Latest release: Rise to Glory (earMUSIC)Website: www.loudness.com
Japanese heavy metal band Loudness have a global reputation firmly set in place in the early to mid-eighties when they burst onto the glam metal scene with both solid songs and the incredible virtuosity of guitarist and band leader Akira Takasaki. His feisty lead guitar playing and the band’s energetic performances reportedly upstaged headlining acts of the day such as Mötley Crüe’s early American tour. Since then, Takasaki has remained a globally respected guitarist. He is still regarded as one of Japan’s most technically accomplished players who can also write melodic, memorable songs.
Similarly, vocalist Minoru Niihara was a key contributor to the band’s successes in the early days, which included American music chart rises and regular overseas tours. Niihara was reunited with the band in 2001 and they’ve continued to write and record plenty of fun heavy metal music. However, they have never toured Australia. So, now in 2019, Loudness are finally making the trek to the east coast of Australia and if their back catalogue and latest album Rise to Glory is anything to go by, it is a show that metal heads and guitar fanatics will not want to miss. Loud Online had a chat with the super friendly Niihara about all things Loudness and the coming Australian tour.
You’re finally touring Australia for the very first time. Looking back over your career, what do you remember about the Hurricane Eyes album in the late eighties?
Oh, Hurricane Eyes is one of my favourite albums by Loudness. Eddie Kramer produced the album and I think he produced it very well. He got a bunch of backup singers for the album but I think that my vocal performance on the album is one of the best in Loudness. The songs that Akira wrote were good songs and so Loudness played well on our instruments. Everything was great.
The previous album, Lightning Strikes, was quite a successful album for the band in America. That was an American remix of the Shadows of War album.
Yes and the album took us about seven months to be done. It was kind of a harder time to make the album. I don’t know why but Max Norman [producer] wanted us to play more complicated music than on the Thunder in the East album. So we changed our direction a little bit from what we had on Thunder in the East and yeah, it is kind of was harder to make the album. Max Norman was pretty hard on Loudness.
Disillusion was the first album where you were made to sing in English.
Oh yes, it was very hard to sing in English for us at the time because I was not able to speak English at all then. So, I did not know if I was singing in English or in Japanese. But yeah, we made an English version anyway. That was a good experience for me.
The tour to Australia is about to happen.
Oh yeah and it took us thirty eight years to finally be there. We debuted in 1981 and it has taken us thirty eight years to be there to play for the Australian people. We are so excited about that.
Loudness has up to twenty seven studio albums in the back catalogue. Will there be a lot of songs from the early albums that we just talked about?
Oh yeah, there are going to be a lot of songs from the eighties including songs from the Thunder in the East and Hurricane Eyes albums. Most of the songs are from that time but we are also going to play songs from our latest album, Rise to Glory, as well. If you’re not a fan of Loudness you’ll still have a good time but if you are a fan of Loudness, you’re going to have a great time.
Excellent. Since you’re still cranking out albums, how has your song writing changed over what is close to forty years of being in music?
Oh well, it is a lot of learning so many things and having lots of experiences that makes my writing ways changing every year. But the basics of writing songs has always been the same since our debut. First, Akira brings in some ideas and I will put in some melody lines and lyrics with that. It is all the same in those basics, you know but in 1990, Akira went a little heavier but by 2010, Akira came back to our original way.
Both you and Akira had solo careers as well. You left the band in the very late eighties after touring the Jealousy EP.
Oh yeah, I made my first solo album [One] after I was kicked out of Loudness and then I lost everything meaning that I did not have anything to do. But, one Japanese record company [Triad International of Nippon Columbia] asked me if I wanted to make a solo album and I thought, ‘why not?’ because I didn’t have anything else to do so that was kind of challenging. I was lucky to make the album with good musicians such as Doug Aldrich [guitar – ex Whitesnake, ex Dio, The Dead Daisies], the Tower Of Power horn section, the rhythm section from Journey and a bunch of writers [including Yasumitsu Shimizu and Marc Ferrari]. Yeah, that was fun.
The reunion of the band’s original line-up happened for the twentieth anniversary when vocalist Masaki Yamada decided to quit, suggesting for you to come back to Loudness with a following tour for the Spiritual Canoe album.
