Interview with Asahito Nanjo.
The following interview with Asahito Nanjo originally appeared in
issue #3 of the New Zealand magazine
Opprobrium. It is
reprinted here with their kind permission.
Interview and translation by Alan Cummings.
To most of you
Asahito Nanjo may just be one more of those difficult to remember
names from the currently hep Japanese underground. To those of you
with a couple more brain cells (and deeper wallets), his role as
bassist in Japan's loudest mind-and-speaker-blowing units,
High Rise, Musica Transonic and
Mainliner (recent release on Charnel House) may
spring to mind. Musica Transonic have been described in these very
pages as "total over-the-top distortion insanity;some kind of peak in
the post-psych idiot rock underground." But these comparatively
well-known manifestations of Nanjo's work aesthetic are but just the
surface. He has been (very) active in the Tokyo underground scene
since the late seventies, clocking up appearances in around thirty
different gigging bands - including Rotten Telepathys with the late
Michio Kadotani (see the documentary CD on PSF), long-running space
psychedelic masters Kosokuya, the original version
of Keiji Haino's Nijiumu, Sweet Inspirations with underground legend
Tori Kudo (of Maher Shalal Hash Baz "fame"), the ubiquitous High
Rise, Toho Sara, Okami no Jikan; the list is
probably endless, and I haven't even started getting on to the
various studio-only projects and one-off jams. He is active at the
moment as a composer, lyricist, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist,
performer, vocalist and concept-originator in around fifteen
different units, all pursuing different aspects of his unique musical
Nanjo has recently revived his label, La Musica, to get more of his
work out into the world. Around 130 (!) cassettes and the first two
CDs in the release schedule are currently available. He was due to
take Musica Transonic, Mainliner, Okami no Jikan, and Toho Sara on
their first European tour in late September/October [of 1996].
(The interview was conducted in my living room, Tokyo, on an
immensely hot afternoon in mid-August 1996. Ice coffee and
`psychedelic' ham sandwiches were the refreshments of choice.)
How did you get your nickname, "Red"?
That comes from the name of my first band, Red
Alert. There was a time when I was pretty close
to the edge, in the things I thought about. That was why I chose the
name Red Alert.
When was that?
At the height of punk in Japan. Red Alert was a pure punk band.
How old were you then?
Around nineteen or twenty, I think. I took the name from films. It's
a very punk-type name though.
Did you have a nom de punk?
No, but the nickname sort of stuck.
Were you born in Tokyo?
No, in Aichi prefecture. Just around that time
the whole Tokyo Rockers scene was happening. Red
Alert started up at the same time. I knew a lot of people from the
Tokyo Rockers scene - the guys from Friction and
so on. Friction's guitarist was in another band
with the guy who played guitar with me in Red Alert. So I knew people
like RECK and Lapis. I actually had a band for a
while with Lapis, we called it Lapis and Red. Punk was really big in
Japan round this time, with lots of bands - it was a pretty vital
Did the Japanese scene start after the London punk explosion,
or was it something that grew up by itself?
There were punk-like bands going back to about `75 - stuff like
Sanbunnosan, Frankenstein, Bronx. I was still in
Aichi then, but I'd read about these bands. They've all become
legends now. The original Japanese punk scene lasted about five
years, from `75 to `80. These early bands gave birth to a more
fully-formed punk scene - that was the Tokyo Rockers scene with
Friction, Lizard and S-Ken etc. Totally separate to this there was
another stream - Hadaka no Rallizes and Lost
Aaraaff. The stuff they were doing was different.
It wasn't rock `n' roll - Rallizes were kinda folk, Lost Aaraaff were
Were you able to get information about weird stuff like Lost
Aaraaff, living out in the boonies?
There were good magazines - the original Rock Magazine and DOLL.
They'd do profiles of weird stuff, so I read about a lot of bands
What kind of music were you listening to back then?
I was listening to stuff like The Fugs around `75. When the punk
thing happened I was buying a lot of punk records. And of course
psychedelic stuff as well. Just around this time the English Radar
label was reissuing stuff like Red Crayola and 13th Floor Elevators.
That was around `78, I think. So all that stuff got mixed up in my
head with the punk movement. I was listening to the Red Crayola and
Elevators reissues - the originals were too expensive. Then there was
the Psycho label in England, and Eva in France. All that was
happening around the same time.
So you were absorbing punk and weird psych at the same
Yeah, but the impact of punk was so great that I felt more drawn in
that direction at the time.
What are your earliest musical memories?
Film soundtracks. When I was a kid, I loved films and would buy the
soundtrack to every film I saw. I got to hear a
lot of different music that way that I mightn't otherwise have
encountered. When I saw Elevator To The Scaffold, I had to go out and
buy the Miles Davis record. I'd even buy the soundtracks for action
films. This was back when I was in primary school. I was a collector
- I had to have the soundtrack to every film I saw. Of course, when I
was a kid, action films were my favorites. At that time, they showed
all kinds of films on TV. Stuff that you wouldn't believe would be on
at nine o'clock - stuff that they put on at about three in the
morning now. From the end of the sixties and
through the seventies Japanese TV would show lots of really weird
films. I'd decided that even if the film was boring, I had to have
the soundtrack. When I first started buying records, all I was bought
Would you buy the soundtracks for Japanese films as
Of course - monster movies and stuff like that. [laughter] When I was
kid they didn't release the Godzilla soundtracks. That came later,
when the films became cult viewing. Most of the soundtracks in the
shops were for Western films.
Did you learn any instruments when you were a kid?
I went to piano lessons. Any time there was an event at school I had
to do a piano piece, because I was the only one in the class who
could play. I remember hating being forced into that kind of thing.
Was there any specific musician or record that was a turning
point for you and made you want to become a musician?
Not really. I was a strange kid with no ambitions. How I became I
musician was sort of the opposite to everyone else. I didn't bother
writing it down on my profile, but I had a band in high school called
the Kangan Zenji Band. It was an acoustic band, like the Holy Modal
Rounders, or The Fugs, The Godz.
Were the ESP records widely available in Japan?
I'd managed to get hold of secondhand copies of The Fugs albums.
Virgin Fugs was the first one I found, I think. I just happened
across it somewhere. At the same time I was listening to all the
normal stuff too. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, Genesis. Basically
I listened to everything I could find, but the stuff I liked best
was the weird stuff. Stuff that wasn't straight. It was probably
the influence of listening to all those soundtracks. I'd always
preferred the odd stuff played by jazz musicians to the sweeping
string arrangements. The kind of thing you'd hear in Le Samurai
or The French Connection. The jazz stuff sounded cooler than strings
to me as a kid. And the spaghetti Western soundtracks
too, with the electric guitars - they were cool. And that's probably
why I've loved listening to psych guitar and jazz all these years.
I think that all those soundtracks I listened to as a kid have
had a really powerful impact on me. Even though I may have not
understood them at the time.
How easy was it to get hold of weird records in Japan at that
time? Now Tokyo is like an Interzone where all the rare and weird
records of the world eventually appear. I don't know about the
States, but it's so much easier to get hold of stuff here then it is
in the UK. What was it like back then, when you were in high
The stuff was available, but the main problem was the strength of the
dollar. Imported records were really expensive. When I was a kid, one
dollar was 360 yen [note: it's now 110 yen, which accounts for the
vast expense of Japanese CDs], so imported stuff was very expensive.
Even compared to the inflated prices of Japan-pressed records. So if
I was buying a new record, it had to be a Japanese pressing. That was
what I was buying right through high school. But then I heard some
punk stuff on the radio, and I started buying imported records. If I
wanted to buy imported records, British and American stuff I had to
get on the train and travel for about an hour - if I wanted Japanese
records it was only ten minutes. So that was what I did. I'd work
part-time jobs and spend all the money on records.
Presumably there were no 7-Elevens back then. Where did you
Factories making threads. Restaurants. All kinds of stuff.
When did you come up to Tokyo?
