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History of Mr Children

August 4, 2008

There are two kinds of bands: one that you create(artistic), and the other is created by somebody (commercial). Mr. Children falls in the former category. They were all born in 1969 except Sakurai who was born in 1970. This was the year when Woodstock took place, and it was also an epoch-making year in rock ‘n’ roll music history.

Edited from the original post by kodomo-san.

They were all born in 1969 (except Sakurai who was born in 1970). This was the year the Woodstock Festival took place, and it was also an epoch-making year in rock ‘n’ roll music history. Tahara, Nakagawa and Suzuki met in junior high school in Tokyo. Sakurai was from another part of Tokyo (Nerima), so they all came from the same part except for him. They spent their teen years in the Tokyo suburbs and in high school, Sakurai, Tahara, and Nakagawa met.

It was quite natural that they wanted to play in a band together because there was a band boom at that time in Japan. Bands such as BOOWY and Rebecca were popular. At cultural festivals in junior high school, Tahara and Nakagawa were inspired by their peers who played in bands. After they enrolled in high school, they decided to start one. When they graduated from junior high, they finally bought their own instruments. At that time, they had already decided that Tahara would be the guitarist and Nakagawa would be the bassist.

Even though their band didn’t exist yet, they had already decided on their roles. Suzuki was the most mature. He already knew music better than the others and was more experienced. He had played the guitar and drums when he was in junior high. He practiced those instruments at his neighbor’s because there was a riverside near the house.

Sakurai borrowed his sister’s guitar and imitated how she played, and she complimented him. Because of that, he got even more interested in music. He decided to go to a co-ed high school that had music clubs. He figured if he was going to play music, he was going to be a professional. He was very determined and serious about this compared to other boys at his age.

In high school, Sakurai (left) formed his first band “Beatnik” with the people he met at music clubs. They were a copy band with a female keyboard player, although later they started writing their own songs. In the beginning, Sakurai couldn’t play well but it didn’t matter because at that level no technique was required. Later, Sakurai started showing his talent for songwriting. He wrote a love song about his girlfriend, but he also wrote about the Berlin Wall (“Berlin no Kabe”) for his sociology class.

Tahara used to play Little League baseball. He once gave up joining a band and joined a baseball club instead. Sakurai knew that Tahara had a Telecaster guitar. At that time, those models were very popular. Sakurai told Tahara, “From tomorrow, you should hold the guitar instead of the bat.”

Nakagawa, whom Sakurai met at the beginning of their high school days, started skipping school, but Sakurai didn’t want to lose him. He bought Nakagawa a can of hot lemonade from a vending machine at the cafeteria and told him, “Even if you quit school, you should stay with the band.” They had a hard time looking for a drummer because they couldn’t find anyone who’d stay long enough. In the end, Sakurai sang songs while playing the drums. But they wanted to be professionals. Yutaka Ozaki (a famous Japanese star) had already succeeded in his teens, so they didn’t think they were too young to be professionals. They tried several auditions. Whenever they played in auditions, their compositions made people sat up and listen. They started playing in livehouses.

One day, while playing in a livehouse at Kichijoji, Tahara and Nakagawa saw a familiar face. That person was Suzuki. He was in a band named “Fairyland”. The three of them coerced Suzuki to join their band. At the time, they were close to graduating high school, so they started discussing their future. Sakurai, Tahara, and Nakagawa decided to remain in the band. Then Suzuki joined them. They tried the SD Audition, which was the gate to becoming professionals, but they failed. They were known as “The WALLS”, so literally, they faced the wall.

The year was 1989. After that audition, they changed the name of their band to “Mr. Children”. The name was chosen while they were talking in a diner. At the time, they were influenced by the band, Echoes. The leader of that band was Tsugi Jinsei. Because of this influence, their music became political and sarcastic. But when they picked up this new name, they changed their attitude and they decided to broaden their horizons. They passed auditions at the livehouse “La Mama” and they became entitled to play there.

At “La Mama”, their popularity soared and they were scouted to debut as professionals. In ’91, they reached a stalemate and announced that they were taking 3 months off. After that, they were refreshed and they returned to the livehouse, sounding more sophisticated than before. Inaba from Toy’s Factory said, “I felt potential in their songs.” Through their networking, they got a contract with Bad Music. As a result, they got to play as the opening act for Jun Sky Walkers and learned what it was like to be professionals. They also met producer Takeshi Kobayashi. He was known as the music composer for Keisuke Kuwata and Kyoko Koizumi.

Mr. Children wanted to find a strategy to counterculture the band boom. They started collaborating with Kobayashi at his home. Sakurai learned how hard it was to be a professional through this experience. Kobayashi didn’t hesitate to speak his mind on Sakurai’s compositions and lyrics. They went over them repeatedly. In ’92, Mr. Children’s debut album “EVERYTHING” represented this collaboration.

