Ongaku to Hito March 2018
Sakurai Atsushi No. 0 Interview
translated by Cayce

OtH: We finally get to hear the real version of the single.

Sakurai: The “real” version? (laughs) Was there a fake version?

OtH: No, but this song was first released as a remix by Mr. Takkyuu.

Sakurai: That's also the real version (laughs). But, I guess you're right. You wouldn't know the original song from Takkyuu's version.

OtH: It was quite a tease! (laughs) It's a nice song.

Sakurai: It is. This was the first or second song that we wrote for this album.

OtH: Was “Moon” part of the working title?

Sakurai: No, not at all. The working title was a much vaguer word that I'd never heard before.

OtH: Never heard before? Please, tell us. (laughs)

Sakurai: Please ask Imai.

OtH: So you were the one who chose the title “Moon – Tell Me Goodbye.” What kinds of feelings were you having when you wrote the lyrics to this song?

Sakurai: Well, the song has a gentle melody and chord progression. So I started there, and then there were various situations on the days when I was writing, and information I'd absorbed, and all of that informed the lyrics I wrote.

OtH: The moon is a motif you've worked with again and again over the years.

Sakurai: It is… maybe this is obvious, but it's the opposite of the sun. Shadows exist precisely because there is light and brightness. Somehow, that's where my sensibility always ends up. I think I find it calming. When the sun is shining bright, I always feel like I have to begin something, like a new year… a new semester...

OtH: Hahaha. Just because of the sun?

Sakurai: I just feel that way compulsively. But on the flip side, the moon always calms me. In the evening, when I see the moon come out at twilight, I feel like I can finally relax.

OtH: Like it's “your” time of day.

Sakurai: That's right.

OtH: These lyrics are written in women's speech. Does that mean this is more of a story than a song about you, personally?

Sakurai: That's right. Yes. You could say I'm fully performing a role, but the gender doesn't matter. It could be a woman, or it could be a man. But I felt that women's speech was gentler and softer and fit more easily into the song. So I decided I would play the role. It has nothing to do with gender.

OtH: I get the sense you've been using women's speech more and more in recent years.

Sakurai: ...doesn't it? I feel like I did it earlier, too, though.

OtH: You definitely did it earlier. But now you're able to get all pumped up to sing the role of the entirely fictional image of a woman in Imai's “The Seaside Story.” I think that kind of style has made more of an impression lately.

Sakurai: Uh… well, I guess I want to transcend gender. It's part of the job. I think it's more interesting for the audience if I have fun trying out different sorts of things. The moment I get embarrassed about this kind of thing, I'm finished.

OtH: True. You getting embarrassed would be a turn-off!

Sakurai: Yeah. But I think it's only recently that I've really become able to get pumped up about it like I do now. It's become more fun for me, too. I feel like I'm transforming into something else.

OtH: I suppose your image is similar to David Bowie's pansexuality. Or maybe it's a more Japanese image of femininity.

Sakurai: Yeah. ...I think it's more Japanese style. Bowie's calculated androgyny was certainly surprising as a work of art, but when I act a role for myself, it's the refined femininity of ancient Japan, but with power. That's what I become. In fact, I have a number of friends and acquaintances like that. Men, but with women's souls, something like that. When I look at people like them, I think… “it suits them so naturally,” or “I quite like this.” They also seem very gentle to me… what we were talking about, again? (laughs)

OtH: Hahaha. This is interesting. Please continue.

Sakurai: I suppose I have a bit of that element or quality myself. When I was a child, I felt more comfortable playing with girls. Even now I sometimes get told that I'm “feminine.”

OtH: If you went down that path, do you think you could love a man?

Sakurai: Yes.

OtH: ...what kind of interview is this, anyway? (laughs)

Sakurai: Of course, it's a bit different from sexual romantic love. But when I look at someone like Issay, he doesn't have exactly the same aesthetic as I do, but when I talk with people like him I think, “oh, I love this person!” I think that's fine. I think we should be free of the “men should be manly!” line of thinking.

OtH: Yes. So now at last, I'd like to ask you about the album. I feel like it's the quintessential Buck-Tick. It covers everything you've done up till now, and everything you're doing now, in a completely natural way.

Sakurai: Oh, I'm happy to hear that, so thank you. I don't mean this in the same way as what we were just talking about with the femininity thing, but I think this album is more free. I had no sense of “this is how I have to do things” for each song, and I think I managed to be free in my choice of words and style of expression. There are many types of songs, but at this point, I think I can say I gave my very best response to each one. 

OtH: You seemed to be very tired out after the recording.

Sakurai: I was. The more albums we release and the older I get, I get more and more wrapped up in it. It's not like I pour all my strength in, like “I've got to show them something!” but I've got this voice inside that asks “Is this good enough? Are you satisfied with this?” Something like “are you being too objective, are you holding back?” That kind of internal pressure has really increased in me. So I get too absorbed in it, then get annoyed.

OtH: Hahaha. You get annoyed at yourself?

Sakurai: Yeah. I feel like I'm getting in my own way.

OtH: But what if it's an invitation to yourself?

Sakurai: I think… I'm trying to force myself to be honest with myself. Like, don't stop halfway, get it all out. When I do that inside my head, I think it's more fun for me.

OtH: It does sound fun.

Sakurai: Fun… I think maybe fun isn't exactly the right word. But I imagine things in my head, and chase after them, and I write the lyrics while listening to my own voice, and then I come back to myself all of a sudden and think “What am I thinking? This is icky!” Both of us think that.

OtH: Hahahahaha! "Both of us!"

Sakurai: Like, “Why am I doing something like this?” “No, this is the way it should be.” 

