words by Joe Cortez
One of Japan's most successful international artists, songwriter and guitarist Hotei is embarking on the most ambitious leg of his storied career with the release of "Strangers" in the US via Spinefarm Records (available now). I caught up with Hotei via email following his recent date at LA's Troubadour to chat with him about movies, embracing a wider, western audience and getting asked for an autograph by Iggy Pop.
I've read that you're now taking up residence in London, what was it about this city in particular that made it the right place for you in this moment to setup base and further your music's reach from there?
Japanese music market is huge, and I could’ve remain very stable and comfortable based on the career I’ve built there over years. So when I announced to leave for London, people were really surprised. However, challenge global market was my long time dream and my goal. I have to admit I’ve chosen to start a bit late---with regard to my age---but life is short, and I didn’t want to give up my dream and pursue with my challenging spirit. There are so many things I’ve learned so much during making ‘Strangers’ with local producers and staff. Having had myself relocated to London, I felt like I was a step deeper in global market. Now I think I know why Japan is called ‘far east’, not just distance wise, but the way of thinking, too. Because Japan is so well organized and comfort, thinking is quite inward, meaning focus is mainly domestic.
Your latest release, "Strangers," has been called your first international release and you're working with some very impressive collaborators on this album. How did you go about choosing the artists you worked with on this album?
First, I have to address how fortunate I am to be able to work with this many great collaborators and so proud of it. I was mainly singing in Japanese during my time in Japan, but when I was to make attempt to global market, I thought by working with people with distinctive personality in their musicality, I thought I could maximize the exposure of myself as guitarist, composer and sound designer. When I produced two songs which now I have Iggy on, he was the one on my mind. It was only him for me who I had a confidence to compete with simple and obvious beats with vocals. For Matt Tuck, I’ve connected with him through a producer from label. He was recording the album for Bullet for My Valentine at the same studio where I have my room. It was his very first solo project to collaborate with outside of his band, so he seemed a bit shy at the beginning but when we come up with the concept, ‘what if Tarantino was to direct James Bond movie?’, great creative idea started to flow. Our attempt was to come up with a theme for spy or suspense films. Amazing vocalist. With Richard, met him through mutual friend. Totally different flavor to Rammstein, he contributed his unique industrial modern rock sound to the song. Texan Shae Segar---have seen her live in London few times, and thought she would be a great addition to the song. Mutual aspect in all these great singers is that they all have very distinctive vocals. I believe my guitar is distinctive, so needed as equally as different from anybody else.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience working with Iggy Pop on the tracks, "How the Cookie Crumbles" and "Walking Through the Night?" I've heard he had a fondness for the sense of drama in your songs and the space present in the tracks presented to him; what was it that drew you to his work?
Iggy Pop is, as equivalent to David Bowie and Rolling Stones, one of rock icon. I always wanted to make music with him. I first met Iggy at Berlin Tegel Airport in 1985. He was on the same flight as I came from Tokyo. Having my idol in front, I was a bit hesitant to ask for his autograph, but it was him made his way up to me and asked for mine! Asking if I’m famous guitarist from Japan. So I said ‘yes’, then he continued, ‘can I get your autograph for my wife? Can you believe it? That Iggy???!! So when I reunited with him in Miami when I was there to record his vocals, I mentioned the story, and he remembered! ‘That was you!’. World is very small. He absolutely loved my demo—as a guitarist’s album, it was very simple yet full of impact. I’m so looking forward to have an opportunity to stand on the same stage together one day. When I saw him at the backstage of Royal Albert Hall after his show, he promised to make that happen someday.
Your film work is the stuff of legend by this point, are there any contemporary filmmakers with whom you'd like to work with for future projects?
I am proud to say almost everybody in the world has heard ‘Battle without honor or humanity’ somewhere. Even if you haven’t seen the film, Kill Bill, this song is used in CM, sorts channel, or even on ringtone. But not many people know who wrote this song—me, Hotei, the cool Japanese guitarist! Almost guaranteed to have audiences come up and compliment my performance, saying ‘that was a great cover!’ (smile). Having said, it is my ‘platinum’ business card. Can’t thank Tarantino enough! Beside this track, I’ve contributed with my guitar play on few tracks placed in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Terry Gilliam. My guitar sounds is often described as very cinematic, so perhaps soundtrack is where my destiny is. In Japan, I’m writing songs for a series of anime with concept, ‘what if classical artists like Beethoven or Mozart were to live in modern era, what would they do with electric guitar and computers to create music? I’m assigned to work on Beethoven. Hope those international anime fans to get to see this anime.
Can you tell us what's next as far as your international career is concerned? Do you have more US dates planned for fans this year or next?
I’ve collated with Italian superstar, Zucchero on his album, and have a couple shows to guest on his shows. As for US market, since my two showcases in LA and NYC was a huge success, I’m looking forward to do more cities next year. I just made it to the starting point. I’m so looking forward to meet as many people as possible and deliver my music. To people in the US, be sure to follow my name ‘HOTEI’, a bit unusual name in the future!