Acid Mothers Temple “soul collective”Frequently Asked Questions
This FAQ is made up of extracts from the many, many English interviews that Kawabata Makoto has replied to over recent years. We hope that it deepens your understanding and interest in AMT. The existence of this FAQ is of course due to the questions that many writers have put to us, and to them we offer our thanks. Thanks also to Alan Cummings who translated many of these interviews into English.
Q001: Why did you feel the need to form your own group? Was there a ‘concept’ behind Acid Mothers Temple?
Originally I had no intention of making Acid Mothers Temple an ongoing group. I started the group because I knew so many wonderful musicians who had no way of releasing an album (and in some cases, no desire to do so), and I wanted to give the world a chance to hear what they could do. The concept, in two words is “trip music”. I have listened to all sorts of trippy psychedelic records, but I was never fully satisfied with them. So I began to want to create a really extreme trip music. It was also a great chance for me to try out all sorts of things in the studio, and so that first album is basically a solo record. I edited and overdubbed all these tapes of jam sessions we’d done, and ended up with something that is like musique concrete. That was why I never even thought about the group playing live. That record was really the first time that I realised my childhood dream of creating a music that fused hard rock and electronic music. And it’s also that extreme trip music album that I always dreamed of making.
Q002: Do you really live together communally as The Acid Mothers Soul Collective? Where? What do the neighbors think of you? Do you still feel that Japan is a very conservative culture? Tell us about some of the other members, the dancers, painters etc.
Over a decade ago I became involved with a commune of Japanese beatniks and hippies, but the whole left-wing ethos didn’t really sit right with me. The members of Acid Mothers Temple have several houses all over Japan, and each of us is free to come and go between these houses. So we’re not a commune in the sense that all of us live together in the same place. There are some members who like to travel, others who stay at home. Everyone is free to live in whatever way they like. Our slogan is “Do Whatever You Want, Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want!!”. As a result of this philosophy, we have lost money and the trust of society as a whole, but we’ve gained time and freedom. When all the Aum Shinrikyo stuff was going on in Japan a few years back, there were quite a few of our members staying at my house. [NB Aum Shinrikyo, or Aum Supreme Truth, were the religious cult who carried out the poison gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995 that left 12 dead and over 1000 injured]. The neighbours mistakenly thought that our house was a secret Aum hideout and managed to get us evicted. Also, mountain villages are always suspicious of outsiders, and sometimes we are ostracised by the community. These kinds of problems pop up from time to time, but there’s not much we can do about it. One of our members is a farmer, living together with his fields and rice paddies. There’s another member who has travelled through the Australian deserts and lived with Aborigines. There’s others who are bumming round India. One went to Africa and never came back. One dropped out of a yakuza gang and decided to travel around Japan searching for mermaids. But we all live according to our slogan, and we all eventually return to the fold. We respect each others’ ways of life, and we try not to tie each other down. The “soul collective” only exists so that we can protect our freedom.
Q003: Why did you start your AMT label?
At first it was just because I wanted to release a solo guitar record. But I knew that it would never sell that many copies, so I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else to put it out. As well, for me improvised solo guitar records are like fresh fish they go off quickly. It would be hell trying to sell hundreds of copies of some piece I’d recorded five or ten years ago. Then I discovered the CDR format, and I realised that with this there would be no need to stock boxes and boxes of old releases, and in addition it would be possible to do releases very quickly. So I decided to set up the label. Higashi and I got together the money to start the label, and we created it as a means of releasing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. The whole process is carried out as a cottage industry recording, the burning of the disks, the assembling of the jackets, parcelling up, and shipping. The reason why we limited each release to a hundred copies was that we thought there would only be a hundred people who would want to buy them. Burning more any more than a hundred CDRs gets to be a problem as well. But at the moment, it looks like a hundred copies is no longer enough, so present releases we do between two and five hundred copies as regular CDs.
Q004: Are all Acid Mothers tracks initially improvised?
When AMT record, the most basic parts of the tracks are improvised. Or else we decide on a simple theme and then improvise the rest. I dislike writing songs in advance. If you write songs then in order to make them perfect you need to practise. But music is constantly changing, depending on time and place and atmosphere, and attempting to tie it down never breeds good results. Especially when a large group of people is playing together, the more fixed parameters that you have, then the less spiritual communication there will be between the performers, and the end result will be boring.
When AMT play live, there is a rough theme for each song, but we are never sure how it will change from day to day. Playing to different people, in different places, on different days, there is absolutely no point in trying to decide things in advance. That’s why tours are always so exciting for us.
Q005: You say that sometimes you get members to send you their parts on tape, and then you put them together by “chance”. Do you mean like a tape collage, or just by trying combinations and finding, by chance, an arrangement that works?
This is because I truly believe only in chance. I never try out things in advance or try different combinations. When I’m putting a track together, all I think about is picking parts that have the elements that come closest in image to the sounds I hear in my head. In this situation, sudden inspiration becomes the most important part of my work. (and this decides whether the final track is going to be good or bad). All I do then is roughly put it all together, and I believe that the resulting ensemble has already left my hands and is assembled by the cosmos (or God). All you need know is God. So I don’t search for good arrangements – all I do is give thanks for the presents that God sends to me.
Q006: Where did you grow up and when were you born? Was it a musical family? Was it a fairly normal Japanese childhood?
I was born in Osaka in 1965, but we later moved to Nara. (Osaka has a very different culture to Tokyo ? maybe a bit like the difference between Scotland and England). I think that my family was pretty normal, except that my grandfather was a noh performer of the Hosho school. My father didn’t follow in his footsteps, but when I was a kid I remember him singing some noh pieces to me at home. My mother loved classical music and when I was a kid she never let me hear any pop around the house. I’ve been told that I used to hum Beethoven’s Pastorale. When I was a child I loved reading historical novels and books about famous people, and I wanted to be a politician or a philosopher when I grew up. (NB: Hosho is one of the four traditional schools of noh acting, dating back to the 14th century at least. Let me know if you need to know any more about it or noh in general, or about Nara.)
Q007: Can you remember your first big musical discoveries? What impressed you the most and why?
When I was about 10, I heard Indian classical music for the first time on TV that came as a massive shock to me. If I think back now, just hearing those drones on the tamboura probably ruined my entire life! From when I was a kid I’d always hear these phantom ringing sounds in my ears, and I was convinced that it was UFOs trying to communicate with me. I’d often run to the window when I heard those sounds, scanning the sky for any sign of a UFO. Anyway, the sound of the tamboura was really close to what I used to hear. I was just really surprised to find out there was an instrument that sounded like that, but it wasn’t until many years later that I actually found out what instrument it was.
Some time after that incident I came across musique concrete and Stockhausen’s electronic music on the radio. In terms of actual musical content, this was the first thing that really shocked me. Friends had played me Beatles records and so on but I was never able to get into them. But hearing electronic music was a real culture shock. It was just like someone had turned the ringing in my ears into music. I rushed off to look for records like that, but of course no one in the rural record shops nearby had ever heard of it. In the end I wound up taping stuff off the radio and listening to it over and over.
Q008: Tell me some details about some of the groups on the “Early Works 1978-81” 10 CD set ? What inspired you to start making your own music? What was the Japanese scene like then? Were you aware of it or did you tend to look abroad? Were bands like Rallizes, Taj Mahal Travellers, Fushitsusha, Abe, Takayanagi and Tori Kudo important in Japan? How do you feel about these musicians?
The reason why I decided to start playing my own music was that I searched everywhere for the music that I wanted to listen to, but I’d never been able to find it. The only way left to me was to create it myself. At the time I dreamt of how cool it would be to find a record that combined hard rock like Deep Purple with the electronic music of Stockhausen. But I hadn’t been able to find any records like that, so in 1978 I formed my first group Ankoku Kakumei Kyodotai (NB: literally translated, this means Dark Revolutionary Collective) together with a couple of friends who I used to listen to music with. However, at the time we didn’t own any instruments and we’d only been able to borrow a single synthesizer. We forced to start building our own instruments. Since our whole plan was to create music that we could listen to, we started recording ourselves from the very start. At the beginning we were trying to play this dream combination of hard rock and electronic music on our own homemade instruments and this single synthesizer. Later on we finally managed to get hold of some proper instruments. But we hadn’t a clue about how to play them properly, so we just stumbled through a whole process of trial and error, trying out various approaches to see if they would work. It took me four years to work out that there was such a thing as a proper guitar tuning. Before then we’d work out our own tunings, and we felt that as long as we could make the sounds we wanted then tuning didn’t really matter. Our playing was basically improvised, but listening to it subjectively you can tell that we were always trying to create some sort of song structure so what we were doing was completely different to so-called free music. Once we got our instruments, we would record stuff in this local studio that had a four-channel mixer and a cassette recorder. Then we’d take the tracks home and overdub with these two cassette recorders we had with a mixing function. Eventually we heard about independent labels and records and we started our own independent cassette label, R.E.P. We released almost forty cassette titles on the label.
At the time (the late 70s and early 80s), punk and new-wave were really popular, and the scene was mostly comprised of those kinds of bands, as well as some noise groups. We started playing some gigs, but because we weren’t punk or new-wave or noise, no one wanted to know. Then, when the whole electro-pop/techno thing started happening, people would hurl abuse at us because we were only using our synthesizer to make all these spacey sounds.
I had started creating some solo pieces at the same time musique concrete type things using lots of drones. These were my first hesitant attempts at creating music that turned the ringing sounds in my ears into some kind of structured piece. (I still continue this work in INUI, and with my solo drone guitar pieces).
