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First of all thank you for taking the time to talk to RockArea and have a happy New Year! Last year was quite busy for you. The live album “One Bad M.F. Live!!” was released on October 19. It is your second live album after 10 years of break since “Exhibit A: Live in Europe”. Why did you decided to record a live album at this point of your career?

Thank you! I wanted to document my live show at this point because it`s a wild and fun time for us right now. We`ve been lucky to have some incredible nights out there over the last few tours. It`s been more than just well executed performances, it`s been magic. You never know if or when magic will ever happen again, so I wanted to capture this moment in time on an album not only for us, but as a souvenir for everyone who is coming to see us.

Your first live album was recorded during several shows in Europe, „One Bad M.F. Live!!” during one show in South America in April last year. On this tour you played in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Why did you choose Mexico for this recording? What makes it such an unique place and what was the most challenging about recording this album?

We all loved all the places we played, but we chose Mexico City mainly for logistics. The engineer I wanted to use lives in Nashville so that was closest to Mexico, and there was also an excellent remote recording unit in Mexico City for us. Any one of those shows would have been equally exciting for us to record, but Mexico City was also the last show of the tour so you might get some added emotion in the performance knowing that you`re going home the next day.

Congratulations on the graphic side of the album, it looks very old-school. Characteristic folding, band photos on the back, it brings us back to the good old Kiss-like days. How much were you involved in the graphic design and choice of pictures for this album?

Thank you! I was very much involved with the graphics, as always. Over my career, I have had many, many horrible album covers. Either I didn`t care enough to work for a good one, or I didn`t have the talent to steer it in a good direction, or I wasn`t involved in the process at all. There is still really no excuse for them. They sucked. Since I worked on Loudspeaker with the label`s graphic designer however, something clicked and I learned that it took a lot of intense work-even with a great graphic artist on board-to get a design that I can be satisfied with. It is always a colossal pain in the ass, but I`m pretty happy with most of my artwork since then. It`s still never easy. Inferno and Wall of Sound were particularly painful to get right, and they took forever, but I think they came out excellent. You forget all the hassle once the work is done.

What’s worth even more attention is, that you managed to capture an enormous energy in this album. Not only from you and your band, but also from the audience. Where do you get this energy from? How do you get so pumped for the show? In the Q&A of your fan group, you made a joke that it’s thanks to “sex, drugs and rock&roll, without drugs”. What gives you that contagious dose of energy?

Of course the audience gives me some energy, but I`m actually there to give them energy. I don`t know where I get the majority of my energy from. It`s just always there. I want people to leave the show feeling great, feeling like they got a jolt of positive energy that will last a while. That`s the way I felt when I was a kid after seeing a good concert. I want to “kick them in the feels”, so to speak.

There is a little ritual at the beginning of each show. You and your band get together chanting some kind of mantra, it looks really cool, almost satanic and the audience seems to love it a lot! What is the origin of that ritual and what are your pre-show rituals? Are there any albums you are listening to before the shows?

Lots of bands do some kind of little pep talk kind of thing backstage just before the show. We just do it on stage in front of everyone. It does look pretty satanic. Depending on our mood it can go on pretty long can really get us as well as the audience pumped up. I like letting the audience join in our pre-show ritual. Sometimes I don`t see the band at all in the day until that actual moment, so the ritual serves as a greeting to each other, and reassures us that for the next 2 hours or so, we are completely bound together as one entity.

Last year you were also busy working on the new Jason Becker’s album, which was released December 7. You played two songs, the title track “Triumphant Hearts” together with your wife, cellist Hiyori Okuda and a solo on the “Valley of Fire” among 12 other fantastic guitarists, such Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Richie Kotzen. Could you please tell us more about the working process on this album? How much freedom did you have for an improvisation?

On both songs, Jason gave me complete freedom to do anything. Of course if he didn`t like something, he would tell me and I`d change it. When I did a solo with Vai on one of Jason`s other records, he didn`t like what I did and had me change it a couple times. Picky guy! So this time, I gave Jason a few options to choose from. On “Valley of Fire” I played about 3 minutes worth of stuff, and to be honest, my playing works better as a “long story” than an “abridged version” so I think my full version of “Valley of Fire” makes more sense than what finally got edited, but that`s not what the project was about. Jason had the enormous task of editing the work of 13 guys into a cohesive song, and he did a fabulous job. It is unlikely that anything like that will ever happen again, and I`m honored to be a part of it.

You and Jason have a long music history and everyone knows about your friendship. Lots of fans love you both since the Cacophony era, I’m a huge Cacophony fan myself. Jason is constantly present in your music. He played a solo in “Jewel” on your first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” and wrote with you “Horrors” on “Inferno”. What emotions does it brings out to play on his new album? Your name appears in the credits, how much did you contributed to this album also as a friend?

