The worst (read best) rock ‘n’ roll animals never grow up. They act like idiots and we let them get away with it because they make great music. In rock ‘n’ roll it’s always better to burn out than fade away into “maturity” — i.e. making tame and crappy music.
But some of these animals seem indestructible. Think Iggy Pop, Keith Richards and the rockers I’m meeting today, Japan’s toughest and most hardcore hoodlum band — Guitar Wolf.
Tonight, the permanently sunglassed Seiji (“Guitar Wolf”) tells me he’s 20 years old, while Billy (“Bass Wolf”) says he’s 21. Toru (“Drum Wolf”) is away, checking out a band they hope to hire for some shows on their upcoming Japan tour promoting their new album “Loverock.” It’s Guitar Wolf’s eighth studio album and as they’ve been going for about 15 years, they’re obviously well past their teens. But who cares? They look as cool as ever.
“So you started the band when you were about 5?” I ask Seiji. “I started it just after I was born,” comes the reply.
Over the last eight years, I’ve seen about 50 Guitar Wolf shows (watched Seiji jump off huge speaker stacks and never break a leg; watched him drag countless random fans on stage to try to play his guitar) — and every interview I’ve done with them has descended into chaos.
They have just one rule in interviews: Everyone, including the interviewer, has to get wasted.
At the Guitar Wolf-Ki/oon Records (an offshoot of Sony) office in the Yoga district of Tokyo, they tell me they’ve got a draft beer-machine out back and my duty is to help them empty the thing.
Oh, and the usual parental-guidance warning should be applied to Guitar Wolf interviews, even though most of the sicker jokes, Billy’s toilet activities and about 4 tons of vile language have been cut from this story.
It went something like this (only a lot worse):
How did your rehearsal go today? You guys are famous for not rehearsing.
Billy: We were only there for two hours.
Seiji: It’s just before the tour so we try to rehearse, but we end up drinking and talking. Let’s just drink more tonight. I just want to say our album is top of the college charts in the U.S. I’m really surprised.
You guys sound so much more vicious than before on this one. But now that you’ve got small children I would’ve thought you might have mellowed out.
Billy: It’s a harder sound because I am stressed from child-rearing. It’s because I discovered the kid is not mine. The kid doesn’t look like me.
Seiji: The kid is gradually looking like me. He has started wearing sunglasses.
Billy: And the kid’s looking at the album pointing to Seiji and saying, ‘Daddy, daddy.’ My baby looks like Seiji, never taking off those sunglasses.
Why “Loverock”? Nothing to do with love, right?
Seiji: No. It’s because we really love rock. It’s the best album we’ve made. I’m scared of my talents. It’s too great. We are geniuses.
How did you manage to get that mental guitar sound on this album that sounds like steel being shredded.
Billy: We used studio musicians. We were sleeping all the time [Seiji is laughing]. It cost a lot, but that’s OK. But now I am being chased by loan sharks.
And where did you steal that riff on the track “Katsumiya Tobacco City”?
Seiji: I did not steal it, of course. [Billy starts singing a song by ’80s Japanese folk-pop band Of Course.] The rhythm is deep in my body and I beat the stuff out. I play purely emotionally and that’s why we don’t worry about rehearsing. And Katsumiya is the name of my hometown noodle shop.
Billy: We are ready to open a ramen shop now. We want to use human bones for stock so we are waiting for the world to go into disorder. We will test it with your bones, Simon. But, on second thought, you don’t look so delicious.
That newly released Guitar Wolf tribute album (including tracks from Jim O’Rourke, J. Mascis, Lightning Bolt and Jon Spencer) is pretty good, but I’d advise people to buy your other albums first, starting with “Loverock” and “Planet of the Wolves.”
Seiji: Thanks very much. We didn’t know anything about the tribute. At first [New Zealand band] D4 covered a song by us on their record and maybe the Sony people said, “Let’s make a Guitar Wolf tribute album.” But we’re happy because Puffy, Japanese idols, covered one song.
[Billy says he would like to get informal with Puffy singers Ami and Yumi, but in a cruder way.]
Yeah, Puffy covering Guitar Wolf is classic, slowing it down with all that weird tabla and accordion stuff, and Ami and Yumi squeaking away on top.
Billy: [Pop-rock megastar] Tamio Okuda plays the guitar. [Billy now starts singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” as office staff fail for 10 minutes to get the stereo to play the Puffy version.]
It’s kind of a rock ‘n’ roll cliche to be screwed-up all the time. Could you make the crazy music you do if you weren’t screwed-up?
Seiji: I can’t believe there is anyone in rock ‘n’ roll who doesn’t get f***ed-up. It is the music of the devil.
