Loudness, the kings of Japanese heavy metal, are celebrating 25 years of metal mayhem by kicking off their first tour of North America in many years. Providing thunder from the east for over two decades, Loudness are legends in the metal community, and Dinosaur Rock Guitar is proud to bring you interviews with lead singer Minoru Niihara, and guitar legend, Akira Takasaki.
01/27/06 Interviews with Minoru Niihara and Akira Takasaki conducted by Dinosaur David B.
DRG: Why is the band doing a U.S. tour now after all these years? What are you trying to achieve?
Niihara: Our album Rock Shocks – with bonus tracks from our latest album Racing – will be released in the States through Crash Music, and that is one of the main reasons. Also, this year is our 25th Anniversary, so we want to do something about it. Touring the world should be great and should motivate (everyone) for the future of Loudness. Our goal is meeting people who have been waiting to see us for so long, and to rock them as much as we can in the world.
DRG: In the song Crazy Night, what does M-Z-A mean? We've been wondering for 20 years!
Niihara: Actually it does not have any meaning. When we were doing pre-production for the Thunder in the East album, I did not have any lyrics for Crazy Night then, so I sung total nonsense as a guide vocal for the demo recording. I sung “M.Z.A.” by accident and the producer Max Norman liked the line, even though that did not have any meaning. We were trying to create some cool line but we could not beat “MZA.” Max ended up deciding to use ”M.Z.A.” for the real take.
DRG: When the band was trying to crack the western markets in the 80s, you made the change to singing in English. How did that effect your lyric writing process? How did you end up with English lyrics?
Niihara: I could not speak or understand English at that time. Writing lyrics in English, I had to have some one helping re-write or translate into English from Japanese, and I still cannot write lyrics without some native English speakers. Singing in English, it is the same thing as writing English, I needed someone giving me some advice about pronunciation in the studio. For a Japanese (person) like me, singing English is such a difficult thing, because (we) Japanese cannot pronounce “L” and “R,” or “Th,” or “B” and “V” correctly. Can you imagine how difficult it was recording in English for Japanese? When I was recording in proper English for the first time in 1984, it took me about three days to record only one line, but unfortunately I still could not get the perfect pronunciation…I was about give up recording then and run away from the studio! English is always very big problem for me.
DRG: Despite some success in the early 80s, the band finally brought in a western singer in the late 80s. (Accept did the same thing). It was easy for fans to conclude that either the record company, the band, or both, figured a Western singer would fix everything. Ultimately, that decision didn't work out well for either band. What led to the Loudness reunion in 2000? Was it very hard to reconcile what had happened, or was it just a necessity for both you and the band?
Niihara: It had been more than twelve years since I had left the band. Twelve years makes people become more mature. I did not have any bad feelings when Akira called me up in 2000. Akira said on the phone: “It is the 20th Anniversary coming up soon; do you want to do something about the 20th Anniversary with the original lineup then? Let’s try to do something again!” We had a meeting about a reunion and it wound up that we could totally understand each other. Anyway, we did a 20th Anniversary Tour in Japan in 2000 and it was a very successful tour. We had a another meeting and we decided to continue the band as much as we can.
DRG: When you and the band reunited, you returned to singing some albums in Japanese. At this point in the band's career, what determines if a Loudness album is going to have English or Japanese lyrics?
Niihara: Simply and honestly answering this, as I explained above, singing in English takes me forever to finish recording. But we did not have enough time to record in all English, so singing in a mixture of English and Japanese is the only one way to go.
DRG: Loudness has had great success in Japan, and Europe there is still a large interest. How do you feel about the state of music in America?
Niihara: I know pure Metal is not the mainstream music in America, but still there are metal fans out there. That is the most important thing to me. So I do not care about fashion so much, but I enjoy it though.
DRG: There is a general opinion Loudness doesn't sound Japanese, but more like a British or American band. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Any comments?
Niihara: Being like nobody is important. If you think we are Japanese, that is totally fine with us.
DRG: Looking back, what are your favorite Loudness albums?
Niihara: For myself, Hurricane Eyes is one of my favorite albums.
DRG: Tell us about your musical endeavors outside of Loudness.
Niihara: My second solo album, Ashes to Glory will be released on February 22nd through the Tokuma Communications. The drummer is Vinny Appice, the bassist is Jeff Pilson, and on guitar is Akihiro Tagawa. Please check this out!
DRG: Japanese artists are virtually unknown outside of Japan, with the exception of Loudness, EZO, and some of the J Pop acts like Puffy AmiYumi. A country that loves hard rock and metal as much as Japan does is bound to have some really hot players. What other heavy bands and guitarists from Japan should we be listening to?
Niihara: Sorry I don’t know much about the Japanese rock scene though, Akihiro Tagawa who plays on my solo album should be the one. Check this guy out. You will be blown away!
The second part of this interview is with Loudness guitarist, Akira Takasaki.
DRG: Did you take formal lessons growing up, or are you self taught? How much did you practice in your formative years.
Takasaki: I am self-taught. I used to practice for six hours a day!
DRG: We hear a lot of influences in your guitar style. Who were the most important players to your development, and can you tell us what you learned from each of them?
Takasaki: I learned the basics from Ritchie Blackmore, and I learned rock from Jimi Hendrix.
DRG: You have a talent for creating great guitar riffs. Do riffs come to you easily, or is that something that you have to work hard on?
Takasaki: Thank you – the riffs come naturally.
DRG: You developed your own fingerboard tapping style. Can you describe how your approach is different from Van Halen's and other players who are associated with tapping?
Takasaki: My tapping could be a part of a song, because I tap percussively.
DRG: What types of things do you practice on to keep your chops as sharp as they are?
Takasaki: I play slap-bass, which helps.
DRG: What do you see as your own strengths and weaknesses as a guitar player?
Takasaki: Either way, the sound I create is LOUD!
DRG: Have you ever done an Instructional Guitar Video. Would you consider doing one?
Takasaki: No. I’m not an instructor, so I will never do that.
DRG: How do you get your guitar sound in the studio? How do you record your guitar?
Takasaki: Not only do I get my sound, but I wait for my soul to rapture so I can rock.
DRG: At what point of the songwriting process do you compose your guitar solos? What are your favorite guitar solos that you've recorded?
Takasaki: The guitar solos come at the end. My favorite guitar solos are on my solo album, “Ki,” which came out in 1994.
DRG: Why did you get involved with Killer Guitars? Was there a specific goal you were trying to achieve? Will Killer guitars ever have distribution outside Japan?
Takasaki: I hope to have distribution overseas.
DRG: How did you come up with the design for the KG-Prime guitar?
Takasaki: I suddenly came up with a design in my mind, and drew it.
DRG: Have you ever had any offers to join any Western bands?
Takasaki: Many times.
DRG: What bands and guitarists are your favorites currently?
Takasaki: Jimi Hendrix.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Loudness for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved.