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Story Behind The Song - Tokyo Jukebox
24 July 2010
Last updated Jul 24th 2010

As a young musician starting out, you get influenced by so many new things, and you get so excited by new sounds, artists and trends that alter your musical course. But as a musician who has a firmly established style it is really rare to have such a strong new influence come along and give your musical and personal identity a brand new depth. I was very lucky to be one of these rare cases.

At one point in my life I found myself listening to nothing but Japanese music. It started slowly with Japanese traditional music, and then I found my way to the current pop music scene, which I just could not get enough of. To simply explain why, I would have to say that the hits of Japan got me excited and American hits got me depressed. If you are a rock fan, you can understand my disappointment to see the U.S. music charts absolutely dominated by rap music, or American Idol types. In Japan the feeling of rock and metal morphs its way quite cleverly into the absolute most NON-rock contexts, and not only do the fans accept it, they seem to welcome and even prefer new and unique interpretations of rock and energetic music in general. And that`s what I like.

Eventually I decided that since all I was listening to was J-pop, if I wanted to play J-pop and contribute to J-pop, I had to move to Tokyo to do it right. I also loved the fact that I was moving to a place where I actually liked 9 out of 10 songs that were in the top ten on the charts at any given time. Just don`t let the words “pop” and “charts” scare you. The music on this album is by far the most intense stuff I have ever played.

Of all the tunes on this album, this is the one that is sonically closest to the original. So if you like it, I suggest you check out Maximum The Hormone, who I believe are one of the most exciting bands out there. My concept for TSUME TSUME TSUME was to take my favorite elements of MTH, magnify them drastically, and then add my soloing as if I were jamming with MTH and they were to say, “just do it your way”. And can you believe that the original drummer of this song is a girl??!!

Originally an extravagant ballad tied in with the Beijing Olympics by the gods of J-pop, Mr. Children, GIFT was a tune that I gutted out and gave a brand new concept to. My idea was that since guitar usually plays only a tiny part (if any at all) in uptempo, happy, bubblegum, disco, techno pop, I should turn that upside down and orchestrate an army of guitars to drive GIFT`s melodies home in a brand new way. Mr. Children is a band that few dare to cover and even fewer get the blessing to release a cover of one their songs if they do so. I was ecstatic that this unorthodox interpretation got the OK and I am able to include it on this album.

As with all the songs on this album, I urge you to check out the originals, not only to introduce you to some amazing music, but to give you an idea of how demented I must be to warp the stuff as hard as I did. AMAGI GOE is not J-pop, it`s a traditional Japanese song by the legendary singer Sayuri Ishikawa. She is as well known and well loved in Japan as Barbra Streisand is elsewhere. I have a real history with this song. Always one of my faves from the “enka” genre, I played it several times on my “Rock Fujiyama” TV show, and I even had been known to sing it at karaoke (try not to imagine that). I originally came up with this arrangement to perform it live with Ms. Ishikawa on a television program, praying that she would be accepting of the violent new nature of her signature song. To my shock, she liked it quite a bit, and we did it on the show to huge national ratings numbers. Among those numbers was legendary major league baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, who liked the version so much that I was asked to quickly put together a short version of the song to be played at the stadiums when he comes up to bat at baseball games. I got to perform that new short version on Japan`s legendary and historical New Year`s music TV program, Kouhaku. Playing at Kouhaku was always one of my dreams, and even though I had played Kouhaku with Suzuki Ami a few years prior, playing my own arrangement of AMAGI GOE there was truly thrilling. On top of that, I`m really happy with the way the tune came out sonically. I`m usually unbelievably critical of my own guitar tone, and rarely overly satisfied with it, but just this once I have to drop my humility and say that sustaining tone towards the end (“Amagiiiiiiii-------“) is pretty damn delicious!

The original is a beautiful ballad sung by the fabulous AI, whose gorgeous voice perfectly bridges the gap between J-pop and R&B. My concept was to extract any R&B out of it, and give it a cheesy bubblegum taste ala Buddha Records of the late 60`s (Ohio Express, etc.) but slam it chock full of modern heavy metal guitars at the same time. I violated the original arrangement brutally, and I love it.

This song started a phenomenon in Japan for supergroup Perfume and their genius producer Nakata Yasutaka. In a nutshell, Perfume`s POLYRHYTHM is a techno-pop dance track with a swirling, odd meter middle section that would leave even the most progressive fusion musos scratching their heads. Despite that, and possibly because of it, POLYRHYTHM was a huge hit. (Gotta love Japan!!) My concept was to take all the digital synthesized elements of the song (everything) and play them exactly as the original, but play them with real instruments, guitar, bass and drums. Without changing its content one iota, I wanted to take POLYRHYTHM from its original tight digital vacuum to the wide open spaces and big sound of a straight ahead analog rock band. This was by far the most difficult track on the album to take from a concept to reality.

