Translated by Kasumi Billington | Words by David C. Obenour
While 2020’s NO featured some of Boris’ most relentless playing in recent memory, Japan’s famed trio have returned with its balanced companion, W. Together making NOW, it is the latest statement from a band known for the extraordinary – in every sense of the word. Sharing a musical language developed over 30 years together, Wata handles all lead vocals and the songs swirl with distortion and subtlety, sound and silence. Their heaviness continues to explore new depths.
Off Shelf: W opens with the same melody as your last album NO ended with – how are these albums meant as companions?
Atsuo: NO is about healing by releasing emotions to the limit. While feeling at a loss, W follows with an awakening through a whispering voice in your ear.
Takeshi: Now that both albums have been released, you could also take the opposite approach and listen to W first, then NO. I think you’ll enjoy this approach too. These are seen as compatible albums rather than albums that come one after another.
OS: How much of W did you have either conceived of, written or recorded when NO was finished? Were any of the songs from the same session?
A: The mastering of NO was on June 5, 2020. We started sessions for W on June 11. They had different session start dates. But two songs from W, “Beyond good and Evil” and “Old Projector” were from sessions in 2018. “Kiki no Ue” from NO was actually an unreleased song from the 90s. Just like this one, Boris’ albums tend to include many songs from different periods of time.
T: We can sometimes visualize the flow towards the next work while creating the current one, but this time that was obvious. We played aggressively in NO, playing slowly naturally made us want more, and the scenery of sounds changed.
OS: What do you see as the differences between a double album and two separate but connected album releases? If not for you, in what ways do you think it differs for the listener?
A: I wonder if there is a meaning. We don’t know either ourselves – it’s the work that tries to end up that way. There’s so much mystery to the songs and works, even for us. The more mysterious they are, the better they work.
T: Humans are the same way too, right? Each expression shows their true nature – musical works are the same way. We want you to see and listen to them.
OS: There are a few distinct and abrupt endings for the songs of W – what value do you find in that sort of jarring experience?
A: Even in movies, scenes cut off very suddenly. Maybe the experience could be naturally accepted more if one album could be regarded as a single movie rather than a showing of an omnibus of short films? You can think of this as visual music, as the way we look at the world is also visual. In short, it can be said that such experience brings reality in life.
T: Even the reverberation that somehow exists after a part of the song is cut up and thrown out is still part of the song. The song still continues along with the feeling of loss.
OS: You also have an extended silence trailing off from the end of You Will Know. In terms of that song and the sequencing of W, how do you feel this space shapes the experience?
A: You should be able to hear the music faintly. We’re a generation that recorded on cassette tapes and repeatedly used them. We used that cassette many times, re-recording different new music. As a characteristic of magnetic cassette tapes, oftentimes, sounds that are previously recorded doesn’t completely erase, and it’ll stay like a ghost. That nostalgic sensation is reminiscent on the secretly audible track.
T: Ah, that’s “Jozan”. This song could definitely be the peak of the album!
OS: Before W’s release, Wata collaborated with boutique distortion pedal company EarthQuaker Devices on the Hizumitas pedal. What excited you about helping to create this device and having them release it to the public?
Wata: The Big Muff Sustainer that I’ve been using for years is a vintage item, so it’s extremely difficult to find the same one. Old pedals break easily and aren’t meant for tours. If it’s lost or cannot be fixed, I had a fear of not being able to recreate the same sound. So I requested Jamie to “create a pedal with the same sounds”. Nothing made me happier than having my own signature model created, and it won’t break even if it was overused on tour. I could always get a replacement. I’m grateful that even the design and color were finished as I desired. After the release, I was surprised to receive more feedback than I’d imagined.
T: I tried using this pedal too, and it was definitely Wata’s sound itself that I am used to hearing. I thought Wata was amazing for not compromising until she was completely satisfied with the result, and was amazed by EQD’s passion for music and technical ability to create something close to her perfect vision. The pedal is surprisingly easy to use, so I hope various players will enjoy using this regardless of genre.
OS: Do you find yourself still exploring new or vintage pedals? With so many years to delve through and the many companies, how do you learn about them and have any stood out?
W: I haven’t explored vintage pedals as often recently. I do try new pedals a little bit, but there are so many that create interesting sounds – there are often times where inspiration from pedals lead to creation of songs.
The feedback, which is obtained by connecting not only the pedal but also the amps to create a loud sound, is also important. I can say that my style of expression is built from three elements – guitar, pedals, and amps. The most prominent one is the tape echo that I’ve been using for a long time. The unstable but expressive sounds produced from recording and playing tapes is truly wonderful.
T: I’m still intrigued by vintage pedals and know how amazing they are, but if the sound itself isn’t as good as the scarcity value, I don’t want to use it, and I don’t have the need to want it. It doesn’t matter if the pedal is old or new, as long as it has a sound that can become the essence of new music.
OS: During the odd, isolated, and interrupted times over the last two years during the pandemic, did you find yourself exploring new – or revisiting old – ways of playing or recording?
A: There hasn’t been any particular changes to recording. We’re still self-recording. Once covid hit, we began mixing remotely, and we’d listen to the engineer’s sounds from the studio from each of our own homes and make progress on our work that way.
T: Without touring, I’m forgetting how it feels to play in public. Even when I record alone at home, I try to stand up and play and sing as much as possible.
OS: Knowing that everything you do as an artist is simultaneously informed by what you have done and is a precursor to what you will do, what do you find as the strongest constant throughout your discography?
A: As with NO and W, it feels like there are conflicting events within one work. Beauty and ugliness, stillness and roar, nothingness and chaos, etc.
T: Various meanings of “Heavy”.
OS: What recent developments in how you write or perform excite you most for the years still to come with Boris?
A: Even though I’ve been doing this a long time I think playing slowly comes with a lot of learning and awareness. Even in a contemporary dance, there’s a method to slow down everyday movements to the limit. It’s a universal method to feel the sound and expression of “each moment” from categorized playing styles and movements. Everyone always wants to play fast and accurately. I think you should try to grasp your own “now”. Also, I wouldn’t recommend sequencing or sync.
T: Sounds extreme, but it’s always been “just the three of us” so we unknowingly had built a musical language that only we could share. It’s a great way to convey the subtleties of our production, even if it could be seen as generally incomprehensible. However, interpretations may still result in a gap. That’s why I think it’s important to repeat trial and error constantly.
W: I don’t have any particular technique, but in recording, to embrace the momentum of the first shot. Surprisingly, it’s better to play when you match a phrase that comes to mind with your “Feeling” rather than using a phrase that was created by thinking hard and practicing. I’m sure there are others with similar experiences, right? In our recording, we record even the “we tried playing a little” kind of parts.