(Concerto Moon, Double-Dealer)

Well, well, well… if some 8 years ago someone told me that I'd be able to make an interview with Norifumi Shima of the Concerto Moon and Double-Dealer fame I'd laugh as hard as ever. To me personally this amazing guitarist is the biggest legend on the Japanese scene along with Demon Kogure of Seikima-II. An interview with him was the ultimate dream for me always and eternally. Hey, people, dreams come true! So here I was on the phone with the master himself… and what a gracious master! Shima-san, it's a real honor for me talking to you! I love both Concerto Moon and Double-Dealer but Concerto Moon and Seikima-II are two of my all-time favorite bands worldwide and not just among Japanese artists.

Norifumi Shima: Thanks, it's a pleasure for me too. I heard you were born in Osaka.

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, in a suburb close to Osaka. And your first instrument was piano.

Norifumi Shima: That's right. I started playing piano at the age of 4. My elder brother used to play piano so my parents wanted me to learn to play this instrument as well and so I did. Do you still play piano once in a while?

Norifumi Shima: No, not at all! (laughs) In later years you switched to the guitar. How did it happen and who influenced you back then?

Norifumi Shima: I was about 13 when I started playing guitar. Of course, Ritchie Blackmore was one of my biggest influences. When I grew up he was not involved in Deep Purple anymore so I was a huge fan of Rainbow music. Can you consider yourself to be influenced by the neo-classical style of Yngwie Malmsteen?

Norifumi Shima: Definitely! I used to listen to Yngwie's music a lot and I studied his technique for several years. Of course, growing up in the 80ies in Japan and not to be influenced by Malmsteen if you're guitar player was a hard thing to do! (laughs) I read a funny story in the "Burrn!" magazine that you also liked Scorpions "Blackout" but when you went to buy it in the record shop you got "Virgin Killer" instead.

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) That's true. It was a mistake, I didn't do it on purpose. But thanks to that mistake I got introduced to the music of Uli Jon Roth. Do you think that Scorpions with Uli Jon Roth and Scorpions of the later years are basically two different bands?

Norifumi Shima: I totally agree. Uli has a very unique style of playing and after he left the band obviously changed - they just couldn't be the same at all. Talking of Ritchie Blackmore, did you meet him personally and what do you think of his current band, Blackmore's Night?

Norifumi Shima: Actually we're not in such a relationship that I can say he's a friend of mine. I met him several times when he came to tour in Japan and I went backstage to the signing session. Concerning Blackmore's Night, that's not the music that I can ever imagine myself playing but I still like it. Pretty surprising but very good anyway. The first more or less know band of Shima-san is Crystal Clear. Were there any bands before that?

Norifumi Shima: Of course, I played in bands from 16 years old. But they were local bands, nothing familiar. I can give names but it won't ring a bell to anybody at all. A shop in Tokyo called "Third Stage" used to sell a demo tape of Crystal Clear. Didn't you record it to get a record contract or something?

Norifumi Shima: Yes, we recorded that demo to shop around for a record deal. But before we found the right company the band split up and I started Concerto Moon. Though the band was not longer around and Concerto Moon was emerging Crystal Clear still managed to record a couple of songs for a compilation album.

Norifumi Shima: Right, it was "Make It Shine (Vol. 1)". The songs were "Introduction / Second War In Heaven" and "Road To High". There was also a video tape accompanying the release and it also had a recording of Crystal Clear.

Norifumi Shima: Oh, it was recorded live, we never got to the point of making professional video clips. On the same compilation there was a band Zenith that featured original Concerto Moon singer Takao Ozaki.

Norifumi Shima: That's right. I read in some interview with Shima-san that Ozaki-san was originally a folk singer. How true is that?

Norifumi Shima: Well, he could maybe not be a folk singer but he loved folk music and was not that much into hard rock and heavy metal. Zenith was just another band he was involved in. Before releasing the debut studio album "Fragments Of The Moon" you made a pretty unusual step for a traditional rock band by releasing a live EP ("Live Concerto"). What was the reason behind this?

