Yamamoto Kyōji's Dream Session Interview Vol. 13 / Guest: DAITA

Yamamoto Kyōji (山本恭司)

Leader, guitarist and vocalist of the hard rock band BOWWOW. With superb and overwhelming sound and technique he became a pioneer of the Japanese heavy metal movement. At the time of his debut he got into the news with tours with KISS and Aerosmith. Later he was active in Europe for over three years, with London as his base. He was popular overseas also, his song entering charts in England. Besides his band, he has been active releasing guitar instrumental albums and touring with Yazawa Eikichi.
More info (BOWWOW official site)

Born on June 19th in Tōkyō. He started playing guitar in third grade of junior high school. Gets a guitar as a present when he enters senior high school and starts playing in bands in earnest. After playing in a few bands he joins SIAM SHADE in July 1993. He makes his major label debut from Sony Records in October 1995 as the guitarist of SIAM SHADE. Their biggest hit is the single "1/3 no junjou na kanjou", released November 1997, which sells over 800,000 copies. With his recognized playing ability, he has succeed in many large-scale shows at places such as Nippon Budōkan, National Yoyogi First Gymnasium and Yokohama Arena. While active with SIAM SHADE, DAITA's sense in songwriting and his superior mastery of guitar techniques receive attention and he collaborates with other artists. SIAM SHADE releases 16 singles and 9 albums, and after about six and half years of activity they break up with a concert at Nippon Budōkan that sets an audience record. After that he starts his solo career.
DAITA Official Site

Following Kyōji, until the formation of SIAM SHADE, and even after the breakup

A basketball playing boy awakens to the “roaring sound”

Yamamoto: Everyone is bound to have some turning points in their lives. I think it's fair to say that for you, joining SIAM SHADE and its breakup are big turning points. Where there any points before those when your life took a big turn?

DAITA: It's gotta be the time when I started playing the guitar. It was when I was in the third grade of junior high school.

Yamamoto: Where was it again that you were born and grew up?

DAITA: In Setagaya Ward, Chitose Karasuyama. I lived there until I was 18. When I was little I was made to learn the piano with my older sister.

Yamamoto: Now that's high society. Did you keep playing the piano or did you get sick of it?

DAITA: Yeah, I totally grew sick of it. My parents made my try different sports too. I started playing soccer, and I also played baseball at the same time and I had swimming too. And then there was the piano, so it was very tough. Then, in fourth grade of elementary school, the first sport that I chose myself was basketball.

Yamamoto: Basketball comics were popular back then.

DAITA: That's true. And so, for six years until the third grade of junior high school it was all basketball.

Yamamoto: Why did such a sports boy pick up the guitar?

DAITA: While in junior high school, I also belonged to the basketball club. In the third grade I was the captain. A while into the third grade, one of my friends started skipping the club activity. Because I was the captain, I had to find out why he was absent. And I found out that he had started a band.

Yamamoto: Go on.

DAITA: Then, I thought that I'd make him resume the club activity even if I had to drag him back, and I went to take a peek at the studio. It had a great impact on me. The first time I heard the roaring sound of the instruments, I thought: “What is this sound!?”. That's when I awakened. It was like the saying: “You go for wool and come home shorn”...

Yamamoto: In my case I was in the gymnastics club during the three years of junior high school. I was thinking of doing it even after going to senior high school, but after seeing a rock movie I was awakened to music. I started skipping club activity like your friend. You really can't forget the excitement of the first time you plug your guitar into the amp and hit the strings. You know how you build up some weird stress during the middle and senior high school. Anyway, it makes you want to shout in a loud voice. And when you're armed with a guitar and an amp you can shout all you want. You get addicted to that feeling; it becomes your catharsis.

DAITA: That's true. It feels like the sound of the electric guitar, if you don't mind the cliché, is the “shout of your soul”. Of course there are people who feel the soul of the sound of drums and bass, and that's all fine.

