INTERVIEW WITH LOUDNESS SINGER MINORU NIIHARA
Date: February 20, 2018
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
I was introduced to Loudness via the video clip for “Crazy Nights” from the ‘Thunder In The East’ album. I didn’t see the music video on MTV like you might assume, but rather on a show on Nickelodeon (kids TV channel) titled ‘Nick Rocks.’ Some kid in the mid-west requested the video and the programers obliged. I was floored. At that point, it was the norm to see Caucasian musicians playing hard rock and metal. Loudness helped open some doors and break down some of the stereotypes that ‘other people’ can rock too. Loudness issued classic records like ‘Thunder In The East,’ ‘Lightning Strikes,’ and ‘Hurricane Eyes’ in the ’80s. Loudness changed line-up and there was a point where singer Minoru Niihara wasn’t in the band. Niihara returned a few years ago and the band has released records and continues to tour the world. The band issued a new album ‘Rise To Glory’ in January and it’s a harder edged sound that is sure to please old school fans and new fans alike. Sleaze Roxx caught up with singer Minoru Niihara while he was doing press for the new album.
Sleaze Roxx: You have a new album out titled ‘Rise To Glory.’ Loudness could tour and perform internationally without new music. Why is it important to you to issue new music?
Minoru Niihara: Creating songs is as natural as playing concerts for rock musicians. And we can prove that Loudness is still alive by releasing a new album like ‘Rise To Glory.’
Sleaze Roxx: There was a point when you weren’t a part of Loudness. How did you reconnect with [guitarist] Akira [Takasaki]? Excuse my ignorance but if you could also tell us what you were doing during the time you weren’t in the band?
Minoru Niihara: We started working together again for our 20th anniversary. To be precise, it’s from 1989 to 2000. I made one solo album and eight albums with two bands. Also I did many session gigs with many people, sang for albums as a guest and did DJ work for a radio station. I was quite busy then.
Sleaze Roxx: How strange was it to hear Loudness without you in it? Did you ever find yourself thinking “that would sound better with me singing it!”
Minoru Niihara: To be honest, I was rarely listening to Loudness’ work during the ’90s. I knew both Mike [Vescera] and Masaki [Yamada] were great singers, so I never thought like that.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you keep up with new rock and metal music at all? Are there any particular acts that have caught your ear?
Minoru Niihara: Black Stone Cherry — I like that band and what they do. That’s a very good current band.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand you’re a huge Otis Redding fan. Can you recall the first time you heard his music? Are there any other artists that might be outside of the rock or metal realm that are influences?
Minoru Niihara: Yes, I really like Otis Redding’s work. In the areas like Osaka and Kyoto where I was raised, soul and blues bands were very popular. So it was natural for me to listen to that kind of music. I was in a Tower of Power cover band when I was a college student.
Sleaze Roxx: When you set out to record ‘Thunder In The East’ [1985, how did you narrow it down to Max Norman? Was there something in particular gave him the edge?
Minoru Niihara: Atlantic Records had some candidates and it was Akira that selected Max based on his previous work.
Sleaze Roxx: You worked with Max again on the follow-up ‘Lightning Strikes’ . It was released as ‘Shadows Of War’ in Japan. The album was remixed for the US. What was the logic behind that?
Minoru Niihara: I remember the label wanted that. We didn’t have any say with that. We felt that they knew better, so went along with it.
Sleaze Roxx: On ‘Hurricane Eyes’ , you worked with Eddie Kramer [Jimi Hendrix, KISS] on the majority of the album and Andy Johns [Led Zeppelin, Van Halen] stepped in to produce “So Lonely.” What was the reason for that?
Minoru Niihara: “So Lonely” was meant to be on a movie soundtrack, but the movie was shelved. So then management decided to put it on ‘Hurricane Eyes’ as a bonus track, so that is how Andy Johns ended up producing that song.
Sleaze Roxx: You had a few guests on ‘Hurricane Eyes.’ You had Gregg Giuffria playing keyboards, and Tod Howarth and David Glen Eisley helping with backing vocals. What did they bring to the record? Did any of them assist with lyrics on that album?
Minoru Niihara: Gregg Giuffria, Tod Howarth, and David Glen Eisley were introduced to us through Eddie. Tod and David helped us write lyrics and they did the back chorus too. They helped us a lot on ‘Hurricane Eyes.’
Sleaze Roxx: There are artists that prefer not to listen to their own music after they’ve recorded it. What’s your take on that? Do you listen to your music? What’s your reaction when you hear one of your songs playing on the radio?
Minoru Niihara: If it is playing, I will listen, but sometimes, I don’t. I can’t tell you how cool it is when you hear your band playing on the radio.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Lightning Strikes’ and ‘Hurricane Eyes’ have been out of print in the United States for years. Have you been approached about reissues for these albums? How important is it for you to have these albums available physically for fan consumption?
Minoru Niihara: I didn’t know they were out of print. Aren’t they available on Amazon now? That’s surprising to me.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the story behind these Loudness classics? If you could give a recollection of how the song came together or the story behind each track…
Loudness‘ “Crazy Nights” video:
Klassic 80’s Metal – Made In Japan m/ …………(click ‘Show More’ below for more info – inc “M.Z.A”). From ‘Thunder In The East’ album. If u like this, see Loudness – Heavy Chains: https://youtu.be/c6cWDn8zfHo Also Loudness – Like Hell: https://youtu.be/lDHucbdMnp0 M.Z.A. Vocalist Minoru Niihara: “Actually it does not have any meaning.
Minoru Niihara: We wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll anthem like “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night” by KISS. There’s a phrase in that song that says ‘MZA,’ which means nothing. It just sounded cool to us at the time.
Loudness‘ “Let It Go” video:
二井原実 高崎晃 山下昌良 樋口宗孝
Minoru Niihara: We wanted a simple song with some Loudness-like twisted arrangement. I think Akira’s guitar solo on this is one of his best performances.
Loudness performing “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsy” live in 1988:
Minoru Niihara: We came up with the idea when we were on a long world tour. We wanted to make it a sing-along song. I think we succeeded.
Loudness‘ “This Lonely Heart” video:
Video Clip from the DVD VIDEO LOUDEST Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.
Minoru Niihara: We wanted a song with a bit funky shuffle-like rhythm. It was kind of a challenge for us as Loudness had never played a song like that before. Tod Howarth and David Glen Eisley are featured in the background choruses on that.