Of course I`m honored to play on the album, but I think it`s deeper on a friendship level than on a musical level. He sent me a lot of the rough versions of the songs I didn`t play on and wanted my opinion about many small details, regarding arrangements, performances, sounds, melodies. I was glad to help him even if he just needed a sounding board to hear his concerns. It`s a lonely and hard process for anyone to be making an album with your name on it. You want to be sure that everything comes out the way you want to represent yourself. Sometimes it seems impossible to get something to turn out the way you hear it in your mind. There are not a lot of people in the world I would want to bring my concerns to while making an album. I do send stuff to Jason and he sends stuff to me. We both respect each other`s opinions a lot and neither of us gets angry when we ignore each other`s advice. We are probably like girls in that respect-we don`t necessarily want a solution but we want someone to rant to.

Last year was very special also for other reason. On August 8 was the 30th anniversary of your first solo album “Dragon’s Kiss”. In one of the interviews you said that if DK have been recorded nowadays it would sound like “Wall of Sound”. How do you feel about „Dragon’s Kiss” now, when you are listening to it? What would you change about it, if anything at all? At your shows you still play the iconic “Forbidden City” and “Dragon Mistress”. Any other songs from this album that we can hear live in the near future?

There is nothing that I would change about DK. It`s good for what we had to work with. We did it in 2 weeks in a good studio with a young and inexperienced but very talented engineer. It might have sounded better with a more seasoned engineer, but the guy we had was very musical, and I remember us pushing each other and coming up with some sick stuff that might not have happened with an older guy. Believe it or not, at the time I was on a rhythm guitar kick and I mixed the album with the rhythms so loud that you could barely hear the solos. I loved the mixes, but the label went ballistic and had me go back and remix it with the solos much louder. I`m glad they did that, because that rhythm guitar kick lasted only a few months.

More musicians lately are putting on a big show. Joe Satriani uses some visualizations, Steve Vai always invites few people on stage to build a song together. Also, you added an interaction element to your concerts, where you ask a random fan from the audience to jam “Dragon Mistress” with you on stage. What is your opinion about the direction where the music performances are going and about the necessity of such „big shows” elements?

As a fan, I love that interactive stuff. I love to see the genuine joy that happens when you involve people from the audience. That is common in Japan. From my side though, actually doing it can be nerve wracking because you can`t control the outcome, but nothing interesting happens if you don`t take a gamble sometimes.

This year begins for you intensely. You will hit the road again in couple of weeks and tour US in January and February. What fans can expect on this tour? Could you please reveal us some secrets about the support act and the set list?

The set list will change a lot since the last tour. The previous set list is really strong so we hate to change it, but we`ve got to try to top ourselves. We`ll do more Wall of Sound stuff, and I want to give the rest of the band even more room to shine on their solos. I`m going to try to up my MC game too. On my first live album, my stage banter was so horrible, I had to edit it all out. When I was mixing “One Bad M.F. Live” I noticed that I had improved somewhat and I didn`t have to edit my talking at all. It`s taken a while since then to go from horrible to acceptable, so there is hope for me to someday go from acceptable to pretty good. I`d be happy with that.

What about Europe? Last time you played in Europe in 2014, it’s been a while and lots of fans can’t wait to see you again. What are the tour plans and which countries would you like to visit?

When the right tour package and time frame presents itself,. I`ll tour Europe. I can not wait to do it with this band. We have all been to Europe separately, but not together as a band yet. Hopefully soon. For now I will go to Europe in March to do a few weeks of masterclasses and then the Larvik Guitar Festival in Norway.

You live in Japan for about 15 years now, you are an ambassador of Japanese heritage and you are well known from your appearances in TV shows and movies. Last year you wrote and recorded a soundtrack for an anime series “B: The Beginning” and composed the Japan Heritage Official Theme Song. That’s very impressive! Where do you get the inspiration from and what are you currently working on in Japan? What would you tell the fans interested in Japan and in seeing you there live? What is so cool about Japan?

I`m a workaholic, and I always need to be making new music and I always need to feel like I`m evolving. In 2019, I want to play live as much as possible, be it with my solo band or other projects. I`ll play the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Marathon for the 3rd year in a row in March, but I want to play the Wall of Sound material live for every corner of the world before I start working on any new solo material. I`m also working with a new band called DPS in Japan that will be going places fast. I even had them tour Asia with me doing a combination of their songs and my solo songs. What`s cool about Japan? Japan is a whole different planet, there is nowhere else like it in the world, and it is impossible to be bored here.

Interview & photos: Katarzyna Kozioł