The mighty Japanese metal scene gave birth to lots of powerful bands. The pick of glory surely took place in the 1980s with such names as Earthshaker, Loudness and Anthem but 20 years later the scene is still alive and kicking. Most recent legends include Saber Tiger, Concerto Moon and Ark Storm. The new Ark Storm album "Beginning Of The New Legend" just got released in Russia via CD-Maximum so it was a good chance to talk to the band's founder and guitar player, Katsu Ohta. Banzai! Ohta-san, it's a pleasure talking to you!

Katsu Ohta: My pleasure! It's great talking with someone from Russia! Can you tell me how did you start your music career? Why did you choose guitar?

Katsu Ohta: Well, I loved this neoclassical music from early years and my first major influences were Jimi Hendrix, Uli Jon Roth and Yngwie J. Malmsteen. They all played a big part in my life and finally I decided to launch the music career because I wanted to be like them. About guitar, I don't really know why I decided to play it, I just loved it. You say you like Yngwie J. Malmsteen. What is your favorite album from him?

Katsu Ohta: Well, I love all of them. But if choosing the most favorite one I think it will be the first, "Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force". And about Uli Jon Roth. You like his solo albums or his work in Scorpions?

Katsu Ohta: Both! The music is different, of course, but I like it. As far as I know one of your first bands was Astonishment.

Katsu Ohta: That's right. It was a combination of power metal and thrash metal. We played stuff in the vein of Metallica, Pantera and Anthrax. There was an album released in 1993 but it's a rare thing to find right now. How did it happen that after Astnoshment you played on the game soundtrack "Konami Shooting Battle"?

Katsu Ohta: Well, Naoto Shibata from Anthem was responsible for the whole thing. He actually had a project called Perfect Selection and they recorded music for various soundtracks to games. It was after Anthem split up in early 1990s. Shibata-san knew me so he called and asked to play there and that's what I did. After that you created the band called Rip Van Wincle.

Katsu Ohta: Yes, but it's didn't last too long. I had some personal problems so I had to leave the music scene for a while. With Rip Van Wincle we recorded a couple of tracks that were released on a compilation album of the "Mandrake Root" record company. Then in 2000 you were invited to play on the solo album of current Anthem singer Eizo Sakamoto "Metal Icchokusen", right?

Katsu Ohta: Yeah, that's right. Sakamoto-san was an old friend of mine, I got to know him through Naoto Shibata. So he invited me and I played on 4 tracks on that album. In November the same year you released the first solo album "The Right Brain Revolution".

Katsu Ohta: I got an offer from "Mandrake Root" to record the solo album. I invited some friends to play there but mainly it was the instrumental album except for two tracks, "Eyes Of The Free Will" and "Brainless Traitor". But why not continuing as a solo artist?

Katsu Ohta: I always wanted to have my own band. Just like Ritchie Blackmore with Rainbow or Yngwie J. Malmsteen with Rising Force. I like this band feeling. Continuing the solo record story you also released a very hard-to-find album "Micronist". What was it? What company released it? What is the meaning of this title?

Katsu Ohta: Well, it was a demo tape I recorded in about 1995. There are no vocals and I played all the instruments like guitars and bass. And no real drums of that recording, it was the drum machine. Concerning the company, you might know the Japanese band Vigilante. The band has its own label called "Eternal Energy". They are good friends of mine and proposed to release that old demo tape. I agreed but it was the limited pressing anyway. And the title means that it's no big deal, it's something not major or a real thought-over solo album and that's how I came up with the title "Micronist". Finally in late 2001 you formed Ark Storm. Why the line-up changed so much from the first album "No Boundaries"?

Katsu Ohta: The situation was the following. We recorded the album quite soon and didn't think too much about tours and stuff. It was just a try. But the album was a big success so we decided to go on tour. And that's when problems started to surface in the line-up. First, our singer Hirosaki Imanishi had to quit because he had a hearing problem. He couldn't hear with his right ear properly. It was a problem during the recordings and it got worse once we went out on tour. Bass player Michirou Yamada left because he didn't like the style of music that much, he wanted to play something more bluesy. And our drummer Takeo Shimoda didn't like the style of music as well. How did you engage ex-Saber Tiger singer Yasou Sasai in Ark Storm? I don't know if he recorded anything with Saber Tiger at all.

Katsu Ohta: No, he didn't. He was in Saber Tiger a long time ago, about 15 years earlier when the band just did demo tapes and nothing else. Their first album came out only in 1992. Sasai-san was also a friend of mine so I invited him to audition and he passed the test. And Saber Tiger doesn't exist right now, by the way. After singer Takenori Shimoyama left and formed Sixride guitar player Akihito Kinoshita returned to Hokkaido to continue teaching students in guitar school. OK, tell me about the new album "Beginning Of The New Legend". How do you write lyrics since you don't know English? (We made this interview in Japanese, now you are reading the English translation - ed.)

Katsu Ohta: Well, my friend and lyricist of the band Nikki Matsumoto writes all the lyrics. On the first album "No Boundaries" I used to give Nikki basic ideas and the melody to go with them. But I ran out of ideas in the end of the day so Nikki actually wrote the lyrics on "Play For You" and a couple of others on his own. As for "Beginning Of The New Legend", it was supposed to be more of a band effort. Our singer Sasai-san got involved in writing lyrics as well. But Nikki actually decides most of the song titles and checks the lyrics anyway. Sasai-san basically writes Japanese lyrics and I take them from him to complete. Is it a problem that you live in the city of Asaka in Saitama-ken, which is relatively far from Tokyo?

Katsu Ohta: No, absolutely not. If I need to go somewhere I just go there by car! (laughs) Since it is almost a year passed from the release of "Beginning Of The New Legend" in Japan when will the new album of Ark Storm come out?

Katsu Ohta: I think it will be released on September 5 this year. Probably some days later but definitely in September. We're in the middle of recordings right now. Will the new album be different from "Beginning Of The New Legend"?

Katsu Ohta: I guess the main difference it that the new album will be more song-oriented rather than guitar-oriented. Of course, the guitar will remain the main instrument but songs will be given a better approach, they will be a bit less faster. What about touring? Why all those great Japanese bands like Concerto Moon and Ark Storm played only in Japan?

Katsu Ohta: I don't know what Norifumi Shima (Concerto Moon leader and guitarist) thinks but I would love to play somewhere outside of Japan. It's getting so boring playing here. I mean Japan is a very small market comparing it to that in Europe or America. If we get invitations we will definitely play somewhere outside of Japan. And maybe in Russia?

Katsu Ohta: I would love to! No problem - just invite us and we'll come anywhere! Do you only play in Ark Storm or you have some job?

Katsu Ohta: If you mean a normal day job I don't have any. Apart from Ark Storm I teach people to play guitar. But not in school or university. Only private lessons. OK, thanks for the interview, Ohta-san! It was great talking to you!

Katsu Ohta: Thank you! See you!

Dead Ripper
(June, 2004)

Special thanks to the webmaster of the Ark Storm official site and Nikki Matsumoto
for their perfect assistance and gratitude in organizing this interview.

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