Back then, I’d seen Les Rallizes Denudes just once, but because I wasn’t that interested in Japanese music I’d never heard Taj Mahal Travellers, Fushitsusha or any Japanese free jazz. The kind of people who were interested in that kind of stuff back then and experienced it in real time were probably a few years older than me. But as well, it was really hard to find any information about that stuff then. Of course, if you were living in Tokyo or another big city there was probably ways to do it, but I was living out in the wilds of Nara, recording music with my friends, and occasionally going up to Osaka to play a gig, so there was a limit to the amount of data I could come across. The friends I hung out with in Osaka were all the same age as me, and we didn’t have any contact with older people, so that was another reason. Ironically, out of that older generation there’s still quite a few musicians who are still around but everyone my age seems to have already disappeared. Now everyone digs the 70s Japanese underground scene and free jazz, even people outside Japan, but it had nothing to do with me, and I wasn’t influenced by it at all. Even today, if you omit a handful of musicians like Keiji Haino, I have absolutely no interest in that stuff. The music that did influence me was the electronic music and 60s and 70s Western rock (mainly hard rock, progressive, and German rock [NB which is what the Japanese call what we call Krautrock]) I listened to when I was young, and also ethnic music. And also the constant ringing that I hear in my ears and the heavenly orchestras I’ve heard playing in my dreams. Since everyone on the scene back then despised our music that was another reason why I was never influenced or interested in Japanese music.
Q009: You mentioned that you think that trip music is totally different to psychedelic rock — can you elaborate on the difference, for others? Many people, of course, will think that they are the same thing.
As I see it, psychedelic rock is a type of rock music that evolved under the influence of the drug culture. Both musicians and audiences heard those sounds while under the effects of drugs (though sometimes those effects were faked). Because of that, there’s some wonderful groups from that era that accidentally peered into the abyss of music. However, most of it is happy with seeing the dimension that drugs have given access to, and it doesn’t attempt to reach the next stage. Drugs are only a means to an end; they’re only a first guide to the fundamental principles of the universe. The music that I refer to as trip music are sounds that move towards that cosmic principle. Trip music always contains, if only fractionally, some of those sounds of absolute purity that are related to the cosmic principle. Anyone who has glimpsed that next step on the path towards the cosmic principle, even once and irrespective of whether they’re aware of it or not, will be aware of these sounds – even without the help of drugs. And those sounds themselves are a big clue towards finding the cosmic principle. Of course there are many things that are both psychedelic rock and trip music at the same time. But there are also many things that are just skilful imitations, and you have to be careful to tell the difference.
Q010: Do you think of yourselves as psychedelic? As a retro group or as futuristic? What is psychedelic to you?
“What is psychedelic?” I don’t understand the real meaning of the word. I get asked this question a lot, and that is how I always reply. As far as I’m concerned, psychedelic just means something easy, something you don’t have to think too much about. I have never understood how other people use the word. The one statement that I would like to make about this word is that knowledge without experience is totally useless.
Are AMT futuristic? We’re obviously retro! We just love to death good old rock from the days when it had real power, and we still believe in that power. And furthermore we believe that if we can resurrect this power, then we can share it with everyone and move them on a fundamental level. We have no intention of trying to create a new music all we want to play is music that’s cool. And besides, anything that is out of date to begin with can’t get any more out of date.
Q011: How did you meet Cotton?
[Fellow AMT member] Suhara Keizo, who is now cotton’s husband, introduced me to her. I knew her previous band Mady Gula Blue Heaven. I think that her family are all artists, but I’m not that interested in the member’s private lives so I don’t know anything more. But she’s certainly a strange woman. To be blunt, I don’t think that anyone can really understand her. She always pulls so many bizarre stunts when we’re on tour, but if you meet her any other time she’s exactly the same. She’s supposed to be the group’s lead vocalist, but we never know from day to day whether she’s going to sing or not. She loves her beer and cigarettes, and I feel that she burns with life from moment to moment. I have no idea where all that power comes from in such a small body. The one thing that we can be sure of is that, more so than any other member, she loves AMT!
“100% pure Cotton!”
Q012: How did you meet Higashi?
I’ve known Higashi through thick and thin now for over 15 years. He first showed up at an audition I was holding for a band I had back then. We hated each other at first sight. We ended up playing together for about a year, but then our ideas became completely opposite, and he started playing with some ex-members of Cosmos Factory. [NB: Cosmos Factory were Japan’s most famous heavy-prog band, releasing four albums between 1973 and 1977, when they finally split up. They reached the giddy heights of opening for the Moody Blues and Humble Pie. Some members were later spotted in Stomu Yamashita’s live groups.]
After that we met up several times, but we’d always end up fighting and vowing never to meet again. He went off to live like a hermit in the mountains to pursue his own music. For Higashi music is definitely a way of life, and rather than learning through listening to records he prefers that his music is created from his own lifestyle. We met up again after a long break and decided to form Tsurubami this was the first time that I realised that we shared a very similar view of the world. We both travelled very different paths, but our final destination ended up being the same. Maybe you could say that we’re like Yin and Yang. As a player sometimes he often reads too much into something and we end up going round and round and going nowhere. But I trust his ears implicitly, because they’re the end result of his way of life.
Q013: How did you get to know Tsuyama and how did he join the band? What does Tsuyama bring to the group? Does he have a background in folk music?
I knew his face from way back, but the first time we played together was at a gig with Tatsuya Yoshida. This later developed into the Seikazoku unit. After that he crashed at my house for a long time, and because our characters are so similar and we’re from the same area, we became friends. We formed Zoffy together, he started appearing as a guest at AMT gigs, and then finally he formally joined the group. He’s been utterly in love with rock since he was a kid, and when he was at high school he played in groups with Shibayama (currently in Nagisa Ni Te), Higuchi (Loudness’ drumer!) and people like that. After that he revealed another side of his character and set off on the path to becoming a woodsman. For ten years he travelled various mountains all over the world, and he now works part of the year as a forest ranger and caretaker at a mountain lodge. In the mid 80s he suddenly reappeared on the Osaka scene, playing with Hallelujahs and joining Omoide Hatoba, which is a group led by Yamamoto from the Boredoms. He’s played with all sorts of people. He’s really knowledgeable about European trad music probably one of the leading experts in Japan. On his own solo stuff he likes to use these fake languages, and do this really impressive fake trad stuff.
He has mastered all these weird vocal styles like throat singing and yodelling, and if you ever hear him on acoustic guitar he has just amazing technical chops. He is a member of si-FOLK who are one of the few Irish trad bands in Japan, and he has a duo with Fumio Yoshida, who is the most famous Irish musician in Japan.
What Tsuyama has brought to AMT has been first and foremost the musical depth that allowed AMT to become a real group. The group’s current style with the combination of me, him and the drummer providing the base, and Cotton’s and Higashi’s space sounds out front was developed after he joined. His knack for coming up with melodies has really expanded the possibilities of the group. And anyone who’s seen us live will recognise what a great entertainer he is.
Q014: Please tell us about Tsurubami.
Tsurubami was formed in 1994. The three of us Higashi, a female drummer called Emi Nobuko and me are like three bloodbrothers whose destinies have been bound together from a previous existence. This bond between us later developed into the “Soul Collective” ideal of AMT.
The three of us have been given a huge mission in life and as a result we’re like waves that come and go, tides that ebb and flow. As long as we three have life on this planet the group will continue to exist. Here’s a summary of our mission:
According to the theory of Inyo Gogyo, everything that exists in the world can be expressed by Yin and Yang, the two principles. (even computers work in this way). Everything is created from Yin and Yang, and the interactions of the Five Elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, water. The workings of the universe can be understood through a knowledge of the Two Principles and Five Elements. The form of everything on Earth and in the heavens is created by Yin and Yang, while the workings of the world occur through the Five Elements. If we take it that sound is one particle of time, then the energy of sound flows from the deepest past into the far future. And that also suggests that the purpose of ritual and prayer is to recreate the energy that existed at the beginning of the cosmos. Rituals and prayer function to reawaken that which existed at the beginning, to open the doors of this world, and to make that energy flow once more. Through the holy sound of Ohm, can we glimpse the eternal, escape the constraints of time (past, present, and future), and come to meet the Buddha?
For us, Tsurubami is a place of eternal spiritual training, a place where everything must be laid bare. This band itself is the last and greatest stronghold of group existence. I see it as a place where we can experiment with a form of improvised playing based on paranormal communication which has existed since the time of the troubadours.
Q015: Please tell us about Floating Flower.
Floating Flower is an acid folk unit comprising me, Yuki and Tetsuya Kaneko. The other two are always travelling around India, and I’ve forgotten where I first met them, but the group started when I suggested creating a folk unit that featured Yuki’s vocals. This unit, like the AMT label, was an attempt to introduce some unknown musicians to a wider audience. But in the end we just spent all our time improvising these really long minimal pieces, and they became the first album. Yuki and Cotton have totally different characters, but once they start singing they both slip into a trance and fly off somewhere.
Any time Kaneko or Yuki have some free time they go off to travel round India. I never have any idea when they’re going to be back to record the next album. While they’re away, their house is filled with a bunch of spongers. But that must be the way they like to live. They don’t care at all whether their CDs sell, or whether we reissue them on LP. That isn’t what they’re about their concerns are somewhere else entirely.
Q016: Tell us about the experiences that led to the recording of La Nòvia.
