It is not very often that Japanese metal artists secure international record deals. Guitarist Nozomu Wakai is an exception and he is ready to follow into the footsteps of fellow country men Loudness who is one of the few bands that was and still is reasonably successful in the world. Nozomu Wakai started Destinia a few years ago and has been very productive. With his latest release 'Metal Souls' he is focussing on the international market by hiring some first class musicians. HeadBangers LifeStyle contacted the colourful musician and asked him about his plans and goals.
Can you please introduce yourself? ,,Hi, I am heavy metal guitarist Nozomu Wakai from DESTINIA. I am the reincarnation of an 80’s rock star but I now live in the land of the Rising Sun: Japan. Destinia has just released ‘Metal Souls’. It’s a project I started with singer Ronnie Romero, bassist Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Aldridge and we all put our heart and soul into the album.''
What sparked your interest in music? At what age? ,,I started playing music when I was 16/17 years old. I was still in high school. Before that I didn’t have any interest in music, I would not ever imagined that one day Heavy Metal would become my life.’’
Who were your musicial influences? ,,The first band I listened to was Deep Purple. I was completely captured by Ritchie Blackmore’s magical guitar playing. When I saw him smashing a guitar on the video of “California Jam” it was like something happened inside me. It was in the late 90’s but I listened to a lot of HR/HM music from before that time so the 80’s HR/HM has made me what I am now.’’
Singer Ronnie Romero and Nozomu Wakai
What was your reason to become a guitarist? ,,Among all the HR/HM music, the guitarists were those who shined the most and I wanted to shine like that too. I didn’t care if I could play it or not. Actually, before listening to music I was practicing karate and I thought to continue on that road but one day I had a big injury and suddenly I felt lost. It was during that time that I first heard HR/HM music and thanks to that I could put all my passion into heavy metal.’’
How difficult is it for a musician from Japan to breakthrough world wide? ,,It’s way beyond difficult for Japanese artists to release a classic heavy metal album without any Japanese culture on a worldwide level. Except for LOUDNESS no other heavy metal band has gone overseas in the last 30 years. It would be as difficult as surviving from the innermost depths of the Amazon without equipment. In Japan, heavy metal music is minor compared to other music genres and people still look at heavy metal strange in society. The Japanese music business style aims at domestic marketing, so most people don’t know how to make a debut in the world and it is very rare to aim for a worldwide release. My previous record company, where I released my first two albums, was indeed not able to catch the chance to release my debut worldwide. The company is one of the major record companies in Japan but even they are in such a situation. It’s a sad thing, but I would be glad if more people will try without giving up.’’
Loudness is still touring the world, are they an example for you? ,,Yes, it is as you say. Their latest album ‘Rise To Glory -8118-‘ and my album ‘Metal Souls’ were released by the same label in Japan. They are always like the representative of Heavy Metal music for all of us. It’s all thanks to them that HR/HM spread in Japan and also a lot of bands have been influenced by them. As for me, I actually used a different way to debut worldwide, but I really respect the position they gained by themselves.’’
What do you want to achieve with Destinia? ,,My hope is that I can achieve my goal to leave my name in the history of HR/HM and to be able to release a ‘masterpiece’ that people will always love. That would become the proof that I am alive and the best achievement I could do in my life.’’
In 2014 you started Destinia and immediately released ‘Requiem For A Dream’, a year later followed by ‘Anecdote Of The Queens’ and again a year later followed by a live album. Seems like you were in a hurry to make a name for yourself? ,,It’s not like I am in a hurry… [laugh]. Actually I think I am a bit late. In between other work, I’ve been producing music for Japanese artists and I’ve been working with Paul Shortino on his new project in Las Vegas. I am also working as a graphic designer such as for Michael Schenker’s official merchandise. There are way too many things that I want to do but my first concern is the time, which is never enough. As a result of my work, my name has been spreading.’’
‘Metal Souls’ is the 3rd album you made with Destinia but it seems to me it is the first attempt to spread you wings and try to make it outside Japan. True? ,,It is exactly as you said! This one is different from my previous albums because I wanted to aim for the worldwide scene and have many people listen to my music. So that’s why it was necessary for me to change everything, develop a new way, and challenge it. As a result, for the release of ‘Metal Souls’ I made an international deal and so I was able to spread my wings to the overseas market .’’
For this album you surrounded yourself with some very high profile, well known, non Japanese, musicians. Is that also part of the plan (if there is any plan) to establish a foothold outside Japan? ,,As I said before, since I was in the making of ‘Metal Souls’ I decided that from now on I should aim for the international market, not only the Japanese one. Because the Japanese market is quite small, there might be the chance that I will base my activity overseas. And I think that the work I am doing with the other members will surely come of help. For this new album, I thought to work with Ronnie, Marco and Tommy because they could fit my expectations better than Japanese musicians. The concept of the music I wish to create comes first.’’
