Japanese musician Yoshiki is an example of an artist who has worn many hats, as a drummer, bandleader, songwriter, composer, pianist, comic book writer, and fashion designer. He gained fame in the '80s and '90s as the co-founder/principal songwriter/drummer of X Japan, a glam-rock band considered one of the most influential rock bands in Japanese history. Though they disbanded in 1997, the group have reunited several times to record and tour, most recently in 2011.
Yoshiki has continued to push forward, moving from behind the drum kit into the musical spotlight while drawing on his early classical music influences. His latest solo effort, Yoshiki Classical, marks his third album in the classical genre, following 2005's Eternal Melody II and 1993's Eternal Melody. Co-produced by GRAMMY-winning producer George Martin (the Beatles, Jeff Beck), the album features a mix of original compositions, orchestrated X Japan songs and themes for special events, including his "Golden Globe Theme," which was composed for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in 2012. The album also features collaborations with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and Quartet San Francisco.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Yoshiki discussed working with Martin on Yoshiki Classical, collaborating with global symphonies and orchestras and the classical composers he admires most.
What have you learned from working with producer George Martin?
Working with George Martin was such an honor. I learned a great deal about orchestration from a true legend.
What other musical experiences helped you compose the music for Yoshiki Classical?
A lot of songs on this album are from my musical experiences composing theme songs for major events such as [Emperor of Japan Akihito's] 10th-year anniversary, World Expo [in 2005], which was held in Japan, and the Golden Globes theme. Because of these opportunities, I was lucky enough to express my [classical] side. When I write songs, regardless of whether the genre will be classical, pop or rock, I start by composing on a music score. People are now realizing that X Japan music can be interpreted as classical, which I think is very cool.
How did your collaborations with different symphony orchestras open you to new ideas?
I have been lucky enough to work with several orchestras around the world, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra when I worked with Sir George Martin. Also, when I did the piano concerto version for Kiss' song "Black Diamond," I worked with the American Symphony Orchestra. That kind of experience led me to work with an orchestra called the Super World Orchestra — which consisted of concert masters around the world especially gathered for the occasion — when I composed for [the] World Expo. Ever since I started working with symphonies, when I compose for rock bands such as X Japan, I look at the band as a small version of an orchestra.
How has being a drummer given you a different perspective in terms of writing rock songs and classical compositions?
I actually play piano more than I play drums these days. Drums give me the sense of rhythm, and piano gives me the world of melody. Even though I never sing, those combinations can create almost any genre.
Who are your favorite composers, and how much have they influenced your own work?
When I talk about symphonies, I like to think of Beethoven and Schubert. When I talk about piano concertos, I think of Rachmaninoff. I like Chopin for a lot of piano tunes, and Tchaikovsky's and Mozart's work in general. I love a lot of classical composers, it's so hard to name a few. I started listening to classical music when I began playing the piano at the age of 4. The first album I bought was Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and No. 9, which has influenced my musical career as much as rock groups have.
What is the most personal piece of music on Yoshiki Classical?
All of my songs are very personal, but to name a few, "Anniversary" is one of the most significant songs. … It was such an honor for me to perform that piano concerto in front of the emperor and empress. Even though I have been playing classical piano and composing classical music, I was not expecting to be offered this opportunity because I was mostly known as a leader of a rock band with a very flamboyant style. On the other hand, the "Golden Globes Theme" is one of my first compositions with global exposure. It was a wonderful experience to compose [that] and [get] to know more about Hollywood.
Have you listened to any classical works by other rock and pop artists, such as Paul McCartney and Serj Tankian?
I think what both Paul McCartney and Serj Tankian did is amazing. I really admire and respect those artists who are spreading the beauty of classical music to their pop/rock audiences. If my classical work can also play a small role in what those artists have done, I'll be very happy and honored.
You have tried your hand at music, film, radio, comic books, and even winemaking. Is there a new venture you'd like to attempt in the future?
I also have a fashion brand combining Japanese traditional kimono with rock gothic style on its way. But whatever I do, the most important thing is creating music. [Creating in] various genres [of] music has filled my life more than one man can wish for, so music will always be my first priority. I don't feel like I'm an accomplished artist. I'd like to create beautiful songs to touch people's hearts throughout the world. I really would like to do it while I'm alive. Hopefully this album, Yoshiki Classical, can contribute to a small part of my wish.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)