In connection with the release of his first two albums, ＝(equal) and Hikagaku Houteishiki (非科学方程式), Tatsuro (MUCC), one of the leading figures in the j-rock/visual-kei music scene, eloquently talks about his solo project and his artistic approach without restraint and with a lot of humor in an exclusive interview with VerdamMnis. After two decades of interrupted success with his band MUCC, the artist has decided to go solo to unleash his creativity for his personal growth. He tells us more about it below.
What has been the motivating factor of your solo project ?
Tatsuro : After Satochi’s (drummer) departure, I felt like the band as a whole had weakened. To be honest, I felt a bit lost and used up. And when I thought about the means to overcome this feeling of powerlessness, I had the idea to start a solo project. I believe that, in order to get stronger, you have to keep challenging yourself. I think I need to continue to explore and challenge myself as an artist. I want to keep an open mind, listen to my intuition and create whatever I feel connected to.
Do you feel stronger now ?
Tatsuro : I do. I believe that, by challenging yourself, by nurturing the quest to learn and the drive to expand your perspective beyond your comfort zone, stretch your limits, you can grow stronger as a person and as an artist. But I think, I’ll have a clearer picture on my new abilities when we reunite with the other guys (MUCC will release a new album on June, 9th, 2022). Now may be too soon to tell. It’s gonna get interesting from now on. The band will celebrate its 25th anniversary when we reunite. We’ll see then. But, what I’m looking forward the most is to be working on both musical projects, MUCC and my own, simultaneously.
What did you envision before jumping in ?
Tatsuro : Well, I didn’t have any specific expectations. I just wanted to enjoy myself, be myself, have control and lose control. The only experience I’d ever had at the time was my band, MUCC. It was my benchmark, the basis of comparison. The only thing I had in mind was to create something different from what I had done before with them. Creating a different music with different musicians who have different personalities was the main goal. I wanted to bring the strengths and skills I had acquired with MUCC and put them into my solo project while creating something different. When I made public my desire to start a solo project, the reactions were unanimously positive and that gave me confidence and motivation to do my very best.
What are the pros and the cons of being a solo act now ?
Tatsuro : I think there are uncountable benefits. Working on two different projects at the same time broadens my experience and mind. It’s exciting, interesting, fulfilling and fun. The only con is that I have become extremely busy. Apart from being absorbed by work, I don’t think of any other con. There’s something very special about being a solo artist though. My decision is always final. My opinion is always the most important. It makes it pretty easy. I don’t need to make concessions in any artistic areas. I feel free to do whatever I want to. It’s liberating and emancipating. I like working with the other guys of MUCC too. Having the two projects is what matters the most to me.
But I heard you couldn’t say no to any artistic proposition made to you for the collaborative album (we will talk about it in further details later on). Isn’t it the opposite of freedom ?
Tatsuro : Yes (laughs) ! Only for this album though. It’s a special album, a collaborative album. I asked some artists I had always wanted to collaborate with and whom I respect to write songs for me. I wanted to sing songs written especially for me. It’s a collaborative gift. I asked them to write songs that would fit me, that would fit the image I reflect, that would fit my vocal abilities, that they would like to hear me sing. I didn’t change any part of any songs. I welcomed them the way they were. I let them intact, untouched, unimpaired.
Did you feel, at any moment, surprised by the image you reflect ?
Tatsuro : Yeah, I did (laughs) ! Several times actually (laughs). When I first heard the song TATTOO, I quite frankly wondered whether it was really for me or not… I was skeptical. But as soon as I sang it, it all made sense. It was absolutely amazing. I thought "Wow, I love that style… actually"! It was like getting to know myself better (smiles). I felt like I was discovering new parts of me. The album process was at the end of the day an introspective exercise. The artists with whom I collaborated with helped me understand myself better. This is an incredible thing ! Sometimes you can’t understand nor see yourself clearly until you see yourself through others’ eyes. By seeing things your eyes can’t see, they help you perceive new facets of yourself. This album has helped me delved more and more deeply into my own mind and find hidden aspects of my personality. In the end, this album has become very meaningful.
That’s deeply interesting.
Do you think this will have an impact on MUCC ?
Tatsuro : I do. This is something I can’t answer in detail as for the time being. MUCC’s next album has yet to be completed but there will be some influence over the heterogeneity its content. For example, we will include rap music. If you had told me this a few years back, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have told you "Ew ! No freaking way, nah" ! But now, I know I can do it and enjoy doing it. In general, I’m very looking forward to be working on new musics with the band. But I would be very grateful to have people’s attention on my solo work for the time being.
As it happens, you have released not 1 but 2 albums on the same day.
How did you come up with this idea ?
Tatsuro : Prior to the release of these albums, I had always wanted to sing songs written especially for me. Back then, I thought it would be a very interesting experience and I was right. I also wanted to create an album by myself, do my own thing. If I had released 1 album, I would have had to wait for a couple of years before releasing another one. I just couldn’t wait (smiles).
You couldn’t hold yourself (smiles).