This was a quiet, touching, romantic hit ballad for Ikimono Gakari, until I basically gave it steroids and tons of energy. It`s Jeremy Colson`s favorite song of mine to play live, and it is a great example of what an awesome drummer he is. As with all the songs on this album, aside from tricking out the arrangement, my main goal is to take the place of the vocalist with my guitar. My guitar must hold your attention just like a vocalist does with his or her words. That is actually a huge challenge and it takes so much more than just playing the melodies on guitar. You have to make them live, make them breathe. As you are listening you should not miss the presence of a vocalist as I usually do when listening to any instrumental music. KAERITAKUNATTA YO was a big challenge because the melodies are particularly long, and it was hard to get my phrasing to satisfy me to the point of forgetting there is no vocalist. Eventually I made it work, but this was the only song that I felt like my guitar was “less of a lead singer” than I wanted it to be. It took a lot of re-listening, re-thinking and adjusting before I was happy with it.

This was a hit for Southern All Stars and my idea was to take the basic melody and create a “National Anthem” for a country that doesn`t yet exist. Kind of an abstract concept, but I love the way it came out. It was the first tune completed in the batch of demos I made for the album, and it got me really excited about coming up with a unique concept for each song before actually working on the song itself.

This is another one I have butchered at karaoke several times. Originally done by J-pop princess Nakashima Mika, I took a similar approach to YUKI NO HANA as KAERITAKUNATTA YO by taking a moving ballad and making it full blast metal (or rock?). As we were recording it, we stumbled upon a really “hip-trendy-retro” sound for the guitars and drums. I was tempted to go with it, but I decided to go with the more comfortable straight ahead metal sound.

9. EKI
It`s well known that I`m not a gear guy by any means, but I got a piece of gear called the Ultra Axe-FX on the last day of guitar tracking that I took such a liking to that I re-cut most of the guitars on EKI that day with it. It`s also known that I HATE redoing something that I`m already satisfied with, so that tells you how I feel about the Axe-FX. EKI also has some of my fave guitar solos on it.

This was already released on “Loudspeaker” but I put it in here because it just fit in so well with the concept of the album. I figured that whether you own “Loudspeaker” or not, I still would want you to hear this song in this context. It sums up my concept of this album perfectly-take a great pop song, and give it some real balls, and lots of the kind of guitar playing that you might expect from me, hopefully exceed your expectations, and there you have it. It`s my way of interpreting the type of music I listen to in the best way that those who listen to my music would likely want to hear it. Did you get all that?

11. ROMANCE NO KAMISAMA (God of Romance)
Written and sung by the absolutely brilliant Hirose Kohmi, ROMANCE NO KAMISAMA was a monster hit in Japan, cementing Ms. Hirose in the minds and hearts of all Japanese as not just a pop singer but also a genius world class musician. Somewhere on tour with Megadeth I was in the back lounge of our tour bus jamming on guitar along to the original version of this tune as well as Hirose Kohmi`s entire greatest hits album. Dave Ellefson heard the strange but extremely professional sounding high speed disco racket complete with a piercing high pitched Japanese female vocal soaring on top, and picked up his bass and joined in. We were pumping out these disco grooves at full blast volume, all that was missing in that back lounge was a mirror ball. Then Dave Mustaine walked in, shook his head and said, “What the hell happened to my band?!” Unforgettable! If you hear the original version of this song, you will likely side with Mustaine on this one… I like to think I`m a romantic musician, but I think the original version of ROMANCE NO KAMISAMA is anything but romantic. It`s one of those sickeningly infectious, jumpy uptempo dance tunes that you can`t get out of your head whether you love it or hate it. That made my concept easy, I just wanted to make the song as romantic as its title suggests.

Alan is a Chinese female singer with an unbelievable vocal range and immediately recognizable style. As soon as I heard ASHITA HE NO SANKA I knew that I wanted to make an album like this and play this gorgeous melody on guitar. This is another rare time when I am especially happy with my guitar playing, particularly towards the end of the song where I am hitting a lot of high notes. Usually I despise high notes on any instrument, I mean really loathe them, and especially on vocals. That`s why I had to figure out the mystery of why despite hating high notes so much, Alan`s high notes (as well as Hirose Kohmi`s actually) gave me shivers, in a good way. Well the answer lies in the preciseness of the pitch of the note, the way the note gets vibrated (or not vibrated) and its placement within the context of the song. Even with fabulous technique, a lot of high notes will just grate on your nerves. But one perfectly timed, gorgeously executed, SHORT, high note in the right place can really make you feel good….

Enjoy the album.