Around `78 or `79. Red Alert was my first band in Tokyo. I'd already
decided to become a musician. It was just around this time that No
New York was happening. And that was like a second shock for me. Punk
had been a shock, but it was basically just three-chord rock. But
then hearing The Contortions, Teenage Jesus, Mars, DNA. The first
time I heard DNA I knew that I had to make music. On my profile I've
described Red Alert as psychedelic punk but it's probably closer to
Have you heard those Von Lmo CDs?
No, but they're from around the same time, aren't they? The whole New
York scene around `78, the second wave, sounded really fresh to me.
The shock of No New York wore off after about a year though. And just
around then I began meeting the people from Friction and
Fushitsusha- that really decided my future for
me. I was still young when I met Haino and Lapis and so on. And that
was it, they showed me that punk wasn't where it was at. I suppose I
was lucky. If I hadn't met them I would have kept on doing the same
thing and I probably would have given up eventually. All the bands I
was in, from Conformist up till Sweet
Inspirations, were all with the musicians who
hung around with Haino - Tori Kudoh , Kadotani
, Kaneko , Harumi
Yamazaki, Tamio Shiraishi . When you play with
people like that technique no longer matters. They were jumbling up
jazz and contemporary music and psych and punk any way they wanted.
Hanging out with those people had a big influence on me.
Were you doing any improvised stuff then?
The earliest bands weren't. We were totally punk - not much technique
but a lot of attitude and rhythm. I played guitar back then -
actually I couldn't play it. I'd keep making mistakes and that gave
the whole thing a No New York flavour.
Did all those early bands exist simultaneously?
Some of them did, but others only lasted for a few months. For
example, I was only in Kosokuya for three months.
What did you do in Kosokuya?
I played bass. Narita  played drums with them
then, though of course he was already playing the guitar. He had been
playing in bands since `79. Recently we found a tape of a band called
Tokyo that he was in around `79 - I'm going to put it out. After that
he was in a band called Kyoaku no Intentions.
After that the next band he was in was Psychedelic Speed Freaks, with
me. That band became High Rise. I formed Psychedelic Speed Freaks
because even playing with Kosokuya and Tori Kudoh, I felt that their
ideas and direction weren't quite right for me. There were points
that we had in common, but other points where we were totally
different. So I decided to do something "hard" with the people I got
on best with. Kosokuya have hardly changed at all - they were weird
back then, too.
Who else was in Kosokuya then?
There was me on bass, Narita on drums, Kaneko on guitar, and Mik on
vocals. I think there's one tape left over from the time we were in
the band. Kosokuya have been playing for a long time. They debuted in
`75. They were called Kokugaiso back then. Kaneko and Mik were
involved with Shuji Terayama's theatre group - they met there in
about `75. At the start they would both dance naked. Then they called
themselves Ray, and finally they changed the name to Kosokuya around
`78. The name may have changed but it was always the two of them - if
you look at it that way then Kosokuya has been going on for over
twenty years. Everyone else has left the band now - Kaneko is the
only one left.
Why did you call yourselves Psychedelic Speed Freaks?
Because that was the way we played. At that time, Kosokuya and all
the other bands were really dark, exclusionary and closed off. I
didn't like that and wanted to do something that would be the
antithesis - that was why I formed the band.
Who were the original members?
There was me on guitar, Mitani from Maher on bass, and Narita on
guitar. Then there was Takahashifrom Maher and
Che Shizuon drums - he also plays on Tamio
Shiraishi's CD. The bass-player quit soon after, so I started playing
bass. We played for quite a bit as Psychedelic Speed Freaks before we
changed the name to High Rise.
When did you change the name?
When we were about to put out the first album on PSF. We talked with
PSF and they thought that the band name was too direct and asked us
if we would change it. So we changed it to High Rise, and they took
the initials of Psychedelic Speed Freaks for the name of the label.
Why did you choose High Rise?
From the Ballard book.
What was the initial aim of the band?
A lot of people we knew were dying from drug ODs and so on. There
were a lot of great musicians in the sixties and seventies who died
from drugs, or went insane before they could become famous. We wanted
to make an anti-drugs statement, so we chose American and British
drugs slang for all the titles. The concept was to save the junkies.
Were you all involved in the drugs scene too?
Not at all. I had happened to meet and play with Haino when I was
very young, before I could get into that scene. Haino is totally
anti-drug and anti-alcohol. Narita was the same. None of the members
of High Rise drink or use drugs. We were one of the few clean bands
in the scene. That was why we dared to come up with the concept.
Is the High Rise energy an imitation of a drug high
That was just our concept for the first album. The energy arises from
deconstruction and reconstruction. We gradually moved towards that.
What kind of music were you all listening to?
Psychedelic and improvised music. Narita had been going to see people
like Kaoru Abe while he was still in high
school. We were all listening to free jazz and psychedelic.
How would you describe your position in the Japanese music scene
at that time?
We didn't have a position. And the way PSF promoted us at the start
was to a very limited audience. Everything was word of mouth, limited
pressings, and they turned down all offers of foreign licensing. That
was their idea, not ours. Though they're totally different now from
how they were in the eighties.
How were you accepted by the fans?
I think everyone was totally shocked by what we were doing, and no
one really got it. But we got a reaction, and we counted that as a
success. We wanted to shock everyone with a wall of sound. I believe
that when you hear an electric guitar you need to get that sense of
shock from it. That's why we came up with that sound. PSF and the
pressing plant put a lot of work into getting that sound - at first
we were told that we couldn't press something that sounded like that,
that the sound would drop out. So we just pushed all the levels as
far as they would go. When the first album appeared we got a lot of
offers from all over the place.
Did you get any coverage in the music press?
None. None. Everything was done by word of mouth. The word spread to
Alchemy in Osaka too. So the year after it came out, we got the
offers to do the Alchemy compilation and
Dead Tech. We didn't do any promotion at all, but the word
spread and we got a lot of offers to play live and to record.
Now there seems to be a bit of enmity between the Tokyo and
Osaka scenes. What was it like then?
There wasn't really any enmity. Information flowed both ways. There
was a bit of rivalry between Alchemy and PSF though. Alchemy had been
going a little longer, but in spite of the rivalry they were shocked
when they heard High Rise, and they asked us to be on the
compilation. There were a lot more offers, but PSF turned down all
the labels it had a grudge against. Trans Records and so on. They
turned down all the punk and new wave labels - they must have thought
that Alchemy had some promise though. [laughs]
Were you playing a lot of gigs?
For some reason we played with Hijokaidan. Musicians seemed to like
us but the audiences didn't. We were only playing live three or four
times a year. We were very stoic and never tried to attract more
people. We would only play when someone invited us. I suppose that if
we had pushed more we could have played every month. Back when I was
in Kosokuya and Rotting Telepathys and Red, I was doing a lot more
gigs, maybe fifty times a year. I played out a hell of a lot.
You played with Michio Kadotani in Rotting Telepathys, didn't
Rotting Telepathys was me and Kadotani - everyone else was a guest.
We'd invite someone different every time we played. I played guitar
- it was the two of us on guitars. We'd do these wall-of-noise
performances at the Kido Airaku Hall and
so on. We'd both be playing chords and he would be screaming out
these agit-prop type vocals. It was pretty cool. When we'd play
proper gigs we'd invite people to do bass and drums. There were
a few times when we played at Goodman that we invited Tori Kudoh
and Kaneko - it would be the four of us on guitar. [Laughs] Today
that lineup would be a supergroup. There's one of those tracks
on the PSF CD. I'd played out a lot back then and was tired of
it all, so when I formed High Rise I decided not to book stuff
myself. And there are a lot of idiots involved in the live house
Did you rehearse a lot?
For sure. We'd record everything on to 8-track as well, which is why
I'm able to put out this early stuff now. The CD that I'm putting out
is from those rehearsals too. I listened to all those tapes recently
for the first time in eleven or twelve years - I was surprised that
we'd actually recorded it all properly. And that the quality was good
enough for me to release.
Were you rehearsing regularly?
Even if we weren't playing many gigs, we were still rehearsing
regularly. We rehearsed seriously from `84 to `88. So there are a
stack of unreleased tapes that I'm going to edit and start putting
Why didn't you aim for more conventional success?