Norifumi Shima: After forming the band we played live a lot. That live EP was a way for record company to test the waters, to see if people like the band or not. It was also the last involvement of our original drummer Nobuho Yoshioka. Along with that live EP there was a video tape made called "Live Concerto (The Movie)". Why it never came up on DVD?

Norifumi Shima: It's all up to the record company. I do hope that now when the 10th anniversary of the band is about to come they dig the archives and re-release the video on DVD. At least, I'll try to talk to them about the chance of making it real. I guess the 2nd volume of video tape "Make It Shine" features the live recording of Concerto Moon doing "Over The Century".

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, now I remember that. It was recorded at a live show in The Live Station in the Meguro district of Tokyo. There were two things that always surprised me about Concerto Moon. First one is where did you get that name?

Norifumi Shima: I don't know (laughs) It just sounded right from the very beginning. It also has some classical and mysterious elements in it so it was stuck quite fast and no one in the band ever objected it. Another moment is a very interesting fashion - or whatever it is - is the fact that most of the Japanese rock and pop bands like to mix Japanese and English words. Concerto Moon also did it in the beginning.

Norifumi Shima: It was totally the idea of Ozaki-san, our singer. I always considered that rock'n'roll comes from English-speaking countries and there's no doubt that lyrics should be in English. So after Ozaki-san left we switched to English-only lyrics. Just before Concerto Moon released its debut album you were involved in the Deep Purple tribute album. I guess you played "Woman From Tokyo" with Minoru Niihara, singer of Loudness.

Norifumi Shima: Actually the project was not coordinated well enough. I got an offer to do it and thought it could be a great step in terms of promotion. The album featured other famous musicians of the Japanese hard rock and heavy metal scene like Akira Takasaki (Loudness), Hideaki Nakama, Demon Kogure and Luke Takamura (Seikima-II). Are you friends with those guys or not?

Norifumi Shima: Again I can say that we're not very good friends or comrades. We know each other, I respect their work but we're not calling each other every day or spending free time together. You always have very interesting artwork on all CDs. Who comes up with ideas for album covers?

Norifumi Shima: It's totally up to the record company. Of course, we contribute to it and the record company shows us the final version but we're not designers or painters, we are responsible strictly for the musical part of the story. (laughs) Going to the 2nd album "From Father To Son" you changed the keyboard player from Osamu Harada to Toshiyuki Koike.

Norifumi Shima: Harada-san left for personal reasons. He had some private problems. In the meantime you also released a split-single with another metal band Sleazy Wizard, which contained the cover-version of Accept "Breaker".

Norifumi Shima: This was not really sold anywhere. It was just a present to our fans, who came to a show on November 8, 1997. The song "Breaker" was recorded together with other members of Sleazy Wizard. I like Accept a lot, my favorite German metal band. What about classic German power metal? I mean, Helloween and Gamma Ray.

Norifumi Shima: You might be surprised but I never heard those bands! (laughs) Lots of my friends love them but I never had a chance to listen to them. You see, I have my own favorites and rarely listen to anything else, I'm sorry. Who came up with the name of the 3rd album "Rain Forest"?

Norifumi Shima: It was my idea. We met in the rehearsal room one day when recording this album and threw various ideas around. I suggested "Rain Forest" and everybody liked it. We also wrote a nice instrumental song together, called it "Rain Forest" and it was also featured in the album. Can you comment on the lyrics of "Time To Die"? Is that a love song?

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) No, not at all! Just a fantasy, a broken relationship but not with a girl or wife or any female. (laughs) After a tour for "Rain Forest" Ozaki-san left the band.

Norifumi Shima: Yes, it was a problem coming around for several years. We got along fine but his voice was not strong enough to sing even in the studio. From time to time we had troubles when playing live shows, his singing was weak. We were really lucky that during the last concert his voice was in good shape and you can hear it on "The End Of Beginning" CD and video. Talking about "The End Of Beginning" video. Why the whole show wasn't featured on the video? Why did you have to cut it?