La Nòvia is one of the Occitan traditional songs that Tsuyama and I love. I first heard Tsuyama singing it at a solo gig. Troubadour music is probably the music I love most in the world, and since it has its roots in Occitan trad, I love it deeply too. As I mentioned earlier, Tsuyama really knows a lot about European traditional music, but he too said that he was really shocked the first time he heard an Occitan melody. So, it was a very natural step for us to decide to cover an Occitan trad song. Of course we aren’t from Occitan and we don’t speak the language we just love the music of that region. But the music has become a key for me, and I’ve started to learn a bit about the history of Occitania, and now I want to go and visit the ruins there. At first though I did have doubts about whether it was alright for us to play Occitan trad. The culture and religion of the people of that area forms the background to any traditional music, and it only has meaning when performed in that unique context. It isn’t something that anyone could just start playing. However, we’re not a trad band we’re merely a rock band. Rock has a frightening gravitational pull, just like a black hole, and it sucks in all kinds of different musics. Under the frighteningly simple-minded justification that rock allows you to do whatever you want, we decided to go ahead and cover that Occitan song. Then, the first time we went to Toulouse, almost everyone we met there said that they had no interest in Occitan traditional music. But every time I went there, I would search for LPs and CDs of traditional music. None of the locals could understand why I was so interested, and I would just ask if them if they really couldn’t dig why I was into this wonderful music. But eventually, more and more people around me in Toulouse began to show an interest in the music. We’re just glad if our cover version convinces a few more people to check out this amazing music. On my last solo tour of France, at last someone arranged for us to play a concert with the great Occitan singer Rosina de Peira. For us, this was more nerve-wracking and exciting than playing with any improv giant.
Q017: What was your inspiration to play guitar?
When I play any sort of instrument, not just guitar, I never think that it’s me making the music or of music as a means of self expression. In my head I constantly hear sounds from the cosmos (or God, or whatever you want to call it). I believe that these sounds are constantly there, all around us. I’m just like the receiver in a radio, picking up these sounds, and then transforming them with my hands into a form that everyone can hear. So I’m constantly striving to become a better receiver – picking up sounds from ever higher dimensions, picking them up ever more precisely, and then reproducing them ever more exactly. That’s my aim.
Q018: You say that you taught yourself to play guitar and other instruments, and that you’re transforming sounds in your head into music for people. Do you ever feel limited in trying to work with these sounds? Are you getting closer to reproducing them exactly? How do you communicate them to other musicians if you’re collaborating?
There are basically two types of sounds that I hear in my head. The first is like absolutely pure tones from the universe. The aural hallucinations and ringing sounds that I’ve heard since I was a kid, and the heavenly orchestras I’ve heard in my dreams fall into this category. I try to realise these sounds in my solo work, or in other projects that are close to solo in their intent. The second type is something that I hear constantly, even when I am in the midst of performing. My improvisations are just moment by moment recreations of this sound. I find that especially when I’m playing with a other people and there are all sorts of sounds flying around, I hear something in my head that’s like the universe guiding me towards the most correct music (ultimately, I believe that this process will lead me to pure sound, or else to the power that will enable me to discover pure sound). I honestly believe in the power of these sounds, and I try as hard as I can to reproduce them moment by moment. Of course there are times when the sounds my collaborators are making take off in some direction totally different to the sounds I’m hearing, and then I’m always dazzled by the way my cosmic sounds kaleidoscopically change to keep pace with the changing situation around me. Perhaps an easy example for you to understand would be the way a satellite car navigation system immediately keeps suggesting multiple new routes every time you ignore the one currently being displayed. The only way I can communicate this to my collaborators is through sound, so the best thing for me to do is to become like a good radio receiver and clearly and faithfully transmit the sounds I hear. But, to tell you the truth, with my current levels of skill and perception it’s hard. Or maybe everyone is a good receiver and the point we’re all heading for is the same. At times like that we can create very high grade music.
Q019: With regard to side projects and collaborations, my impression was that AMT tracks are composed collaboratively as well, but within the group structure. You mention in one interview that you regard yourself as the producer but not the leader, as the group members must be allowed to contribute their own strengths and weaknesses. How are AMT tracks composed then? Each is credited to different band members and guests. I imagined that when members were together in the studio you would record ‘spontaneously’ with whoever was there and then assemble tracks together from this base, maybe blending in other sounds and intros afterwards.
Our recording process is basically to improvise the broad structure of the songs, then to overdub stuff later. The line-up depends on who’s available on the day. So I suppose you could say it’s down to fate, since we don’t adjust the schedule to try and fit in with everyone’s plans. It’s different every time – sometimes people just happen to be back from travelling, or other people just happen to visiting at the time. When I’m making an album, I believe that some power comes into play and it provides me with these chances. When the music itself wants to take a physical form, it summons the people necessary to create it. When I talk about improvising the basic structures of the songs, what I mean by that is tuning into and recreating sounds from the cosmos. Our music isn’t something that we create in our heads, it’s something that we are able to tune into when we have completely thrown off our individual consciousnesses.
Of course, there are times when we are able to hear the cosmic sounds with almost perfect clarity, but also times when we can’t. But in either case, when I’m overdubbing I try to get as close to the original form of the cosmic sounds as I can. This is quite hard though – if I try too much, then it becomes harder to lose my sense of self. At times like that, sometimes I just trust implicity the music’s own independence. One way I do that is to take all the various tapes that the group members have sent me, and overdub them on top of the basic track using the operation of chance. That’s one way of making sure that there’s no part of me that’s trying to mould and shape the music. All I do is select which tapes it is that I’m going to use. Everything is entrusted to chance, and I just layer the tapes on top of each other. In most cases, they synchronize perfectly with the original track – you’d never believe that it was done in just one take. It’s as if all the tapes had been made deliberately for that one track… I believe that this kind of fate is something that the music creates for itself. All that I could ever wish is for is just to be a channel between the cosmos and the music.
Q020: Acid Mothers Temple have been playing for 5 years now. Do you regard this as your most central project? I ask this because you continue to make music with a range of collaborators in different ‘side-projects’. You also have had a very rich musical history to draw experience from. Has AMT therefore come to be the closest to your vision of ‘absolute music’ or is it that the philosophy of the band best captures your own personal philosophy?
I think of my work as existing in two broad areas. The first is solo stuff like the guitar improvs or INUI, the second is AMT. It’s fair to say that AMT exists for me as a kind of ideal rock band. So, there’s no sense in which I apply my own musical limitations to the group. If there is any concept behind the group it’s more like trying to revive the power that rock once possessed. All we want to do is play music that rocks and is cool.
I think that rock is different from all other musics because it’s impossible to classify it into a simple musical genre. Rock is a way of life, a belief, a way of thinking. In that sense AMT is my ideal group because it’s a gathering together of people who share the same values and beliefs.
All the music I play is an attempt to recreate the sounds I hear from the cosmos (by which I DON’T mean God), but with AMT there’s something more – some kind of special power that always exists in the group itself. Everything, from our own limitations to everything beyond them, gets pulled along by this power. But I have no idea what this power is.
Q021: How conceptually do you approach the albums? Are they structured around definite ideas or are they built as collections of tracks?
I do create a concept for each album. They’re not just random collections of tracks. But the concepts are not concrete ideas or philosophies. Before any of that there’s the concept of just simply “sound alone”. Each sound naturally gathers together when we’re playing. Also, there’s a different concept at work when we’re recording a new LP or CD, and it depends on the format. So, when one of our albums is reissued on a different format, as much as possible we try to remake the music to fit the new format. LPs and CDs are like a temporary lodging for the music from the cosmos. My job is to make sure that these temporary lodgings are as suitable as possible for the sounds.
Q022: On collaborations again, Haco has appeared on two AMT albums now, and the floating line up also has consisted of members of other Japanese bands, Tatsuya Yoshida was from Ruins. How do the collaborations come about?
AMT has never once had a fixed line-up. Everything can change according to the time, the place, the people, the sounds. And even then those are only factors of fate that the music itself puts in place for its summoning up. I cannot believe that having a fixed line-up would be good for the music. The music itself demands to reproduced in a form that is as close as possible to its original shape. That clearly entails that it be played by the most appropriate grouping of people. The music brings a certain group of people together, and they then recreate the music. In order to remove any possible obstructions to this process, we refuse to fix the group’s line-up. (In the same way, the reason why we always improvise the songs is so that we do not try to straitjacket the music into pre-determined forms. Of course, when we play live there are certain semi-fixed thematic elements in the music, but we limit them to the absolute minimum.)
Also, in AMT there is no way that anyone can “leave” the group. When we played with Yoshida it was because fate linked him to us at that time. You could say that he was a fellow traveller for a while, called by the music. He may be called again to play with us. Only one thing is certain – no matter how convenient it may be to play with someone from the scene, if they have not been called to us by fate then we won’t play with them. There is no need to.
Q023: Buddhist ideas and imagery seem to guide the philosophy of AMT. For instance, the track ‘Psycho Buddha’ off New Geocentric Worlds, and the use of terms like Aum, Mu and zen in the other albums and track titles. Are you particular strong Buddhist believer or is it a natural product of your Japanese heritage? Masaki Batoh was also heavily into religious energy in his music, for instance Ghost’s Temple Stone album recorded at different temples. Have AMT ever attempted to use such energy or tap into the ‘sound’ of temples and holy places directly? You once wrote music for 100 Shingon Buddhists. Do you plan anymore religious compositions? Do you use many Buddhist musical motifs in the AMT sound that the western audience might not be aware of? I know you use many traditional instruments. Is this purely for sound and texture or is there any religious significance in their use?There seems to me to be a very crucial dynamic to the music that revolves around the Buddhist principles of Yin and Yang. Your music seems at first chaotic, dense and super-sensory. But I remember when I saw you play live that after awhile I was overcome by a sense of calm and greater tranquility, as if the noise had gone to the extreme which was the same as silence but opposite. At the peak of chaos and freakout is tranquility. Do you think a Yin/Yang idea of opposite exists in the music you play? Do you ever play the music deliberately to achieve this kind of harmony?