Yamamoto: Back when I was young, there was the folk song boom. You know with the folk guitar it's just “chang!” and there's no sustain. If you liken that to a shout, it' would be like “Ah!” But with an electric guitar it's “Uwaaaaaah!”, long and fierce. It really feels like it's voicing your feelings. That's gotta be what makes you lose yourself in it.

Yamamoto: By the way, do you remember the first time when you heard the sound of an electric guitar? The first times when I saw it on TV, it was the surf rock guitar sound. Or with distortion, it was the fuzz sound. So my first impressions weren't really that good. How was it for you?

DAITA: I thought that it was cool. Though I didn't really listen to rock that closely before I started playing. I think that I was listening — because of the influence of my sister — to Wham! and other popular top chart music that would play on FM. There was also the theme of the movie Rocky; we were made to dance to that at an elementary school sports day. And, what can I say, maybe also JOURNEY's music. I found out that what sounded cool to me in the music that I naturally listened to, was the sound of the guitar.

Yamamoto: Oh, that's right, that was already when the beautiful refined sound of the rock guitar was popular with the public. So that is where the roots of your current sound are.

Falling off the stage at the final Budōkan concert!

Yamamoto: What kind of music did you play in your high school band?

DAITA: “Beat rock”, (1) I guess. It was the time when that was popular. In Japan it was Boøwy and such. Also that was when the word Japameta [Japanese metal] was born. I would practice by looking at magazines and copying what the people who were in them were doing. It was like, “I see, so this is how you play it”. As a guitarist you tend to look for music that has a prominent guitar sound.

Yamamoto: You can say that again. So, were you also listening to instrumentals?

DAITA: Yes, a lot. There were a lot of instrumentals in those magazines.

Yamamoto: Wasn't that the time when fusion and studio musicians were attracting attention?

DAITA: That's right. There were also lots of albums where fusion musicians were doing rock-ish stuff. That kind of stuff was prominent in the magazines. For a guitarist it's attractive as practice material. After seeing it in the magazines, I would go straight to practicing.

Yamamoto: Since you had played the piano, copying must have been easy for you?

DAITA: No, not at all. It was not that kind of easy material. I didn't even know the proper way of playing. I was doing it by trial-and-error one after another. “This is where you play with a pick and here you hit with your left hand finger.” Back then new words like “sweep” appeared. Like, what's economy picking? (laughs)

Yamamoto: Is that picking that's good to the environment? (laughs) Hahaha, I still don't know all that well.

DAITA: I think that that's what you end up doing when you play like you want to play. But since the magazines explained them so carefully, I would get depressed and feel like a blockhead when I couldn't do it. Since I started guitar late and wasn't among the best players in our group, they would say to me: “What, you still can't play that?” There was a kind of “I can't stand losing to him” battle going on in our neighborhood.

Yamamoto: Hahaha, I can understand that very well. The ones who become pros are those who really can't stand losing. So, were you performing live when you were in high school?

DAITA: Back then you were still allowed to play during “hokoten”, so I performed quite a lot. It was also the time of the “ikaten” boom. (2)

Yamamoto: By the way, were your songs originals?

DAITA: Yeah. The guitar playing had a little hard rock in it. Rhythmically it was 8th note rhythm. It was punk and hard rock mixed.

Yamamoto: That reminds me, there was a time when you worked as a model. Was it at that time?

DAITA: No, it was a little after that. I was asked to join the band that preceded SIAM SHADE when I graduated from high school. This band — it was called POWER by the way — had my classmate from junior high school playing bass and it won the first prize at the Yokohama Hot Wave Festival. I quit it after half a year though. I worked as a model after I quit that band.

Yamamoto: Is that so? When you're in a band, there are lots of things to worry about, like human relations, monetary affairs, dreams and musical direction. It's like human life in microcosm. You say you weren't that good at the guitar in high school, so was it hard to keep up the motivation to continue playing? Were there times when you thought that, “Being a model is enough for me”?