Basically, I thought that there was no one who would get it.
You only really began to get known outside of Japan from about
1990, when Forced Exposure ran a review of High Rise II.
Like I said earlier, PSF turned down all the offers. They didn't try
to promote us. But that was the label's policy then, and that was
You seem to be known only amongst record maniacs - there was
even that American boot of the first album.
I heard that a friend of Jimmy Johnson [Forced Exposure head] was
responsible for that. Jimmy lent him a copy of the first album, and
they bootlegged it from that. But that was also because Ikeezumi at
PSF turned down their offer to license it. It doesn't really bother
You played as support for Mudhoney at their Tokyo gig a few
years back. How did that come about?
They'd heard one of our records and they requested that we open for
them. I think what they do is trash though, I hate it. I'd rather
open for Madonna than Mudhoney. All grunge is worthless, it has no
thought behind it. They just copy `60s garage tunes but it has no
connection with their lives. I think that Mudhoney have just copied
other people's music - people they heard playing live. That's no way
to make music. You've got to have a need to make your own, new music.
And that's why I don't listen to any post-eighties rock. It doesn't
matter how technically good it is - there's no real intention behind
it. The most recent rock I can listen to is stuff like Peter Perrett.
He still had something to sing about, but rock has stopped there.
That said, in the last five years there have been a lot of great
tunes - but spiritually they have nothing to do with me. Great tunes
are no longer really necessary. There were a lot of them in the past,
but back then it was great tunes plus something else - and it's that
something else that I like.
Just around the time that you played with Mudhoney, it seemed
like a lot of Japanese bands were using their American connections to
get well-known. There was Shonen Knife with Nirvana, and The Boredoms
with Sonic Youth.
We had no interest in doing that. We're not fans of Sonic Youth or
There seems to be a real gap between the bands on PSF and the
rest of the Japanese underground.
I don't feel much of a connection with PSF. For the first two albums
there was a definite link, because Ikeezumi set
up the label in order to release our records. But from the third
album on, PSF began to exist to release Haino's stuff. The label
itself changed - it's very different now from how it was at the
start. It was like High Rise's private label between `84 and `87, we
were the only band on PSF. In that sense it's very different now, and
that's why I started my own label, La Musica. PSF can't respond to
what we want to do anymore. They do too many different things now -
jazz, Fushitsusha, Che Shizu. That said, I believe that they're still
the only good label in Japan.
I still sense a very definite musical link between all the
bands that PSF has released - you, Haino, Mikami. There seems to be a
musical correlation between the label and the people on it.
It's basically a collection of people, like Haino, who existed
outside their contemporary scenes or genres. PSF almost accidentally
provided the opportunity for these links between jazz and rock, or
between folk and rock to develop. But as I see it, the links had
already developed in the live house scene, where all these people had
been playing in the same places for years. Ikeezumi would go and see
everything, so he introduced people like Mikami and Haino to each
other, people from different genres who might otherwise not have met.
Then he introduced the rock people to the jazz people. He became the
link between these people who weren't doing it for the money, who
were prepared to put their lives on the line for the music.
The great thing about Ikeezumi is that he's prepared to release
things that he likes, even if there is no hope of them
Yeah, for him making a profit has got nothing to do with it. But that
attitude also meant that he wanted to spread the word about early
High Rise to only a very limited group of people. Not that I think
that it is a bad thing - he believes in what he puts out. Which is
why he can consider putting out solo records by
Urabe and Kaneko. It doesn't matter if they
And he's even talking about putting out some rakugo
 tuff eventually. Moving on, how does High Rise
come up with new tracks? Do you write stuff down, do you just jam at
rehearsals until you come up with something, is there a concept for
We don't have specific tunes. No High Rise track has ever been
written or composed.
But there are certain things that you've played again and
again. If those aren't tunes, what are they - concepts?
"Concept" is as close as you can get in words, I suppose. Everybody
adds something to it. We don't devote any time to writing new stuff.
We start off from deconstruction, though there are things that in the
end become like normal songs. But the process that we take in getting
there is completely different to everyone else. Our process is
totally different from the punk conception of specific chords and
riffs. We sort of start off from the position that we don't want to
do this but there's no way around it. It's hard to explain in words.
Basically we don't even put in one minute coming up with new songs.
Not that we're lazy or sloppy - we have a different conception of
what a song is. But we've got to express ourselves in that format. We
pay no attention at all to writing songs. It's very hard to explain -
if we wanted to write songs then we could write something amazing.
What we do isn't composition; it's the wreckage of composition, if
Are there things which are close to songs, and things which are
That's up to the listener to decide. It's not an accidental process
though - that would be Musica Transonic. Basically from the start,
High Rise has no intention of writing a song. It's a paradox in a
way. We don't want to write tunes but we want to exist as a band. And
bands have certain things that they do - that's the burden we have to
bear. It can't be helped if someone listens to High Rise and hears it
as ultra-composed three-chord punk rock. What the band is trying to
do is something different to that. High Rise don't play compositions,
but we have to bear that burden of expectation because we are a band.
What about the tracks that have lyrics?
The lyrics are the same as the concept for the first album that we
talked about earlier - they're just various bits of English junky
slang strung together. They just say that if you want to take drugs,
you're going to have to be prepared to die.
Why English slang rather than Japanese drugs slang?
I just took some drug slang that I knew in English and strung it
together. I looked it up in a dictionary of slang. That was just for
the first album - after that I changed it into Japanese. There's no
Do you think it's possible for rock to be transferred from one
culture to another? Has the rock that's played in Japan become a
uniquely Japanese form of rock, or is it more universal than
I've never thought about that. I suppose that what I do is "human
rock". But, compared to the urge you get from classical or folk or
pop, rock has an urge to noise and coolness and delinquency. It was
those essences that we wanted to reflect in High Rise. There's an
image of bigness and loudness, of stacking up the Marshalls when you
play live - we wanted to embody all of that. I think that we're
probably unique in that our loudness isn't just because of the size
of the amps. In terms of the real electricity of rock, there's no one
like High Rise in the US, or Europe or Japan.
There's a tendency for foreign music writers to look upon
recent Japanese underground bands as having some kind of unique take
on Western musical forms. A Japanese perspective, maybe. What do you
feel about that?
Like I said before, that's just the way the listener hears it - we're
not deliberately trying to make the music sound like three-chord punk
or whatever. People may be able to pick up how wide, or how narrow,
our listening tastes are. But we ourselves are trying to play outside
of any particular genre, so there's no end to what we do. We're not
aware of particular tunes or particular bands - High Rise just has to
carry around an idea of "heaviness" and work from there. Because I
didn't want this idea of "heaviness" to become trapped in one
particular form, I started Mainliner. Mainliner is like a
more-condensed version of the High Rise aesthetic. I want it to sound
huge. The main difference between the two, and I think that this will
begin to become apparent in the future, is that Mainliner will
attempt some compositions. High Rise never play compositions.
High Rise have changed their drummer so many times. Why is
That's because the High Rise rhythm is very difficult to play. It's
not just hard-core punk - that's what PILL told
us while he was in the band. You've got to be able to play certain
unique phrases at very high speed while still thinking and listening
to what everyone else is doing. It demands a hell of a lot of
technique and physical energy. One of our drummers left us during the
recording of the first album. Only the drummer needs to be a master
technician. The guitar and bass are different - what they're playing
isn't really connected. The drummer who was closest to our ideal was
Playing with High Rise probably takes years off a drummer's
Normal drummers can't handle it.
How did you get linked up with PILL?
It was more like a collaboration. I don't think he wants to play
on the next album. The ideal situation for him would be if he
could just occasionally jam with High Rise. Though not in any
halfhearted way. PILL always puts his life on the line. I think
he's had a lot of bad experiences in bands, so he doesn't want
to join another one. But when he plays with us, he's totally serious
about it, no slacking off.
Is the relationship between the three members of High Rise
equal, or does someone musically pull the band in certain
I suppose I do. Though the danger in pulling it too much is that it
then starts to sound like a normal rock `n' roll band. People start
reading that into it. At one particular instant it may sound like
three-chord punk but the conception is different, the way the tracks
arise is different. That should be evident from the guitar sound.
