This past Thursday June 27th, 2019, Yoshiki (Hayashi) of the legendary X Japan stopped by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music to drop off a $150,000 donation and hold a public masterclass. The donation ceremony was a private affair with exclusive attendees including General Kenji Hirata and Admin Chie Rokuhara from the Consulate of Japan. Dean Shelton Berg led the ceremony—reciprocating Yoshiki’s generous gift by renaming the school’s office suite in the J-Rock god’s honor.
Following the event, crowds gathered in Gusman Hall for an exhibition co-hosted by Yoshiki and Berg. A highlight reel of Yoshiki’s accomplishments primed the audience before Berg announced “I have had the privilege of working and knowing Yoshiki for many years. He is an extraordinary artist and humanitarian and I am so honored my dean’s suite will now carry his name.”
Berg asked the musician what fueled his bottomless drive. Yoshiki responded, “I started playing the piano when I was 4 years old—drums when I was 10… I lost my father when I was 10. He took his own life. Without music, I couldn’t survive. Actually, music kind of gave me its life.” As such, it’s never taken much effort for him to work for 48-72 hours as long as he can “breathe with music.”
It could be argued that tragedy played a defining part in his professional career. Past childhood, he would go on to mourn band mates Hide and Taiji. For Yoshiki, art provided a way to express all his anger and frustration. He went so far as to wonder if the more pain and anger felt, the more beautiful a related piece could be. Pain might not be required, but it’s still a tool that can be used to push positivity in the end.
Listeners may get shocked by the difference in sound between his modern work compared to his classical roots, but it makes little difference to him. His experience with composer Shelley made him conclude there’s no difference between rock and classical music. The masterclass almost seemed to be the perfect advertisement for foundations in musical studies based around classical music. One of Yoshiki’s most notable collaborators includes The Beatles producer Sir George Martin who also started off in classical music.
Although the first album he bought was Beethoven, the icon’s influences range from Tchaikovsky, to KISS, back to Rachmaninov, before launching straight into Sex Pistols. He’d expressed the only thing that matters is if a song touches his heart (hit status =! priority). This applies regardless of whether or not he’s composing.
Despite having debuted nearly 30 years ago, the key to his success seems to be complete devotion to the craft. He attests to trying, trying, and even now still trying to do his absolute best. It probably helps that selfless work ethic fuels his every action as proven by his live performances. Bordering on communal ritual, every note played reverberates through the entire audience–the performer just serves as a medium for music to flow through.
His current projects include a 99.9% complete X Japan album, directing XXX 4’s score, involvement in a Chinese animated film coming this year, an original symphony, and a collaboration with Marilyn Manson. While some might see this as a burden, Yoshiki considers himself lucky.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a class without questions from the students. One audience member on a musical studies track cited the rock star’s interest in the bio-psychological effect of music before asking if he had any plans on delving into further research.
Yoshiki agreed with reference to the respite music gave him after the loss of his father. He mentioned some Japanese studies suggested classical music bore positive effects, but questioned, “Why not death metal or hip hop?” He hypothesized music may have an effect akin to a boosted immunity response but would first want to prove it with hard science.
Perhaps not directly biological, Berg recounted a moment in the musician’s past where the spirit of music seemed to push Yoshiki past the limits of what was possible. He had once been scheduled to perform in Hong Kong with a full symphony orchestra while multiple promoters backed the event. In a spot of irony, both promoters assumed the other had addressed the issue of permits and paperwork which led to the government canceling everything 30 minutes before showtime.
Undeterred, Yoshiki pushed on to find a way to perform. It ultimately took renting the hall an additional day, keeping every piece of equipment there overnight, paying for the full orchestra twice (once for the canceled night then again for the free show), and not charging for admission. Berg recalled the orchestra musicians were so excited that they dropped any prior engagements to come. In Yoshiki’s words, “that turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve ever played”
Of course, someone with Yoshiki’s history is bound to have a vault of flex-worthy moments. One of his projects involved a session with Roger Taylor of Queen fame. Regardless of undeniable talent, he tested Taylor’s key range to maximize it. At the same time, he aimed to figure out the best way to work with him. So what does Yoshiki do? He found out Roger really likes red wine and figured, “bring red wine to the recording studio—everything works perfect.”
During the same project, Berg recalled an exchange. The North Hollywood studio they were in, 17 Hertz Studio, was known for exceptional drum recordings as well as a notoriously long waiting list. It was so highly desired that frequent guests at the time included Metallica, KISS, and Alice in Chains. In Berg’s words, it was an “amazing recording studio—big enough to have 54 strings in it.” While playing back a recording:
Yoshiki: “Do you like this studio?”
Berg: “Yeah this studio is great”
Yoshiki: “Good—I bought it today”
That’s right—rather than wait, Yoshiki outright the studio outright and renamed it Extasy Recording Studios. Funnily enough, Berg would later take on a Jazz project to which Yoshiki offered recording space in that same studio free of charge.
A student majoring in dentistry publicly acknowledged his muscle disease and confessed how the artist’s music encouraged him to continue on—his question was, how can he do the same and encourage other people?
Yoshiki replied that he always considers, “What can I make out of this situation?” In other words, there’s always something to gain out of a bad situation. In that, he referenced “We Are X”–the documentary on Japan X that shows how some of the band mate’s pasts are almost too painful to be true. When initially approached with the idea, Yoshiki hesitated due to how painful those memories were. What ultimately convinced him was the concept that sharing his pain might help other people through their own pain. Despite breaking up 20 years ago, fans still supported X Japan unconditionally. That’s how he arrived at the conclusion to live as long as possible to give back as much as possible.
In closing, we’ll leave you with Yoshiki’s final answer of the night. When asked what teacher taught him the most important lesson he’d like to spread, the artist said, “It’s not only music—your life. Just go with the flow and try to figure out the best thing that can come out of (your) situation. Then, figure out how to use everything around you to make the best thing possible”
For those interested in the livestream, you can still check it out on the Frost School of Music’s Facebook page.