Tatsuro : Yeah exactly, I had to release it all (laughs).
More seriously, did you record them at the same time?
Tatsuro : I recorded them at the same time, yeah. It was very enjoyable. Nothing difficult about doing it simultaneously. I had lots of fun. Nothing to complain about.
The album titled ＝(equal) is said to compile songs that you wrote.
Can you tell us more about it?
Tatsuro : I immersed in my inner self and transferred this universe into music, my medium of expression. This album is what was going on in my head and heart at the moment of its creation. The creative process was spontaneous. It contains my emotions and ideas, and therefore it equals me, Tatsuro. Thus the title. Actually, the title of the other album was already decided, Hikagaku Houteishiki (非科学方程式). This CD is a collaborative album. It’s a mixture of different kinds of musicians. Like a formula, it’s about different people creating something together. It’s an unscientific, non-mathematical formula. Thus the title. When trying to find a name for ＝(equal), I thought it was the opposite, it was just me.
For those who haven’t heard of it yet, how would you describe its musical content ?
Tatsuro : I would say, J-Pop (smiles).
Do you feel like the older you get, the smoother your music becomes ?
Tatsuro : With MUCC, we always try to keep our musical identity intact. Even though our music has evolved, our foundation, our basis, has remained the same. I didn’t have to think about any of that when working on my solo project. I didn’t have to think about other people’s opinions nor did I have to think about keeping something unimpaired. That being said, I have never tried to be someone I am not with MUCC. Nobody in the band has ever forced himself to create music that doesn’t match his personality. MUCC is also about being who we are at the moment. But, you are right. I may have become a softer man anyway (smiles). If I had the opportunity to work on a solo album in my younger years, it would have had heavier songs.
Can you tell us more about the recording process of each album ?
Did you record the collaborative songs in person or online ?
Tatsuro : Both.
Do you have any fun anecdote regarding the recording ?
Tatsuro : Hum … (thinks) I don’t have any. I was pretty lucky, everything went smoothly. Everybody was effective and productive. No communication problem. Nothing to report (laughs). The only thing that was a bit different from my perspective is that due to the pandemic, I had to record the vocals in 2 different versions, I would send them to the person who wrote the song and let him choose the best version. When in doubt, I usually sing the song in 2 different versions and have the people around me in the studio choose the best one. In person, directly.
On ＝(equal), there are collaborations.
Why don't they appear on the collaborative album instead ?
Tatsuro : As for the album ＝(equal), the creative and collaborative process was totally different. Unlike Hikagaku Houteishiki (非科学方程), I first imagined how the song would sound, I tried to visualize its foundation before contacting the person that would fit. I selected the people according to the songs. For Hikagaku Houteishiki (非科学方程式), the composers wrote songs according to the image I reflected on. I just wanted to work differently with the people I chose to appear on equal. For example, I thought that Shinichi UBUKARA’s guitar (ELLEGARGEN, Nothing's Carved in Stone) would sound amazing on the songs we collaborated on, CRASH MAN and door. I thought that Gara’s particular voice (MERRY) would be an astonishing fit for the track CRASH MAN. I just adopted this very spontaneous and simple approach.
What has been the best collaboration ?
Tatsuro : I would say, the songs with Shinichi UBUKATA from ELLEGARGEN and Nothing’s Carved in Stone. I was over-the-moon about having the opportunity to collaborate with him. He’s an amazing person and talented musician. His playing style makes a huge difference. The songs wouldn’t be the same without him, his skills, his talent. Thanks to him the songs have taken a whole new level.
How about the lyrics, were they also written for you ?
Tatsuro : I wrote some while others were written for me. For each song, I asked the composers whether he needed me to write the lyrics or not. I let them decide. I followed them blindly on every artistic aspect of the creative process.
Are there any lyrics written for you that you particularly like ?
Tatsuro : Akaï Ito ! Without a doubt. Before the lyrics were written, I had heard about the story, the main subject. The story was really interesting and fun. I thought it wouldn’t be possible for this to be translated into a song. A song is short, the story wasn't. I thought it wouldn’t fit. I was completely blown away when I received the lyrics. The wording and turns of phrases are really good. I was surprised and couldn’t wait to sing them. As for the story, it’s about a woman and a man, a happy heterosexual couple who face a sudden tragedy. The woman dies in an accident. She then comes back to life in the shape of a zombie. She turns her boyfriend into one in order to be able to live their love to the fullest. Free from social restraints and shackles, they become happier than when they were human-beings. It’s actually a romantic story. I was really surprised (laughs).
As for you personally, what inspires you to write ?
Tatsuro : Music inspires me. Listening to the melody, the rhythm, its atmosphere inspires me to write the lyrics. Music is a great source of emotions. Whatever the emotion, I try to put words on it, describe it, lay it down on paper. I write while listening to the music. Once again, my creative process is very spontaneous. I never impose any theme nor subject to myself. I first write music. When writing it, I always think about how it would sound live. The musical built has to sound great in concert. Once the music is done, I write the lyrics. I separate the two, in this order.
