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Japanese rocker gets L.A. inspiration

Yoshiki inspired by theatrics of Kiss

The unmarked, nondescript front of North Hollywood’s Extasy recording studio belies its rather remarkable inhabitants. The studio, once the stomping grounds of Alice in Chains and Metallica (lore has it that “Nothing Else Matters” was penned in the billiards room), now stores Frank Zappa’s old Moog synthesizer, the synth used in the climax of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Joni Mitchell’s Mellotron.

Today the studio has a new occupant and owner: Japanese rocker Yoshiki.

In 1982, drummer and classical pianist Yoshiki and his vocalist friend Toshi formed X Japan, a rock band that would come to transform the genre in Japan, and sell more than 30 million albums. Now, they’re setting their sights on the West.

The band’s sound, with one foot in European classical music and the other in the rock traditions of Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden, hasn’t changed from Japan to America, but the words have: Yoshiki says that more than 90% of the new album will be in English.

Abroad, X Japan is best known for being seminal in the “Visual Kei” movement, a Japanese trend characterized by flamboyant costumes and concert theatrics. “Kiss was like an opening door for us,” Yoshiki said in an interview with Variety.

Yoshiki himself is only one of five X Japan members, but has pushed himself to icon status overseas with his extracurricular activities. He is the first human being to serve as a likeness for a Hello Kitty line of merchandise, dubbed “Yoshikitty,” and, in a partnership with Stan Lee, has a music-inspired comic series in the works to be unveiled at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

X Japan’s first American single, “Jade,” was slated for release last month, but has been postponed, along with the album release, in response to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan on March 11. Yoshiki and his bandmates were in the country recording at the time.

“We thought Japan was really used to earthquakes. I’ve experienced thousands throughout my life. I didn’t think anything could be a big deal,” Yoshiki said.

As a result, the drummer’s non-profit Yoshiki Foundation America, in conjunction with Yahoo! Japan, is spearheading the Japanese Relief Fundraising Auction to benefit the efforts overseas. Auction items include donations from James Franco, Reese Witherspoon, Marilyn Manson and Yoshiki himself, namely one of his signature Kawai “crystal” grand pianos.

Bidding for the piano ends Sunday, and additional items are being added each week.

Still, in the wake of tragedy, the artist is moving ahead with a number of projects. In addition to his upcoming comic series, Yoshiki has X Japan’s first European tour kicking off June 28 in London: shows in London and Berlin sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale. Both are currently being moved to larger venues.

They’re also returning to Japan for Summer Sonic fest, where they’ll open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Osaka and Tokyo.

Regarding their first North American tour last fall, Yoshiki loved the intimacy of playing in smaller venues. “In Asia, we have not performed for (smaller) than a 10,000 capacity. … But, you know, we came from that kind of club scene.”

“It was like going back to our roots,” he said, which is only fitting for a fresh start in a new land.

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