Yeah, well Akira wanted to do something for the twentieth anniversary of Loudness with the original line-up. So, one day he called me up and asked, ‘do you want to join with Loudness again for our twentieth anniversary?’ and I thought, ‘well, it was good timing to do something with the original line-up being that it was the twentieth anniversary.’ I agreed with him so we got together in the studio around 2001 and we started to play our older material. It sounded great so we said, ‘let’s do it’ and so now I was singing in Loudness again. Ha-ha.
In hindsight, do you think that they should not have gone for the American market when they kicked you out in 1989 and hired Mike Vescera on lead vocals?
No, no, I never thought that way, you know, because the Thunder in the East album made people know about Loudness. We became well known in the world so the American market had made us a bigger band back then already.
There are many well-known virtuoso guitarists that went to Japan to live such as Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman, with the latter being permanent. The guitar scene must be flourishing there.
Oh really? Well, I don’t know anything about recent bands but yes, still there are some great guitar players in Japan, in fact, there are a lot. But I think that Akira is one of the best in Japan, still.
Indeed, certainly true. You appeared on a tribute album for [late drummer] Cozy Powell titled Cozy Powell Forever and sang on some tribute covers including the classics of‘Stargazer’ and ‘Kill the King’. Akira also played on the album for a couple of tracks.
Oh yeah and it was produced by Munetaka Higuchi [late Loudness drummer].
Akira is influenced by legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Presumably, Ronnie James Dio is a pretty big influence for you?
Ronnie James Dio is kind of my big hero. I was influenced by Dio a lot. I loved the way he sang, his performances and the stage productions. The way Dio presented everything was wonderful so I have always been a fan of Dio. Akira is influenced by Blackmore, big time. He loves his playing but he also loves Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhoads. Recently though he has been enjoying listening to some kinds of jazz music but he is still crazy and is a great guitar player.
Some of the hair bands that were financially killed by grunge music could go on to become big in Japan. What happened in the music scene in Japan at that time?
Oh grunge music in the nineties… at the end of the eighties, we were touring in the States and our tour manager was also managing for a grunge band and he brought some tapes along. It was Alice in Chains. He let us listen to their music and then asked us, ‘what do you think?’ and I said, ‘well, very simple and down to earth music’. Then, they became big time rocks stars of the nineties. Yeah, things like that killed heavy metal hair bands a lot but things always change like that. Times are always changing.
You’d worked with some pretty big name producers in the eighties including Eddie Kramer and Andy Johns and they would have seen trends and band scenes come and go. When you worked with them, did you pick their brains or ask them a lot of questions?
Oh yeah but Akira really picked them out. Still, Max Norman was the toughest producer that Loudness had because he was a perfectionist and checked all of the small detail things. But, Eddie Kramer was more down to earth because he was looking for good melodics and good songs. Max Norman focussed more on good sound production such as how to make great sounds. Andy Johns was between those two sides, ha-ha, but yeah, we learned so many things from all of them. They did a really good job for us and still I thank them for their great producing for Loudness.
Can you talk the line-up of the band for this coming tour? I am guessing it is the same line-up for other recent tours? I’m just curious who is your drummer for this tour?
Our drummer Masayuki ‘Ampan’ Suzuki got ill last year, he had a brain attack [mild stroke] last year. So, we’ve had to have a guest touring drummer playing with us since last year. His name is Nishida [Ryuichi Nishida – drummer for Marty Friedman] and he helped us on the last tour and he is going to help us on this upcoming tour. We also have bassist, Masayoshi Yamashita, the guitarist is of course is Akira and I’m singing. So the four of us will play for you in Australia.
What keeps you inspired and interested in music and metal after all of these years?
Oh, I don’t only care about metal or hard rock, I just love all the sounds, good music and good songs. The seventies era with Scorpions or UFO and stuff like that has great melodies. They have great performances on their albums. So great songs are what keep me interested in the rock music that I like.
The vinyl format has returned in the last decade or so. Since Loudness has a stack of releases during your career, I guess you’d have quite the collection of vinyl and maybe some Loudness rarities.
Yeah well, I have many vinyl albums but I don’t have a record player anymore. It is a new wave of vinyl with things coming back again so it is going to be fun.
Thanks very much for chatting about your career. We look forward to the tour.
Yes, thank you, please come along to see our show and we will rock you out! We’re going to have a good time. Thank you so much.