Firstly, I am not a follower of Buddhism. I have no beliefs that connect me to any organised religion. The only thing I believe in is the cosmic principle. Of course, as a clue to that principle and also as an element of philosophy I do partly believe in things like the “cycle of reincarnation” and the “four ways of being born and eight divides” (which is one branch of yin-yang). When I was a kid, I grew up in Nara and that environment gave me a love of looking at Buddhist statues and designing and drawing my own versions. And also, since I was born in Japan I suppose that there is some deep subconscious part of me that still carries around a Buddhist value system. The AMT track titles have absolutely no meaning. At most, they’re kind of parodies or jokes. For me, song titles are nothing more than a convenient label.
I don’t see how just by recording at temples you can bring a religious energy into the music. You talk about tapping into the energy at temples and other holy places, but for a non-believer like me, just where would such “holy places” exist? If someone was genuinely interested in that kind of energy then they should become a priest. Music, particuarly rock, has no need of meaningless imposed values like religion or magic. The very fact that someone tries to apply them to music is evidence enough to me that that person is not to be trusted. “My” music may indeed have come through my hands, but as I pointed out before it is sounds from the cosmos that I tune into. It is not something that I have created, nor is it self-expression. Religion was originally an attempt to explain the cosmic principle, so for me who is a believer in the cosmic principle itself, all religions are totally useless. They are no more than a record of priests and holy men of the past.
I have indeed composed a piece of music for 100 Shingon priests, but I only accepted it as a piece of paying work – there was no religious or devotional meaning to it for me. And so, there is no way that I would plan to do any more religious composing. The only reason I use ethnic instruments is because of their tonal palettes. When I attempt to reproduce the cosmic sounds I hear, the greatest problem is the tonal colour. So I am constantly trying out new instruments and trying to come up with my own new methods of playing them.
During our performances, especially live performances, there is certainly a sense in which we aim to arrive at a region of tranquility beyond chaos. Always uppermost in our minds is the necessity to atune ourselves to the particular vibration of that particular time, that particular space, and that particular audience. Once we’ve done that then sounds rain down on me from the cosmos like a swarm of shooting stars. If I keep up reproducing them moment by moment then the sound gradually moves towards chaos. But once we go beyond that, we encounter a silence and tranquility as if light and time had melted together. We don’t deliberately search for this area, it’s as if the music guides us there.
As for your question about prayer, none of us ever pray. Prayer is the same as waiting, and we prefer to throw ourselves into the midst of things, rather than wait. Besides, as the saying goes, things will only ever be the way they were meant to be. And as someone else once said, there’ll be no one to pick up your body once you’re dead.
Q024: Leading on from Buddhism is the bands philosophy of space and UFOs. You mentioned hearing sounds as a youth and believing they came from UFOs. Do you still hear those sounds? Your music at times has been an attempt to recreate these sounds. Do the sounds you hear change/evolve as you come closer to reproducing them? Are the sounds you hear the same as ‘absolute music’? You once held a UFO summoning ceremony in Japan. Have you ever seen a UFO? Have you ever tried to perform live at mystical sites like Stonehenge or similar places in Japan to conduct the energy of these places?
My perception of the cosmos is very different from the everyday concept of it. Now I can hear very clearly the sounds that I thought were messages from UFOs when I was a child. For me, “absolute music” can only be the performance of a heavenly orchestra I heard once in a dream a long time ago. In this dream, the orchestra played many bizarre instruments which I have never seen, and their sound was like nothing I have ever heard. They repeated short and simple melodies over and over again, but the sound was unbelievably beautiful. If I myself were ever able to perfectly reproduce this performance, then I would stop playing music entirely – i would never need to play it again.
The UFO summoning ceremony that you mentioned was simply an event where we tried to catch sight of a UFO. My only interest in religious sites is as repositories of cultural or artistic objects. But I am intersted in mysterious or mystical sites – I wonder why it is that these specific places have some weird air about them. But I don’t see why there would be in any benefit to be gained from playing there. We all totally loathe any kind of dubious “magical” or “esoteric” vibe. I used to live in a Japanese beatnik commune, and back then we used to play at temples and other religious sites all over the country. But I felt that just by playing there you all got wrapped up in a weird dubious atmosphere, the audience too. An effect totally opposite to what I normally want to achieve. We believe in something far more pure.
I have seen UFOs on many occasions, but I don’t like to draw any links between UFOs and aliens or spacement or any of that shit. I only see them as mysterious and impossible to understand phenonena.
Q025: Are drugs an important inspiration for the group or is it merely a form of reference for states of mind and the unlimited possibilities of freedom and reality?
As for drugs, I have experimented with many different kinds of drugs. I’ve almost died several times because of them. My reason for experimenting with them was simply out of curiosity – to find out what there was in that world. My conclusions were that drugs can show many different worlds, but they are nothing more than a guide. Now, we are able to reach those various worlds very easily without using drugs. And we have also been able to reach the next stage – a stage I believe it is impossible to arrive at through using the power of drugs. I neither disown nor endorse the use of drugs, but for me personally, I don’t need them anymore. If you need some clue or a map to other worlds, then drugs can provide you with it but they are no more than a hint. But if you stop there then it’s as if you’d never seen those other worlds.
Q026: What does “Paraiso” mean?
“Paraiso” means the same as “paradise” in English. I think the word is probably Dutch or Spanish. In the middle ages many Dutch and Spanish missionaries came to Japan. After that Christianity was banned, but the religion still survived as a hidden belief system that blended and mutated with Japanese folk religion. Paraiso is a word that I found in these “hidden Christian” texts. We prefer it to the word paradise, since that suggests an Eden where everything is officially approved. Paraiso carries hints of a paradise in the midst of oppression – which we think is more suitable for us.
Q027: What is the idea behind Nishinihon?
The three of us all loved hard rock when we were kids, but over the twenty years of our respective careers we had never had a chance to play hard rock ourselves. So forming the group was like a childhood dream come true. On top of that, hard rock has died or been replaced by heavy metal, so we wanted to preserve good old hard rock. (I believe that hard rock was a form of popular music given birth to by the 20th century, and that it will go down in the pages of history as such). For our first CD release, we decided upon the Japanese title “A new and powerful force in hard rock” (it is worth noting that when the first Pink Floyd album was released in Japan they were described as “as a new and powerful force in psychedelia”. And when Cream and Zep were first introduced in Japan, they were referred to as “art rock”. No ones uses these phrases any more though.) It was this idea of “art rock” that we really loved. The genre was symbolised by massively extended guitar solos at huge volume that suggested stickiness and heat and filth and noise all the stuff that rock originally possessed and which were such a part of its counter-cultural nature. But once rock started becoming big business, all these elements got less evident until they died out entirely.
In Nishinihon we have no intention at all of creating new music. All we’re trying to do is recreate for the 21st century some amazing music that used to exist.
Q028: Tell us about the Father Moo’s record? What does Father Moo do now?
It’s best to think of the Father Moo album as a kind of document. I haven’t a clue what that bizarre ritual he and his handmaidens enacted was about. He loves everyone equally, in a way that is hard to believe, but his women trust in his love. One of the women on that cover has now become a mother, and she lives a quiet life. I suspect that Father Moo may now have discovered a far greater mission in life than just playing music, but I don’t really know.
Q029: Are you a self-taught musician?
I have never been taught by anyone. It’s all self-taught. My knowledge of musical theory is still pretty much zero, but it has never seemed to be a problem. Keiji Haino once said to me, “First there was music, then came theory. There is no way that theory came first, so any musical education that teaches theory first is wrong.” That’s exactly how I feel too. I have always only mastered just the bare minimum of technique so that I can play my own music. I believe that it’s best in all things to have neither too much or too little. If you have too much knowledge or technique, then you’ll naturally want to show that off to others. At that point it ceases to be music, and just becomes a display of skill. That is not what I want my music to be.
Q030: Do you listen to other music much? What kind of place does music hold in your life?
i love troubadours, Occitan trad music, modern music, ethnic music, some parts of jazz and something else. please check “Makoto’s listening room” site. http://www.acidmothers.com/magazine/listening_room/index.html i love only beautiful good music, i hate boring bad music!
Q031: What is so amazing about the Japanese scene and your work is the vast output of recordings under a variety of group names? What drives you to create so much? Do you worry that you will swamp the world with too many releases?
My music is neither a form of personal expression nor something that I myself create. All I do is tune into the sounds of the cosmos (some people may call it god) like a radio receiver, and then play them so that other people can hear them too. Every day I am able to hear various kinds of these sounds, so it is inevitable that I produce much music. Another reason may be that over the years we Japanese have experienced many forms of music as information, and have thus created a huge illusion. Then, from a certain time, maybe somehow we found a way to compact and process this massive amount of information at high speeds.
The majority of musicians who lead the Japanese underground are in their 30s or 40s, and this was precisely the generation that first experienced rock as imported information and from this small amount of data created their own massive illusion. After rock, this generation then listened exhaustively to all forms of music – jazz of course, contemporary composition, ethnic music. They absorbed and compacted all kinds of music as pure data, without reference to its original musical history or social background. Now this music explodes out from them in altered and transformed shapes.