How did you manage to interest them in working with you? ,,Since I planned to debut worldwide, at first I was looking for a vocalist, and then I found Ronnie at Rainbow’s reunion concert. There, I thought he had an amazing voice and that I wanted to write songs for him. I got in touch with him when he came back to Japan with Lords of Black. I made a demo, sent it to him and… he accepted right away! I was so happy! From there, I wrote the songs at once! Next I came up with the concept of “Classic Modern”, which is like a revival of the 80’s/90’s classic metal style, adapted in today’s era. As if the rock stars from that times revived from the past. I thought that Tommy and Marco would match this concept perfectly, they are considered as the 80’s legendary musicians up to this day. I thought that the concept would be reinforced by their presence. Even if it was a lost battle since the beginning, I thought I should contact them anyway. At the beginning I wanted them to collaborate on a few songs, but after I sent them the demos, they told me that would love to play on all the songs! I was really grateful also because they praised my music!’’
Were they also part of the writing process or did you present them finished songs? ,,I did imagine each members but I did everything, such as writing lyrics and composing, by myself. Then I sent them the almost complete demos. The fact is, that for me to compose songs doesn’t feel like ‘work’ but it comes out naturally. In my everyday life, when I try to imagine the concept I want to convey with my music, new songs start to play in my head like a radio. What’s more, they come out almost in a complete state. Sometimes, the ideas come up in my head like music videos or live footages. I remember these ideas and make the demos on my computer. The only moment I use my guitar is when I have to put the guitar parts on the demos. So I recorded basing on that, but the other members often helped me including more ideas, they really helped a lot.’’
Did you guys work together in the studio or was it a long distance internet project where they recorded their parts in their own studios? ,,We recorded in our own country on different timing. But one part was recorded when Ronnie came to Japan. I could not assist at Tommy’s and Marco’s recordings, but I made sure to give them detailed instructions to explain better the concept I wanted to convey. I had each member’s image impressed in my head so we recorded with no problem and it all went well. As for the mixing and guitars, I went to Sweden and worked closely with Fredrik Nordström and stayed in his studio. It was very exciting to work with Fredrik. As for the mastering, that was also done in Sweden by Jens Bogren. I can say that thanks to internet and planes, 'Metal Souls' was shaped from around the world.’’
Nozomu Wakai and bassist Marco Mendoza
Were you nervous to work with Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza and Ronnie Romero? Especially the 1st two have quite impressive careers. ,,I wasn’t particularly nervous. On the contrary, I was excited because they gave such a beautiful performance but also was calm enough to make a great album. Come on, it’s a waste to be nervous!! By the way, I think that I have established a good relationship with Marco as soon as we met, and now we talk about a lot of things other than our job as musicians.’’
‘Metal Souls’ is the first album that will be released on the Italian Frontiers label. How did that happen? ,,To be honest, as the pre-production process was finished, I got in touch with many European record labels and I had many good responses. I was very glad. However we took in consideration the release timing, the sound of the album and different conditions, and we decided to sign the contract with Frontiers Records who has been releasing many melodic rock albums. Also they are handling my favorite artists, so it’s really an honor for me. Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the people at Frontiers.’’
Judging by the promo photos and live clips I saw, you are quite a flamboyant, colourful person. How important are style, presentation, image and looks to you? ,,A guitarist was truly my hero for me. Among many guitarists I was totally captured by Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads. They are obviously handsome and gorgeous, don’t you think? Not only the other HR/HM guitarists and Hair Metal bands in 80’s, but most artists were all unique and gorgeous too. I still think that style is the coolest. So yes, for me looks is an important component of my ideal HR/HM.’’
Being from Japan, do you put typical Japanese influences in your music and if so, what are they? ,,I don’t think that I have that many Japanese influences in my music. I released a few albums as a member of Japanese popular bands, but when the language is different, movement of rhythms and melodies changes drastically. That’s why I do not have anything in common with them.’’
With people like Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza and Ronnie Romero in your band it will be (almost) impossible to tour. How are you going to solve that ‘problem’? ,,Actually the first show in Tokyo was just announced for the 21st January 2019. I think we may have some chance to perform at some events, but when it comes to a world tour it may be difficult, because Ronnie, Marco and Tommy all have different schedules but I am still discussing it with my agent. I wish to tour many places next year. When it is impossible to meet our schedules, I believe that I will have other musicians supporting me, and I already have an idea of who could perform with. Compared to releasing an album on a worldwide scale, making the tour happen is a small problem. I am looking forward to see you all guys!!’’
What Japanese metal and/or rockbands could you recommend to the readers of HeadBangers LifeStyle? ,,It’s not a band, but I played guitar on the opening theme of a Japanese anime and the song is a mix of classical music and heavy metal. I played many songs for this anime series, and they are very unique. There are many great metal songs used in Japanese anime and video games, so I want you to listen to them. Here are some examples…
What other bands / projects besides Destinia are you involved in? ,,As I mentioned earlier, besides Destinia, I’ve been working on a new project with Paul Shortino since last year, and we already have 10 demo tracks for an album. This summer I will be touring with a Japanese artist as a supporting musician, and after that I will go to Las Vegas to finalize the album with Paul Shortino. It’s different sounding from Destinia, but it’s going to turn out well, be sure to check it out.
Any famous last words? ,,Thank you for reading my interview till the end! I would be very glad if you could remember my hard-to-read name and keep supporting me! Thanks and love to all the HR/HM fans! Dank je wel! Keep it Metal!!’’ --- Follow NOZOMU WAKAI'S DESTINIA on Facebook and visit the Website here