Norifumi Shima: Mainly due to technical reasons. It was a time when the DVD format was not there yet and the record company had to cut the show to avoid technical problems, which could surface due to major compression of the video. And the DVD re-release just added three promotional videos as bonus tracks. What does Ozaki-san do now?

Norifumi Shima: I'm sorry, I have no idea. Once he left the band we lost contact with each other and I haven't seen him ever since. What was the reason for taking almost a 2-year break from Concerto Moon and heading for the saga of Double-Dealer?

Norifumi Shima: Well, our relationships in Concerto Moon were weak at that point in time. We were probably a bit too tired of each other after constant album recordings and touring. And when I met Takenori Shimoyama, who was a singer of Saber Tiger at the time, we developed a good relationship and decided to do a project together some day in future. Our record company heard about that and when troubles started piling up in Concerto Moon the record company approached us for an album. We were free enough to do it and here you have it, the start of Double-Dealer. How did it happen that Akira Kajiyama (Goldbrick, ex-Precious, Joe Lynn Turner) played on that bonus instrumental "Fire Drake"?

Norifumi Shima: Very simple - we are friends and he was under contract with the same record company ("Vap"). We asked him to come down and play the solo - and he did. (laughs) OK, after the tour ended you went back to Concerto Moon and found another singer, Takashi Inoue.

Norifumi Shima: That's right. We put ads in magazines, newspapers, and on the Internet. There were lots of tapes and finally we settled on Inoue-san. What did Inoue-san do before Concerto Moon? Did he play in any bands?

Norifumi Shima: Again, mostly with local musicians. Nobody you might know. Around the same time you and Inoue-san were involved in a cover-band called Amanthem (cover-band of Japanese heavy metal band Anthem).

Norifumi Shima: It was actually not a cover-band, we played just one show together performing Anthem classics. I saw lists of bootlegs of cover-bands you played in like Lighting Peace, Rising Malmsteen, Rising Force Densetsu (Yngwie Malmsteen tribute bands), Kangoku Shima Densetsu (Alcatrazz tribute band) and Terra Rosa Densetsu (Terra Rosa tribute band).

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) All the bands you mentioned were not really bands, they were just one-time events. You also used to play with Hideaki Nakama of the Hurry Scuarry fame.

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, we played under some funny names like Point Of No-Tarin citing the name of Nakama-san solo album "Point Of No Return" and Justy Hurry Moon. Again, they were nothing but one-time events. There were no real tours or album recordings. I haven't heard anything from Nakama-san in recent years. What does he do now?

Norifumi Shima: Nowadays Nakama-san lives in San Francisco in the United States. He's got his own band and they frequently play shows in San Francisco and nearby locations. OK, back to Concerto Moon and its resurrection (laughs). I heard that "Gate Of Triumph" was originally supposed to be your solo album.

Norifumi Shima: Yes, the record company wanted me to do a solo album. But after Inoue-san joined the band we decided to record some vocal songs and thus "Gate Of Triumph" is my half solo album. (laughs) Who came up with the idea to re-record songs "Alone In Paradise" and "Take You To The Moon" with English lyrics?

Norifumi Shima: It was my idea. Both songs are the most known ones in the Concerto Moon catalogue so I wanted to give them another chance with improved vocals and better lyrics sung in English. Who screams in the song "Everlasting Nightmare"?

Norifumi Shima: Some guy from the record company. When we recorded basic tracks and gave them to the record company they said that it would be good if somebody screamed in the beginning of that song. None of us could do it good enough so the record company found some guy capable enough of doing that. After the tour for "Gate Of Triumph" came the 2nd Double-Dealer album "Deride On The Top". Can you tell me why the title was changed to "Deride At The Top" in France and Germany?

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) You tell me. Well, Shima-san, I seem to know English not bad enough and generally speaking there's nothing wrong with "Deride On The Top".

Norifumi Shima: I was very surprised to see that change as well but it was all done by the overseas record company and when the album was released over there it was just too late to argue. What about the album's cover? There's some strange origami figure on it…

Norifumi Shima: It was the idea of the album cover's designer. I proposed a totally different artwork but he did the cover on his own and I was not very much pleased with the final result. To support the album in France Double-Dealer even played a one-off show over there.