At the time of their debut, some big bands were dissolved and karaoke became popular. Mr. Children decided they were going to be in the front lines of the music scene. To compete, they put priority in their compositions. With improved techniques, they created the album, “KIND OF LOVE”, which was the accomplishment of the combined energy and hard work of Sakurai and Kobayashi.

The technology revolution in the music scene grew very fast. They adapted new systems for their album that enabled them to control instruments digitally. For their third album, “versus”, Mr. Children wanted to get a new vibe. They wanted to be refreshed, so they used Waterfront Studio in New York, the same studio that was used by Lenny Kravitz. The sophistication of the recording and the band’s characteristics gelled. Mr. Children’s profile got a noticeable boost and they were anointed as the ‘next big thing’ by Japanese music magazines.

Suzuki recalled Sakurai saying he wanted to sell 1 million units of singles. The single “Replay” was picked up for a snack commercial and 4 months later, “CROSS ROAD” was used as a TV dorama theme song. They had finally found the golden tunes that touched people. “CROSS ROAD” sold very well and their tours were successful. In the 22nd week of the release of the single, they finally sold the millionth unit. And because of “CROSS ROAD”, Mr. Children became known as a ‘love song’ band.

The monster hit “innocent world” followed and their popularity became soared. However, this song was their turning point. Most of their songs were created for popularity, but “innocent world” was a song where Sakurai revealed his inner self.

Through that song, he wrote about himself. According to Sakurai “Since that time, I started releasing myself.” Despite this turnabout, they were still supported by a huge fan base. Sakurai said “We wanted to be a big monster.” (meaning they wanted to be hugely successful). The result was “Atomic Heart”. It was an experimental album because they mixed the clear sound of instruments with digital sounds, resulting in what is called “DigiRock” (“Digital Rock”).

The circumstances surrounding the band also changed. They switched labels to Oorong and producer Kobayashi reached the peak of his career. He produced two ideas: two opposite tours with contrasting ideas at once. One was called “TOUR INNOCENT WORLD”, and the other was “TOUR Atomic Heart”. One tour focused physical performance. The other tour was the combination of the band and the latest technology on a huge set. A documentary movie of the band’s history was also filmed. ’94-’95 became the busiest time in Mr. Children’s history.

Even though they were busy with the tour, Mr. Children was still aggressively creative. During their first tour they released “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The song, that was composed in a hotel during their tour, was about life itself and the circumstances the band was in.

In the beginning, the single was supposed to be released with “everybody goes -Chitsujo no Nai Gendai ni Dropkick-“, but they decided to release the latter as a separate single a month later. It was very intense creative period for the band. Whatever was Sakurai’s reservation, it disappeared. Finally, they were holding concerts in big halls like the Budokan. Right after that, the next tour, “TOUR Atomic Heart”, was waiting for kick-off. “innocent world” won the Record Award (Japan’s equivalent to the Grammys) and 1994 became Mr. Children’s banner year.

They didn’t take off for either Christmas or New Year and on January 7 1995, they started a new tour. Using a total of 72 faces of cube screen, it was a big entertainment show that consisted of lasers and sounds beyond imagination. The band’s rise to the top continued.

Mr. Children also became more involved in charity work. Keisuke Kuwata introduced them to the ‘Act Against AIDS’ concerts. The duet by Kuwata and Sakurai “Kiseki no Hoshi” became the campaign song for thsese concerts. The stage of the “LIVE UFO” was like a rock opera. They covered songs by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, the golden age of rock standard. Next they worked on their documentary movie “[es]”. By the time they finished the theme song for “[es]”, the movie opened in theatres. In the summer, they held outdoor concert called “[ku:]” (Q) (left).

Mr. Children’s amazing journey continued throughout ’96. The single “Namonaki Uta” was released in February and became a big hit. It was a fresh and creative composition. However the band began to feel drained and burnt out, a feeling which can’t be understood unless one has reached the peak of success.

Their dream had come true, and now every single they released became a hit so they took it for granted. Said Suzuki “I felt like I was carrying a burden somewhere.” People around them told them that they have reached the pinnacle of success yet they felt empty inside. The interest from media extended to Sakurai’s private life because he had succeeded so young (in his 20s). They decided to solve this by continuing to work rather than taking a break.

Mr. Children’s activity after the release of “Atomic Heart” became more concentrated. They hadn’t produced an album in two years. They had a lot of songs that were left unreleased. They started recording them and the recording went over the song limit of an album. The solution: make two albums at the same time, two different albums. The initial plan was to make a world recording, travel to America, Europe, and Jamaica. That was really a stimulating idea, but because of several reasons, that plan was revised to recordings in Tokyo, New York, and London.

It was necessary for them to record in those specific places in order to create their original sounds. Such a place was Waterfront Studio in New York. This time, Henry Hirsch, who created sounds for Lenny Kravitz, was going to join them for the recordings. They stayed there for 4 months. They came to the idea of recording a concept album with the songs flowing from one to the next like a story. The first song was “Tegami”, which was the ending of the story, and each of the following songs would explain how the story came to that conclusion. Henry Hirsch’s has a no-nonsense attitude, allowing no compromises. Sakurai’s lyrics were very realistic; for example, he wrote about love, hope and despair co-existing side by side.

