Cover TK of Ling Tosite Sigure looks back at his 20-year music career (Photo : Sony Music Japan)

The lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of Japanese rock trio Ling Tosite Sigure, who is also a soloist, takes us on a trip down memory lane—and reveals what it was like to work with B’z’s Koshi Inaba

Toru Kitajima, better known as TK, is the lead singer of the Japanese rock three-piece Ling Tosite Sigure—which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The band is particularly well-known for its post-hardcore, progressive rock and math-rock sounds. 

While fronting the band, he also began releasing solo music as “TK from Ling Tosite Sigure” in 2011. Last month, he released As Long as I Love and Scratch, both featuring singer and lyricist Koshi Inaba of Japanese rock duo B’z, one of the best-selling music acts in Japan.

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To date, he has released four albums, three EPs and 10 singles as a solo artist. His 2014 debut solo single Unravel became the opening theme tune of the popular anime series Tokyo Ghoul in the same year, propelling him to prominence. 

In an exclusive interview with Tatler, the 39-year-old rock star looks back on the highs and lows of his 20-year career.

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2022 marks your 20th year in the music industry. How do you feel? 

I’ve been busy trying to grasp anything that’s at arm’s length—I actually don’t feel the reality of it. All I can say is, “Wow, I’ve created a whole bunch of songs”. I hope that my music keeps evolving and [I] never see the end of the tunnel.

What are some memorable moments?

I’m sure there are many, but the first thing that comes to mind is the time when I first raised my voice by one octave at the recording studio. It was the moment I felt I grasped the tail of “something”.

Tell us more about As Long as I Love and Scratch.

Scratch was the first song I made a demo on after getting [Koshi] Inaba-san [to agree to] collaborating. The song starts from a simple piano sound and it slowly escalates. As it’s a tie-in with the Magic: The Gathering card game promotion video, we wrote the lyrics first to coincide with the visual from the video and eventually put in our own touches.

As Long as I Love was an idea that Inaba-san suggested. The idea was to start off with a guitar and vocal unison, and after a change in tempo, develop into a more grandeur image. I took that in and created the song. I hope you enjoy the roller-coaster ride while listening to it—with the hysteric sounding Inaba-san and my vocals heading into unwinding tension at the chorus.

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What’s the story behind collaborating with Koshi Inaba on these tracks?

Last year, I put out offers to collaborate with artists, ranging from young to veteran artists.  I didn’t know how Inaba-san would respond when I sent [him] demos, but I thought it was better to try than do nothing.

Despite the fact that B’z is a group that almost everyone in Japan knows, he communicated naturally with me and we were on the same page. At times, he would be the light to guide me through the whole process. He’d let me try what I wanted to do, no matter how many times. The whole creation process felt like we were in a band together.

Were you a longtime fan of his?

From a singing point of view, the big impact he had on me when I first listened to him is still expanding, as the depth of his voice beautifully ages. His high-tone, shouting-like singing style reaches the listener’s ear at tremendous speed. The projection is awe-inspiring, but at the same time, I feel [it] is very risky.

Inaba-san keeps evolving and bettering himself, so when I hit a wall, I always think of his presence for inspiration.

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Are you working on anything new as TK from Ling Tosite Sigure?

I do both [make music as TK and TK from Ling Tosite Sigure] at the same time. It’s funny how my brain works differently for each—though I’m still the same person.

I ponder and redo things over and over more when I’m in the Ling Tosite Sigure mode. With the solid sound image, sounds from the band and the arrangements intertwining with each other as it builds up—we go the extra mile to get it perfect.

I’ve been told that I should become a different person for each project, but right now, I’m not conscious about that. I just think [about] which project works better with the sound that I create, [and] which can better define what’s in my mind. It comes out naturally—it’s just that I have two musical outlets. [It’s as] simple as that.

What are you looking forward to the most this year?

I’m hoping to have a moment when I reach the limit of my music, guitar and singing. When Covid-19 began, my Asia tour got cancelled and our plan to record at an overseas studio as Ling Tosite Sigure was also cancelled. I want to go overseas once things settle down.

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