Norifumi Shima: Yes, it was an unforgettable experience. I liked performing outside Japan for the first time in my life! (laughs) After that you went back to Concerto Moon again and released the album "Destruction And Creation".

Norifumi Shima: Originally the record company wanted to release a best-of album since it was time for the band's 5th anniversary. However, I decided that instead of releasing same old songs over and over again it could be better to demonstrate the power of the new band - so we went ahead and re-recorded classic tracks from the first three albums of Concerto Moon. I personally loved my guitar playing and singing of Inoue-san much more than the original versions. A special bonus mini-CD for "Destruction And Creation" featured two live tracks, "Over And Over" and "Gate Of Triumph".

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, they were recorded on tour for "Gate Of Triumph". I think we recorded them at the Takadanobaba district of Tokyo. There's a place there called "E.S.P. Hall" and we recorded them at a show over there. Then comes my personal favorite stage of the Concerto Moon story, the time of the album "Life On The Wire". I heard the original title of the album was "Strangers".

Norifumi Shima: Not really. Why do you think so? If you look at and other online shops you can see that this album is sold overseas and sometimes in Japan under the title of "Strangers".

Norifumi Shima: Oh I see! (laughs) No, that's just a mistake, a confusion. The album title was "Life On The Wire" from day one. What does it symbolize?

Norifumi Shima: It's the reflection of life itself. It was a very busy and powerful time for Concerto Moon so we decided that the title should reflect what's going on in our lives. I might be mistaken again but isn't "Strangers" a love song?

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) Yes, you missed it again! (laughs) The idea behind the song is that some people who might not really like each other much have to do one thing together whether it is a live concert or some task at work. Can you say that it might express what musicians do when they get up on stage?

Norifumi Shima: Yes, in a way it's true. Where did you shoot a video clip for "It's Not Over"?

Norifumi Shima: The live takes were done in "Club Citta" in the town of Kawasaki near Tokyo. And landscape shots were made in the Shizuoka prefecture where infamous Mt. Fuji is located. What's the idea behind the song "Glorious Death"?

Norifumi Shima: I can't tell you. Lyrics were written by Inoue-san and Koike-san composed music. I have no idea what the song background is. Then you played a rather long tour and even released a new live album and video "Live (Once In A Lifetime)".

Norifumi Shima: Yes, we recorded several shows and compiled them together into a live album. The video was shot entirely in Tokyo. During the drum solo of Junichi Satou there's some interesting song being played in the background.

Norifumi Shima: Satou-san composed it on his own, it's not a Concerto Moon track. You know, Shima-san, it was really surprising to see that a heavy metal drummer plays his solo to a song and not just drumming around like a mad,am during his segment of the show like most European and American drummers do.

Norifumi Shima: I liked it too. It's a very original way of playing a drum solo, Satou-san is a very talented musician. The problem is that he wants to play in too many bands so when he couldn't commit enough time for Concerto Moon he had to leave the band, I'm sorry. The next and so far final album for Concerto Moon is "After The Double Cross". What does the title mean?

Norifumi Shima: It's probably a reflection of life when you are being cheated and sold and games are being played behind your back. Does the album cover show Stonehenge?

Norifumi Shima: Not really, I myself don't know exactly what it is. But it could be Stonehenge, you're right. Can you say that lyrical themes of songs "Dream Chaser" (from the album "From Father To Son") and "Waiting For A Miracle" (from the album "After The Double Cross") are somehow similar?

Norifumi Shima: Yes, they are pursuing the same idea of holding on to your dreams and desires. The song "Fall Down" has some Arabic influences in it especially in the beginning of the solo part. Do you think so?

Norifumi Shima: It might be, I had some Arabic melodies in my mind when composing that song. Let's talk about a very interesting bonus CD for the album full of cover-versions of various bands. First comes "Smooth Dancer" from Deep Purple. I'm sorry, Shima-san, but this song has no guitar solo.

