2004.2.25-3.2 interviews and other texts
2004.2.25-3.2 interviews and other texts
I had been a king of error but now have to be a king of irony. because…
Tori, your history, particularly the music I have heard of yours from the late 1970s and early 1980s (Guys’n’Dolls, Noise, Snickers), suggests an intrinsic relation with rock music. But I sense that this changed at some point. When did you jettison your interest in rock music, and why? What is it about rock music that you do not appreciate? Are you against rock, or simply not interested in it?
When a guy shouts “rock’n roll !”, the venue is suddenly “dyed up” by an inevitable worldly colour, no matter how carefully the player prepared his unique expression beforehand. Under such case, to resist rock’n roll is beyond a human power. A rocker who liked saying “I hate rock’n roll” died dyed by rock’n roll. Rock rolls with irony while jazz goes with freedom. Some bands have always avoided using mere 8 beats. It seems like rock’n roll about rock’n roll, and rock’n roll about rock’n roll can not be rock’n roll but it is rock’n roll, and I dare say I have been liking rock’n roll more than anyone else in the world no matter how apparently the world does not deserve me. My rock has been persecuted like Ethiopian blues but always been alive yet hidden like a rock mass under the water to where I once had to make a return visit in the dark.
I am interested to know about your involvement with the A-Musik organisation.
A-musik was not an organization but a band that was often invited to play in events for left-wing extremists or anarchists. I remember how we were spending our time in early 80’s. For instance, we loudly played a song called “anti-jap-rap ” on a vehicle parked in front of Shinjuku station, Tokyo, then ran away before the police arrived. I was ‘rapping’ at that time. I also remember one day we played in a slum in Yokohama, I shouted a Korean song and VARSHAVIANKA in punk style. The audience was so pleased to scatter colourful torn pieces of paper onto the band…I also remember one winter we organised iron-pipe-orchestra with homeless workers in Sanya, the biggest slum in Tokyo. We organised a big festival called “Anti-Jap-Independant” at Wako University, Tokyo. We invited Fred Frith and Tom Cora. I remember I sang a Korean hard rock and one of Damo Suzuki’s song..
What did this involve for you? What led you to turn your back on this organisation, and turn to religion?
To be involved in ‘Anti-Jap movement’ involved stopping my being a Japanese for my self-denegation, which was completed after I stopped being a part of the world as the primitive church did.
Tell me about the process of recording the “Return Visit to Rock Mass” box set. Why did you decide to release such a large amount of music? Do you always have such a backlog of unrecorded songs?
I hurt my left knee because I had been carried all my scores always. Shinji Shibayama of org records was kind enough to offer me an opportunity to record all my scores in a recording studio.
You relocated to London for a period of time, where you were ‘discovered’ by David Keenan and The Pastels. Why did you shift to London? Reiko Kudo described your move to London as being like moving ‘from an Egypt to another Egypt’ -what does she mean by this? And now that you are working closely with The Pastels, what is your sense of them – as a band, as musicians, and as individuals – as your peers?
They found Return Visit to Rock Mass CD in rough trade in Portobello. Egypt means the world. The Pastels has been a deterrent to my leaving this world.
Please explain to me what motivated Maher Shalal Hash Baz’ interest in error and imperfection.
My laziness, poverty, and ideal.
I have sometimes seen your work as continuing a musical trajectory that includes songs like The Raincoats’ “Fairy tale in the Supermarket”, Syd Barrett’s “Last Night” or albums like the Red Crayola’s “Coconut Hotel”. Would these be fair approximations of your musical ‘influences’? What is it about this music that inspires you? What other music inspires you?
Yes, the rhythm of “late night” was a very special thing to me. I like the way of Mayo who thinks out new things using not many sources under the limited condition of rock format, i.e, one of Coconut Hotel piece of turning a knob of the amp volume clockwise gradually. Raincoats gave us a joy of forming a band. I can not mention other musical influences here, which are too many.
Michael Karoli of the German group Can once said that “no Can piece is ever finished”. Tori, do you feel that your songwriting process is open-ended, or are you fairly dogmatic about the structures of your songs? Are the songs bound by their score? Are Maher Shalal Hash Baz songs ‘finished’, or are they unfinished?
Melodies are cut from the air and repeated for a few seconds, like fish in the air living for a while. We try to release the fish into the water before it dies, but it does not succeed always. As everything has its beginning and end, so each melody has to face its end. The length of a song is decided by its strength of the song itself. When a melody is worth playing long, It is played for hours. But I also know the danger of such kind of meditating on one cord, which makes one like a defenseless city when attacked. Playing music is like giving a melody a funeral properly. music is a battle of India(horizontal)and Tango(vertical).
