Steel For Brains: Sound as Language - A Conversation with Boris
The way it works is you pass on a CD to a friend and preface it with the words: “They’re from Japan. Just listen.” The thing is with Boris - that’s just not near damn enough to say. Sixteen years later after the band’s inception, they continue to not simply reinvent the wheel but instead take the thing of the axle and make it completely different. Like any great group of musicians and artists, they don’t let any barriers stand in their way. They’ve done countless collaborations with other incredible artists such as but not limited to Keiji Haino, Sunn O))), Michio Kurihara, Ian Astbury, and many more. I don’t know that the Melvins realized that their song would spawn such a diverse and sonically tenacious band like Boris, but I can only imagine they see it as an enormous compliment that after seventeen studio albums (not counting the myriad of collaborations), Boris is in no mood to quit and certainly in no mood to turn down the volume. I recently had an email exchange/conversation with Atsuo regarding the band’s history and their own sense of the art they create:
Since the band’s formation in 1996, you guys have certainly evolved your sound from definitive metal to sludge to experimental and even what might be considered pop. How difficult has it been for you all to sort of be able to maintain the Boris sound while still crossing barriers of music from a genre standpoint?
To us it has not been so difficult to maintain our sound since we can catch possible vision and atmosphere when hearing our own recorded music so carefully. However, in that case the member’s own identity and ego are left behind and ignored frequently. That means ‘music first’ method would shake down members. In order to preserve the balance of our feeling we need to overlook ourselves. Sometimes we feel scary about that.
Language barriers seem to disappear in the wake of music - no matter what genre it may be. When you listen to Boris, no matter what your language might be, the connection is immediately there. How do you approach the art you create in not allowing the issue of language to impede the process?
I don’t really care about language barriers at all. If there is, people try to ‘feel’ something instead of communicating with languages. In fact music is to feel, right? Communication should start from where people can’t understand each other perfectly. That is so natural and to start from there is the best way, I believe.
Boris has worked with numerous artists/musicians here in the states. How is the music scene different here than in your native Japan?
Totally different on everything. For example physically, we can’t play instruments the way western people do. And Western music scene and Japan has their own history of rock music.
Boris has put out seventeen studio albums in a matter of about sixteen years. It’s always been amazing to me the prolific nature of the group alongside the constantly changing experimentation with sound. How easy does the songwriting process come for the band now, or is it just as difficult as when you first started?
Each song has their own vision and world, we just lead them into the right direction and destination where they should go. It is like climbing various mountains. It depends how steep which mountain is. Basically we won’t do anything that we can’t enjoy. Focusing on enjoyable stuff with our fans is important, and that is what we call music.
The metal genre seems to be going through a “trendy” phase presently. Bands who, perhaps, would not have even registered with fans or critics just ten years ago are now suddenly becoming critical darlings. As veterans and pioneers of the genre, how does Boris perceive this change in perception? Is it a passing fad, or is it indicative of what’s to come for the genre as a whole?
No, we are not veterans nor pioneers in the metal genre at all; we don’t even think we have been a part of that genre either. However ,we don’t feel uncomfortable when we are recognized that Boris is a metal band. We are just happy many metal fans enjoy our music. We don’t really care how we are recognized or criticized. It is a matter outside of us. Boris just keeps doing what we would really like to do.
Obviously PINK gets a lot of praise as a benchmark for so many other bands/artists/musicians in the metal genre, yet Boris has evolved musically to a point now where fans and critics alike have a difficult time labeling the band as anything but Boris. Do you see this as a success on your part as artists?
Well, I have no idea (Laughs). Are we becoming the band who is hard to describe now? Maybe our fans shouldn’t bother to explain what kind of band Boris is to their friend? (Laughs)
Who are some up and coming bands or musicians that the band is currently listening to?
Right now we keep recording new material and these are the one that we listen to very much. Instead, I am going to shows as much as I can. Last week I went to see our great friend MONO and ETERNAL ELYSIUM, both of them were fantastic. Takeshi seems to hear lots of soundtrack from the 60’s and 70’s. Wata is just into Nintendo 3DS video games.
Since it appears the band never stops working, I’m inclined to ask what you guys do for leisure? When Boris isn’t touring or recording what do each of you enjoy doing on your own time?
It was quite hot in Tokyo this Summer, and I went swimming many times. And watching movie and animation films at my place, as usual. Takeshi is an airplane freak; goes and sees them everywhere. Wata loves video games! She has played all of the ‘Pocket Monster’ series. Now she is playing the new Super Mario Brothers 2 all day. If you bring your 3DS game device to our show you can enjoy ‘Streetpass’ communication with her and exchange Mii character as her fellow.
Lyrically speaking, how does the band approach each song? Is there literature that influences the lyrics, or it simply a sort of projection of your emotions?
We are usually inspired by the general world, scenery, and people that we see through our music. Our music and sound lead us to specific images and ideas. We don’t include any messages in lyrics at all, though character in lyrics would represent our feeling and opinion sometimes.
What’s the future for Boris? What can fans and critics expect from the band who’s constantly changing yet utterly distinct in their sound?
I don’t know, but we try to keep ourselves not afraid of changing. In the real world things changes imminent moment by moment, so we always need to catch up and update ourselves. At the same time there is general and universal thing for sure, we want to preserve the balance in between.
Thanks to Atsuo for his generous time and to Sargent House for helping set up this interview. Boris’ latest release NEW ALBUM can be heard here and, just as you would expect, it’s Boris but unlike anything else they’ve done. The evolution of sound is one of many things, to me, that make the art of music so utterly palpable. It’s essentially the auditory thirst that can’t be quenched if your formula is precisely just that - a formula. For Boris the sound will never plateau and from where I’m listening that’s always a damn good thing.