You have had an almost 30 year career in music. You have fronted not one, but two successful rock bands. You have seen success in two different genres of music. You have sold out stadiums. You have acted in movies. Ready to slow down, lean back in your chair, draw a deep breath and take stock of your professional life and pat yourself on the back yet? Not if your name is Hideto Takarai. Who? Oh, not if your name is Hyde. Still not familiar? Understandable, as Hyde is a household name in his native Japan, but not so much in the United States. It’s not that Hyde has not had any success in the U.S., as his band L’arc-En-Ciel is the only Japanese act to ever sell out Madison Square Garden. He has toured the U.S. numerous times with the above named band, an alternative pop act and Vamps, a hard rock alternative band formed in 2008. Perhaps all of the previous visits can be seen as fact-finding missions.
Hyde is currently on a brief U.S. tour supporting In This Moment, and along the way, he and his band are playing a few headlining shows on open dates. The previous year has been very busy for Hyde, and in a conversation through his bass player and interpreter for this interview Ali, Hyde provided a brief synopsis, “This year has been about thinking back on my music and how it could appeal to the American audience. Starting this solo project, I really thought about how I should proceed with my music, with my mind on the American market. I thought that going for the mainstream is not the way for me to take, I wanted to go for a more different and unique path, and my thinking was that I needed to make songs that would appeal and ring at festivals and places like that.” His latest release, Anti, has been out for a few weeks, but many of the songs from it have been released as singles over the last several months and there are YouTube lyric videos available for many of them. Anti is a mix of harder, more metal songs, with a few softer songs that have an underlying edginess. When asked about his seeming progression to harder material and the mix of songs on the latest release, Hyde explains, “In Japan, mainly the fast songs are popular. But I really was thinking about the live performance, and during the live performance, I want to make a valley basically. Those are the quieter songs and rather than make it a half-ass valley, I thought I should make it really deep, slow down with the tempo, and that way I think that the fast songs will feel faster and more aggressive.”
There are two slower songs on Anti that demonstrate the sorts of valleys that Hyde is looking to create. One is Zipang, a haunting piano driven ballad that comes alive but never loses its mood. The other is a cover of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World, which dare I say, may be better than the original. Responding as to why those two songs were arranged the way they were and why they were given a harder undertone, Hyde continues, “I think of myself as doing hard rock music, and the hard rock I listen to had ballad songs, like Metallica’s One or even Disturbed’s The Sound of Silence (the Simon and Garfunkel cover), and those are edgy and because of the edginess it gives those songs depth, and that’s what I was striving for.”
Touring as an opening act is a great opportunity to gain exposure to an audience for whom an artist’s music may not be familiar. This can be a double-edged sword, as you never know how people will react to your music as they are typically there to see the headliner. Falling in line with his conscious attempt to produce music that will be specifically listener friendly to the American ear, Hyde shares, “I have toured the United States several times and through that experience I have gained a certain amount of know how of appealing to the American audience. I was ready to face the audiences that were not familiar with me. Yes, there was a certain amount of nervousness before the gigs as to how the audience would receive them, but so far, we’ve done like four or five shows with In This Moment and the response has been really good. It is boosting my confidence.” Prompted to elaborate on the intentional accessibility of this project, he goes on, “The sound needs to be heavy but it needs to be melodious, and I feel that because there is the melodious part, even if it is the first time you’re listening to his song at a gig, people will be able to respond to it, and be familiar with it by the end of the song.”
Touring with In This Moment, probably one of the most visual and theatrical bands out there seems kind of fitting for Hyde. It seems that the visual combined with the music is a large part of his appeal. Asked about what part the visual plays in his thought process, he relates, “I am very lucky to be touring with them as they have that visual aspect and the audience is looking forward to that. I also have that aspect, I feel that the music is the most important part, and that will always be the center of my art. But, in order to really be noticed in the U.S. market, I feel that I need to be unique in many ways, and that is why I am thinking about the visual aspect.”
Anti was made using two different producers, Drew Fulk, who has worked with Bullet For My Valentine, Motionless In White and others, also Nick Furlong, whose credits include most notably Blink-182 and Papa Roach. Hyde shares the reason for using two different producers by saying, “I really wanted to try out with different kinds of producers to find basically how we click through working with them. They are both great producers in their own right, they have their own unique taste and unique sound.” When prodded to share why certain producers were picked for particular songs, he adds, “I worked with Nick Furlong, who had worked with people like Avicii and I felt that working with him, I wanted to do a pop song. So I did songs like Who’s Gonna Save Us and Zipang and another song called Lion. Lion was written by Nick Furlong, this is a kind of song that I would not have been able to write. It is a very catchy song that I feel is good for the American market and I am happy that I was able to work with Nick, Nick bringing a taste that I do not have. I feel that Drew’s musical taste is closer with mine. That was really fun working with someone who has similar taste in music.”
Hyde’s career has been the sort that would be the envy of many in his profession. He probably couldn’t be any bigger than he is, in his native Japan. When queried about why, at this stage of his career, after all he has accomplished professionally, “conquering” America was so important to him, he had this to say, “There is no distance left in Japan, I have done it all basically, and even if I do hard rock music in Japan, no hard rock magazine in Japan will interview me, because there is this image of me in Japan. In the U.S. I am a newcomer, being interviewed by you (an outlet like Screamer, dedicated more toward hard rock and metal) is extremely refreshing for me. It’s something I feel is worth doing. I really want my music to be heard, without the preconception of the entertainer Hyde. That is possible in the United States and I feel like whatever experience I get in the U.S., I feel like I am going to bring it back to Japan in my own way. I want to be an artist that was recognized in the United States, then go back to Japan to the Japanese market, that is my dream.” As the interview nears its end, Hyde is asked about anything unasked which he would like to answer. He offered simply, “These days you don’t even have to buy music. You can go to YouTube and check out the videos and things. I urge people to just check me out, you never know, you might like what I make, without the preconception of my being a Japanese artist, I would love people to check me out, you might be pleasantly surprised.”
Hyde was extremely forthcoming about his motivations as it pertains to creating a musical foothold in the United States. Some may even perceive those aspirations to feel a bit contrived. When you think of an “artist” creating something, you typically think of someone creating from their heart. For that creation to be “pure” and not motivated by commercialism or social acceptance, you typically envision someone not caring what a particular audience or market thinks. Hyde was very insistent on the reasons why he created this record the way he did and that he absolutely wanted it to be received by an American audience. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt regarding the language barrier and the fact that some of his answers were being paraphrased through the interpreter. More importantly, as you reflect on this interview, bear in mind that wanting to be accepted in a new market specifically is not necessarily “selling out.” Sometimes, as Americans, we do not realize what it means to be accepted as a success here. Success has definitely not eluded Hyde, but one thing apparently has eluded him, the kind of success here that he enjoys at home. I for one, believe that Hyde has embarked on this mission of conquering the United States with the purest of motives, the realization of a dream.