Billy: There are no gods, only devils in this world. That’s what it said in my manga Young Jump.
Seiji: I don’t like people who do music with ease. It always has to be extreme. I like people who fight and go to the limit.
Billy: Because he’s homosexual.
Seiji: Because I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star. Rock stars are like that.
But why do you think that?
Billy: Stop asking “why?” all the time. Just drink that beer.
This screwed-up thing. It’s like two weeks back when Seiji held that event at Shinjuku Livehouse Loft Plus One. You sat on stage and played your favorite film clips (Bruce Lee flicks, an old Japanese police series, etc.) and spun the songs of your heroes (Link Wray, Pistols, Cramps, etc). Then you showed all those TV clips of Muhammad Ali and pro-wrestler Antonio Inoki, talking big before a fight. But then you didn’t show the fight afterward, which made Ali look like a clown. It’s like you guys: so full of bluster, but maybe hiding a lot of the pain. I’m sure your hangovers hurt bad, and you hide that uncool side of things.
Seiji: There was no meaning in that. I was hurried and didn’t play it. What was great about Inoki was that he said he would be challenged by anyone at any time. Someone who fights, they can’t lose. Even [fictional swordsman] Musashi Miyamoto wouldn’t do that. Inoki was really strong but really stupid. Think what happens if you do lose.
That Loft event was fun. How come it came about?
Seiji: The Loft owner called me and suggested it. It was rock ‘n’ roll high school. There were 200 students there. Did you learn anything, Simon?
I got a girl’s phone number.
Billy: Then you fail!
Seiji [laughing]: I am happy that an excellent rock professor like me is able to lecture the kids. Introduce them to cool stuff.
So, what presents did your wives get you for your last birthdays?
Seiji: That’s a weird question.
Not at all, fans love hearing this kind of stuff.
Seiji: I’m a rock star and I am a single man!
Billy: My wife gave me a f***ing tiger. But it’s a Sumatra tiger. Too big. I can’t tame it so I put it in Ueno Zoo. Next year I will stuff it, but don’t write this because those Greenpeace people might come after me. But before I stuff it, I’m going to set it on you, Simon. You don’t look delicious, but I can then use your bones for stock and call it “igirisu [English] ramen.”
Seiji: I know what I want. A big rock ‘n’ roll mansion.
[Billy now makes an oyaji-gyagu (old-man’s joke), likening the word mansion to the taboo Japanese slang for a part of a woman’s anatomy.]
You guys should have your own TV show. Like The Monkees. But it would have to be shown after midnight.
Billy: I will only appear in the pay TV Rainbow. Watching it is my hobby.
You said Seiji was homosexual earlier? You always say that. I don’t think that’s true.
Billy: It isn’t; he’s bi.
Seiji: Very goodbye! Finish!
[Billy now offers his body to me on the condition that I pay, in words unprintable, even though Seiji urges me to write it. Billy then leaves the room and a few seconds later we hear him loudly throwing up in the toilet. He returns, but there’s a strange smell, so he’s sent back to clean himself up. We’ve sunk about 10 mugs each. Things are getting out of hand. Billy returns.]
Billy: Sorry I didn’t wipe myself very well before, but I was in a hurry for the next question.
Seiji: You have not asked hardly anything about the new album.
I tried, but gave up.
Seiji: This is our greatest album.
I wanna ask about your tattoos. Is it just fashion or does each one mean something?
Billy: It’s my hobby. It is unfinished. I want to cover my body.
So it’s just fashion. Mine all have a meaning. Seiji: You’re too heavy, Simon. Don’t put meaning to everything. When I first got tattoos hardly anybody had them.
Billy: I get them because the guy does it for free.
[Billy waves a car key in my face, says he has to leave, and exits with a loud belch. It’s about 12:30 a.m. after five hours of talking and drinking. Seiji takes the opportunity to talk about Billy’s stabs at humor.]
Seiji: When we go to the U.S. and U.K. or even shows in Brazil or Argentina, all the girls surround Billy and he tells them all the bad words. And then all the girls come over to me and ask me for sex using these stupid and nasty words. It was like that from the start in Harajuku, and I was thinking, “If I can get this wild man in the band it will be a great band.” Billy has now turned into a dirty old man, but in those days he was so cute and a popular guy. In those days, that is! But he’s kind of like that (cute and popular) now too.
I stagger into the kitchen to pull a couple more beers, but we’ve drunk the machine dry and it just spits out froth. I go back, tell Seiji this and switch off my recorder. Time to go home. But Seiji has other ideas and insists we go get some beer from the konbini. The interview might be over, but I guess the night is still in its teens.
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