Narita does play chords but he never knows which chord he will play
next. I think there may be a perception that we put a lot of work
into coming up with riffs and songs, but the truth is that we don't.
It may be disrespectful to the people who buy our records, but we
don't stake our lives on writing songs. We stake them on the
performance - that's the difference. When we rehearse it's not to
polish the quality of the compositions or the songs. We play because
we have to. But it comes down to which is better. Most Japanese bands
perfect their songs in rehearsal and they just simply play them live.
I don't like that kind of band, no matter how perfect their songs may
be. They're just using an imported musical culture - I'd rather
listen to a band from San Francisco and London who do it much more
naturally. I don't like Japanese rock. The only Japanese band which
is trying to do something different is Fushitsusha, and that's why I
like them. They always deconstruct rock. Maybe I shouldn't say this -
I don't like White Heaven and bands like that. Don't get me wrong,
they're very accomplished but their methods are totally different to
mine. They work out the songs, the lead guitar lines, and then they
practice so they don't fuck it up in performance.
You mean that they're not trying to do anything new, that
they're just recreating something from the sixties?
They've got good taste in what they listen to, but I think that their
methodology is wrong. There's nothing wrong with the songs
themselves, it's how they arrived at those songs. I think it's
strange that the phrases should all be decided in advance. Because
then, no matter how wild the performance may look on the surface,
it's never going to be any more than a recital. It looks like it's in
a frame. You shouldn't be aware of phrases. The two guitarists in
White Heaven are no more than craftsmen. Ishihara's vocals are good,
but I don't think it's something that Japanese should be playing in
the `90s. I'd rather listen to Quicksilver or Television.
There's a tendency to hear certain music as a fixed pattern.
The best example is probably the blues - people talk about blues
progressions and rhythms, and about Eric Clapton being a "bluesman",
but if you listen to country blues or to John Lee Hooker or Lightnin'
Hopkins, it's immediately obvious that the rhythm is very free, the
progressions are fucked up - in no way is it rigid.
But what they're doing is still great. I'm aiming for that kind of
free musical sense that sounds like structure. There was a period
when even people like Blind Lemon Jefferson, people who were stars
and owned cars, were playing very weird rhythms. But while there were
people who were doing strange stuff and still making some money, at
the same time there were people like Robert Johnson who were playing
very straight stuff. As I see it, it's his blues that has become
accepted and that gave birth to people like Eric Clapton. When all
that stuff comes over to Japan people tend to make weird connections
- for example, I make a mental connection between Blind Lemon and Syd
Barrett, in terms of their expressive ability, not their musical
thinking. But Robert Johnson doesn't fit into that progression in my
head. Musical criticism just perceives all these links after the
fact. In that sense, music can exist independently of what its
creator's intention may have been - people have the right to analyze
music whatever way they want. To get out of that loop, I'm interested
in finding true originality. If you think about Japanese rock in
those terms, then of course Fushitsusha are truly original. But
Fushitsusha's music is very difficult and very dangerous. I'm glad
and happy that they exist, but theirs is a very frightening world,
one that's hard to get close to. So what I'm trying to do with High
Rise and in my solo work is to do all the things that Keiji Haino
hasn't had time to cover. He doesn't have the time to follow the
Chuck Berry or Johnny Thunders line - actually I don't have the time
to do Johnny Thunders either. But I do have time to go after that
sound - high-voltage, dense, heavy music. In terms of thought I lead
High Rise, but in terms of the sound, because there are no songs the
guitar naturally pulls the sound. For better or worse, Narita likes
Blue Cheer and the MC5 and stuff like that so his interpretation of
that comes out in his guitar-playing. And also, because he saw Kaoru
Abe and Motoharu Yoshizawa play live back when
he was in high-school, that too certainly is in his playing
somewhere. He saw all the Japanese free jazz people live, rather than
listening to them on record. He also went to see a lot of
Gaseneta's early rehearsals. I guess he doesn't
like tight stuff. We tried playing with a proper drummer after the
second album, but the sound wouldn't gel. Me and him were left
flailing. High Rise is really a concept band, it just accidentally
sounds like a punk band. So it's not wrong if you hear it as speedy
All your records have a very distinctive production style.
Could you say something about that?
From when I was a kid, I had this idea of rock as something loud and
dirty, and that's why I push up the levels on the mix. I don't really
want to distort the sound but I have to because almost everyone is
listening to it at home on these mini-component systems. I have to
put up the recording volume so that they get the initial rush from it
- especially on the first Musica Transonic record where I mixed the
sound at a level that no one can listen to it. There wouldn't be any
need to do that if everyone lived in solid, soundproof houses and
they could buy good stereos and big speakers cheaply. The levels on
the Mainliner record are done out of love. That's my policy, when I'm
doing something hard. But Toho Sara and stuff like that, the
principle is the opposite. With them I try to record everything at
really low levels.
How would you describe the difference between the Musica
Transonic and High Rise concepts?
They're totally different. Musica Transonic compose while playing
moment by moment. But High Rise don't compose as they go along.
In High Rise, we have certain things that we want to put into
the sound, so we rehearse - but we rehearse unconsciously without
any songs. In Musica Transonic we are ultra-aware of each second
and compose as we go along. Recently we decide upon a very basic
theme in advance - for example, jazz. Even though my view of jazz,
and Yoshida's and Kawabata's
are different, we just launch straight into it. And once we've
started we compose as we go along. If there's a certain rhythm
then I can obviously play something to go along with it and things
develop that way. Of course, we don't want it to sound like diarrhea
but there are times when it doesn't work. Other times it works
really well. Basically we compose while we play. There are some
things that we've worked out in advance, but we rearrange and
recompose them while playing. That's the same for both recording
and playing live. About half the time when we play live, we've
playing stuff that we've come up with on the spot. Other times
we go through stuff that we've worked out before, stuff that was
on the first or second album. We don't really want to - it's sort
of a gift to the fans. We'd prefer that you think of it all as
I think a lot of people hear it the opposite way - High Rise
being composed, and Musica being more improvised.
It's definitely the opposite. Musica is so much more composed.
But that said, in Musica we've never practiced certain songs,
we just compose as we go along. The first time we played together
it didn't work too well - we were all over the place. By the second
or third time we already understood each other.
Had you known Yoshida and Kawabata for a long time?
Yeah. Especially Kawabata, who was in an experimental band called
Johari with me. I've been playing with him
since about 1990. He wanted to fuse ethnic music, contemporary
classical, jazz and rock. Even though he's five years younger than
me, he was thinking along the same lines as
Haino. He'd also studied Chinese divination
methods, and he was wondering if it was possible to introduce that
kind of element into the fusion too. We're working on that in Toho
Sara. But before that we were in Johari together. We played at a big
ethnic music festival in Nara Prefecture, the Togei Festival, and in
Indonesia too. We played in front of 30,000 people once. But looking
back now, the fusion in Johari wasn't all that good.
What kind of people were at that festival?
All kinds - kids, dogs, adults. There were young rock kids too. It
was weird, everyone except me was wearing ethnic clothing. It was
like improvised Velvet Underground stuff - the stuff that you hear on
bootlegs, like the Andy Warhol soundtracks. And then we brought in
ethnic elements too - so it was a bizarre group. I suppose it was
like a strongly LaMonte Young, John Cale-influenced version of The
Velvet Underground. Our theme was minimalism and repetition. What
Tatsuya Yoshida does is totally different. He constantly alters the
rhythm and the tune. That's the way he structures things. On the
other hand, even in Red Alert I was very minimal. High Rise too is
minimal in one sense. So is Okami no Jikan.
Basically, through eternal repetition you can arrive at a kind of
beauty. Repetition has played a part in everything I've done, apart
from Musica Transonic. So it feels new to me, there's much less
Do you aim at some consciousness-altering state through
For sure. I think that repetition is one of the important essences of
music. There's so many things you can do even within just one chord.