What is there to worry about? I have to continue making music for as long as I keep hearing sounds from my private cosmos. Furthermore, I believe that by releasing records in various countries on various labels, even if they are sometimes limited pressings, I can get as many people as possible to hear my music. Even if only 1% of the people want to hear my music, then I will continue to release music for that 1%. And if you pause to consider that some free music players have released dozens of live recordings that sound only marginally different, then my efforts will seem quite serious. My releases are not motivated in the slightest by any need to appeal to collectors.
Q032: Do you think of Acid Mother as a rock band or an avant-garde group or what?
Without a doubt AMT are a rock group. We play trip music and rock’ n’ roll. And we all want to continue being rockers rock itself is our way of life. We believe in rock’s fantasy, its power and energy. I don’t understand what you mean by pastiche.
Q033: I’d like to ask you the 10 of your favourite records ever made, the ten records you will take with you in a desert island!
This list was made in April 2003. Probably I’ll change the list in next month…
Troubadours Trouveres / Studio Der Fruhen Musik & Thomas Binkley
Of all the music I have heard, this is the record I lvoe the most. I seriously cannot believe that there is any music which is more restrained or more beautiful. The overwhelming subliminity that can be heard here is truly the music of heaven.
Madrigali A Cinque Voci:Carlo Gesualdo / Quintetto Vocale Italiano
I have never anything that creates such a whirling, confused amalgam of religious faith and secular passion as this record. Can music really show us hell (or perhaps heaven?) as clearly as this? For me, these are demonic scriptures that fully capture the magic of the human voice.
Oresteia / Iannis Xenakis
Music from a unique parallel world where opposites – beauty and confusion, classic and avant-garde – are permitted to beautifully co-exist.
Gospel d’Oc / Rosina de Peira
Rosina’s voice is truly one of the wonders of the world – universally maternal, powerful, gentle, replete with mercy. If music from heaven exists, then it can be done other than her voice. Like a soothing, energizing balm for both body and mind, Rosina’s song echoes in one’s soul – this is true song.
Bagpipe / Georgi Chilingirov & Stefan Zahmanov
I am always searching for extreme forms of song, and these site-specific recordings of bagpipes and song are one great example. Song belongs to the people, and everyone loves and needs songs. This record really makes me feel the necessity for song in our daily lives.
Barrett / Syd Barrett
Some of the most affecting music in the world. This is the ecstatic music that a genius who had sold his soul finally found his way to. So it’s both beautiful and pathetic at the same time. This record is one of the miracles of rock. I doubt that anyone will ever play this music again.
Trout Mask Replica / Captain Beefheart & his magic band
For me, this was the most shocking rock album that I ever heard. When I first heard this when I was sixteen, I realised that what I was doing was rock as well. This record confirmed for me my path in life.
Contents / The Charlatans
Out of all the rock albums that I love, this is my all-time favourite number one. If I owned just this one record, I think that I could do without all my other rock records. Again, this is a miraculous record, like a treasure chest crammed full of all the delicious tastes of rock.
Arrival / ABBA
I’ve been an ABBA fan for 25 years. I’m not a record collector by nature, but when it comes to ABBA I have pressings of their LPs and EPs from all over the world. This is my favourite ABBA album. As pop records, this is a real peak of mastery and perfection. When I listen to this my mind goes blank and all I can feel is a sense of happiness. Sometimes we all need a record like this.
Ike Reiko No Miryoku / Ike Reiko
The only album by the 70s Japanese porno actress Ike Reiko – and all the lyrics are about sex. The whole album is smothered with an echo effect, like she’s singing in some dingy bar. Her husky voice echoes up from the night, and it totally sexy. Totally different from Gainsbourg’s music, this record is suffused with an extremely fleshy, real sort of eroticism – you can almost smell the scent of her body. For me, all this represents a uniquely Japanese, moist kind of eroticism that has now vanished.
And to top things of, her lifestyle was totally rock (she lied about her age when she was 17 to make her porno debut, made a total mess of her attempt to become a serious actress when she was at the height of her fame, returned to
making pornos, retired with an addiction to stimulant drugs, and finally married some big successful businessman).
Q034: My first question sounds so: Do you compose poetry or prose? If yes where can one find it?
I have absolutely zero interest in lyrics. So they are all just improvised nonsense, sometimes using Japanese, sometimes English. For Japanese musicians of my generation who grew up with a lot of imported Western music (particularly rock and trad), we heard the lyrics as just one more instrumental texture. There is nothing that I want to express through the lyrics, and I have no message I want to transmit. Music is ‘sound’, not ‘words’. And after all, lyrics are only words that get affixed to songs if the sound is good then ugly lyrics will be forgiven. But if the sound is ugly, then no matter how good the lyrics are, no one will want to listen. Beyond the music there is nothing extra that I want to express or transmit through words, and in fact sometimes words can get in the way of the music. If I wanted to express something through words, I would have chosen a different, more suitable medium. If hypothetically there were some message that I wanted to express through my music, I would need to express it through sound itself. Sound is a format that allows me to speak more eloquently than words.
Q035: Have you tried yourself in any other kind of art but music?
What is ‘art’? People may in general refer to music as art, but for me music is only music, never art. There is nothing more suspicious than ‘art’. It is nothing more than a fraud for sham-intellectuals who insist they understand when really they know nothing. I have never, ever played music as ‘art’. My music is never art – it is entertainment music, simple to grasp, vulgar, and for the masses. Music should never be anything less than that or anything more than that. That is all it is.
Q036: What inspired you to write “Pink Lady Lemonade”? Do you have any definite image or person in your head while playing “Pink Lady”?
The melody suddenly came to me one day when I was playing at a Buddhist temple in Nagoya with some Japanese beatniks in an improvised group called Nipponianippon. The title has no meaning apart from its reference to Syd Barrett’s “Baby Lemonade”.
Q037: You say your music is inspired by cosmic vibrations. Would you go to space if you had a possibility? Do you love travelling and/or touring?
Why not! If it were possible to go to space I would love to go. But it would be too disappointing if I had to wear some bulky spacesuit and spend years getting to a nearby star. I have no interest in the kind of spacewalk where in the midst of the vastness of the universe I would have to wear a spacesuit, worry about oxygen levels and be tethered to the mothership. I want to become one with the cosmos, and travel wherever I desired free of the constraints of time and space. Like a Buddha standing in the gaps where worlds are born. I like travelling but touring is hard. I prefer to travel freely, going wherever my feelings take me. But tours force you to a schedule, to arriving at a certain place at a certain time. But touring also gives me the joy of meeting people who love our music.
Q038: What are the three things (unusual people, pieces of art etc.) that impressed you in the latest time?
The beauty of the moon and stars seen from the Buddhist temple where I now live. Last night a hurricane passed close by, and the sound of the wind in the trees was one of the miracles of nature. On the last tour, the polyphonic music of Sardinia. I had heard the music on records before, but this time I was able to go a festival of traditional music in central Sardinia and the sonic depths of the music played live astonished me. After the performance was over lots of local people started improvising this polyphonic vocal music – that was even more amazing. The most powerful soul music on our planet is the miracle of the human voice.
Q039: Do you ever use hard disc-editing for you music?
No. I cannot believe in it unless I can see where it has been recorded, like on a tape. I am an analogue person, out of touch with the modern world. But hard disks are convenient, so I am slightly interested.
Q040: How do you find Igor Stravinsky, who you mentioned in your Listening Room #25?
I first heard Stravinsky when I was a baby because my mother only played classical music to me. The first time I listened to him properly myself was when I was fifteen, probably. I heard the Rite of Spring on the radio by chance, and it was so close to King Crimson’s “Larks tongues in aspic pt.2”. I also remember hearing that Frank Zappa was a huge fan of Stravinsky, and that made a lot of sense to me. For me Stravinsky is like a really cool piece of rock music. When I was a kid I loved the rawness of the attitude towards his music that you can hear on the In Rehearsal album.
Q041: Do you know any other Russian musicians? Do you have plans to play in Russia? Would you like to?
I know of Shoastakovic and Prokofiov of course, but I am not that interested due to the repression that non-conforming music faced under the old Soviet regime. Of those composers I am most intrigued by Gubaidulina and Schnittke.
I have never been to Russia properly, just changing planes in Moscow. I am always interested to travel to somewhere new.
Q042: Why did you decide to rename The Melting Paraiso UFO as the Cosmic Inferno? Do you think Dante’s Divine Comedy is at all relevant to your music? Can you describe your interest in the ideas of Heaven and Hell? Do you plan to continue as the Cosmic Inferno for as long as you did with the Melting Paraiso UFO?
For the group’s name please refer to (and feel free to link to) our website:
There is no link with the Divine Comedy. Also please don’t misunderstand the situation – Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. has not broken up. AMT & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and AMT & The Cosmic Inferno are two sides of the same coin. AMT & The Cosmic Inferno is another piece of the AMT puzzle and I plan that this group shall continue in the future.
Q043: You have described your music as totally “retro” and “rock n’ roll”. Do you see any opposition between the power of old-fashioned rock and roll and your transcendent ideas of trip music? How does this tie into your interest in electronic music and musique concrète? Is the idea of being “progressive” in music important to you at all? You say that “All we want to do is play music that rocks and is cool”, but think that a lot of very “normal” modern bands would say the same thing. What is the difference between them and AMT, in your opinion?
For me Rock refers to all kinds of cool music and the spirit that lodges therein. So, for me Xenakis and Stockhausen and troubadour music are all Rock. On the other hand Aerosmith, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are not rock. They are just pop music, causing no appreciable harm and no appreciable good.