OtH: ...But you don't talk to yourself while doing it, do you?

Sakurai: I don't know. Maybe I talk to myself.

OtH: That proves how absorbed you are. But the lyrics don't necessarily equate to you yourself. Especially this time, there are a lot of songs that are completely fiction, and I can't tell whether they're light or dark, happy or sad.

Sakurai: Yes, that's right.

OtH: The first song, “Type-Zero Model 13 'Love'” is like that. It could be sadness that will die, or joy that will be born – it could be interpreted either way. I can't figure out the answer.

Sakurai: It's fine if you can't. (smirk) Imai said “this should be the first song on the album,” and I told him I'd try to write suitable lyrics. But try listening to it right after track 13...

OtH: Oh! ...I see. It's connected.

Sakurai: It is. And you can arrive at another interpretation that way.

OtH: Joy is the opposite to sadness, and death is the opposite of life, so they can't be broken apart. You have to have both, so they're mixed into the first song.

Sakurai: Yes. That's how I feel lately. Before, I felt like I was doing each separately… what happened?

OtH: Hahahahaha!

Sakurai: I think… I wanted to express both sweetness and madness. In songs, in words, and in performance. I wanted to go more from micro to macro, and have the audience imagine and experience all kinds of worlds in their minds. And somehow, I feel like it's a waste, to have a defined story in order to explain that. If you hear it and don't understand, I think that's fine. If you loosen up your thinking a little bit, you start to realize that nothing's certain, and so the work that I make comes to belong to everyone who listens to it. I want you to take it and make it yours.

OtH: I see. On this album, the song I find most interesting is “Night of Guernica.” At first it feels like a confessional sort of heavy rock song, like “Mudai,” for example.

Sakurai: I see what you mean.

OtH: But then it goes from real to fiction, and fills up with a huge message. I was surprised by the dual structure of the song. Is that what you were aiming for?

Sakurai: I wasn't exactly “aiming” for anything. If I aim for something, I end up spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I just listened to the voice that said, “write about something you've actually felt.” So I don't know why the song ended up like this. I suppose this is the only thing I could make it be.

OtH: So the beginning is about your own personal memory, of “beloved older brother,” which is a very concrete image.

Sakurai: It was something that actually happened to me. The first movie I ever saw in the theater with my older brother was “Benji,” which is a film about a dog. There was only one movie theater in Fujioka, and they played double features. The second film was called “The Clocks Were Alive,” and it was about the bombing of Maebashi. The impression it made on me never left me. I'll never forget it. 

[Note from Cayce: Fujioka is the small town in Gunma prefecture where the Buck-Tick members grew up. Maebashi is one of Gunma's two major cities.]

OtH: Is that the connection to the war theme?

Sakurai: No, “Guernica” was the working title of the demo Imai made. I could choose to follow the pattern set by Imai, or I could write my own story that had nothing to do with Imai's. For this song, I decided to imagine how the world of “Guernica” would unfold for me, and I thought of the time I went to the movies with my brother.

OtH: But there's more than one interpretation here, too. The image of bombings must be mixed up in the experiences from your childhood. There's also the question of what a person who sings loves songs should do in times like these. It gives me chills!

Sakurai: That's right. I ask myself honestly, “Do you have a right to lecture others? Aren't you living in comfortable complacency yourself?” That's another place where I told myself, “I have to say it straight.” Of course, I have no answer, so I keep going around and around. But I decided I'd write about it. When you get to be my age, you have things to protect. Partly, this song is my own thoughts on our current era.

OtH: It's very honest and realistic, but it's not a painful confession. I could say this about the whole album, but I think Buck-Tick are really entertainment at heart.

Sakurai: Well… I'm glad if you take it that way. After all, it is music. Lately I've been more aware of that. It might not show up everywhere, but it is a form of entertainment.

OtH: Entertainment doesn't have to make you smile.

Sakurai: That's right. Bittersweet, I guess… though it isn't. I admire that kind of sensibility, and wish I could express myself that way. At circus, or a theme park for children, the people who work there put on a show through living it, they make it their lifestyle. I think… that's wonderful. It's a beautiful thing to make people laugh, and it's a beautiful thing to offer people a catharsis through tears.

OtH: Circus performers pack up their tents and travel all over the world. That must be an amazing life, but for them, travel must be a normal part of their routine.

Sakurai: Yeah. There's a film about that. About the kids who were raised backstage.

OtH: I wonder if you have a bit of a similar experience, as a member of Buck-Tick.

Sakurai: Yes. Lately… I've got to be prepared for it.

OtH: It's not like you've got an on-off switch, right?

Sakurai: No. Because they're both the same. After all, if someone came up to me on the street and I said “you've got the wrong man!” wouldn't that be bizarre? (laughs) Who would I be, in that case?

OtH: So you've come to accept your life as “Sakurai Atsushi of Buck-Tick.”

Sakurai: That's right. Exactly. Of course, when I'm busy with work, I have to push myself to fill the role entirely. But usually, if I said “I'm not him right now,” I think I'd be wrong. I couldn't say it's natural… but I don't want it to be unnatural. But please don't bother me about it.

OtH: Could you have said that about yourself five years ago?

Sakurai: Hm, I'm not sure about five years ago. Of course, I don't think there was a specific catalyst for it, but the more performances I give, the more I change. I'm more aware of being polite and doing the thing properly.

OtH: I wonder if your solo project had anything to do with that. That gave you the chance to express all the darkness you were holding inside, which allowed you to see Buck-Tick as entertainment and continue as part of the band.

Sakurai: Hm, maybe so. Yeah. Now, I think I've really come to understand my own role for myself.