Everyone has forgotten this. Okami no Jikan has a track called
`Israel' where we aimed to discover how many different things it was
possible to express with just one simple chord. This idea of
minimalism and repetition is something that I pursue through all my
groups - from the avant-garde Group Musica to
Toho Sara. It sounds like repetition, but if you listen carefully
there are minute shifts in the sound, almost impossible to perceive.
Is your minimalism different from say, that of Morton Feldman
or Phillip Glass?
Contemporary composers always have an elitist academic attitude. They
seem to like to pretend that they're doing something dangerous in
escaping from the normal classical music world. Basically, my
minimalism has nothing to do with academic stances. It's a lot
simpler and more direct than that. But I would like to reveal to
people who only listen to academic music that this kind of thing
exists in the rock `n' roll world too. There's a great difference
between what we do, and say someone who has been practicing the
violin for thirty years. There's even a great difference between us
and someone like Tony Conrad who has been pursuing violin drones for
twenty years - though I do have a lot of respect for Tony. We want to
compress the whole of that thirty years into three minutes, into the
time it takes a prepare cup ramen, or for Ultraman's colour timer to
expire. But we need to do it with a high level
of consciousness, because there is not much time. What I do is not
contemporary composition. I suppose that "avant-garde" is closest,
but not a classical avant-garde, a rock avant-garde. And it's not
noise either. I bought about two thousand noise records from all over
the world. Not one of them was worthwhile. I'm aiming for a different
consciousness. One that isn't contemporary composition, or just rock,
or a kind of mania. It's easy to be deceived into thinking that noise
is good just because it exists as a product. You can't produce
worthwhile music by just sitting in a chair and playing with a sound
generator. You've got to throw your body into it, spill a little
blood to make good noise. If you want to listen to real noise, you
should listen to Haino's guitar performances from around `81. That
was really cool. I like noise that has that kind of physicality to
it. I was in a really stupid band called Tako-
we'd get covered in blood making this avant-garde racket. It was more
like performance art, people would come to see us freaks. But because
we were putting our bodies on the line it had real impact. Like it
was the true punk spirit. That's why I dislike Merzbow and
Hijokaidan. Or any of the other noise bands. I mean, if you were to
give me a studio and equipment for a week and tell me to make some
noise, I could come up with a couple of hundred LPs worth.
There's been a lot of interest in and coverage of Musica
Transonic in Europe recently. Why do you think that is?
It's an honour. Too much of an honour. I don't really understand
it - maybe everyone is reading us wrong. Though that's impolite
to those people who have supported us. But maybe their misunderstanding
of us will act as a bridge to a new music for the 21st century,
and that would be good. Everyone is misunderstanding the Japanese
rock scene. There's really nothing here of real interest. Nothing
at all. However there is a need for someone to break a path to
a new music. I think that Mikami and Tomokawa and Haino should
go on a world tour together - there would be a lot of chance meetings
that could produce great music. But most people are unable to
understand what they're doing - they want it to be a bit closer
to rock, or a bit closer to contemporary composition. Without
those easy points of reference Haino's or Mikami's music won't
be accepted by the current generation. I'm aiming for all those
people who can't immediately grasp the music without those points
of reference - though I too would prefer to be a shaman. I'd like
to leave the city, go and live in the mountains for about ten
years, do some rigorous mystical training and then reappear. But
I don't have the time. [Laughs] So I'm very grateful for all the
recent attention, but I do believe that everyone is reading us
Why do you think there has been this sudden surge of interest
in Japanese noise abroad?
It's probably proof that the people who are buying all that stuff
don't really understand music. But I believe that the great foreign
musicians can see through this stuff. One problem seems to be that,
say in the UK, older musicians that I respect like Robin Williamson,
Peter Perrett, Mick Farren aren't really influencing any of the
younger musicians or music fans. Good new musicians usually emerge
every five years or so and begin to take the lead, but for some
reason that hasn't been happening in the UK. So the music that's
popular in the London club scene works too much on the surface. Like
they've just picked up the choicest morsels from other genres, made
it dance-able and cool-looking, hip.
But surely that kind of ephemeral music has always existed
alongside music of more intrinsic quality.
Oh yes, for sure. But still, I can't perceive any real depth to it.
In the sixties, there was an atmosphere whereby even kids who weren't
thinking about anything were still able to come up with wonderful
music. The idea of British punk was good too, but it fell down in the
execution. The Sex Pistols and stuff like that had impact but
basically it was all tunes - stuff that had existed in America
decades previously. It would have been better if weird stuff like the
Subway Sect had become the mainstream. Their songs and tunes were
In a recent interview in G-Modern, Kawabata described Musica
Transonic as mondo, and said that if they were a sport they'd be
That was more a joke than anything. There're times when we're in the
studio, and we'll stop the tape and laugh at what we've done. We were
just chatting about stuff and they turned that into an interview.
We're usually more serious in the studio, but that time something had
turned out to be particularly ridiculous so we were just taking the
Do you think that music has national characteristics?
It's difficult to make generalizations about it as a whole, but there
are certain works where you can pick out certain traits that may be
national characteristics. It may even be something that the musicians
themselves are aware of. In the case of Japan, because it is an
island, culture has always been imported. If you listen to ancient
Korean court music, you can hear all the elements of noh music, and
you can hear things which are greater than noh.
It can all be traced back to China. Japan only had Chinese culture,
and then after the country was closed to the world, other bits and
pieces of European culture began to trickle in. In that situation,
Japan could only imitate foreign culture. But even though the
Japanese have a stoic, hesitant mindset, they also have a tendency to
worry away at something, work on quietly in an attempt to understand
it. And you're seeing the results of that in the current Japanese
rock scene. Everyone buys a guitar and tries as hard as possible to
copy someone else. That's probably a Japanese national
characteristic. That comes out of the fifteenth century closing of
the country, and the way culture was then imported into Japan, the
way Christianity was imported.
What's your position in Japan's imported musical
I'm outside it now. Of course when I was a kid I'd go places and
groove to the latest Western hits. But I don't want to be conscious
of that culture any more. If some of it appears in my music it's
either by accident or design. If I do something deliberately, it's
because I want it to be a bridge to lead people to the next level. A
lot of the stuff I do now, I do deliberately.
So would you say that your music is then international or
universal, as opposed to national?
That's what I'm aiming for, in terms of thought. As long as I have
that philosophy then it doesn't matter whether my music actually
achieves the ideal or not. That's the problem - if you wait for your
music to reach that level before showing it to people, it could take
a hundred years. My position is that, even if my music is not yet
complete, someone may listen it and be influenced to take it a step
further when they pick up a guitar. I may be able to change that
person's attitude towards music. It's because no one has been taking
that role, that the world is the way it is now. Probably musicians
who lived previously had enough on their plate just performing,
without having to think about trying to help anyone else. And that's
why things are the way they are. It all comes down to how you hear
the music, doesn't it? There are probably people in America who like
Fushitsusha but who think of them as being on the same level as Zeni
Geva. Fair enough they're fans, but if they're only listening on that
level then it's not going to have much impact upon them. If they pick
up a guitar, they're going to play in a Zeni Geva style. Because
there's no way they can play like Fushitsusha. That's the danger in
Fushitsusha's universality. Their dissection of rhythm is liable to
make people think of Sonic Youth or John Zorn, that whole scene.
That's because people are only listening to the rhythm. I think it's
best if you can treat melody and rhythm equally. Fushitsusha's
universality makes a lot of demands on the listener, and that's why
it's dangerous. I've talked to people who hear Fushitsusha on the
same level as something like Swans!
Surely that's just their frame of reference. The kids who are
listening to that kind of music don't have an especially wide field
of knowledge about music. It's all just another type of fashion. And
also there's the influence of indie mags who treat the whole Japanese
scene as another branch of indie rock...