Also, for me trip music does not mean the same as psychedelic rock. I refer to all kinds of music that can cause a trip in the wider sense. A simple explanation of what I mean by a trip is something that allows you to hear sounds that you do not usually hear, or that allows you to experience those dangerous frequencies that mount a violent assault upon your soul.
By progressive do you mean advanced or progressive rock? In my music I have no interest in newness. Newness is but a momentary state, after several seconds it is already old, so newness itself can be no standard for measuring the worth of music. I believe that my music is ‘old-fashioned’, so nothing can make it any older than it already is.
See my conception of rock as above. From that you should be able to work out that it is a very different definition to those who believe that Aerosmith and Nirvana are rock.
Q044: I am interested in the “pure tones from the universe” that you hear in your head — do you believe now, as you did when you were a child, that alien intelligence is trying to contact you, or that you have a connection to the cosmic principle, or do you feel that you have an imagination that is especially suited to spiritual music?
I myself do not fully understand that these pure tones from the universe are. Perhaps it makes no real difference whether or not they do have any link with the universe. The only thing that matters is that I believe that the mission that has been entrusted to me is to recreate with my own hand those sounds that I continually hear.
Q045: can you explain your idea of the cosmic principle and further than you have already? what does this principle mean to you, in your goals as a musician and your day-to-day life? Is this cosmic principe always tied to music?
I would like to come to know the cosmic principle, but then what would knowing it mean? What would change through knowing it? Galileo and Copernicus expounded the idea that the earth moves through space, but in terms of daily life what difference does it make if the world is round or flat, or if the sun moves or the earth moves? (Aside of course from the problem of Catholic doctrine at that time). Even to such a basic doubt as to whether the universe actually exists or not, I have not been able to gain a clear answer through the experiences I have had over the forty years of my life. In terms of knowledge my brain contains information that defines what the universe is, but it is all just theory as no one has been there. People continue to doubt the truth of whether Apollo 11 actually landed on the moon.
I am a believer in now existing religion, and the one place my soul finds comfort and in which I believe is the universe I myself have created (by which I mean neither nature nor creativity). If the world in which I now live is part of that universe then my refusal to believe in it would mean that I must deny even my own existence. The philosophy that says that everything is nothingness is coherent in its sophistry, but even this requires a minimal level of consciousness of self (if for example the world was a dream, then it must exist as a dream) so I remain naturally unconvinced. I am convinced by the idea that all that is cannot conceive of the significance of its own existence, and thus I believe in my universe. If we were to suddenly understand the significance of our existence, life would certainly become more boring but I cannot believe that it would become more interesting. The question that we all ask – why do we exist (or why were we given life), is in fact a meaningless one. If I have the time to waste in fretting and worrying about existence, I would much rather use that time to live each moment as fully as I can. I’ll start to think about the reason for my existence in the last three seconds of my life. If I die without working it out, then what does it matter? I do not believe in any life after death (your so-called heaven and hell). Rather I believe in the circle of life and rebirth (in a somewhat different way to buddhism), so when I die I merely head towards my next rebirth.
Q046: are you interested in any kinds of modern music aside from what you and other AMT members are involved in?
I don’t know about the other members, but it’s no mistake to say that all of us love rock music as it was up until the mid-seventies. And also that we have little interest in rock after that period. There are some forms of contemporary music that I have a continuing interest in, but I am certain there is nothing out there that will overturn my value system.
Some people who experienced the sixties in real time have told me that sixties music was for listening to in the sixties, and that there is music made now that needs to be listened in the present. But when I asked them to play me something from the present that needs to be listened to now, all they could come up with was boring retreads of old themes. And when I asked them to decide objectively whether they preferred that music or early Soft Machine, they all answered that they preferred Soft Machine. In that case, there is no music that they need to be listening to now!
Q047: do you think that anything would ever make you want to stop producing music as AMT?
If I were to ever stop hearing those sounds from the cosmos, I think that I would immediately stop all my musical activities. Because it would mean that I was no longer necessary.
As for AMT, I don’t know. With any sort of communal creative endeavor there is always the possibility that it will someday, for some reason come to an end. But speaking for me personally, so long as there are people who want to hear AMT and as long as I have the strength, I will continue.
Q048: What first brought you to music? Were there particular things that influenced you as a child, as an adult?
As a child I was greatly excited by the drone of a tambura I heard on a TV documentary about Indian classical music, by musique concrete and an electronic music piece by Stockhausen that I heard on the radio. All of these things excited me because of their similarity to the audio hallucinations I constantly heard in my ears. I was surprised to see that these sounds were accepted as music. Later when I discovered and fell in love with sixties and early seventies hard rock and progressive rock, I imagined to myself a fusion of Deep Purple and Stockhausen’s electronic music. I searched for something like this but as I could never find it, I decided to make my own version. That was my first step into music.
From my teens I listened to every genre of music, but I was particularly taken with traditional music from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and with troubadour music. Ethnic music would continually surprise me with its ancientness and its wonderfulness. Recently I’ve been blown away by Sardinian male polyphony. It is a true miracle rendered through human voice.
Q049: How would you define sound and music? Are they separate entities?
Sound is and can only be sound. Music is something played as a deliberate act. The song of birds and insects, depending on the situation and the listener, can sometimes be sound, sometimes music.
Q050: What is like to play live in AMT? Are there distinctive songs to begin with, and how much (if any) improvisation is happening?
AMT is primarily improvised, but we do have some pieces which are like jazz in that they have a theme. To me, improvisation means an act that simultaneously combines composition, arrangement and performance. I believe that this is the true and original form that music once took. I believe also that music has its own autonomy, and particularly in a live situation it is important that we respect this autonomy and not try to restrain the music. The day, the place, the audience – as long as these three elements exist then a performance can never be repeated, nor is there any necessity to do so. Even for our pieces which have a theme, we have no idea where they will go once we’ve finished playing that theme portion.
Q051: You’ve had several hundred thousand million guests. That’s pretty interesting, what happens when you have albums, such as IAO CHANT FROM THE COSMIC INFERNO that deal with the past, or past bands (such as GONG), what prompts this, makes it happen, etc?
In my teens I loved the whole Canterbury scene of groups like Gong and Soft Machine. Today I am still Gong’s official guitarist, so you should never be surprised when we play “Master Builder” (OM Riff or IAO Chant). That song represents Gong’s sonic mandala.
Q052: How much influence does western culture have on you musically?
Aside from some influences from ethnic musics, virtually the entirety of my musical influences are Western. I have listened to and loved (and still do!) rock, jazz, contemporary classical, classical, troubadour, European trad, delta blues, etc. But since I am Japanese and I was born and raised in Japan, I think that somewhere in my subconscious there is also a Japanese sensibility. But aside from traditional music I have no virtually no interest in Japanese music.
Q053:There is a definitive psych-freak-out-etc. feeling behind everything that you do, but most notably the music and art. What prompted this “21st Century Freakout?” How serious do you take the ideas of the psych movement (communal living, drugs, flying dolphins, whatever)?
All is image, and nothing other than image. Maybe it sounds interesting because English is not my mother tongue. Neither my group names nor my track titles have any meaning. They’re all used for their sound, or the images they invoke, or as jokes. Music needs no words. For me, words are just jokes. What is psychedelic anyway? For me what the word psychedelic means no more than the ruined shell of drug culture. Or many self-conscious idiocy? But if the mere use of that word is enough to make people interested in my music, then I am happy to use it. And I am happy if people choose to misunderstand what I mean by it. Anyway, are there any musicians who choose to categorize and define their own music? Doesn’t categorization mean the end?
Q054: What are your feelings on the technological revolution that has happened in music, especially since the sixties? Are things like digital modulators, recording software, keyboards, an interest to you? Do you feel that if it has changed the face of music it has been for the better or worse?
Technological development is a natural process, and as such I have no wish to deny it. It’s a fact that the development of the microphone and electric guitar gave birth to rock. What is important is how people use technology. From the mid seventies onwards, the great advances that were made in recording technology and PA systems meant that rock lost one of its great advantages, the fact that its sounds themselves were huge. Maybe you could rephrase that to say that rock was destroyed by foolish technicians like mixers and engineers who had no idea of what rock was. When you have an amp that is capable of playing loud, the idea of turning it down so that sound can be created by the PA and then played back to the guitarist himself through a monitor speaker is to me the height of folly and total idiocy. I feel the same way about recording toms and snare drums separately. The drummer is perfectly capable of controlling the volume of each of his drums by himself – why then does each drum need to miked separately and the levels adjusted later by the engineer? Isn’t that just the same as trying to mike each guitar string separately? Rock needs volume to exist – all an engineer needs to do is turn up the faders to full and leave them there. Good engineers who understand music are capable of setting up very quickly, while foolish engineers take forever with their fiddling around. Digital effects have many strong points – you can create extreme long reverb and delay that would be totally impossible with analogue effects. One of the advantages of technological advances is that you can create sounds that there physically impossible to produce previously.
Of course analogue equipment has its own benefits too, in that there are certain tones that you can only produce using it. But digital has its good points too.
Digital hard-disk recording has made certain operations and tasks far easier. But as I do not fully understand computers, I am afraid that I am still an antedeluvian type who is unable to use hard-disk recording. But I am interested in it.
I am bored by laptop musicians. Mainly because laptops make everyone sound the same. They can never be any more than they are.
Equipment and technology doesn’t make music – people who play music make use of technology. It all depends upon the person using the equipment.
Q055: If you had to describe something like the idea of time, how would you do so? Is it a concept that sonically could be described?
I never feel the necessity of capturing ideas in written form. My music comes to me as a continuous broadcast from the cosmos and I merely recreate those sounds.
