Gene Simmons, X Japan's Yoshiki Talk Harrowing New 'We Are X' Doc
"The world was opened up for me by Kiss," said X Japan leader Yoshiki, following a brief performance on his clear grand piano while Gene Simmons stood nearby. Monday night was the Hollywood premiere of We Are X, which tells the flamboyant, frequently tragic story of the Japanese superstar act who found worldwide fame with a colorful collision of thrash metal and classical piano.
Directed by Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile), the film charts the band's rocky rise to stardom, as Yoshiki and Co. shatter cultural barriers at home and abroad while suffering through suicides, breakups and reconciliations. Simmons appears in the film, which opens October 21st, suggesting that X Japan's neon-colored "Visual Kei" style of mascara and Mohawks would have been a huge success in America had they been born in the U.S.
Also at the premiere's after-party was Marilyn Manson, another shock-rock legend seen in We Are X. "I loved that I got to be a part of it, but I would have loved the movie already since I could relate to it on so many different levels. He has a quiet demeanor but he's very sensitive," Manson said of Yoshiki to Rolling Stone. "I'm proud of him as a friend. It takes a lot to put yourself out there and talk about so many fucked-up things. That's really brave."
Ahead of the premiere, Simmons visited Yoshiki at his Los Angeles studio to talk with RS about rock as salvation and escape, and where their personal stories converge. The Kiss singer-bassist is teaming with Yoshiki in Tokyo this month for the upcoming Visual Japan Summit music festival and Kiss Expo, and he plans to be at the X Japan leader's two-night appearance at Carnegie Hall on January 12th and 13th. The two first met when Yoshiki appeared on a 1994 Kiss tribute album with a symphonic version of "Black Diamond."
"Have you heard it?" Simmons asked, pulling out his cell phone to dial up the track. Soon the reworked Kiss song unfurled in lush layers of strings as Simmons closed his eyes and moved his fingers blissfully in the air like a conductor.
What were your impressions of Yoshiki when you met?
Simmons: I was first impacted by his presence. Then you dig under and you find what X Japan is all about – if they sang in English, this could be the biggest band in the world. By and large, Americans close their ears to anything not in English. That's stupid because there's some great music around the world that we should be listening to. You hear X Japan and you understand why they can play multiple dates in stadiums there.
When did you first hear about Kiss?
Yoshiki: I started playing classic piano when I was four years old. My father use to buy me albums – Beethoven, Mozart, only classical. Then he passed away when I was 10 years old. Then I started going to the record shop. As usual, I tried to buy some Beethoven or Schubert – and I saw the cover of the single "Love Gun," and I said, "What is this?" I asked the record shop clerk to play this. I never heard this kind of music before. That was very impactful. I bought it and my mother freaked out.
Then I bought Alive II by Kiss. It changed my life. Then right after, I picked up a newspaper: Kiss is coming to Japan! "Mom, I need to go see this!" So my mother is in a kimono, and my five-year-old brother, and we went to see Kiss. My mom was eating sushi and Gene shows up spitting blood and fire and screaming. It blew me away.
Simmons: In those days in Japan, you were not allowed to stand. The police would go around with dogs inside. At the end of each song, you're allowed to clap. And no [onstage] bombs or the sound of bombs. We had to really mute everything down. But we were so fascinated by the culture of Japan.