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Loudness Photograph by Shigeyuki Ushizawa

Thunder in the East

Loudness Celebrates 30th Anniversary of Breakthrough Album

Japanese heavy metal band Loudness has long been an innovator in the Japanese music scene. They made history by securing a U.S. contract with Atlantic Records and were the first Japanese rock act to perform at Madison Square Garden. They stand out in their unique determination to become a truly international heavy metal band. They have released 26 studio albums, five of them in the U.S. The band’s roster has changed multiple times since 1981, with the current lineup consisting of the original members — lead singer Minoru Niihara, guitarist Akira Takasaki and bassist Masayoshi Yamashita — and later joined by drummer Masayuki Suzuki in 2009. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie sat down with Minoru Niihara to learn more about his time with Loudness.

TJ: How did you first get started with Loudness?
NIIHARA: Originally, guitar player Akira Takasaki was looking for members for his soul band. Akira was searching for a singer, so I auditioned and was chosen. The drummer and the bass player were from his neighborhood, and together we started this band in 1981.

TJ: Loudness has changed members multiple times, but I understand the original four of you came back together 15 years ago?
NIIHARA: Yeah, in 2000. It was the 20-year anniversary so we wanted to do something to celebrate it.

TJ: Was Akira the only member who never left throughout the 35 years? How long were you out of the band?
NIIHARA: Yeah, exactly. I was out from 1989-2000, 11 years.

TJ: Why do you think Loudness did so well internationally?
NIIHARA: It’s because of Akira. He’s one of the most well-known guitar players in the heavy rock music genre. Also, we make very unique music — totally different from Western rock bands.

TJ: Weren’t you the first Japanese band to play at Madison Square Garden?
NIIHARA: Yeah. We opened for Mötley Crüe and played at Madison Square Garden in 1985. We opened every night to sold-out audiences; it was a great time.

TJ: How has touring changed from when you first started?
NIIHARA: [Laughs]. I got old! I was [such a] stupid, young kid; I drank all the time before shows. Now I’m singing better than I used to, though. I know how to control an audience. I improved myself a lot.

TJ: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a singer?
NIIHARA: Singing and speaking in English. I remember the first song that we recorded, “Crazy Nights,” took me one day to record just two r’s. I couldn’t say “rock.” I pronounced it like “lock.”

TJ: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a singer?
NIIHARA: Singing and speaking in English. I remember the first song that we recorded, “Crazy Nights,” took me one day to record just two r’s. I couldn’t say “rock.” I pronounced it like “lock.”

TJ: Did you study English before that? Is learning English essential for a Japanese band to make it big internationally?
NIIHARA: When I was 20, I got a private teacher to learn English. Until then, I couldn’t speak at all. The producer taught me a lot of English, too. Not grammar stuff, just necessary things like pronouncing the song lyrics. If you want to be really big, English is the best way to be successful.

TJ: Do you have any other advice for young Japanese bands interested in coming to the U.S.?
NIIHARA: Don’t be afraid — do whatever you want to do. Make mistakes — just go for it. You’ll befine. Don’t give up.

TJ: How would you describe your music now?
NIIHARA: We’re trying to be unique. We want to play like Queen.They are a rock band, but when you hear them — it’s Queen. That’s how we want to be.

TJ: What was the smartest decision your band made?
NIIHARA: Trying to go out of Japan to be international. If you stay in Japan, you cannot get bigger.

TJ: What was the biggest mistake you guys ever made as a band?
NIIHARA: Oh, they kicked me out [laughs]. They wanted a singer who could sing in native English, so they got an American guy.

TJ: And you lost one member in 2008?
NIIHARA: Yeah, the drummer [Munetaka Higuchi] passed away from liver cancer. He was a great guy, just like my big brother. He was a very professional musician: really strict, but at the same time very fun to hang out [with] ... I miss him.

TJ: Do you have a dream for the future?
NIIHARA: Being healthy, singing well on stage, making people happy. That’s my goal.

TJ: Lastly, what do you think is the key to staying successful?
NIIHARA: Honestly, it’s about enjoyment. If you don’t enjoy playing, you cannot continue making music. We love making people smile, and we’re happy to play music. at’s the most important thing. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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