According to Nakagawa “I could see the big road which I had imagined.” After the release of “Hana” as a single, the album “Shinkai” followed. “Shinkai” was a very heavy album for those people who usually listened to 3-minute pop song. It was like a test to find out if you were a real Mr. Children fan. The sales reached 3 million.

After the completion of the album, Mr. Children started their tour. The name of that tour was “regress or progress”. In that tour, they played all the songs from Shinkai. It was a trial for them because they had never done that before. The number of audiences for this tour broke records. However, the schedule was very tight and it took its toll on the band because whenever they played Shinkai in the concerts, it reminded them of their dark feelings.

The other album was “BOLERO” (left). Like Ravel’s “Bolero” (the original classical composition), it went step-by-step recording. Shinkai used analog sounds. BOLERO used digital. Five released songs from this album were already million sales hits, giving it the feel of a best album. But the remaining six new songs were not typical pop hits. For example “Time Machine ni Notte” and “Kasa no Shita no Kimi ni Tsugu”. Those songs were more offensive. This album was like the summary of their two-and-a-half years’ work. In 1997, the tour’s final concert was held at the Tokyo Dome.

Afterwards, rumors started circulating of the band’s dissolution. Of course they had planned on taking one year off, but they never thought about dissolution. Sakurai remarked “The band will dissolve only when we have no more talent and have relationship problems with each other.”

On March 31, 1997, at Ebisu Garden Hall, they held a secret live for only 1,000 fans. The audience there was very relaxed. The band played 10 songs while drinking. It was a celebration for them to mark the end of their tour. They left the stage after performing “Mata Aeru Kana” (“See you again someday”).

Sakurai said, “Rock bands needed a paid vacation.” In fact, they hadn’t had a vacation in 3 years. Tahara and Nakagawa went to driving school. A friend of Suzuki’s left a message on his answering machine stating “Why don’t you go for a drink, or hang out?” Sakurai bought a computer in order to set up a new environment for his compositions. Then he started reading manuals.

Nakagawa and Suzuki had some plans. They formed a new session band named “Hayashi Hideo”, and they went on a livehouse tour. Kenji Fujii from My Little Lover and Sawao Yamanaka from the Pillows joined them. Tahara went to other band’s lives or he listened to CDs at home. He also attended Hayashi Hideo lives. Itt was a good chance to watch Misuchiru’s players objectively.

Even though they were on vacation, their visual products (videos) were released continuously. They released their video clips and tour documentary. Sakurai continued to work on new compositions whenever he found the time. Sometimes he used the guitar but he also tried electronic samplings. Sometimes they got together to play soccer and baseball. Other times, they ran into each other in bars. Sakurai took advantage on such occasions to introduce his demo tapes to them as if he was recommending them cigarettes. He already had some of the songs in his hands. It was going to be their new direction once they started making music and returned to the music scene again.

“Nishie Higashie” went beyond trials; it was a great song. It was good timing too and it was used for a drama. “Nishie Higashie” and “Hikari no Sasu Houhe” represented a refreshed Mr. Children. The new songs boasted complicated loop of riffs and cascading lyrics (poetry-like).

In April ’98, after a year’s vacation they came back to the music scene. Suzuki said “When we played together again, I was very nervous but excited.” They started recording and with “Owarinaki Tabi”, they returned to the music scene.

The phrase, “Tozasareta doa no mukou ni/Atarashii nanika ga matteite” (“There is something new behind a closed door, something new waiting for me…”) was very impressive and meaningful. Said Sakurai, “It means that door is in my mind. I was the one who closed it. Only I can open it again. I closed it; I have to open it.”

After that, they started the recording for their next album at a private studio which was similar to home recordings. Except for the songs which Sakurai had already created, the other songs were made through experimentation in these sessions. During his vacation, Sakurai had enjoyed surfing. So his approach towards creating songs became similar to surfing. He said “There is a way of riding on waves, not only on big waves, but also small waves. Look at it to see how to catch it. It’s similar to writing a song.” The album was “DISCOVERY”. Sakurai had changed. He was not the same person who had made “Shinkai”. He reached in his 30s and shaped up (eliminated unnecessary baggage).

The same thing can be said about the tour that followed. They didn’t bring unnecessary things. They brought only necessities, the most important was music. They didn’t use big screens. They caught the audience only through their songs. They didn’t use any decorations or tricks. The audience recognized four members playing together. That was the real Mr. Children. During their recordings, they had become simpler. They wanted to show the audience the real them. This was something that they had never done. Releasing a live album, that is. The result: the concert in Sapporo was released as their live album. The name was “1/42” because the total number of concerts they held for that tour was 42 and they picked one night of that tour.

-END-

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