I've been thinking about how to raise people's level of
consciousness. It's fine to listen to music on that level to begin
with, but you've got to progress from there. You need to give people
something to hold on to or else there's a danger they'll stop right
there. You've got to get the music out to where it will have the most
influence too. That hasn't happened so far with my music, which is
another reason why I've written all this stuff for the La Musica
catalogue. As well as the long-haired rock dropouts, I want to reach
the intelligentsia with their neckties, the kind of people who will
be running the country in the future. I hate academic stuff, but
intellectuals are necessary in society as well. So I want to reach
those kinds of people too, which is why I came up with academic-style
descriptions of the bands on La Musica. It'd be better if I didn't
have to write this kind of thing to reach them.
How long has Toho Sara been going?
Toho Sara grew out of Johari, and they existed since 1990.
You describe Toho Sara as "avant-garde shamanism". What do you
mean by that?
It's really an extension of what we were doing in Johari. We have an
interest in miko and
kagura and that kind of thing, and were
wondering how best to put that into the music. Back in the area where
I was born there were a lot of people I knew who were miko, some of
them were apparently chosen... And by being around those people, I
wanted to somehow present that world in music. I tried all kinds of
different methods. I don't think that I've yet succeeded in carving
it into sound - I'm still at a midway stage. But that's our theme,
that's what we're aiming for.
Why the interest in kagura?
Toho Sara is the most Japanese of the things I do. It has the most
awareness of Japanese spiritual culture. About how best to express in
a rock medium the situation of a person who hears and must transmit
the voice of a god, without losing their humanity. While I said that
Toho Sara is the most Japanese, it might be better to say that it's
the most Asian. There are so few things that are totally Japanese -
everything's come from China. Especially the musical culture - the
rhythm, ma [space], melody. In terms of language, Korea feels the
closest to Japan. I tend to look upon Korea as the origin of a lot of
[long digression by me about Japanese theatre and links with
Central Asian shamanism, which I don't think Opprobrium readers would
be too into]
What we're aiming for with Toho Sara is to use acoustic
instruments, but use them in a way which people brought up in the age
of electricity will find exciting. It's really an experimental unit.
What is it about shamanism that most appeals to you?
The spiritual aspect. Noh has this whole idea of schools and someone
at the head of the school telling you what you can do. I suppose I'm
most attracted by the primitive, festival kind of shaman. That seems
very pure. When there is a tradition to support, art inevitably
becomes conservative. It's the cult-like, deep rural, indigenous type
of kagura that appeals to me too. The kind of religion where the
shaman is necessary on a very basic level to the community. The
problem, of course, is how to transmit those kinds of ideas to the
kids listening to techno. It's of no use if we ourselves undergo
religious austerities and become enlightened, perfected or whatever -
we've got to find a way to bring others along with us.
Isn't this all a bit redolent of sixties psychedelic doper
religious dabbling, with rock groups getting into Zen or consulting
the I-Ching before they'd do anything?
We're trying to pull in the intelligentsia with these kinds of ideas,
but our performance style is still noisy and avant-garde and that
will appeal to the kids. Our gigs are very avant-garde in nature.
Who are the members of Toho Sara at the moment?
Now it's just Kawabata and me. We may occasionally invite some other
young musicians in the scene to play with us, but only people who
really understand the concept and think it's cool. Tatsuya Yoshida is
going to play with Toho Sara on the European tour. He's very tense
when he plays with us, so we are able to treat him on an equal level.
Yoshida actually thinks about a lot of stuff, if you talk to him. He
said that he wants to create a group that will be the future of
original rock, in a different way from Fushitsusha though. But he's
not sure yet of how to go about it. At first when I started playing
with him, it felt unnatural but recently I think that something
interesting may come out of it. That's why I decided to invite him to
play with us on the European tour.
Would it be fair to say that the dynamic of Toho Sara arises
from your mixing up of acoustic and electric instruments?
We use electric instruments live but not when we're recording. The
recordings are all played on acoustic ethnic instruments.
Is it fairly similar to what Nijiumu  do
Nijiumu concentrate on creating an atmosphere. There was no clear
concept, sometimes we wouldn't even talk about what we were going to
do. Nijiumu is like Fushitsusha in that it was started with the aim
of doing something that no one else had thought of. It doesn't have
any clear philosophy behind it.
Who were the original members of Nijiumu?
There were four of us - Matsuoka, Uchida, Haino and me. The first
time we played Haino was on vocals, percussion and small ethnic
instruments, I was on bass, Matsuoka on piano, and Uchida played bass
and synthesized percussion. So there were a lot of electric
instruments. We used to play once a week in Nerima for about three
hours. After I left [in 1990], Nijiumu became more and more Haino's
Does Toho Sara actually rehearse?
No. When we play with a real miko in attendance, there's a great
sense of tension - without that I think there'd be something missing.
How necessary is it to Toho Sara to have an audience to feed
It's not at all. Musica Transonic and Mainliner require an audience
the most, I think. Ideally we'd like to play to five hundred or a
thousand people. Hopefully we'll able to play to a lot of people in
Are you at all interested in being commercially successful with
any of your bands?
I just come up with the concept and play. Once I've come up with the
concept, that's enough for me. Everything else is up to the audience
and how they perceive the band. I don't care if people say that we
sound like MC5. But of course there's a difference between how MC5
sounded in reality and how they're perceived in people's minds. It's
Narita's problem anyway, if people think we sound like the MC5. We're
totally different from a band like White Heaven though - they
actually deliberately imitate something that other bands have done.
We don't do that at all. We don't imitate anything, especially not
things that are popular, like bossa nova, just to try and be
successful. White Heaven did a bossa nova track, didn't they? It
would have been better if bossa nova had never left Brazil. In one
sense it was the Brazilian version of punk rock - they didn't have
any technique, didn't care how they sounded. They were just playing
and singing something new, feeding off a bit of jazz. There's no
point in Japanese or other nationalities imitating that. It was only
relevant to 1950s Brazil. I'm actually a big fan of bossa nova from
that period. It was all over by `58 or `59, just when it began to be
big worldwide. It became commercialized.
Tell us something about Okami no Jikan.
That's the most difficult to explain, because the concept changes
depending on the lineup. We investigated various kinds of esoteric
mysteries through sound. It does have a sort of progressive feel.
Who was in the band at the start?
There was me and Miura from Fushitsusha, Rallizes and Shizuka
on guitar. Then there was Nagao, who plays drums with Kosokuya,
and there was a female bassist called Asai. The concept at that
time was to explore various aesthetic theories within one chord,
with a punk feel. The concept changed totally with the lineup.
We were an all-guitar ensemble for a while. We did some symphonic-sounding
stuff too. Basically the concept changes depending on the lineup.
The difference between Okami no Jikan and my other bands is that
Okami doesn't create any sense of groove on stage - we've very
plain. In that sense, Okami is possibly the least immediately
You don't seem to play live very often.
Maybe only ten times over the past five years. We've been told that
we're an electric version of Toho Sara, but I feel that Toho Sara
have much more of a shamanic consciousness. Okami was basically
created out of a desire to have an out of the ordinary guitar
ensemble. I gave one of our tapes to Haino, and he immediately said
that it sounded like Fushitsusha. I suppose that we're aiming at is
pretty close to what Fushitsusha are doing.
That tape you gave me had me fooled as well. There's something
about the vocals that are very Haino-like.
In one sense, Okami no Jikan is closest to that world of darkness.
One reason for that is that some of the members had previously
spent time in Fushitsusha and Rallizes. So there's a similar kind
of atmosphere. We believe that we can create the same kind of
effect that Glenn Branca does with his planned pure overtones,
but without working it all out in advance. However, there's always
going to be a difference between the idea and the realization.
For example, if you just listen for a few seconds to late period
Harry Partch, it sounds like a prime Toho monster soundtrack,
like Mothra vs. Godzilla or something. That kind of phenomenon
also exists in Glenn Branca. I believe that it's possible to create
the same things through feeling and touch and intuition that contemporary
composers have created through their intellect. Okami no Jikan
is an experimental space for ideas like that. I played a demo
tape to Ikeezumi at Modern Music, and he
thought it was Glenn Branca. If you just casually listen to it,
it sounds like either Fushitsusha or Branca. But that was just
something that came out of an improvisation. If we were to compose
something properly it wouldn't sound like either of them. Our
improvised stuff tends to turn out like that, so we're planning
to do more composed stuff on the European tour. I'll tune my twelve-string
into some weird tuning, and rearrange some Middle Eastern-sounding
stuff in a Japanese way.
