Tomoyasu Hotei [Interview]
Tomoyasu Hotei is well on his way to becoming a household name across the world. He’s long been a superstar in his native Japan, and whether they realise it or not, Western music fans have already heard Hotei’s music – most notably the modern classic ‘Battle Without Honor Or Humanity’, which featured in the Tarantino double-bill Kill Bill. Slowly but surely, Hotei is gaining still more ground – and he deserves every inch of it.
With Hotei’s new single ‘Walking Through The Night’ making waves generated through his collaboration with Iggy Pop, we got talking about Hotei’s latest endeavours while touching on life advice, flying guitars, and David Bowie…
Your first internationally released album Strangers came out a little over a year ago. How do you feel about the response it’s received so far?
Those who listened to Strangers loved the album. With Iggy Pop’s support, it was overwhelming to receive so much more interest from rock fans who hadn’t heard my music before. I played in London, Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam as well as NY and LA after the album release, and have confirmed that those audiences appreciated the album as well.
No matter how easy the internet has made it to deliver music, it is not so easy to reach the actual audience directly. It’s a totally different marketing strategy to what I was used to in Japan. However, I’m taking one step at a time and I am happy to have made this first step forward into the international market.
I’ve learned so much this year.
Strangers features an impressive list of collaborators including Iggy Pop, who provided the vocals for your new single ‘Walking Through The Night’. What was your creative process while writing and recording that song?
First a guitar riff came into my mind, then I imagined and confirmed that a modern and destructive drum sound would make for something unique. I then came up with this powerful drum sound by applying bass drums, metal sounds, a rough sound of shutting a door and the sound of gunfire as a collage. I believe the philosophy of rock is how cool you can make a “break”.
When I finished the track with my guide vocal on a simple structure, I felt the urge to find a vocalist with a very strong character. Then Iggy’s face came into my mind, especially that image he carried when he was with David Bowie in Berlin. I took a chance to share this demo through a friend, and the next thing I heard was Iggy asking me to let him hear it.
So I sent over two demos to give him a choice, and Iggy liked them both! I asked him to write lyrics for both tracks, and flew to Miami for his vocal recording. Everything was so smooth. I sincerely appreciate his gesture to accept my challenge.
You’ve been a professional musician for 35 years now; what are the top three life lessons you’ve learned over the course of such an extensive career?
Don’t stop; keep running forward.
Be yourself, and stay yourself.
If you drink alcohol, drink water [laughs]!
What is your musical philosophy?
Never be boring. I always want to keep something different, something strange.
You’re currently touring Japan – how are you finding it so far?
There are no words to express my appreciation to all the fans, and the people I work with who’ve believed in me and loved me for 35 years. Every moment I hear fans screaming to welcome me, I have to fight hard not to show my overwhelmed feeling. I’ve played almost 60 shows this year in Japan and at the same time, I managed to play in Europe and the US.
The 35th year is not the goal of my career – it’s just another starting point, and I am really proud. But it is hard work! I managed to strengthen myself both mentally and physically through diet and exercise.
If money were no object, what would your stage show look like visually?
This may sound boring to you, but I am a bit fed up with shows at huge arenas with too much decor. I don’t like to do what everybody else is doing. I want to pursue making music with an audience, with simple yet rich sounds. That is my challenge.
What’s the most random thing you’ve ever seen at one of your shows?
When I was in my twenties, a guitar I threw from the stage into the audience almost hit a girl’s face! I thought I’d have to marry her immediately [laughs]!
Fortunately, she managed to escape – but the guitar hit a guy behind her. I visited him at the hospital after the show with other band members, and he did not ask me to marry him!
David Bowie is also on your long list of past collaborators; how did playing with him influence you?
When I started playing guitar at the age of 14, I always loved whoever David chose as his guitarist. Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Adrian Belew, Reeves Gabrels. To me David was not just a vocalist – I think he was a distinctive music genre.
The main reason I chose to play guitar is because I dreamed of one day being his guitarist; things happen when you wish for them very hard. I was able to support him at one of his shows in Tokyo, and luckily I was able to play guitar with him on ‘All The Young Dudes’!
Needless to say, I felt like I was in heaven! Yet at the same time, that was the most nervous moment in my life. I played with The Rolling Stones too, but I wasn’t nervous.
If David was not on this earth, I don’t think I’d have been a musician. That’s how much David has influenced me. I really, really miss him.
How would you like to see the world change?
It is frightening to think about where the world is going. Not in a good way at all. I have a daughter, and sincerely worry about her future.
Whatever we leave on this planet, our children have to suffer with. We truly need to make a better world with freedom our children can enjoy.
What’s exciting you about the future right now?
I really want to focus and enrich my activities in the global market. I would like to work harder to raise my awareness and deliver music. My dream is to tour around the world.
But to be honest, right now I am really looking forward to finishing all the shows left for this year! Last one is on December 30th at Budokan – then I can drink beer and eat chips during the day, watch movies, and spend time however I feel like at that moment!
Thank you for interviewing me!
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