Interview with vocalist Minoru Niihara
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 22, 2014
Live pictures by Sami Vesanto and Luxi Lahtinen
Interview picture taken by Sami Vesanto
Japanese Heavy Metal giants Loudness have been rare visitors to many countries, including my home country of Finland. The band was formed in 1981 by Akira Takasaki, Munetaka Higuchi, and Hiroyuki Tanaka, when all three decided to transition from a Rock band, called Lazy, to a heavier sound.
The history of these Japanese Heavy Metal legends consists of both ups (Loudness' 5th album, Thunder in the East, reached #74 on the Billboard 200 list and was followed by a support show for Mötley Crüe at Madison Square Garden in 1985) and downs (vocalist Minoru Niihara was replaced by Michale Vescera in the late 80s, which decreased the band's popularity among the fans and original drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed away in 2008 from liver cancer) but Loudness is still around, making music and playing shows whenever the ideal opportunity springs up.
As incredible as it may sound, Loudness has recorded 29 studio albums, many of them instant favorites among the fans of the band. Loudness latest, 11-track album, The Sun Will Rise Again, was released in June 2014 and continues Loudness' saga as that leading Japanese Heavy Metal force.
The Metal Crypt had the pleasure to sit down with vocalist Minoru Niihara in Oulu, Finland, on August 8, 2014, to talk about the past and present of Loudness, just a few hours before the band was to perform at Jalometalli festival, their first ever show in Finland.
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland. This is your first time to play in Finland with Loudness. Have you ever visited our country before and what do you overall know about our country, except sauna, perhaps?
Minoru: Finally! It took 20 hours to get here from my home in Tokyo. I love many of the bands that come from Finland and visit Japan, the heavy stuff.
Luxi: What kind of expectations do you have for your show? We have lots of Finnish Loudness fans who will get to see you for the first time.
Minoru: I am excited to play for them and hope they like us! Many people have told me there are core fans out there.
Luxi: Loudness is, without a question, the most well-known Heavy Metal band from Japan, along with Anthem and Earthshaker, the latter being your first band before you joined Loudness. What made you decide to quit Earthshaker and join Loudness in 1981?
Minoru: You want to know how I joined Loudness? Akira (Takasaki, guitar) was making a solo album back in the 80s and was looking for singers. His manager called me and asked if I wanted to audition. I was still attending university in Kyoto and wasn't a professional singer but I said "yeah! Let's do it and see what happens." He liked my voice a lot and I joined his band. I never expected to last in this business for so long. I'm 54 now and was only 21 back when I joined.
Luxi: Loudness debut album, The Birthday Eve, was released in 1981. You were telling me you were very young so how much do you remember from the times when you recorded the album and once it showed up in music stores around Japan and eventually outside of your home country?
Minoru: As I said, I was not a professional and was just trying to be a good singer for Loudness. Akira and Munetaka (Higuchi, drums) were already well-known musicians in Japan, they were professionals. I was just trying to be a good singer. When the debut album came out it went to the top in Japan and I was thinking "a couple of months ago I was just a student!" and now I'm playing in front of 3000-5000 people and I was scared. It happened so fast.
Luxi: I can only imagine the feeling you must have had after recording your first album and then holding it in your hands...
Minoru: This was back when there was only vinyl, no CDs, and I played it for my girlfriend in Kyoto and told her "this is me singing." She thought it sounded professional. My mom went to a department store and the record shop was playing Loudness and she went into the shop and told them "this is my son singing!" My parents were so happy with what I was doing. It changed everything in my life.
Luxi: After The Birthday Eve, Loudness got the ball rolling pretty fast, recording wise. Your next three albums, Devil Soldier, released in 1982, The Law of Devil's Land, in 1983, and Disillusion, in 1984, were released very quickly. However, it was Thunder in the East that really made Loudness a big name. Things really started happening for the band. You toured both in the States and Europe and Thunder in the East landed on the Billboard 200 chart and stayed there for 23 weeks. How did you handle all this success and pressure swirling around Loudness back then?
Minoru: I was extremely busy and trying to focus on singing and concerts. Crazy things were happening but we concentrated on what we needed to do.
Luxi: Did you just "go with the flow" and do what the tour manager recommended?
Minoru: We were enjoying touring and making albums and having parties! It sometimes wore us out but mostly we were having a good time.
Luxi: It was Twisted Sister's co-manager Joe Gerber who gave Loudness a helping hand inking a deal with Atco Records. Do you think that, without Joe's crucial help, Loudness may not have become as big a name?
Minoru: Of course. I don't remember Joe; we had another A&R guy who found us. I don't remember very well, haha! We played our first ever show in California and there were some A&R guys at the show and afterward they came up to us and offered us a contract. We were so lucky to have that opportunity and without that guy I don't believe we'd be here.
Luxi: Loudness has a long history but what are your highlights from the Thunder in the East days?
Minoru: Oh, yeah, we opened for Mötley Crüe and we played Madison Square Garden. I was told by my manager, and I don't know if it is true or not, that you have to take a huge limo to get into Madison Square Garden. We were in this limo and the views reminded me of a Led Zeppelin movie. We thought, "we made it!" because Madison Square Garden is such an important place. I know there are bigger places in the States but that place is so important and so many bands have played there, it gave me goose bumps.
Luxi: You made a few more albums with Loudness until you were replaced, for a while, by Michael Vescera around 1988-89. What's the true story behind you leaving the band?
Minoru: I was recording the Soldier of Fortune album and Akira came to my room and told me he wanted to have another singer, an American one or whatever, and they kicked me out. Maybe they wanted a change or something. They made a good album, I like Soldier of Fortune with Mike Vescera. He sounds great.
Luxi: I have read that after Michael joined the band, it was downhill, because people wanted you in the band. You were big part of the sound and the hardcore fans wanted you back.
Minoru: People asked me why I left the band and that isn't what happened, they kicked me out. But that shit happens sometimes in your life.
Luxi: After you parted ways with Loudness, you pursued your own career and made a couple of solo albums under your own name and you also joined X.Y.Z. Was it hard for you start out with a clean slate? Loudness really provided a stepping stone for your success after the doors with that band closed for you, for a short while, anyway.
Minoru: When I left the band at the end of the 80s, I wasn't sure what to do. At the same time, I was able to sing many different kinds of music, like Blues, and that helped me improve, as a singer. In 2001, Akira called me about a reunion and I thought that it was a good time to forget about the past.
Luxi: What can you tell us about the band Sly?
Minoru: Wow, you really know our history! The guitar player was a friend from high school and they played very heavy stuff. We made good albums and they have a core of fans but the business side wasn't very good and we broke up.
Luxi: You rejoined Loudness in 2001 and have done 12 studio albums with them. Loudness' 29th studio album, The Sun Will Rise Again, came out in 2014. What can you tell us about that album? Is it back to the roots of Loudness?
Minoru: Yeah, it is the 26th, or something like that. I don't think it is back to the roots, except for the jacket. The music is quite new. It is heavier and more modern while also being melodic. When we got back together, we played a very heavy, modern style, but now we are getting more melodic.
Luxi: What's ahead of you guys after the show at Jalometalli? Do you have more shows in Europe or will you head back to Japan?
Minoru: We were going to do some more shows, but they aren't happening. We hope to be back here next year with The Sun Will Rise Again album. There are hardcore fans, like you said, so we should come back.
Luxi: Thank you for your time Minoru and all the best with Loudness.
Minoru: Thanks to you too.
|Other information about Loudness on this site|
|Review: The Sun Will Rise Again|
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