When you meet someone for an interview, the first thing you notice about him probably aren't his fingernails. Japanese guitarist Kotaro Oshio is an exception - the fingernails on his right hand are long, lacquered, and adorned with black stars.
It's with these fingernails and an acoustic guitar that Oshio produces music so complex that it sounds like an entire rock band. His style is wide-ranging, and he displays his versatility in his creative uses of techniques such as open tuning, but he still keeps things simple.
"Many people who play solo guitar put too much stress on technique, but I want to focus more on the melody," he says through a translator. He's dressed all in black, chin resting on clasped hands as he takes his time answering each question in a soft, deep voice.
"I chose to play the steel-string acoustic guitar because it's cooler and more rock, compared to the warmer tones of the classical guitar," says Oshio. "I also really like Japanese folk songs, which are best played with steel strings."
Now 46, Oshio began learning the guitar when he was 14. By the time he was 27, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the music industry. He began sending demo tapes to record companies, but received no response. Just when he was about to give up, he joined a band and also began performing solo. "At first, only a few people came to listen. And then more people came. There must have been more than 100. People from record companies and radio stations came to listen, too."
Oshio released his first major-label album, Starting Point, when he was 34.
Twelve years on, he's just released his 12th studio album, Pandora. "It's inspired by the story of Pandora's box," explains Oshio. "When it's opened and all the
evil flies out, the
only thing that remains is hope."
The songs in Pandora have a sense of mystery to them, he says. Kirakira (Glittering) was inspired by a person's face, while Legend is about a battle in the Japanese "warring states" period. The last song, Utsukushiki Jinsei (Beautiful Life), is Oshio's summary of his life so far. As you can imagine, that involved plenty of music practice.
"In high school, basically all I did was play the guitar, only stopping to eat," he says. Even now, he still plays one to two hours every day to keep his skills polished, and that's before counting practice for concerts, which requires special attention.
"I stand in front of the mirror to see how I look, and figure out how I can look cooler, like by playing with one hand. That's the hardest part."