affected me. Like, children have no place to escape to. It's fine to say, stay positive and hang in there, but I think for some kids, that makes them feel pressured. So I wanted to say, "it's okay to escape." Escaping doesn't in any way mean you're a coward, if you're doing it to protect yourself. From there on, it's a question of how to live on your own. That was my image for these lyrics.

FT: I felt that they were lyrics that could be interpreted in many ways. The melody is bright, with a sense of being set free.

Sakurai: It may not be "positive," but my feeling is that if you're doing it to protect yourself, even escaping is a good thing. Maybe this is a heavy subject, but as you said just now, it's a liberation. I want to say, set yourself free. As a story, I'd like people to set themselves free in their heads, and get a sense of floating or levitating.

FT: This is just my personal impression, but even now that I'm an adult, I cry when I hear "Tsubasa wo Kudasai” [a famous Japanese folk-pop song], and "Moonlight Escape" hit me in the same sensitive spot.

Sakurai: I'm very happy to hear you say that. Now that you mention it, I see how there might be some similarity in narrative. I think we understand that there's no such thing as a world without sadness, but lyrics tell a story, so I hope that when people listen to the song, they feel better, even for just a moment.

FT: How did the vocals recording go?

Sakurai: I like the melody, so I tried to become the young boy who narrates the lyrics as much as possible, to try to be honest and pure.

FT: And then there's the b-side, "Kogoeru."

Sakurai: We just decided it. For this song, I didn't want to put any damper on my emotions. I wanted to listen to it and break loose as much as I could. I wanted to try for a razor-sharp edge, so sharp you don't even feel the pain.

FT: The words aren't just sharp, they're beautiful. There were some places where your choice of each word made me say "wow" out loud. Like, I think "unzari" ("fed up") isn't a phrase you could ever use in lyrics unless you were really feeling it to the bottom of your heart.

Sakurai: I listened to it and I thought, will this really work? But I went for it. I thought, there are very few words for a sense of giving up that are stronger than that one. I thought, I've found a good word here.

FT: This is a Hoshino song. What do you think of it?

Sakurai: It's Hide's royal style. Medium tempo, with a very beautiful melody, and a sense of narrative development.

FT: When you start writing the lyrics, does a story come to you? Or do keywords come to you?

Sakurai: It's a film. Even when I read books, I see a movie in my head. In the case of "Kogoeru," I saw a film of watching the darkness from a dark room, with the blurry reflection of myself in the window, and then worked slowly to put it into words.

FT: This time, were you able to write the lyrics smoothly without getting stuck?

Sakurai: It was like that for a fair number of songs. It's bad to agonize. It's best to decide, "this is it," then keep going without getting off track from that axis point. When branches split off here and there, I get confused and I don't know what it is that I want to say.

FT:  There's a song that hasn't got vocals yet. It's a very interesting song and I can't imagine your voice singing it. Is Imai going to sing some of the songs?

Sakurai: He's bursting to sing.

FT: Oh, is he? (laughs) You can't see the whole picture yet, but at this point, what's your impression of this new album?

Sakurai: It's not in its finished form yet, but I really like it. I like it even more than our previous album, No. 0.

FT: What about it do you like better?

Sakurai: I feel I spit it all out, and as far as the vocals go, maybe this is a little bit of an overstatement, but I really feel like I breathed my soul into them.

FT: I see. I feel that from all your recent work, but do you think you took it one level higher?

Sakurai: That's right. For the past couple albums, starting from Arui wa Anarchy, I guess. In Atom Miraiha No. 9 and No. 0, I feel I added a more intense flavor. I could say I feel more personally satisfied with my vocals and with the stories of the songs. This is just my personal feeling, though.

FT: Each song has so much individuality.

Sakurai: I worked hard on that.

FT: I'm more excited than ever to hear the completed album. Now, please give a message to everyone who is looking forward to the album release tour and your future activities.

Sakurai: The world this year looks completely different than it did last year, and I think holding concerts might be difficult. Everyone, please take care of yourselves. We don't know what form they will take yet, but we'd like to play concerts if we can. Music is all we [the band members] have, so it's all we can offer for you to enjoy. First, we'd like to get the album done, and go on tour. Everyone, stay healthy, and wait a bit.