Can you explain to me your interest in errors and imperfections? Your music often reminds me of the miniature and almost imperceptible flaws found in hand-woven rugs. You have recently suggested that you want to shift from being considered ‘king of error’ – did you find, though, that you would get bored when a piece of music approached ‘perfection’?
I had to be a king of irony this time in the recording studio, where we had to be good boys trying to avoid any mistake. But I basically still want music to be cheap, easy, yet unique, especially when played with non-musicians.
Do you still perform solo piano concerts? What does this avenue offer you that making music with Maher doesn’t?
I still have my solo piano concert sometimes. For me, playing the piano is like drawing. I can not draw the same picture twice. It is more free and more improvisational than the band.
How important is a sense of community to your music making?
I have not got my musical community. My local community does not seem to need my music. The musical community in 90’s divided the world into many small villages, which enable people to keep their pride.
Your songs appear to be very interested in natural phenomena – “Open Field”, “Sunrise”, bird-song, etc. Why?
Goethe who is not falling in love has to find his reality in the nature for time being.
There is a song on your new album called “Tokyo Okinawa Scotland”. What are the similarities between these places that led you to write this song?
Naoto, a depressed bassist who lives in Tokyo, wanted to go to Okinawa first then go to Scotland with maher, The theme is repeated three times in three different manners reflecting each locations. Spaces between the melodies represents an eardrum hurt in the airplane.
How accurately do you feel your ‘blues du jour’ songs actually capture the ‘blues of the day’? Or is it more abstract than this?
Blues du jour is a name of a format for a collective improvisation for non-musicians, which has many rules including staggering rhythm of 2nd beat etc.
Do we privilege music too much?
Music has its peculiar freedom unique in all genre of art . Once we get used to this freedom without limits, we would even live only in music, without caring about what is happening in this planet.
what is your earliest memory of music?
i remember a fragment of a violin sonata of Cesar Franck, and a very low vocal part of the platters’ singing “you’ll never know”.
when did you first start creating any kind of music of your own?
i remember that i wrote a score titled “a flower on the mountain” when i was 4, it was very like early Mozart tune because of my learning classical piano at that time.
how easily did ‘songform’ come to you as musician/writer?
it was not easy at all because i had not got any words to be sung before.
was there a definite moment when you realised that music-making would be what you would do with your life?
one day i decided to create a cheap yet an unique musical format like rock’n roll, for dancers who were working at guys’n dolls, a cabaret in times square.
what were your earliest desires and/or goals as an artist?
it was to become a menber of decembrists,
was there a particular record or person who had a great influence on you when you were starting out?
a beard art student who came to work for my father’s pottery workshop, taught me a hippie style when i was 10 years old. then a natural curly haired classmate taught me other things when i am 16.
did you grow out of a particularly fertile time and/or place (both geographically and pop-culturally), or were you more isolated in your musical beginnings?
i think i had just been reading rock and jazz magazines and had been following dogmas of favourite critics.
at what point along your musical timeline was the seed of maher shalal hash baz first sewn?
when masashi mitani gave up his career as a guitarist and decided to play the bass guitar for me, i started making songs for him.
did the band come as an idea first, or did it grow out of people just playing together?
i always have an idea for my music regardless of playing with anyone. but when i write a score, i consider whether the player is able to play it and whether he likes it.
i do not like having a concept before forming a band. these days a musician like to have several bands according to each concept. i would like to do all things in one band.
when you were starting out, what did you want maher shalal hash baz to be? were there qualities you wanted to embody? or sounds you wanted to explore? or vague ideas you had in mind?
i wanted to play with my clones.
has maher been, over time, a thought-out endeavour, or has it been a more spontaneous thing?
doing maher is like being a ropewalker. i have always been trying to find some new ideas that allows me to continue music one more time.
do you sit down and think about records before you undertake the recording of them?
usually i have not got any time to sit down even for choosing songs. i am always moving with all my heavy scores that hurt my knees.
what ideas or thoughts on concepts may you have had in mind when setting out on working on ‘blues du jour’?
at first, i was thinking of only ‘blues du jour’ which is a collective improvisation format for non musicians.
do you try and make your albums have thematic content?
my recording has been like cutting a period out of my diary. consequently, it became a kind of “i” novels.
is there a particular subject that interests you most, as songwriter, at the moment?
after 9.11, some musicians in the usa seem to have come to be able to put on others’ shoes including even the concerned terrorist. such kind of empathy is absolutely nice but i think it also shows a kind of limitation of human relativism. they are always saying like “there are many flowers in the world and everyone is a unique flower”, but they may not know who made the 250,000 kinds of flowers personally.
to what degree are the arrangements on your songs orchestrated, and how much is improvised?
i let a left-faced player do improvisation for his/her right brain, but give a right-faced player a detailed score for his/her left brain.
as band-leader, are you a hard taskmaster?
yes, i always demand sightreading.
what characteristics do you think shine through most in maher’s music?
malicious bitterness and a certain fearful expectation of judgement or destruction. sorry, not upbuilding at all…hope is the most important element for playing music.