What kind of singer would you classify yourself as ?
Tatsuro : Bizarre (laughs) !
That’s not a vocal classification (laughs) and you have great voice.
Tatsuro : Thank you (humbly bows head). I do think my voice is particular and atypical but at least, it stands out. My voice is probably easy to recognize. It may be a good thing then (laughs).
How do you take care of your voice on a daily basis ?
Tatsuro : I used to take vocal lessons. That was a long time ago though. I have stopped taking lessons. I remember not understanding anything the vocal instructor would say to me (laughs). It was very abstract. The best teacher I have now is my experience in the field. With trials and errors I have come to understand the fundamentals of singing such as breathing, posture, placement of voice, endurance and so on. I sometimes watch YouTube videos provided by vocal coaches and I understand their content, fully. I understand the mistakes I have made in the past.
Talking about YouTube, do you sometimes watch videos of your younger self ?
If so, do you have a critical ear about your singing abilities ?
Tatsuro : Yes, I do. But I also know that fans are much more likely to feel positive and excited about a piece of music if it remains intact. Songs are powerful, they can trigger stored memory. I don’t want to touch my previous work. As a fan myself, I understand this completely. There are many songs from other artists that I love. I don’t want them to change. I love the way they were created. Some artists update their old songs after years of their creation, it makes me feel sad. It’s like trying to change a good memory. I try not to touch what I have done previously for that matter, though I could definitely make the vocals sound better.
I understand that.
You completed your first solo tour Hajimemashite Tatsuro Desu a month ago.
How was it ?
Tatsuro : The tour ended at Zepp Yokohama on February 12. This concert was the only full headline show of the tour, with approximately 20 songs. It was a whole lotta fun ! I didn’t want this to end. I did enjoy it, really. It was a first for me. My mind was a bit focused on the setlist and how the musical chain would work out. But, I wanted more. It was too short. Time flies when you’re having fun.
> LIVE-REPORT HERE <
During the live, you said that you didn’t drink alcohol which is very rare in this business and in this country. Is the well-being of your voice the reason ?
Tatsuro : No. I just don’t like the taste of it (laughs). I actually feel lucky. I don’t have to force myself to not drink alcohol to preserve a my voice and ensure its clarity. I don't drink because I don’t like it.
It’s definitely good for your health anyway.
Transitioning onto the covers of your albums. You designed them, didn’t you ?
Tatsuro : I did. I drew them while listening to the songs over and over again. I tried to convey each song’s atmosphere onto paper. I tried to translate the songs and express my emotions in my drawing. I wasn’t concerned with the technical aspects of the drawing. I just drew the emotions emanating from the songs.
But they are quite dark. Isn’t that the opposite of what J-POP is supposed to be ?
Tatsuro : That’s true (laughs). The ideas and thoughts I had while listening to the songs were pretty dark, I guess. My mind may be darker than I think (laughs). As for my drawing style, I would describe it as simple and monochrome. To be honest, I consider myself bad at coloring and I wanted to keep people’s attention on the lines. Like Japanese comic artists (mangaka), I like simple and monochromatic drawings. I didn’t want any fancy tricks. My style is raw and does not need frills to express the essential.
How long have you been drawing ?
Tatsuro : I started when I was just an elementary school student. I used to draw everyday on my notebooks during class. These notebooks were full of drawings, tags and graffitis (laughs). I was really passionate about it. As an adult, I don’t draw much anymore. I always draw when I record an album though.
Do you draw when you record music with MUCC ?
Tatsuro : I do. But eventually, we hand over the responsibility to a professional designer.
What’s your goal with this new project ?
Tatsuro : I like being busy creating. I don’t want any off-time though I complained about me being busy earlier (smiles). I want to keep creating music. My wish is to release an album or a single per year. Whether I do it with MUCC or my solo project, I really wish to release new music every year. I love novelty and being active. I would love to keep touring as well. But, the current sanitary situation doesn’t really allow it yet. I can’t wait to be able to tour again.
Why have you decided to hide your face on promotional photos ?
Tatsuro : Before launching the project, I thought it would be a good idea to hide my face. I imagined people wondering about the identity of the person they would see on the pictures. It's a way to attract attention. I thought people would probably try to unravel the mystery. I thought they would be interested in listening to the music after discovering the name.
> PHOTOSHOOT HERE <
Let’s close this interview with a game. Are you ready ?
Tatsuro : Yeah, sure (smiles enthusiastically). Bring it on !
Live-concert or recording-studio ?
Tatsuro : Hum… Live !
Photoshoot or interview ?
Tatsuro : Easy, interview !
Vampire or zombie ?
Tatsuro : Vampire.
Shower or bath ?
Tatsuro : I like taking baths better but it takes time compared to showers. So most of the time, I take showers.
I totally understand.
Tea or coffee ?
Tatsuro : Tea.
Dogs or cats ?
Tatsuro : CATS !
LINE/ e-mails or phone calls ?
Tatsuro : LINE / e-mails.