Q056: Just to be sure I get this straight, how many albums has Acid Mothers Temple released? How many members are there? Is it humanly possible to list all of the side projects?
For discographical questions like this, look at our website. The site exists for that purpose, and I consider it impertinent to ask a question like that without first investigating for yourself.
How many members? I’ve never counted so I can’t tell you. If you count the members on each of our albums you can probably work it out for yourself.
I don’t know what you consider as side projects. AMT is certainly at the core of my musical activities, but for example Tsurubami have existed since before I started AMT. Groups exist because I feel a necessity for them. Once that necessity has gone they go on hold or I break them up.
Q057: How important is the collective ideals within music creation? Does it ever become overwhelming working with such a wide array of people all the time?
Acid Mothers Temple is a soul community, a gathering of social drop-outs under the slogan, “Do Whatever You Want, Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want!” Music is only part of the collective, not its entirety.
Q058: How does music affect or change life (or perception thereof), if at all?
I think that it was maybe because I had music that I never became a terrorist. But then again, it is all in my imagination, and I have no interest in suppositions about the past.
Q059: Besides having more than an interest in UFOs, are there any other metaphysical entities that have caught your eye? And if so, why and what is your relationship to them?
It has already been scientifically proven that the influenza virus is, strictly speaking, a space virus that was able to enter the earth’s atmosphere through the weak points in the ozone layer near the North Pole. I am pretty contemptuous of those scientists who try to prove the existance of life by the presence of the elements which are essential to it on earth (oxygen and carbon). There may be organisms that can exist in the absence of oxygen, and there may be also be organisms that do notreflect light (and are therefore invisible).
Trying to apply the rules of life on earth to the rest of the universe is no different to the medieval Catholic cosmology. For all we know, the influenza virus may have arrived here centuries ago with the intention of conquering the planet. I don’t think that we need supporse that extraterrestrial beings will always arrive here in somekind of spaceship. If the influenza virus takescolonisation to mean the creation of influenza immunity in our bodies, then it has already succeeded in colonising the earth.
Q060: What sort of philosophies do you entertain or live your life by? I am thinking of one philosophy you talked about, mainly that Rock is a way of life…could you elaborate on that more? What are your ideas of fate and chance and how they play into music and life?
For me Rock means far more than just rock music in its narrowest sense. Rock is a way of life, and that in itself is the AMT slogan. Do whatever you want, Don’t do whatever you don’t want!
Another favorite slogan of mine is “no hope”. Hope is an attitude of expectation towards an as yet unexperienced future. However, those kinds of expectations are almost always doomed to be betrayed, or the results will be less than you had expected. Even if you have hopeful expectations, if you stint upon the effort needed to produce that result, it is only natural that you will be happy with the result. To still have hope even when you know deep in your heart that you are not putting in enough effort is a part of human weakness. It’s clear to me that hope can only ever lead to greater or lesser disappointment. I believe that only 10 percent of anything we hoped for, no matter what the area, ever comes to past. But because you hoped for so much more, even that 10 percent that did come to pass seems like a disappointing result. That’s the basis of my “no hope” philosophy. Because I hoped for nothing from the beginning, even a result of 10% feels can said to be a great success to me. Hope always breeds disappointment. Which is why I never hope, why I never regret the past of worry about the future. Living in the moment is all. And my rule for living is “Do whatever you want, Don’t do whatever you don’t want!”
Q061: What are some of your favorite books? In a past interview you mentioned having read historical novels and biographies on famous people…do you admire anyone now? What is your favorite historical period and why?
Ha ha ha. I read biographies of famous people when I was kid, between the ages of seven and ten. I really liked the biographoes of politicians and generals. Those of Nobunaga Oda (a Japanese shogun), Nopleon and Hitler etc appealed to me the most. I would read about how these dictators all failed with their dreams half-realized, and I dreamed of becoming a dictator myself – except I would not repeat their mistakes. I started reading these biographies because my mother got tired of me constantly reading Manga and she started buying biographies for me to learn something from. That led to the birth of a child who dreamt of becoming a dictator – maybe she should have let me stick with the Manga. I forgot that childhood dream when I encountered music. I used to love reading and would read everything. At one period, I read lots of foreign literature, but I came to realise that I should really read it in the original if I wanted to appreciate it fully, so now I read much less foreign literature. I still love lots of Japanese literature, particularly that from the late 19th century up to the 1950s, because the literary style of this period are really beautiful. In terms of literary genres, I like fantasy and detective novels. Many of them I read over and over again. There are too many favorite authors to mention, but here are just a few : Kobo Abe, Shiro Kunieda, Seishi Yokomizo, Rampo Edogawa, Kyusaku Yumeno, Futaro Yamada. I am also a huge fan of the uniquely written erotic literature of Koichiro Uno.
Q062: Some records of AMT pay direct hommage to bands like Black Sabbath. How do you use this as an inspiration rather than a supply for copies?
We were asked to record a homage to Black Sabbath by Alien8 Recordings. I realise that there are many groups that follow Black Sabbath, but they are almost all inspired by the demonic imagery and heavy, dark riffing. But to me early Black Sabbath seems very different – it sounds much more like heavy blues rock with really unique, individual riffs. The guitar solos in particular are very bluesy, and the performance are not crushingly heavy so much as relatively light because of their paucity of notes. So my favourite Black Sabbath element is this blues rock part – I don’t think of them at all as the originators of heavy metal. Our record tries to emphasize these elements of the Black Sabbath sound.
Q063: In the past, you’ve said that you didn’t envision Acid Mothers Temple as an ongoing project. Yet, almost five years after the debut on PSF the band is still going strong with multiple releases last year alone. What made you decide to change your mind?
Acid Mothers Temple has become an entity possessed of its own independent will. Of course it was us who set up Acid Mothers Temple, but somehow, without us being aware of it, it has ceased to do what we want and it has transformed (or grown?) into something with its own will. This entity has enough power to suck in our bassist Tsuyama, Yoshida Tatsuya from Ruins, Ichiraku Yoshimitsu (Doravideo), Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth from Gong, and Mani Neumeier from Gong. All we can do is obey its commands, heading wherever it wants to take us. We have no way of knowing where that destination might be.
Q064: What is “concept” and thematics of the next amt record “Have you seen the other side of the sky?”?
The new Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. album, “Have you seen the other side of the sky?” is currently available at the concerts on our US tour. These are the first new Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. studio recordings in a year and a half. After our last release and the US and European tours at the start of 2004, we realised that we had become really worn out with constant touring and releases so we decided to stop playing live and take our time to record a new album. In fact, this is the most amount of time we have spent recording an album since our second album. As you know, while Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. were taking a year-long break in 2005, I formed a new version of AMT – Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno – and released six studio albums with them and toured Europe and the USA. But during this time I continued to work on the new Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. recordings. Originally I planned to make it an all-acoustic album, but at the start of 2006 I changed my mind and it has become something a bit different to that original idea. From now on I want to include a much more varied sense of musicality on our albums. I planned to release the album before we began our tour, but the recording took so long that it will now be released after the tour.
Q065: You recently recorded a full collaboration album with Afrirampo, whom you helped to get known when you invited them on “Minstrel In the Galaxy” and released their first record. How did you discover them? What do you like especially in them?
When you are living around Osaka, you naturally get to meet people doing interesting things. About a year and a half after they started Afrirampo, rumours began to spread about them and they were already quite popular amongst certain music fans. I got to know them around that time through word of mouth and quite naturally we began to play together. They were just starting to play outside Japan, so I suggested that we reissue an early cdr they had sold at gigs on our AMT label (which is distributed by the American distributor Eclipse Records). They agreed, and since it could act as a calling card for them abroad, we decided to include some movies and photographs as well as the music.
After Cotton left, they provided vocals on two Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. albums. But even before those two albums, we had already recorded the Acid Mothers Afrirampo studio album – but because the releases came out in the wrong order, people have been confused. From those Acid Mothers Afrirampo studio sessions we have enough material for one more album. It will be released by the UK label Very Friendly Records.
I put on an Acid Mothers Temple Festival every December. In 2004 we played there as Acid Mothers Afrirampo, and in 2005 we added Yoshida Tatsuya and played as Acid Mothers Afrirampo Ruins.
I think that what is most interesting about them is their innocent power, their never-ending sense of curiosity and their determination to try things immediately. I get inspired by working with them.
Q066: A lot of it sounds like it’s jam-based, or improvised – is this the case?
I don’t understand fully the difference between these two terms in English, so this is my non English-speaking take on it. Jamming is playing together with other musicians with no clear purpose in mind. Improvising, however, does have a clear purpose (though this is usually not something that is explained through words or sounds in advance or necessarily shared by all participants, rather it is exists independently within the minds of each player), and the music moves towards this goal.
This is how I see these two terms, and in that sense then AMT falls into the latter (improvised) camp.
Q067: You often release tribute records to rock greats – tell us a little about this.
We were all brought up listening to and loving 60s and 70s classic rock, and we still really respect that music. So we want to pay homage to that music, as well as returning those songs to their proper, ur form. Sometimes even the original versions are not in their proper form.
Q068: Ultimately, what is the ultimate goal of Acid Mothers Temple, musically speaking?
My personal goal is to recreate the music played by a heavenly orchestra I heard once in a dream. If I ever succeed, I will have no more need to play music. The other members of AMT may have different goals – I don’t know. But even if I were to quit, I would like AMT to continue to exist, since I think of it as less of a band and more of a collective will. As long as there are those who love rock, the goal of AMT will be re-summon the lost, original power of rock music.
Q069: New album – Myth of the love electrique – tell us a little about it.
