When X Japan leader Yoshiki began plotting his own Japanese supergroup called the Last Rockstars, his model wasn't just another rock band. It was the Avengers. And for that mission, he's recruited some major figures from the Japan rock scene: vocalist Hyde and guitarists Sugizo and Miyavi.
With Yoshiki sitting behind the drums and his plexiglass grand piano, this new rock-pop-metal-classical-electronic-folk quartet debuted this month with a brief tour through Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, along with a self-titled single: "The Last Rockstars (Paris Mix)." On February 10th, the band ended their first tour with a night at the Hollywood Palladium, with blasts of fire, confetti and guitar pyrotechnics, as excited fans pushed through the packed floor toward the stage.
Along the way, the quartet collided their disparate musical interests, including classical piano passages from Yoshiki, and a wild guitar duel between Miyavi (a.k.a. "the Samurai Guitarist") and Sugizo (also a member of X Japan). There were cover versions of songs from their various projects (X Japan, L'arc-en-Ciel, etc.) and a performance of their upcoming second single, the frantic "Psycho Love," offering a clue to the music still to come as this new act works to complete a debut album.
"I'm very grateful to be working with those amazing talents," Yoshiki tells us in an interview at his Los Angeles home the next day. "It was cool. I mean, we only started this band, like, three months ago."
HOW DID THIS BAND COME TOGETHER?
YOSHIKI A few years ago I was thinking about creating some kind of a collaboration. In the hip-hop world everybody is always "featuring" someone. I thought that was amazing. So why can't rock artists do that? Maybe I can make something like the Avengers, right? Then I started talking to each one of them separately about my vision. Then COVID hit. Maybe it's not the time. [Laughs]. Then during COVID, Hyde asked me, "What happened to this band? I want to see you play drums." I've been playing classical music a lot. OK, so then let's do that.
WHAT DO EACH OF THE BAND MEMBERS BRING TO THIS?
Hyde is a good friend of mine. We became very close in the past several years. Amazing singer from L'Arc-en-Ciel. He also has his solo band. Miyavi I've known for a long time — amazing guitar player, amazing artist. He has amazing dance skills. Sugizo, I don't know how to thank him. I've known him for years. He also joined X Japan over 10 years ago.
HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE LAST ROCKSTARS IS DIFFERENT FROM X JAPAN? THE SOUND AT THE HOLLYWOOD PALLADIUM HAD A VERY CONTEMPORARY EDGE TO IT.
You are so right. We started creating the songs from the get-go in the past several months. Of course, we added some of our bands' cover songs. We talked about the direction of the sound: Let's go a little more electric, kind of EDM-ish, also rock. That's the vision.
It's not that easy — maybe [the other band members] feel the same way [laughs] — to put those rock stars together in one room. But at the same time, it's very exciting. Everyone has their own experience, so we just put all our experiences together. That's why everything came so quickly, and we started rehearsing less than a month ago. We had numerous hours of meetings and rehearsal, and just dedicated everything to this.
YOU'VE KNOWN ALL THESE MUSICIANS A LONG TIME. WHY DID THIS COLLABORATION ONLY HAPPEN NOW?
The timing's right. As a drummer, I don't know how long I'm going to be able to be playing the drums. I play pretty hard. Hyde, the vocalist, he kind of convinced me: "You can be playing classic piano many more years later. But why don't you play drums right now?" Hmm. "If you are not playing with the X Japan right this moment, can you do it with me?" Like, sure. [Laughs]
IN THE PAST, YOU'VE OFTEN APPEARED ONSTAGE WEARING BRACES ON YOUR ARM AND NECK, BECAUSE OF PERFORMANCE INJURIES. BUT NOT ON THIS TOUR.
My doctors were there last night, too: "What are you doing?" I've been thinking about the future. Many years from now, I may end up saying, "This could be the last show" or whatever. I don't know how long it's going to last. Could be a few more shows. It could be 50 more. I don't think it's going to be a hundred though. [Laughs] I didn't headbang that much. I was just hitting [the drums] very hard.
WILL YOU BE CREATING MORE SONGS TOGETHER?
Everybody has their own thing, as well. So some of them are going to New York tonight. Some of them going to Tokyo tomorrow. It's kind of miracle to have all those members same time.
