He's the former Megadeth guitarist who now has a thriving solo career in Japan. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is...
I was excited to find out that two of your solo albums, Bad D.N.A. and Future Addict, are finally going to be released in the U.S. Will there be any bonus tracks included, and do you have any plans for a CD of new material any time soon? —Ronnie Dryden
I’m busted on the first question! [laughs] I know the European version of Bad D.N.A. has a bonus track [a guitar karaoke version of the title track], but I can’t really say if the American version will have one. As far as the second question, I’m planning a release specifically for America in the early part of next year. When I do, it’s gonna be something really special. I haven’t been to the U.S. in a long time, so I’m really looking forward to the release as well as coming over to play some shows.
I recently saw the video you did with [Japanese pop group] the Fanta Band for the song “Fantastic Love.” What’s the story behind that project?—George Evans
Wow. I didn’t know anybody in America knew that song! The Fanta Band is like a living version of the Archies, if that reference isn’t dating me too badly. [laughs] Fanta is this soft drink that’s really popular in Japan, and I was part of the Fanta Band commercial advertising campaign for two years. The band was made up of five people whose names spelled Fanta. It was me and four other people, who are all major celebrities in Japan. It was a wonderful campaign, and we did a lot of TV commercials and special appearances. The whole thing became, “What kind of music would this imaginary band make?” because we were doing all these appearances for a year without ever putting out any music. Four of us were musicians [bassist Ayancozey, vocalist Nana Tanimura, guitarist Takamizawa] who play completely different styles, and the fifth guy, Akebono, is a champion sumo wrestler. So then we ended up doing one song together, “Fantastic Love,” which I love. It’s a total J-pop song with lots of guitars and lots of good, fun, upbeat energy.
What was it like for you when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011? —John
It was by far the most frightening experience I’ve ever gone through. I wasn’t in Fukushima when it happened; I was in Tokyo with my band in our rehearsal space, and the whole building rocked hard. Luckily all the cabs and PA equipment were really huge, so no little things were falling from the ceiling. It was unbelievable. Everyone evacuated outside. Then, along with all of the nuclear stuff that was going on, the aftershocks were serious, too. You’d turn on the news and the newscasters would be wearing helmets, and their cameras were shaking. It was the saddest thing to see, because you knew all the people that were suffering were just regular folks like you and me. One minute they were in school or wherever, and the next they were washed up in the ocean. It was horrible. Now, obviously everything has settled down. But there’s still been aftershocks every day, and you just never know when, or if, something like that is going to happen again. You just have to appreciate what you have when you have it.
Back when it happened, I felt so helpless, and I just had to think of a way to do something. So I sold all my Megadeth-era guitars, amps and effects to try and help. The least thing I could do was bring some attention to the situation and contribute some money to help. It ended up being a cathartic experience. It felt good and took the edge off for me. It was also a good closure to [get rid of] all the equipment, which had been sitting in a locker. It was all in pristine condition and hadn’t been touched for years. It can’t bring back the people who are gone, but hopefully it helped a little bit for the people who are left here.
What’s your secret for achieving such insanely powerful vibrato? —Angel Noel Herrera
There’s no secret to anything! It’s not rocket science! If you do anything for two days, it’s better than doing it for one day. If you do it for three days, it’s better than two days. I never once thought, This is how I’m going to work on my vibrato. I just played, and eventually my vibrato evolved naturally. You shape your music around the sound you want to put out. Obviously, during the first six months you’re playing guitar the cool stuff in your head is not gonna come out of your hands. But the longer you do it, you start to figure out how to manipulate that piece of wood so that the sounds in your head come out of it. Then this wonderful thing happens when the things in your head become cooler, and then you have to continue to play to catch up with the sounds that are in your head. It’s a constant subconscious race.
What is your favorite memory of playing with Jason Becker in Cacophony? And what’s your relationship with him like at the moment? —Blaz Lenarcic
I loved jamming with that guy. It’d be hard to pick out a specific memory, but I always remember going to his house and hanging out with his family. They would treat me so nice and have food ready and make it real comfortable for us to play guitar all day. And what’s better than that? I really enjoyed playing with him on all levels. He and I have been best of friends since then. We’re still in contact, and you would never know he’s going through the things he’s going through if you were to peek into our correspondence. [Becker has been paralyzed due to the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.] It’s exactly the same as it was before. He’s a wonderful inspiration. Any time I start to feel lazy, he inspires me and I just start to kick a--.
Of all the guitars that you’ve played, what is your favorite model, and why? —Matthew Husnik
I could really honestly give a s---. [laughs] All the guitars I’ve played have been good. As long as it stays in tune and sounds good, I’m happy with it. If a company consistently makes good guitars, then it’s a wonderful company. I think it’s kinda silly to say, “This is the best guitar above all other guitars.” There’s so much good gear out there. I’ve been playing PRS guitars recently, and they’re wonderful. I was in the studio recording and the engineer busted out one of those [Fractal Audio] Axe-Fx [preamp/effect processors] for the last track. I was like, “This thing is amazing!” So I redid a bunch of tracks, and I never redo anything in the studio, ever. But some of the sounds that the Axe-Fx had were just too deep for words. I also play Engl amps and they’ve never let me down.
Considering that you’ve now had an extensive career both in the U.S. and Japan, I was wondering if you could describe the differences between the U.S. and Japanese music scenes.—Mathias Togsverd
The biggest one is the absence of gangster rap here in Japan. When rap happens here the lyrical messages are very positive and uplifting. Another thing is that music here is a whole lot more melody based than that in America. America seems to be really focused on the American Idol way of singing, which is singing half the song regularly, and then singing the rest like Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey or Kelly Clarkson. It’s all about strong women screaming. In Japan, it’s more like, “You can never be too cute or happy.” It’s so sickeningly sweet that it can give you a toothache, but if you can dig that, then you’ll be in paradise.
One last difference is that in Japan you can have sickeningly sweet pop music chock full of very cool guitar. I love that. In America, if there’s ever guitar in pop music it’s usually throwaway bulls--- guitar. But over here, people tend to like the sound of a distorted guitar even if they’re not a heavy metal or rock fan. In Japan, a distorted guitar fits in adult-oriented traditional music, dance music and even pop songs. It’s really a trip.
What artists would you suggest for someone who's just getting into J-Pop. — Anna McPherson
There are too many to list, but I'll give suggestions on both ends of the spectrum. If you like amazing pop music I would start with the girl groups Perfume and AKB48. Or better yet check out Momoiro Clover Zl I played guitar on their most recent single. None of those are heavy rock music, but if you're indo that, I'd suggest Maximum the Hormone. They're an awesome band and will totally blow your mind.