DAITA: Actually, in a contest that band took part in, I won the guitarist prize. It wasn't my technical abilities that were praised, it was more like: “You've got good taste”. That changed the attitude of the people who had treated me as a bad player.

Yamamoto: Oh, they started to acknowledge your superiority. It's important to be praised. It makes you feel good and gives you a lot of enthusiasm and confidence.

DAITA: What I could add is that you had a great influence on me with VOWOW. I kept listening to you even after you went to England. I was thinking that it's possible even for a Japanese to play guitar that is accepted by the world. Since high school, it has been my dream to stand together on stage with VOWWOW.

Yamamoto: Oh my, this is an honor.

DAITA: I watched the Sunplaza video hundreds of times. Stopped and watched, stopped and watched. (laughs) The tape was all used up.

Yamamoto: Oh, that was released on DVD recently.

DAITA: Really? I'm definitely gonna buy it. The first time I bought tickets to see you at Budōkan, I got goose flesh all over.

Yamamoto: And I went to see SIAM SHADE's final concert at Budōkan. Even if I do say so myself, as you've been talking to me, it seems that we have a lot in common.

DAITA: Wow, that's great. We even had our final concerts at the same place.

Yamamoto: I didn't fall off the stage though. Hahaha. You did, didn't you? From really high. You just suddenly disappeared. I was really worried about you.

DAITA: Yeah, I really thought that I was going to die. It must have been about three meters high. I fell down face first. The support that I tried to grab was made of papier-mâché and I fell helplessly. Because I was full of adrenaline while performing, thinking that this is our breakup, I didn't feel that much pain. I took part to an encore just like that. The next day half of my body was all black from internal bleeding.

Yamamoto: Whoa...

SIAM SHADE, the truth about the breakup?

Yamamoto: This is taking the story back, but could you tell about the circumstances of the formation of SIAM SHADE?

DAITA: OK. After I quit the “predecessor”(3) band I talked about earlier, I worked as a model for about three years. One day, I received a call saying: “Let's play in a band together again.” I thought, “Why not?”, and when I went to see them, they had become a make-up band. What you call “visual-kei”.

Yamamoto: Oh, I bet you looked very pretty when you put on make-up.

DAITA: No, I'm absolutely no good with things like that. But I got into it just thinking that I would help them a little, and before you knew it, we debuted. (laughs) My old classmate was in SIAM SHADE, but there was also such people who had been leaders of their own bands in Shizuoka and Kanagawa.

Yamamoto: So in a way, it was a super band?

DAITA: Calling it super would be a little embarrassing though. Each of the members had strong opinions of their own, so we though that after we had our major label debut and had gotten it going well, we would do what we each wanted to. But it ended up continuing nearly ten years.

Yamamoto: Is that so? A good band is not just an assembly of good friends. It's best when strong personalities collide and melt together and something is born from there.

DAITA: It's indeed tough being in a band. You end up spending more time together than you would with your sweetheart. When you collide without respect there will be dissonance, not in the music, but elsewhere.

Yamamoto: You said it. But you tend to get calmer when you grow older. For example, the reunited BOWWOW. In the beginning there were all kinds of conflicts, but now it feels that we've risen above them. When you get over your period of rebelliousness and become an adult you become kind to your parents too or so. Were you a good kid at home?

DAITA: No no, I was fighting back all the time.

Yamamoto: I thought so, because I was like that also. (laughs) To get back on track, bands can indeed resemble a love affair. On the stage, that is to say, when eating out, you look like a good couple, but the moment you return home you start fighting. But no matter how much you fight, when you get on stage the band members are connected by the love of music. If that is not there then you're not going to pull through. In any case, eventually there came the time when even the big band SIAM SHADE that had had its break, lamentably broke up.

DAITA: During our final concert I had the strong feeling that “This is the same Budōkan where Kyōji was. I wonder if I'm walking the same road as him?”