SUPERGROUPS DON'T ALWAYS LAST LONG BECAUSE THEY SOMETIMES DON'T GET ALONG. HOW HAS IT BEEN WITH THE LAST ROCKSTARS?
You'll see. [Laughs] So far, somehow it's working.
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM DOING THE SHOW ON TOUR?
Every single second is a favorite moment because it's so nice to see our fans enjoying it. My favorite moment is when I jump into the crowd. [Laughs]
YOU MAKE A POINT OF FITTING A LOT OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF MUSIC IN THE SET. WHAT'S THE IDEA BEHIND THAT?
Of course, we are based on rock & roll music, but I have a classical music background. Sugizo is a violinist. Miyavi has a more dance-music vibe. Hyde and myself have punk rock. So why not combine those genres? It doesn't have to be one genre.
WHILE LAST ROCKSTARS ALREADY SEEMS TO BE MOVING AT A GOOD PACE, YOU'VE BEEN WORKING ON AN X JAPAN RECORD FOR A VERY LONG TIME.
The X Japan record is pretty much done. It's just timing the release. I haven't found the right timing yet. I've been also collaborating with some other artists, and we have not released that yet. But [the Last Rockstars], we decided to play those seven shows — Tokyo and New York and Los Angeles shows. So we had no choice to put everything together. I think it worked. [Laughs]
I know my X Japan fans might be very frustrated. I completely understand. I take every single responsibility and blame and everything. But the timing is not right yet.
DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE OUT THIS YEAR?
We spent so many years on making this album, so when timing's right, I would like to release that. I mean, countless hours. Wow. The last X Japan [album] was what — 23, 24 years ago? [Laughs] Yeah, unbelievable. Do [we] have, like, a Guinness record? It is nothing to be proud of, but I'm so grateful that our fans are still supporting us.
YOU STARTED THE LAST ROCKSTARS TOUR IN TOKYO?
Yes. Four nights. Of course, after every single show we are adjusting — before the show, after the show, we kept having meetings, meetings after meetings, let's do this, let's do that. Let's add more guitar, or let's make the song shorter or longer, blah, blah, blah. So it's evolving in a good way. I was still creating the opening theme song the day of the show — at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. I was working in a recording studio. Our first show was, like, 12,000 people.
DURING THE HOLLYWOOD SHOW, YOU MENTIONED GENE SIMMONS WAS IN THE AUDIENCE. DID YOU TALK TO HIM THERE?
Yeah, he kindly came to the show. I talked to him right before and right after. He said the musicianship was amazing, how we connected to the audience was great. Coming from him means a lot to me, you know?
YOU'RE A BIG KISS FAN, AND HAVE BEEN SINCE YOU WERE A KID. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS BEING THEIR FAREWELL TOUR?
I hope KISS is going to be going on tour forever, but at the same time, I don't know. I mean, can you imagine? Their costumes are so heavy, too. It's not just show up onstage and play. They put in so much effort, you know? I played with them at Tokyo Dome a few years ago. I'm forever a KISS fan.
THERE'S A MOMENT DURING THE LAST ROCKSTARS SET WHERE THE GUITAR PLAYERS ARE DUELING LIKE TWO EDDIE VAN HALENS.
That's my idea, because we have two amazing guitar players. Why don't we do a guitar battle? They have two very different styles. Miyavi slap the guitars – he's developed his own style, which is amazing. Sugizo comes from a classical-music background. Also, he's very influenced by New Wave — he's not coming from a heavy-metal background. Those two guitarists collide. That was magical moment.
ARE THERE CURRENT ROCK DRUMMERS THAT YOU LIKE?
I met the band called Måneskin. I think they're an amazing rock band, very fashionable, cool style.
DO YOU STILL LISTEN TO A LOT OF METAL MUSIC?
I listen to Slipknot. Of course, I'm always a big fan of Iron Maiden, Metallica. Several months ago I was in San Francisco and bumped into Lars [Ulrich] and Dave Grohl. We did a selfie together, three drummers. Really amazing. I'm so grateful to somehow know them.
HOW DID THE LAST ROCKSTARS LAND ON THE NAME OF THE BAND AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
We were going through some of the names and I said, "The last rock stars." I don't know if I said it as a band name, then Miyavi or somebody just reacted: "That's a crazy name!" As he said it, I went, "I like it." [Laughs] It's a bold name, but it's what we do as rock artists.