It's something that Haino seems to be interested in as well.
What is the attraction of Middle Eastern music?
The melody. That's all. Apart from the melody, I feel that it lacks
something. But if you use those melodies in a rock band, you can
produce some weird hallucinatory trip effects. It's very sensual.
Again it's just another tool I use to take the music further, to
advance it. Of course, when I say trip, I mean a natural trip. Like
we import Sufi trance stuff into the compositions.
I've always imagined that those kinds of trance states have as
much to do with physical movement and dance as with music. Do you use
any physical actions to produce trance states?
Not in Okami no Jikan. We haven't actually been able to fully realize
all these ideas yet. Every recording is totally different. We've got
a couple of releases lined up in the States and in Europe. The
European one is like progressive rock played by aliens. The one for
America is an immense guitar-ensemble version of `Israel'. It's too
scary to listen to, a total wall-of-noise. And because it's a
guitar-ensemble, it's a totally different effect from a High Rise or
Musica Transonic wall-of-noise. It's hard to describe, there's a
really thick sound to the guitars. It's like the bass and drums are
playing behind a massive wall, you can hardly hear them. Just
listening to the gap between them could give you a natural trip.
There's a great musical vibration from it.
That seems to be a specialty of yours. The drums on the first
couple of High Rise albums sound like they're recorded a couple of
Musical vibrations are something that I'm very exacting about.
They're different from Indian modes too - I'm searching for new
acoustic phenomena. Certain sounds can attract certain people. The
first High Rise album was pretty noisy, so we got a lot of unwanted
interest from other noise musicians. I'm currently thinking about
what kinds of sounds will attract people internationally. When I sent
the tapes for the Mainliner album to Mason, he
said that it sounded like noisy psychedelic. You can hear that both
ways. But I only do what I want.
How would you describe the difference between Mainliner and
They're pretty similar, but the main difference is that Mainliner has
more real songs. The rhythm is a lot freer too. If you listen to the
first track on the CD, it sounds really simple but there are a lot of
subtle rhythms in there. It would be impossible to copy. We use a lot
of strange open chords on the guitar too, almost unconsciously. So
the bass part is really hard to play. Another reason why I started
Mainliner is because High Rise can't play abroad, due to time
constraints. Mainliner is like High Rise 2.
Why do you feel the need to have so many different
Because I'm not yet able to express everything I want to in the one
band. If I could then one band would be enough. That's what I'm
aiming for. There's also a political aspect. If I just had one band
and I got a contract with a major record company, then I'd be tied
down for three years or whatever. There'd be restrictions imposed
upon me. And also, if Mainliner was the only band I had, there's no
way I could put out 100 Mainliner CDs. You've got to think about how
everyone would perceive that. But if I were to put out 100 CDs under
various different names, the impression would be slightly different.
Basically I don't want to be restricted by politics and society. So
if something goes wrong with one of my bands, if it doesn't work out,
or someone dies, whatever, then I've still got other things I can do.
Is there any one of your bands that is closest to your
In my mind, they're all the same. That's why they have power. In my
mind, there's no difference between them. While none of them is all
that close to what I'm finally aiming for, I do enjoy doing all of
You seem to have started about seven different units in
1994. Why was that?
Around that time I stopped being so closed, I turned over a new leaf
if you like. I stopped playing with all the bands that were
exclusionary. Up until then I didn't want to put anything out that
wasn't virtually perfect. I realized that if I kept on doing that,
I'd only be able to release one record every twenty or thirty years.
That's especially true for rock `n' roll stuff, that's the way it was
with High Rise. I was reluctant to put out any of the records that
appeared on PSF, I didn't think we were ready yet. There was never
enough time. I wanted to put vocals on the third album, but there
wasn't time so they ended up as instrumentals. There were a lot of
problems with that record. I was only involved with the first two
tracks. The rest of the band put together the other tracks with
Ikeezumi. So I was reluctant to put that out.
What's the meaning of the title of the new High Rise album,
High Rise titles never mean anything. That's especially true since
the third album - we started using titles from Christianity. But
there's no meaning. Apparently there were some orders from foreign
Say something about the last track on Disallow, the one
The Wire described as a "mouldy free-form freakout."
I didn't want to put that on there, but there was nothing I could do.
There was a really heavy 25 minute track that I wanted to put on
instead, but PILL and Narita overruled me. I think that my choice
would have been much better. Ending the album with a massive
noise-fest, but they thought that was boring and wanted to end it
with something quiet. Narita and PILL don't really understand what
kind of impact their actions can have. All they can do is go after
what they believe in. Neither of them have any universality. I mean,
all PILL listens to is The Damned and Pink Floyd! [laughter] It's
true. PILL is basically a musician. He's got a lot of technique, but
not universality. I can't play with people who don't have that
aspect. That's something I've come to realize, especially since `94.
The High Rise Live CD is the one that seems to have got the most
notice from people - that's the one that I produced by myself. Looks
like I'll have do all the production by myself from now on.
Disallow has a really horrible mix. The drums are up far too
loud. When I'm listening to High Rise, I don't want to be hearing the
drums, you know what I mean?
Again that was PILL. I wanted to go for a noisier mix, but they
overruled me again.
I thought the same kind of thing the other night at the Musica Transonic
gig too. The bass and drums were matched OK, but the guitar was
far too low. It should be upfront but with that mix the whole
mid and low range was drowned out by the bass.
The PA there was really small. We'll have to get some big Marshalls
for the gigs in London. The High Rise CDs that I'm going to put
out on La Musica have really extreme sound. Don't worry. [Laughter]
That's one of my objections to all these indie and grunge bands
- their sound is so clean and sterile. There's no visceral power
to it. Everyone seems to think that because it's CD you shouldn't
distort the sound. So they end up with no aesthetics, no quality.
Everyone's the same. High Rise is the only band that's prepared
to really do something with the sound. Even then some of the fans
complain about it, say they can't listen to it at home. Me and
Ikeezumi are the only ones who really get into it. The sound on
the first track on the first Musica album is really loud, but
we gradually lowered the levels.
It's almost impossible to dub a cassette from either of the
Musica Transonic albums. If you don't put the levels down to about 1
you just end up with a tape full of noise. But moving on, what's this
Minus Three Years Old band that you're currently doing with
It's all improvised, composing as we go along. It's sort of like
Musica Transonic, except there are more blues and jazz elements.
Just the two of you?
No. Guitar, bass and drums. It's the drummer from Maria
Anything else you'd like to add?
Not really. Just listen to the tapes and records, and everything
should become clear. I'd like to make music that can move and be
understood by everyone on the planet, without words. Music that
embraces tradition and the future. Music that goes beyond words.
Everyone just tries to sing in English when they want to communicate
internationally. That's not the way to go. People have a tendency to
copy the words if they exist - there are copies of The Stones and The
Velvets all over the place. It'd be better if everyone sang in a
language that couldn't be imitated. There'd be no so-called standards
then. Beautiful song-writing just gets copied and turned into a
pattern. It would set a better example for future generations if
everyone stopped singing words and printing the lyrics on their
records. Then everything would come down to the melody and true
musical communication. There'd be songs that would be impossible to
copy but that produced an immediate sense of beauty. Today's songs
are too narrow in range. There are enough personal love songs -
they're too easy to empathize with. What we need now are universal
Footnotes to the Nanjo interview.
1. Active from 1971-81. Nanjo describes them in
his discography as a "psychedelic punk group". Nanjo has just
released 30-odd cassettes on the Daiyon Kobo imprint which document
the early `80s Minor scene.
2. The area around Nagoya - about halfway between
Tokyo and Osaka.
3. The Japanese punk scene in Tokyo, including people like
RECK, Chico Hige, Hiroshi Higo and their various bands, the most
well known of which is probably the still extant Friction. The
other main scene in Tokyo at this time centered around the live
venue, Minor, in Kichijoji. Minor was run by Pinakotheca Sato,
and tended more toward the avant-garde.
