And he was hardly being unfair: Since its founding in 1999, the annual multi-day event in Indio, which is widely regarded as the country’s most prestigious music festival, has generally privileged rock and dance-music acts such as Radiohead, Paul McCartney and Calvin Harris; in turn, the show has developed a loyal audience known, if somewhat less accurately, as a congregation of rich white kids.
An appearance by Marilyn Manson at Coachella? Sold. Yoshiki, the leader of rock band X Japan, has pulled it off, too. Not easy, with Manson tweeting that he was previously banned from the festival, but who follows the rules anyway?
The fact that X Japan are one of the few hard rock acts on the bill speaks for itself. With hip-hop recently stealing the No. 1 spot as the most popular music genre in the world, X Japan's headlining set at the Mojave Stage is a big deal. He's up against Beyoncé in the highly coveted time slot, and even Yoshiki admits he'd rather be watching Queen Bey live in person.
On the Wednesday between Coachella weekends, Yoshiki hosted a screening of We Are X, a music film/documentary showcasing the band's journey into near-legendary status. Prior to the event, we caught up with Yoshiki to discuss bouncing back from two neck surgeries, his relationship with Marilyn Manson, and how the band established their own style in fashion overseas.
L.A. Weekly: For a first-timer, how would you describe X Japan?
Yoshiki, what role do you play in the band?
Maker of the disaster. [laughs]. Leader of the band. I play drums and piano. I compose the music.
This past weekend, X Japan made their debut at Coachella. Can you speak on this experience and what it was like performing in front of the U.S. crowd?
It was so cool. We played at Lollapalooza in Chicago before, almost 10 years ago. Then we did a North American tour in 2010 — only went to seven cities. The last one we played before Coachella was Madison Square Garden, We played in New York in 2014. Since then, a lot of things happened. I got a neck surgery last year. I was almost paralyzed. Coachella wasn't only X Japan coming to the U.S. but it was my comeback also.
How does it feel being one of the only rock acts at the festival?
I think it's cool, we stand out. [chuckles] We are so lucky to be a part of those amazing artists. It's pretty eclectic, even though some people define us as a hard-rock band. But we have some ballads and some songs you can dance to.
Aside from your own set, what was your most memorable moment from the weekend?
I was playing against Beyoncé's slot. Because it was only last week or so, my agent said, “You are headlining the Mojave Stage.” I'm like, “Whoa, that's cool.” Then he says, “You are playing against Beyoncé's slot.” I said, “Noooo!” Because I wanted to see Beyoncé. The time that I was headlining was 10 p.m. to midnight or something, so I haven't really seen any bands or groups yet. Some of the groups we're looking forward to see are on Sunday after our show.
Speaking of, talk about the announcement of Marilyn Manson joining you this weekend.
Yeah, he's been an amazing friend of mine. So we talked about him showing up at Coachella and he said, “I'd be happy to."
I mean, that's a big deal!
I mean, he's just a very sweet person and he kindly tries to support X Japan — or support me. That's wonderful.
How long have you guys known each other?
A pretty long time.
What's the dynamic like in the studio with Marilyn Manson?
I enjoy every single process. I don't feel like we're “working” together. We're just talking, being friends — nobody's like “do this, do that.” Maybe just put this phrase with this melody or something like that. Just enjoying the process. He's very inspirational.
Talk about the making of We Are X. What do you want fans to get from this documentary?
It's not like a normal music documentary, it's more like a crazy drama. If we didn't make it right. that could have turned into a horror film. But somehow we made it right. There were so many deaths — my father's death, my guitar player's death, my bass player's death — then the lead vocalist got brainwashed and joined a cult. It's almost too crazy to be a true story but somehow the band came back and started touring again.
Talk about how the band started a fashion movement in Japan.
Because I didn't know the rule. So even though we were playing super heavy or fast music (or punk rock or whatever), I started dressing up something like a David Bowie — something feminine. People freaked out: “What are you guys doing?!” I came from a classical music background. Classical music is just full of rules. When you play Chopin, you should play this way. When you play Beethoven, you should play how Beethoven thinks. Which is cool!
Then after my father's death — when I was 10 years old — I found out about rock. I thought rock has more freedom to express yourself than anything, but it was not! Divided by all those genres and all those styles, I was like, “Fuck it, I'll do whatever I want!” Eventually that became our own genre.
You were also featured on the cover of Vogue Japan recently and your own fashion line, Yoshikimono, kicked off Tokyo Fashion Week. How does your style define you?
My parents used to create kimonos, a Japanese robe. Usually in Japan, the oldest son takes over the family business — but I became a musician. So I always wanted to do something with like a fashion line. Then several years ago, I met a kimono creator — a very cherished one. They've been doing it for 150 years or something like that. So we decided to do this kimono together. So we have a very traditional version, but we also have a rock & roll version. You know, kimono and wear these kinds of boots [points to knee-high military boots]. That kind of caught attention from Tokyo Fashion Week and they asked us if we can open it. I also did the finale, too. So I headlined Tokyo Fashion Week one year, and I also opened Tokyo Fashion Week.
How does it compare to fashion in the States?
Japan is an interesting place. We have influences from the West as well as the East. Things are mixed into the eclectic way of life. Japan's fashion is sometimes crazy, in a good way. Also we have some animation influence. Compared to the United States, it's almost like Japan's fashion seems somewhat out of control, but in a good way.
You've had much success over the years. What's next? What's your end goal?
I don't think I made it to that kind of level yet.
No, I mean... I'm pretty unknown in the States. I have a lot to do still.
Where do you see yourself down the line?
Another neck surgery? No, just kidding. [laughs]. I already did two. The last time, they put a cervical disc between vertebrae five and six. The doctor told me not to play drums and not to play piano that hard, but it's rock & roll. So whatever works.
One more question. What are some American bands that you love?
I'm not saying it because he's a good friend, but I love Marilyn Manson. Of course, I love Kiss. I love Muse, Slipknot. I love … is Rihanna from America?
YES! I love Rih.
I do like her. And Lady Gaga. Beyoncé. Ah, can't see Beyoncé because we're playing at the same time! But that's the downside of things. I'm very happy, and sad. [laughs] But at the same time, it's cool playing at the same time. It's the same kind of slot. Anything else you wanna let us know? I just wanna thank my fans around the world, I'm in America right now. Because of you guys' support I'm here, and let's rock the world together.