CLOUD NINE - Ex Marks The Spot

June 30, 2008, 9 years ago

By Carl Begai

cloud nine feature

If you were a Western world metalhead growing up in the ‘80s, chances are that unless you spent your time and hard earned cash in independent / import record stores your knowledge of the Japanese metal scene was limited to Loudness’ catalogue and personnel. Granted, acts like Anthem and EZO made some noise outside the Land Of The Rising Sun, but beyond these acts and press reports of North American and European bands hitting the Japanese tour trail it was a scene veiled in mystery. This has changed significantly over the past 20 years thanks to the rise of the internet as the new word of mouth. Bands such as Sigh, Luna Sea, Blood Stain Child and Grief Of War (to name a few) have garnered international attention and subsequent record deals, while the goth-charged Visual Kei scene has become a sub-culture in Europe to the point of spawning gai-jin copycat bands. In addition, Japanese bands that are finding things tough at home are looking to the West for new prospects.

One such band is Cloud Nine, founded by guitarist Shu and former X bassist Taiji Sawada, who also had a brief stint in Loudness from 1992 – 1994. They have been toiling away since 1999 with and without Sawada in the line-up, but with his return in 2007 and the highly publicized X (better known as X Japan to latter day fans) reunion earlier this year Cloud Nine have been receiving added attention from the metal world outside Japan.

“I was a friend of Taiji’s long before he joined X,” says Shu, offering a brief history lesson. “After he left Loudness, he formed a band called D.T.R. but that soon fell apart and Taiji went on hiatus. I met him at (former X guitarist) Hide's funeral ceremony. He said he was thinking about quitting music but I tried to hold him back because he’s the most talented bassist in Japan. I told him he should keep on playing and he asked me if I’d help him out. That's how it got started. Initially, we weren’t planning on making a band; I just thought it would be nice if it would motivate him to play again. He later told me that he decided to play with me when we jammed together for the first time in the rehearsal studio. And after I let him listen to my songs, he liked it and we started as Cloud Nine. That was back in '99, but when Taiji was in the band we were low-key, playing only few shows and recording only a couple of songs.”
“After Taiji’s departure and the arrival of Maru in '02, that's when we really took off, but our sound has never changed from day one. After Taiji left, we had to go back at square one, or I should say square minus 10. With exception of Taiji there were no well-known musicians in the band and we had to work hard to get our name out there, just like any other new band, in a step-by-step fashion. We couldn't rely on anyone so we started our own label and worked our way through up to now. Fortunately, a lot of musicians liked our music but in terms of popularity, we’re still working on it. We’re confident about our music so we believe that rock community will catch up with us sooner or later.”

As for whether Sawada’s connection to X Japan will help Cloud Nine, Shu is skeptical. It’s important to note that X Japan gained a huge international cult following in spite of the fact their albums have never been officially released outside Japan and they’ve never performed live outside the country.

“I don't know about that,” he says. “As far as I see it, X, Cloud Nine and Taiji are all in separate worlds right now. Of course, if we receive any kind of attention, that's always good.”

Cloud Nine’s sound is reminiscent of countrymen EZO – known as Flatbacker in Japan prior to Kiss legend Gene Simmons scooping them up – who made a splash in North America and Europe in 1987 with their self-titled debut and followed it up with the superior Fire Fire in 1989.

“Fire Fire is one my favourite albums,” Shu admits. “I’m heavily influenced by American heavy metal bands, and because I'm the main songwriter in the band Cloud Nine songs tends to sound that way, I guess. Plus, we have Logan Mader (ex-Machine Head guitarist / Cavalera Conspiracy producer) injecting real American blood into our music. I listen to all sorts of heavy metal and hard rock music. One of the reasons is me being a chief editor of a rock magazine (WeROCK). I'm constantly updated with new stuff that’s coming out. As for musical roots, the most influential guitar player in Japan is undoubtedly Akira Takasaki. I respect everything he plays, from ‘80s Loudness to his most recent stuff. From the ‘80s, Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker, Eddie Van Halen and Adrian Vandenberg are my favourites. From the ‘90s are Dimebag Darrell and Machine Head. After '00, I was influenced by songwriting method of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.”
“Our sound is about mixture of old and new metal,” he continues, “with 80's heavy metal at the core adding the modern edge of the times. That means we have something that you can relate to, everything from ‘80s, ‘90s to the present. The style was establshed in our second record, Quick As Lightning, released in '05. The first record, Cloud Nine (released in '03) lacked consistency because it was more like Best Of album of the songs written from the beginning to '03. For Quick As Lightning we focused on writing for that particular album. We also asked Logan Mader to do the mix and that really made us proud of our style. Of course, our quest is not over yet. In a mini-album released in '06, which we asked Logan to mix once again, we invited female chorus back-up to give it a little twist to our style.”

Shu explains how Cloud Nine managed to secure Mader’s services.

“Logan was one of the people we approached when we offered the mix to several overseas engineers. He was very positive about doing our mix. I was a big Machine Head fan and I especially liked their second record, so it was like a dream come true for me. He mixed the subsequent mini-album, too, but after that, he became so sought after and busy. When we did a song for a compilation CD for WeROCK Magazine, Logan's protege, a guy named Brad, helped us for the mixing. Mikey Doling of Snot attended the mixing and he said he really loved our music. He gave us a lot of advice. I would definitely want to work with Logan if he's ever free. It's such a compliment when Mikey and Brad told us that he wants to work with us again.”

According to Shu, he and his bandmates are constantly writing new material, but there are no plans to release a new album until 2009. In the meantime, they have a new song featured on the latest WeROCK CD sampler. With the Japanese metal scene enjoying a great deal of attention these days the hope is to release an album to an international audience sooner rather than later.

“Thanks to MySpace we’ve received offers for interviews from media worldwide, but that's about the only place people can experience our music outside of Japan. We’re eager to tour North America and Europe to make ourselves known, but before that we've got to release our records in those regions. It's great that a lot Japanese bands are receiving attention these days, but because Visual Kei bands are overly eye-catching it seems that the Japanese heavy metal tradition started by Loudness is shrinking. Visual Kei bands are great, but if people focus more on heavy metal bands, the metal scene in Japan will definitely revitalize itself.”

For more information on Cloud Nine go to www.myspace.com/cloudninetokyo

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