Luna Sea rockers Sugizo and Inoran talk life at 25

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

“I don’t think of this as a reunion. We didn’t break up; we just paused our activities and came back to life,” says Sugizo, guitarist and violinist of rock group Luna Sea. Sitting next to bandmate Inoran, he speaks calmly and softly, his eyes looking back at me through tinted sunglasses. “Words like ‘reunion,’ ‘business,’ ‘plans’ . . . those things were never priorities. If we had thought about business first, then we wouldn’t be doing things this way.”

It’s tempting to write off the “reboot” (as it’s officially referred to) of Luna Sea as just another rocker reunion; the band announced a “shūmaku” (curtain call) gig in 2000 and had been dormant for almost a decade before returning to the public eye in 2010. But take a look at Luna Sea’s output since: a digital single titled “Promise”; an updated re-recording of its self-titled debut album; a 23-minute single called “The One -Crash To Create-”; and its eighth studio album, “A Will,” which was released in December. Combine this with a ton of recent electrifying gigs and it seems that Luna Sea is, as Sugizo says, simply picking up from where it left off — every bit the hardworking, boundary-pushing rock band it has always been.

“Each member has his own important solo projects, but in order to express ourselves to our maximum potential within a rock-band format, there was only Luna Sea,” Sugizo says.

“The fact that the five of us are together gives us a lot of confidence in terms of how serious and sincere we are toward music,” adds guitarist Inoran. “So we were able to take things slow. Of course, just making new music is an easy way to make it seem like we’re progressing, but the idea of progression is actually much more than that.”

Sugizo, Inoran and their single-monikered bandmates — vocalist Ryuichi, bassist J and drummer Shinya — formed Luna Sea in 1989. Often placed alongside X Japan as the forerunners of Japan’s visual-kei genre, where bands in the early 1990s decked themselves out in glam rock-inspired makeup, Luna Sea stood out with both a sense of perfectionism and professionalism, as well as a diverse musicality that combined psychedelia, heavy metal, punk, new wave and shoegaze into one tight arena-rock package, making it one of the premier Japanese groups of the 1990s. (Sugizo officially joined X Japan as lead guitarist in 2009).

Luna Sea celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and kicked off festivities with a special concert on May 29 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The show coincided with the release of its latest best-of compilation, “25th Anniversary Ultimate Best -The One-,” and a companion live album titled “Never Sold Out 2,” a sequel to 1999′s “Never Sold Out.”

The celebration continues throughout the year with a 32-date tour that will hit 16 cities nationwide. Titled “The Lunatic -A Liberated Will-,” the tour started at Matsudo Mori no Hall 21 in Chiba on June 7. The band is set to play two arena shows in Tokyo and Yokohama at the end of the year, and will continue touring into next spring.

“Things in this band never go according to plan,” Inoran replies when asked whether the band realized the vision it had when it started back in 1989. “Everyone is aggressively proactive, so things move fast. It’s more like before we knew it, it had been 25 years.”

“Our 25th anniversary show was a celebration,” Sugizo says. “I think everyone in the band feels the same way, but we only have feelings of gratitude. That’s what has been the biggest difference between then and now. Before, we wanted everyone to blindly follow us. I think Luna Sea is a very sadistic band — I mean, our fan club is called ‘Slave’! But we have a much more refined attitude now than we did in the ’90s.”

Inoran says a special comeback show the band played in 2007 was one of the major factors that led the band to eventually work together again.

“I think the one-off show we played in 2007, ‘One Night Dejavu,’ had a big impact on us. It was the fact that so many people came to Tokyo Dome,” he says. “When we did the ‘shūmaku’ gig in 2000, we promised to each other that we would all go out into the world while we were in our 30s, absorb things and regroup. We did exactly that. That was the point from which we were able to start again.”

For any band that has been around more than two decades, the delicate balance between past and present becomes an issue when revisiting previous material, especially for performances.

“When we play that music now, it becomes current, which is interesting,” Sugizo says. “There’s new authenticity in us playing the weird music we made in our early 20s with the experience and depth we have now. We can play our old songs and our current songs together and it’s totally seamless.”

That “weird music” came from playing around with different genres, including shoegaze, Sugizo explains.

“I feel there’s something very close in the Luna Sea sound to the guitar work and psychedelic feel of shoegaze bands,” Sugizo says. “On songs such as ‘Wish,’ ‘Rosier,’ and ‘Storm,’ I tried really hard to replicate the sound by using effects, like playing fast with a wah-wah pedal, or using tape-echo and harmonizers. I couldn’t figure out how they did it, so I just made it into my own thing.

“At the time, the word ‘shoegaze’ didn’t exist yet. I think young shoegaze bands now use the term with no hesitation, but I reckon Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine probably dislikes the term. It’s like ‘visual-kei,’ which is also a word that doesn’t describe the music. Behind that guitar noise there was house music, and I liked bands such as Primal Scream. So I think what I try to do with the Luna Sea sound comes from trying to express all that psychedelica, house and drug culture in a rock, guitar-band format.”

The band has seen a lot of changes in the music scene over its 25-year existence, both in the industry and artistically. As a consistent force for the better part of two decades, Sugizo himself has a rare insight into Japanese music history.

“I think the Japanese music scene is unique, and that started with our generation,” he says. “We’ve taken all kinds of music from around the world, absorbed it, and dissolved it into Luna Sea’s body and soul. We could do that because we had equal access to information about that music and made it our own, which I think is a very Japanese thing to do. Japan is good at copying things. It’s similar to what Sony and Toyota did, in that we made Japanese music into something we can boast about to the world.”

Even after 25 years, Luna Sea continues to have legions of fans, and is able to sell out an arena show in minutes. And while the coming year will be a celebration of the band’s past, it will also offer a glimpse at what the band has always essentially been about: the future.

“It was important that (the anniversary show) was a celebration, but we want to go forward,” Sugizo says. “We wanted to make it a concert that shows that, after 25 years, we have a specific vision beyond that.”

“I think we’re just getting started,” Inoran agrees. “Well, not getting started, but it feels like we’re back to square one.”

Luna Sea’s “25th Anniversary Ultimate Best -The One-” is in stores now. The band play Honda no Mori Hall in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref., on June 28 and 29 (6 p.m. 4 p.m. starts; ¥9,800). For more information, visit www.lunasea.jp.

  • http://twitter.com/stylo2d Mona

    I used to be a big fan around 2010/2011! Great to see them in The Japan Times and that they’re still doing well.