Yamamoto: Hahaha, we really have a lot in common.

DAITA: That makes me glad. I think that's why I came to like your playing.

Yamamoto: Our senses must have many resemblances. So, what was the biggest reason for the breakup?

DAITA: Oh, if I say that a chill will fall over everyone, I think I can't reveal it.

Yamamoto: Wow, is that so? Um, is it that bad?

DAITA: Well, most bands have the same problem. When there are as many as five members with strong personalities, there are going to be those with good humor and those with bad humor. That's all.

Yamamoto: You could say that that is the fate of all bands.

DAITA: To us it felt that this was the time that was bound to come. To be more specific, the height of the “bar” of where to head from here was different with everyone. There were those who wanted to do this overseas, and those who wanted to continue within the country like before. It's not about who's correct; when the height that you want to jump over is different with all five people, you can't jump together anymore.

Yamamoto: I see. What may now seem trivial may have been a big problem back then. It is a shame because you were such a good band. So, what kind of activities are you into now?

DAITA: I haven't announced this elsewhere, but actually, behind the scenes, I have started a project; a band or a unit with vocals. I wrote most of SIAM SHADE's songs, so I would like to make something feeling similar to that. Also, I'm going to perform together with Himuro and GLAY again this summer. And also, since I haven't released an original album in a while, I'd like to release one or two would-be classics. Within a few years time.

Yamamoto: Just as I thought. The more we talk the more common denominators we have. Your older sister played the piano and mine played violin. That was our first experience with music; after that we both fitted together a band and instrumental solo work. And like you perform with Himuro, who you listened to during your amateur period, I also perform with Ei-chan(4) from time to time.

DAITA: It really seems like there is a direct line down from you to me. (laughs) That's right, I also really want to perform overseas like you. Like when looking at videos of BOWWOW performing overseas; and during my amateur period when I had just started playing the guitar, I still have the dream: “I want to perform together with the world's greatest on a stage like this.”

Yamamoto: I see, you hadn't performed overseas yet, right?

DAITA: I have in Korea, but I've yet to experience Europe and America.

Yamamoto: It does feel special when you perform over there, for example in London. To illustrate, when you are with your lover or wife with whom you have been for a long time, you know each other and can talk calmly and naturally. But performing overseas is like you're talking to a beautiful woman you meet for the first time. You've got to use all your tricks and put out all your good sides at once. (laughs) You know what I'm saying? Well, in any case, it was just an illustration. (laughs) Anyway, you'll also receive new incitement to your playing, so I definitely suggest that you should go.

DAITA: Um, without even going overseas, I already feel that I understand how it feels. (laughs)

Yamamoto: Was it easy to understand? Then, let's form a Japanese G3 with me, you and someone third, and go tour overseas.

DAITA: By all means!

Yamamoto: OK, let's do our best and set that as the goal. Thank you for today.
Interview postscript

It happened quite a long time ago, but when I first met DAITA, he was (obviously) a lot younger, lightly-built rock boy. I'm glad that the frankness and strength of heart that I felt that time never change, no matter how many years pass and no matter where we meet. As two of the few comrades that pursue the rock instrumental sound in Japan; as we both were enchanted by the magnificence and depth of the guitar's expressiveness, I feel that, as long as we live, we'll keep on putting out the kind of sound that stimulates us.
(Yamamoto Kyōji)

(1) "beat rock", a category original to Japan of which the perfect example is Boøwy. (List of "beat rock" artists)
(2) "hokoten" 歩行者天国 (pedestrian's ‘paradise') a street temporarily closed to vehicle traffic.
"ikaten" イカすバンド天国 (Ikasu bando tengoku / "Heaven of cool bands") a very popular TV show where amateur bands would compete.
(3) In the source the word is spelled with the wrong kanji "前進" (forward movement), should be "前身" (predecessor).
(4) Yazawa Eikichi