Metal From The East - Minoru Niihara Speaks Out.
Japan has some of the most loyal metal fan's in the world, and with the likes of Japanese metal gods 'Loudness' been the forefathers of Heavy Metal these guys have been delivering metal to the masses since 1981 with guitar wizard Akira Takasaki, some of which say he's the Eddie Van Halen from the east formed the band along with Minoru Niihara (vocals), original bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and former drummer now deceased Munetaka Higuchi, who was replaced by Masayuki Suzuki who joined in 2009.
It's hard to believe this band have recorded 27 albums since 1981, damn that is such a huge amount of albums recorded, a band that certainly work hard and continue to record and tour. I caught up with singer Minoru at this years German metal festival 'Headbangers Open Air' to find out more about Japan's finest metal band. Here si what he had to say the following questions.
Hello Minoru thank you for taking you're time out and for doing this interview, as this is the very 1st interview I had done with the band, I would like to ask you which singers in the past inspired you to become a Metal singer?
"Well it is a pleasure to be here at Headbanger's Open Air and a pleasure to do this exclusive interview for you're website. To answer you're question, I was influenced by The Beatles, and when I was 15 yrs old in the city where I grew up the whole Rhythm & Blues things was really kicking off and becoming very popular.
So I started to listen too that sort of music and I really enjoyed it stuff like James Brown, and when I went to high school my friends told me about Hard Rock, bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and so many great artists of that time from the British era.
I really like Ronnie James Dio, I met him 10 times, once in California and I was recording an album and he was also recording at the same studio so we met and lunch together. He was a great singer and very nice person.
I also like Geddy Lee from Rush, and originally I was a bass player before I became a singer. In high school I was playing bass in a band and the singer left so I had to sing as well. In the end the band thought I should sing and play the bass guitar at the same time. I tried to do both (laughing). I also liked Lou Gramm (Foreigner) there are so many great singers out there."
As you are the original singer for Loudness, how did you hook up with the rest of the band in the 1st place?
"Well it was Akira Takasaki the guitar player who started his own solo project and his manager called me up and asked if I would like to audition for him. I said yes in 1981 when I was at university and I said let's do it!! So I sang for him a couple of songs and here I am now."
Back in 1989 you left the band, to be replaced by ex Obsession singer Mike Vescera, why did you leave and what did you do after you quit the band?
"Well actually they kicked me out of the band, I think Akira wanted an American singer and he found Mike. It is so hard for a Japanese singer to sing in English (laughing) and producer Max Norman he taught me everything and he was so passionate about the music and we worked so hard to get the vocals tracked."
When you look back at the early albums you recorded with Loudness which ones are you're favourites and why?
"Well I really like the 1st early albums, and Akira wanted to play outside of Japan and people told me that I would have to sing in English if you want to get out of Japan. I could not speak English at that time so it was very hard for me to sing in English.
It wasn't until 1984 when I started to sing in English, so I had to learn it and I got a private teacher to teach me how to talk and sing in English just before we started to record the 'Thunder in the East' album. It took me forever to record that album (laughing).
I really like 'Hurricane Nights', as it has a lot of good melodic tunes on it. I think I sang pretty good on that record."
In the early days you were signed to Music For Nation's here in the UK for the album 'Disillusion' back in 84, then you signed to major label Atco for 'Thunder in the East' in 85, how did that deal come about?
"Yes we signed to Atco and recorded 7 albums for that label, but I was fired after the 'Hurricane Eyes' album."
So what did you do after leaving the band?
"I started my solo career but didn't do too much, I tried to keep myself busy. I did bands like 'Sly', 'XYZ-A', and I actually the singer for 'Earth Shaker' too before they got a record deal."
What did you think of the albums that Loudness recorded without you?
"To be honest I was not interested in listening too them I just stayed away from the bands music. I changed my music to Rock & some Pop and Soul music to which I wanted to sing. So I tried different styles of music in the 90's./"
I remember see in you on 'Live Aid' back in the 80's, do you remember that?
"Yes I remember that, it was a great experience for the band and we helped those in Africa. It was a massive festival."
When did you rejoin the band and why did you come back?
"I rejoined back in 2001 Akira called me up and he wanted to do something for the 28th anniversary the band and he wanted to start again with the original line up. This now is 3 of the original members, the original drummer Munetaka died back in 2008 through liver cancer. He was replaced by our drummer now Masayuki in 2009, he is a great drummer. So it is me Akira and Masayoshi on bass, the 3 original members."
For this tour which album are you promoting? So why this album?
"it is the 30th anniversary for 'Lightning Strikes' album we are touring for right now. We did a tour for 'Thunder in the East' 2 yrs ago 2015 in Japan and the U.S. and it went really well for us, it was crazy we even had wigs on stages and our old clothes, it was funny and we had a great time. We had the same stage set for that tour."
So what is so special for you to do an anniversary right now for this album 'Lightning Strikes'?
"Well it was a great success back in the day and so we thought we might as well do a anniversary tour for this album too."
How many songs are you playing tonight from that album?
"We will play about 3-4 songs from that album, and then 'Thunder in the East' we will play 3-4 songs from that record & and will play a new song too from our last album."
Are you recording new songs as we speak for the next album? Also how will the new album differ from previous albums?
"Yes we are, we are in the studio recording at present and we will continue to record after our shows. Bass guitar and drums are all done for the album, we just need to do guitars, vocals and solos. The next album will be very Loudness sounding, they have 80's taste as well and Akira guitar sound is very heavy too."
Loudness did 2 albums in the mid 90's 'Ghetto Machine' and 'Dragon' which I didn't really like, they lost that Loudness appeal sadly.
"Yes they tried to experiment Akira wanted to try something different and he was sick and tired of doing the same old things. The new album is already wrote like I said we just need to finish it off when the tour is over., we have 15 songs wrote. (Ed: Do you have song titles for the next album yet?) No we don't I am writing the lyrics and then we will decide on the titles. It's going to be a great album and Akira plays some insane guitar parts and solos, you will love it."Do you have a title for the new album yet?
"Yes we do, it will be called 'Rise To Glory', and the last album was called 'The Sun Will Rise Again' back in 2014, so if the sun will rise again we shall rise to glory, it has a catchy hook to it. This album will have 12 songs on it and we have wrote 20 songs so far and it will be out in January of 2018, I cannot tell you which label will put it out yet, it's a secret (laughing)."
How many more dates for this tour do you have left and how well is the tour going so far?
"Well it's going really well. I have to warm my vocals up before we play and Akira warms up too before a show. We are out on tour for a month and then we will be done. We have one week left on this part of the tour and then I will be in the studio again with the band.
Then we will be playing you're home city of Hull 'Hair Metal Heaven' which we are looking forward too. It was 30 yrs ago since we last toured the UK with Saxon damn that's a long time. We are only in Hull for 1 day sadly."
Playing Head Bangers Open Air tonight how much are you looking forward to be playing this festival in Germany? It's a great little festival I must say.
"The audience are great here, true die hard Loudness fans and metal in general. We will all do our best and we will kick some ass haha!! We like to play small or big venues, it doesn't matter to us. We will play for 90 minutes tonight."
Well Minoru thank you for the interview , also thank you to Kaz as well for setting this interview up. best of luck for the future and I will see you in Hull soon. Anything to say to you're fans?
"Yes thank you to our fans, it has been 30 yrs since we were in the UK so we are looking forward to that. Thank you to the rest of our fans who have supported the band, look out for the next album in early 2018."
Thank you to Minoru, the rest of Loudness and Kaz for been so cool and for the interview.