Norifumi Shima: This time I just wanted to do a song and not demonstrate to people that I can play exactly like Ritchie Blackmore does. That's why I chose "Smooth Dancer". Isn't it interesting that you played both "Smooth Dancer" with Concerto Moon and "Woman From Tokyo" on the Deep Purple tribute album, which both originally appear on "Who Do We Think We Are" album of Deep Purple?

Norifumi Shima: (laughs) It wasn't done on purpose at all! Just pure coincidence! Then comes my all-time favorite cover-version ever made by Concerto Moon, "Too Much Love Will Kill You". Originally this song was composed by Brian May and recorded by Queen but it was first released on the Brian May solo album "Back To The Light" (1992) and then by Queen on the album "Made In Heaven" (1995). Which was the version you liked more?

Norifumi Shima: I'm sorry, do you remember the live album of Brian May? You mean, "Live At The Brixton Academy"?

Norifumi Shima: That's right! That's where the version I like most comes from. OK, my personal favorite version among all three is definitely the one done by Concerto Moon. I don't care about the slight accent since it sounds very passionate and very powerful.

Norifumi Shima: Thank you very much for the complement! Shima-san, is it OK if we talk about the last album of Double-Dealer "Desert Of Lost Souls"?

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, if I can answer your questions. Well, I don't really care about your relationships with other band members and all those interior issues. All the people have different opinions about different things in life and they can separate at one point or another.

Norifumi Shima: I think the same and I'm glad that you understand it. I think this time Double-Dealer recorded the heaviest album to date. Especially considering songs like "Howl Of The Wolf".

Norifumi Shima: Yes, a very heavy song. You said it was influenced by thrash metal masters like Metallica and Slayer.

Norifumi Shima: That's right, I like their early albums from the 80ies. What do you think of latest releases at least from Metallica?

Norifumi Shima: Not really my cup of tea, I can't relate to them at all. I personally also like very early albums of Metallica and almost everything ever done by Megadeth. But latest releases of Metallica sound much too different and not that powerful.

Norifumi Shima: Then you understand exactly what I mean! (laughs) What about that bonus DVD sold at "diskUnion" record store chain only? Was that the record company idea? And where was it recorded?

Norifumi Shima: Yeah, the record company came up with that suggestion. That video on the DVD was shot at a live show at "Pure Rock Japan" in 2006. It's actually a Web site that is also responsible for organizing various live shows here and there. Can you tell me about video clips? Can they be seen on some TV shows or TV stations in Japan? Is there any market for them?

Norifumi Shima: We do have some programs and stations on TV that play heavy music videos and videos are not really hard to get. The situation is not that troublesome as it is in America where MTV almost totally stopped playing heavy music since the 90ies. Shima-san, you have a new drummer in the current Concerto Moon line-up.

Norifumi Shima: He's my old friend, we used to play together in Crystal Clear. After the previous drummer left I went to that friend and said that maybe we can play together again. He agreed - and here we are together again and stronger than ever. So what the future holds in store for Concerto Moon?

Norifumi Shima: Well, first we are going on tour in August. Then we plan to record an anniversary album. Is that going to be a re-recording of old songs again or totally new album?

Norifumi Shima: Totally new album with brand new songs. Shima-san, I truly hope that you will get a chance to release all Concerto Moon and Double-Dealer albums overseas. I mean, Loudness and Anthem used to release albums in America and Europe and Loudness still do. And I personally think that such extraordinary bands like Concerto Moon, Double-Dealer, and Seikima-II have serious chances to win over at least the European market where metal is still strong enough.

Norifumi Shima: I do hope for the same. We plan to go into discussions with overseas record companies with that anniversary album and future releases. Let's see what happens! Wish you luck, Shima-san! Norifumi Shima: Thank you! Well, thanks a lot for the interview and thanks to wonderful people at your management for making my longtime dream come true!

Norifumi Shima: Thank you for the interview! Hope to see you in Japan once again some other day!

Dead Ripper
(July, 2007)

Special thanks to wonderful people of "Bazooka Music" for the perfect organization of the interview

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