When the B’z rocked Southern California last month, it was very apparent how popular they are with their Japanese-American audience but the rest of Los Angeles seemed a bit unfamiliar with their music as they’ve only been to the U.S., four times. Those of us in attendance that evening, got a taste of rock n’ roll with a Japanese brand burned into our psyches not soon to forget; and a hunt for their music and press spiked across the internet like a wildfire on a windy day. B’z actually became the first band from Asia to cast their hand-prints and signatures in concrete, at the Rock Walk, outside Guitar Centers’ Sunset Boulevard, store in Hollywood, California. Guitarist Tak Matsumoto, holds an honored title in rock n’ roll that most do not; he’s a Gibson Signature Artist; the Gibson Tak Matsumoto Signature Model Double Cutaway and the Gibson Tak Matsumoto Signature Model Les Paul. No one would ever know that these very unassuming gentlemen, Matsumoto and vocalist Koshi Inaba, conquered Japan’s rock music industry like noble Samurai or Bushidō, literally “the way of the warrior”, having released 18 albums, and 50 singles, with 46 of those singles consecutively debuting at #1 on Japan’s Oricon Single Chart. Over the span of 24 years, B’z has sold over 80 million CDs in Japan alone, making them the best-selling artist in Japan’s history.
After the show, B’z jumped a flight to another destination for a little bit of work and relaxation, but not before taking the time to chat with Screamer Magazine. “We have a house with a home studio, so we stay there and work in Los Angeles,” said Matsumoto. “When I go home I don’t do anything special on a day off, maybe play the guitar a bit, play golf sometimes. We actually recorded a new tune in LA. It’s really cool – hope you will like it! B’z is a rock band, but our music is not only rock; many kinds of things inspire and influence us to write songs. We are bluesy, catchy, and heavy and have Asian flavor. A producer introduced me to Koshi when I looked for a singer for my own band. We’ve been sharing many experiences as B’z for 24 years. It must be fate.”
“I’ve been reading books and watching people surf at the beach,” Inaba interjected happily. “We’re Japanese born rock, influenced by rock music from the U.S. and England,” explained Inaba. “Tak writes music and plays guitar, I write lyrics and sing. Tak, who had already been working with many Japanese artists, was thinking to make his own band and his management had him listen to my demo tape in 1988. That was how it all started.”
Both band members may have loved music but neither one was accomplished when they first put the band together and they have always been just Matsumoto and Inaba, though they do have a full band when they go on tour. “I was not classically trained in music, but my parents love classical music, so they often played classical records at home when I was growing up. I also attended jazz school,” said Matsumoto. “My parents bought me The Beatles album 1967-1970 on my 14th birthday. I really loved While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Eric Clapton’s guitar solo inspired me very much. It felt exactly like the guitar was weeping! So I got started playing guitar after that. But in the beginning, we might have tried to find a bassist and a drummer, I don’t remember exactly. B’z has always been Koshi and me anyway. It works best, don’t you think?”
“I was a total amateur before B’z,” stated Inaba with a laugh. “My elder brother was listening to The Beatles when I was ten. He didn’t let me listen to his ‘vinyls’, so I played them while he was out. I didn’t know the lyrics, but singing along with The Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin… it became my secret pleasure.”
B’z have indeed put out a plethora of music in Japan, but up until this year, they had never released an English version. Their first self-titled English EP, was released this past July. Depending on the language, some words just don’t translate well; some letters in our alphabet do not exist in another culture’s, but B’z did not have a problem making their lyrics work in another tongue. “We picked songs from our catalog,” said Inaba, “added English lyrics and new arrangements. Then we re-recorded them. Our drummer Shane helped me a lot. We discussed which songs would work best with English lyrics.”
“We started the recording last February with Shane Gaalaas, who’s support drummer of B’z,” adds Matsumoto. “He’s a great drummer and a very talented musician. I’ve never left producing B’z to anybody, but I trusted him to get great work for our English pieces. He did know the B’z music.”
The release of the new EP has broadened B’z U.S. visibility like looking through a pair of high-powered binoculars from across the seas, as fans new and old, buy up tickets to hear them live; and seeing B’z live is truly a night of hard rockin’ fun or they wouldn’t be ‘selling the place out’ as they say. When you live your life in another country as a performer, you get used to the type of crowd you play to and you understand them; you know how to relate to them, but what if you don’t really speak the language that well or understand the customs, is there such a marked difference in audiences? “In Japan, people are quiet between songs” said Inaba with a grin, “but people in U.S. are excited and loud, screaming and whistling. The audience is very close in U.S. so I can hear their voices and see their face expressions. It makes me very excited.”
“I think American audiences respond more directly than Japanese. I love all audiences,” said Matsumoto, “but I’d like to play more Asian countries.” “Yes, any place where there is an audience,” said Inaba.
“This tour was the 4th tour in the U.S. for B’z but our first time going to the East Coast,” enthused Matsumoto, “I always love to play in the U.S., and I felt we should release English songs for the American audiences. We had a great tour!” Inaba concurs, “Yes, four times to U.S. It’s always fun to play for the audience in the states, and we’re still learning a lot.”
Life has been very busy for B’z (no pun intended) yet slowing down is not an option as they’ve continued to tour back in Japan, Into Free-Dangan.