4. Famous and still extant tension-punk band led
by bassist RECK. Their albums never really lived up to the amazing
live shows. Released their first good new album in a decade, Zone
Tripper, a couple of months back.
6. Friction's bassist and leader.
7. "Three-thirds". Underground punk band which
nurtured many later Japanese punk heroes, including RECK.
8. Japanese garage band led by the enigmatic Mizutani. Legendary
in the Japanese scene, but virtually unknown in the West - possibly
due to their gimmick of only ever pressing a few copies of any
release, and then charging $200 a copy. They've got a couple of
CDs and a video that you occasionally see going for astronomical
prices. The second issue of Etcetera fanzine (September `96) is
a Rallizes special and includes a bonus single with two unreleased
tracks. Copies are being bought in quantity by numerous scum.
9. Primal Keiji Haino free jazz unit (drums,
piano, sax and vocals) from the early seventies. Amply documented on
the live PSF CD and on disc 1 in Haino's 4-CD set The Soul's True
Love, on Purple Trap.
10. Nanjo is well known in the Tokyo scene as a
manic record and video collector. His film collection/knowledge is as
extensive as his musical.
11. Japanese TV basically has no concept of
censorship or `watersheds'. Films and repeats of evening adult dramas
- stuff that would have Western child psychologists and media
campaigners up in arms - are shown during the afternoon. The reason
why any `interesting' films here are shown at three in the morning
(amongst the soft porn and brothel review programmes) is because of
the limited audiences.
12. Known in Japan as "macaroni" Westerns, for
some unexplained reason.
13. The early history of Fushitsusha is not
particularly well documented. Haino seems to have started the band in
the late seventies, with the first incarnation a duo featuring Tamio
Shiraishi. The second version included Ayuo Takahashi, the son of
famed pianist Yuji Takahashi. Ayuo's recent prog-like outings have
been documented on PSF.
14. For the record: Conformist (`81-`82), Deaf and Dumb House
(`81-`82), Virus Freak (`81-`82), Tako (`81-`82), I'm Useless
(strange free rock unit centering around Tamio Shiraishi, `81-`82),
Rotting Telepathys (psychedelic punk group with Michio Kadotani,
`81-`82), Kosokuya (`82-`83), and Sweet Inspirations (progenitor
of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, `83-`84). Nanjo's Daiyon Kobo cassette
imprint has recently made available rare recordings by some of
these groups, including two by Kosokuya.
15. Legendary, secretive underground figure,
founder of the mysterious Maher Shalal Hash Baz (who have just
released a killer 3-CD set called Return To The Rockmass). Previous
appearances in Sweet Inspirations, Noise, Che Shizu, A-MUSIK and a
heap of others.
16. The late Michio Kadotani of Rotten Telepathys
fame. PSF released a memorial CD (PSFD-14) with liner notes by Nanjo.
17. Kosokuya leader and guitarist.
18. Another obscure figure who was involved in an
early version of Fushitsusha. Shiriashi is well known for organising
a series of concerts at the Minor Club in the early eighties.
Pataphysique Records released a nice CD of his solo alto-sax work
(Live Performances 1992-94) earlier this year. A video, which
features Haino, also exists.
19. High Rise guitarist.
20. Violent Intentions. Numerous recordings on
21. Ikuro Takahashi. Active in the scene since
the late `70s and drummer on the first High Rise album. In addition
to the groups mentioned, he has also played with Kosokuya (appearing
on both their albums), and with Gun (who have a CD on Pataphysique).
He currently performs solo under the name Aura Nihilitica. The sole
surviving recordings have been released on La Musica.
22. Chie Mukai's otherworldly kokyu-led dream song unit. They
have two CDs on PSF, and an earlier LP.
23. Intense Japanese free altoist, now deceased. Many of his
recordings have been re-released of late, but you can hear him
at his best on the PSF CDs from the early seventies. A film called
Endless Waltz about Abe and his wife, writer Izumi Suzuki, was
released last year, starring Matsuzo Machida as Abe, and aslo
featuring Haino as himself. It gives a pretty good idea of the
seventies Shinjuku free jazz and drug scene. Sort of a Japanese
Dogs In Space.
24. Renkinjitsu - The Alchemy Noise Omnibus,
released in 1985, containing three High Rise tracks. One of the
tracks, `PSF', was later included on the Alchemism CD, which
partially reissued the album.
25. Live venue above an art gallery about five minutes' walk
from Modern Music. Hosted freeform jazz guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi
in his later years.
26. Hideo Ikeezumi. PSF/Modern Music founder.
27. Masayoshi Urabe. Young altoist whose first
album was released on PSF in September.
28. Very traditional Japanese sit-down narrative
29. Hardcore punk legend, most famous for his role in Lip
Cream. Ask someone at Maximum Rock `N' Roll about them sometime.
PILL was the drummer on the most recent High Rise album, Disallow,
on PSF. He's also been playing in an intense duo with Haino of
30. Legendary free bassist, who developed his own
unique style of playing on a homemade 5-string, heavily effect-laden
bass. One of the most respected figures in the free improvisation
world. Played with Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction group. Has
lots of very worthwhile recordings on PSF, especially the solo From
The Faraway Nearby, the Angels Have Passed trio, the Uzu duo with
Barre Phillips, and the Cracked Mirror And The Fossil Bird reissue.
Perhaps best known for his role with Haino and Kan Mikami on the Live
In The First Year Of Heisei recordings on PSF.
31. Original Japanese noise/punk/garage
psychedelic band. Their one known release is on PSF.
32. Tatsuya Yoshida - Musica Transonic and Ruins
drummer. Also has a large number of equally screwy other units.
33. Hajime Kawabata. Long-haired monster guitarist with Musica
Transonic and Mainliner. Also a member of Toho Sara.
34. The ur-Toho Sara, who apparently aimed for an
experimental combination of ethnic instruments and electronics. They
have a couple of cassettes on Nanjo's La Musica label.
35. Haino is currently in his mid-forties, Nanjo
in his mid-thirties, and Kawabata late twenties.
36. "Dark psychedelic group, 1990 to the
present." Okami no Jikan has a floating lineup that has featured
members of Fushitsusha and Rallizes. They have one track on Tokyo
Flashback 2, and a stack of tapes on La Musica.
37. "Avant-garde symphonic group, 1994 to the
present." Another group with a heap of cassettes on La Musica, and
maybe some CD releases in the near future.
38. Ultraman from the Planet Ultra. Japanese
superhero. He had a flashing colour disk on his chest, which, when it
started flashing, warned him that he had to leave the Earth's
atmosphere within three minutes or die from overexposure to oxygen.
Or something like that. Look it up in the Ultraman research classic,
Ultraman Kenkyu Josetsu.
39. "Avant-garde performance group, `81-`82."
40. Japanese masked drama dating from the early
fifteenth century, when it was established by father and son combo
Kan'ami and Zeami. Very slow, austere, mystical, beautiful.
41. Female mediums/shamans. For more information
on the world of Japanese esoteric religious practices and beliefs,
see The Catalpa Bow, by Carmen Blacker.
42. Ancient Japanese ritual theatre which still
exists in deep rural areas. It was performed for the gods, and often
featured scenes of divine possession, where the god would enter into
the body of one of the performers and answer questions about next
year's crop, etc.
43. Nijiumu - literally "the blending of that which is and
that which is not." Keiji Haino's otherworldly drone dream unit,
renowned for very long performances and for putting people to
sleep. Active since 1988; Nanjo was one of the original members.
They have a great CD on PSF, Era Of Sad Wings, and another one
forthcoming in the Driftworks 4-CD box set on Big Cat.
44. The PSF shop.
45. Mason Jones, Charnel House supremo.
46. For the record: Group Musica, Biblotheca
Hermetica, Mysterious Adni, Ancient Wisdom, Splendour Solis, Up
Tight, Musica Transonic.
47. Bizarre high-energy punk/enka/free jazz outfit. They've got
three or four CDs.
HIGH RISE MAIN