Where does the idea of having a biblical name come from? Does it have any particular intention? What is your connection with this mythical character?
Maher. had been born as a sign before Assyria destroyed Samaria. Maher. would be born as a sign before political power destroys religious power. I would not like to be a part of both powers. I would rather be a ship of neutral, carrying treasure from modern Samaria to modern Assyria.
Are you interested in religion or spiritual matters? Are you a religious person?
If I were more aware of my needs of spirituality, I would have been a more happy person.
As far as I know, this is your last album since the legendary 83-song Return Visit To Rock Mass. What have you been doing during this period of time? Could you draw different stylistic periods throughout the band history?
While recording Return Visit to Rock Mass in early 90’s, I was trying to run away from the world. Rock was too sinful for me or sin was too rock for me. I was not in clubs at nights and was not playing music until 1999.
Why have you decided to record your new album at the East Kilbride Arts Centre in only 2 days in a country like Scotland? Does it have anything to do with the style of your music?
I think it was not only 2days, though, anyway, it was short enough to avoid modern experimental childish adventures.
East Kilbride, where David Scott was working, was not a country town. It had two pubs and one musical instruments shop.
How was the collaboration with David Scott?
He paid attention to details like Phil Spector. To know him was to love him.
We felt like we were the Beach Boys.
How is your relationship with The Pastels? How did you know them?
I had already got their ilumination cd at virgin megastore before they suddenly phoned me.
Once Goddard made a movie about “life, trust, affair, music”, and it was an affair of my life.
Is it true that you see yourself as the ‘kings of errors’? What does it mean?
Describing me as the king of error was the best excuse for having no time to rehearse.
What do you mean when you described Maher’s music as “gothic country”?
It is not strange to hear that Johnny Cash covers Joy Division.
Do you feel part of the psych folk scene?
No, I don’t. I am a punk.
In what kind of music are you interested at the moment? What do you think of the Acid Mother Temple?
I like Ethiopian ballads and blues. I have not had a chance to try Kawabata’s acid yet.
Are you interested in magic or the paranormal?
I know they have been acting in a theatre called white and black.
Why are all the tracks on this album so short? Are you particularly interested in fragmented narratives?
They are just not worth repeating. You could loop it in your head as long as you like.
Do you like to play with ideas such as ingenuity, amateurism, no-music?
People tend to look that way. I myself has been trying to play music just perfectly always, and just would like to play music with someone who I like.
Many reviews talk about the relation between your work and “the fall-out of political events that took place in Japan 20 years ago”. What does this exactly mean? Are there any specific political contexts or ideas connected to your work?
It is said that an agent from North Korea gave financial support and spreaded the idea of “anti-japan”. Many punks that time were involved in this “anti-jap”movement. The leftovers of these jargons still sometimes appear in songs.
Why did you say in a recent interview that “the only current members of Maher are Masami Shinoda and Koichiro Watanabe”, being them two great players who are sadly now dead?
How do you communicate with them?
I could play with them when they are resurrected.
Are you interested in literature?
I am really into Murakami’s work at the moment, have you read it?
There are two Murakamis in Japan, who have been writing best seller novels constantly. One is Ryu Murakami and another is Haruki Murakami. I have recently read Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka by seaside” and made a song of that.
What do you feel about drugs? Have you got any interesting experiences/trips? Do you see any interesting links between drugs and music?
I had tried any ups and downs when living in New York. If I were being there longer, I would have died. It was sure that my tempo became slower or faster than real time when playing the guitar after window pain or ganja. But all that I learnt was that a poor brain made a poor trip. I stopped taking any stuff including smoking since 1989.
Is it true that you had a Suicide tribute band called Tokyo Suicide?
Yes, I had been doing it with Koichiro Watanabe, who really committed suicide later though.
Were you a member of the A-Musik collective. What kind of music did they play?
A-music played political songs such as Brecht-Weill’s, Frederic Rzewski’s, L’internationale noir, varshavianka, etc.
What are you next plans? Are you thinking of touring or recording a new record? Will you come to Spain?
I have been invited to Europe tour for one month by silver mount zion recently. Touring around continental is like a dream come true for me, but It is still difficult because other members can not stop their work for their living.