Kiyonobu Inoue, more commonly known as Inoran, is a very busy man. Aside from his day job, in which he plays to sold out arenas as a guitarist for rock band Luna Sea, he juggles being a producer, playing in a handful of other projects and managing a solo career. He admits life wasn’t always this hectic, though.
“Before Luna Sea went on hiatus in 2000, we were so into it that we didn’t think of doing anything else,” Inoran tells The Japan Times during an interview at his management’s office in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. “I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the four other members if I hadn’t been like that, and we probably would have been defeated by the outside world. We believed in the band so much.”
Inoran has just released “Beautiful Now,” his 10th solo album in 18 years. While perhaps better known for his guitar work, these solo outings have let him take center stage, composing and singing all the material. His debut solo album, “Sou,” came out while Luna Sea was on a yearlong hiatus after rocketing to super-stardom in the mid-1990s.
Luna Sea officially returned to the stage in 2010, and released its eighth studio album, “A Will,” in 2013. The band kicked off a 25th anniversary tour the following year, which wrapped up with a show at Osaka-jo Hall this past March. Work on “Beautiful Now” commenced roughly two weeks later and according to Inoran, the tour set the scene for it.
“The tour made me think a lot about how people are connected to us, and how that connection still goes on,” he says. “For example, when (Luna Sea drummer) Shinya would be performing a drum solo, it made me realize that if something happened to just one of us, that moment wouldn’t be possible. Those are all beautiful moments. So the title reflects that.”
Already a seasoned guitarist when he began his solo career, Inoran says initially he still felt some trepidation about stepping up to the microphone.
“The person who sprung to mind first when I thought of what a vocalist should be, was standing right next to me in Luna Sea,” he says referring to bandmate Ryuichi Kawamura. “So the bar was set very high. But because I was able to work at it, the results feel earned. Now I feel like I’m standing on a solid foundation and it feels great. I don’t think about (music) strictly in terms of singing or guitar, it has shifted toward being more about songwriting.”
“Beautiful Now” showcases the refined sound of a career rocker in a more personal light compared to the stadium-rock grandeur of Luna Sea. Instead of Luna Sea’s goth and metal influences, Inoran is more firmly rooted in classic and alternative rock, but draws from a wide variety of artists for his songs, such as the Led Zeppelin-esque “2Limes” (which features members of Korean pop group BtoB on rapping duties), New Order-ish “Awaking In Myself” and the U2-style epic title track.
“Rock music has this kind of passion that’s appealing to me; it’s almost mesmerizing,” he says, mentioning the Foo Fighters performance at last month’s Fuji Rock Festival. Inoran says the set was raw and real, and “the fact that kind of rock music isn’t quantized or perfect makes it seem more human and exciting. I feel I’m closer to that; I’m not interested in doing something perfect.”
Another highlight on “Beautiful Now” is a cover of “Pink Spider” by late X Japan guitarist Hide. Known for performing covers of his other bands during solo tours, Inoran says he was aware of Hide’s popularity abroad and hoped his fan base would be excited about the cover.
“We played it on the tour, and everyone was singing, so much that I didn’t need to,” he explains. “The best bands have songs that everyone can sing along to. It all comes back to the human voice.”
And the voice on “Beautiful Now” belongs to Inoran, something his fans or even he likely didn’t think would ever happen nearly two decades ago. I ask what keeps him motivated after achieving success on so many levels.
“I think the courage to keep challenging yourself and trying new things is important. It’s something I thought when I was away from Luna Sea. You have to go out and find your own roots,” he says. “Because I was able to do that, I think we were right about Luna Sea. In hindsight the past looks even brighter now.”
“Beautiful Now” is in stores now. For more information, visit inoran.org.