In one sense this album is a return to basics. Over the last ten years we’ve released a lot of albums in a lot of different styles, but suddenly I felt like going back to that inchoate chaotic thing we had at the beginning. It became like reconsidering everything we’ve done, and that, together with the input from our new vocalist Kitagawa Hao, gave us lots of new ideas.
Q070: First off, a friend of mine really wants to know about the band and the Moomin. What was the genesis of “The Hattifatteners Song?” Are there other cartoon characters or whimsical creatures that you are particularly fond of? Do you ever read children’s books?
In Japan the Moomins was shown on television between 1969 and 1972, and it was very popular. I grew up watching it and later I bought all the books and devoured them too. Hattifatteners is my favorite character, though the song title itself has no particular meaning. I guess that sense of movement just popped into my head.
It’s funny that you should ask me about cartoon characters because when I was a child I had a conception of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu etc art as being like cartoons and I used to copy them. Even today I still collect popular religious artefacts. When I was a kid I was addicted to reading, and I used to love especially the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting, the Caroline books by Pierre Probst, and collections of Japanese folk tales.
Q071: I absolutely love the quote, “I think that it was maybe because I had music that I never became a terrorist.” Were you an angry young man? What kind of schools did you go to, and how did you feel in them?
When I was around six or seven and I first started reading manga, my mother bought me a set of books about the lives of famous people in history. I read them from cover to cover, and I felt a lot of sympathy for the lives of Napoleon and Oda Nobunaga. After that I started to read historical novels and books about war. I got obsessed with revolutionaries on the imperial side in the lead up to the 19th century Meiji Restoration in Japan, and with the lifestyles of dictators like Hitler. When I was about ten I had this vague idea that I’d like to become someone who changes the world, and this eventually escalated into dreams of causing a worldwide revolution (not in the Marxist sense) and controlling the world. I don’t think I was especially angry at the world – I just had this longing for the idea of revolution. I remember saying that if I had power I would start a guerrilla movement to depose myself and seize power. I must have been interested in the process by which revolutions fail or succeed, and particularly in the plots and mindgames that go along with this process – I saw the whole thing as a kind of game in which it would be worth gambling your life. I went to normal schools, but I was the kind of kid who always loved to annoy the teacher by asking difficult questions. I loved getting the rest of the kids to back me up in debates with the teacher about politics. I loved the psychological aspects of politics, and I used to enjoy manipulating groups within the extra-curricular clubs to fight against each other. This was probably because I have a real loathing of group activities, so I would manipulate things to create situations more amenable to me personally. However once I discovered music, my early dreams of becoming a politician or a philosopher disappeared entirely.
Q072: I am very curious about life in Japan. It seems to me that the vast majority of people are conformists; that most of the more educated and comfortable people in Japan are the least interesting! The most creative, intelligent, and interesting people seem to be outsiders, drop-outs, misfits, rebels. Is this accurate? Is life in Japan stifling or uncomfortable for you? Do you feel that AMT are under-appreciated in Japan?
Once I started travelling abroad, I rediscovered many things about Japan. I read once (in a book written by a non-Japanese, I hasten to add!) that there are two kinds of people, Japanese and everyone else. I lot of what I have seen leads to feel that this is perhaps true. I believe that the Japanese are innately communist. There’s a Japanese proverb that says that the nail that sticks out should be hammered home – and Japanese love uniforms, and there is a current of thought in Japan that admires you the less individuality you show. Accordingly, what ‘individuality’ that is allowed to exist in Japan must always align itself to some kind of group identity. Truly unique and visible individuality is not recognized and is treated as ‘alien’. But on the other hand, it is this kind of thinking that has created Japan as it is now. It is this system of values that sees the individual as one part of the whole that creates in Japan words like ‘corporate warrior’. And it is these people and their devotion of their lives to their work that has created the idea of ‘family service’ (the time that they give to their families at the weekend). However, I do not hate the values of these kinds of Japanese – they are the ones who sustain Japanese society and for that I thank and even admire them. I, on the other hand, have no qualifications to become one part of their society.
But it’s because of their hard work that I am able to drop out of that society and live in comfort while devoting my life to music. In the past I once worked as a designer in a large company. But when I realised that if I were to struggle for the next 30 years and defeat all my colleagues and rivals, the seat that I would finally get to sit in would be the same one occupied by my boss today, I handed in my resignation. I realised that I could never live in a world where I could so clearly imagine what kind of person I would be in 30 years time. But at the same time there is a part of me that cannot accept the European idea of individuality. I’m a hedonist, a revolutionary and I live for the moment, but I’m also quite driven. I can’t just sit and enjoy life or relax. Perhaps that says something about the Japanese blood that must run through the veins even of this dropout.
Q073: What do you like most in Japanese society? What are you most proud of? What annoys you most?
In answer to the first question, the need to try and do everything as efficiently as possible. Sometimes this can take capitalism to an extreme, but I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The value placed on the effort and the process of trying to find the most efficient solution is something that I think the Japanese can be proud of. The stance of seeing yourself as not worthy or the culture of shame are also two of the virtues of Japanese culture.
Of course, there is much that has been lost due to the Westernization of our lifestyles and efforts to increase the standard of living.
Probably the thing that annoys me the most is the ceaseless yearning after Western culture. It is so sad to see ancient and wonderful traditions being wilfully discarded, but of course I am also conscious that I am a part of the problem. I am disappointed by young Japanese who have become stupid through growing up in an era that provides for all their needs.
Q074: How often are you hassled by police, etc? (On the basis of looking different, on suspicion of drug use?). Compare Japanese police with police in other countries…
When I was young I was often suspected of being involved with drugs, but I’ve always tried to avoid contact with the police as much as I can. They’re always going to have power and the law on their side, no matter how irrational, and I’m always going to come off worse. So I try to avoid contact with them, try to avoid being suspected of anything criminal. I had various run ins when I was younger, but now I need to apply for work visas to go the US so keeping my nose clean has become a matter of life and death. If I were to get into a fight with the police it would be as a revolutionary act against authority. I don’t know that much about the police outside Japan, so it’s difficult to make a comparison.
Once on tour in the US I threw a bottle of beer at the police and was almost arrested, but those around me managed to calm things down and I got away without being arrested. When I don’t agree with a situation sometimes my brain short-circuits, but I know that I need to be more careful.
Q075: Are you aware of your influence on young Japanese? How would you like to influence people through your music? (Is there a “political meaning” to AMT’s music? Have you ever intended any of your music in the spirit of protest? How do you feel about the jeitai’s involvement in Iraq?).
To begin with, my music has no message. Music is simply music, no more and no less. If you wanted to find some message in it, perhaps it would be that I want people to find some sense of the secret of music through it. That’s all. I have no idea and no interest in whether my music exerts any influence on the young. It is as much as I can do to create my music to the fullness of my abilities, and I have no time to consider its effect on others. Neither have I ever wanted to influence anyone else. Of course, I do have personal political beliefs, but I have never tried to express those beliefs through music and I do not think that music should be used for such a purpose. Of course I am aware that such music exists, and putting the message aside, there is some of that type of music that I enjoy. But if I do enjoy it, it is purely on musical terms, not because I agree with the message it is trying to express. If I ever wanted to express a political message, I would find some means other than music.
In the case of war, those involved doubtless have their own reasons for doing so. Perhaps it is inevitable that there should be conflict between people of different races, religions and social systems, and natural that the excuses for conflict should follow parallel paths. Once enmity has been given birth to, it cannot easily disappear and through the educational process can be carried over to succeeding generations. It is easy enough to oppose war, but once we ourselves are sucked into conflict and embrace hate, then will we not ourselves come to desire war?
However, if those who start wars and those who fight on the frontline were the same people, I believe that there would far fewer wars. In the present day at least, it seems that it is far to easy for people whose lives will never be put at risk to start wars.
Q076: When people of one culture adopt the forms of another culture, they almost always do it partially – selecting things that fit their needs and the absences in their own culture. (When westerners try to learn about Buddhism or martial arts, they usually only select things that fit their needs and leave a lot out). Would you feel comfortable with saying you’ve adopted aspects of the 1960’s rock culture, to suit your needs, or do you think of rock as universal and international? Was there ever a time when it felt foreign or exotic? Is there anything you feel you’ve left out of this “adoption?” Is there anything you actively WANT to leave out? Do you study about the socio-political context of rock in the 1960s in America or England…?
For me, and for those Japanese of my generation or older, rock was an imported culture. For this reason, many Japanese expended time and energy in creating exact copies of it or in ‘deliberately’ trying to create original forms of rock. My take on rock is that it is a form of popular music that began in the US and was brought to a peak of completion in the UK. But at the same time it is equally true that since rock is not just a surface style but a ‘spirit’ or attitude, it absorbed influence from many other sources and thus transformed itself in innumerable ways. This is its great difference to jazz. And it is this that meant that many countries or regions gave birth to their own forms of rock, krautrock in Germany being a good example. At this point then rock ceased to be a US or British monopoly and changed into a kind of music of the world. When we first thought about covering the Occitanian trad folk song “La Novia” we worried that because we ourselves were not Occitanian, trying to cover their traditional music would be a sterile exercise or a kind of fakery. But fortunately what we play is rock not trad, and rock possesses a power like that of a black hole capable of suckin in and absorbing every other form of music. We realised that this power could transform even Occitanian trad into rock, and that was why we went ahead with the cover. And now does anyone who hears the AMT version of La Novia think that it sounds fake? For better or worse rock has the power to absorb and fuse together every form of music. Has there ever been music like this in its mutant and freakish nature? I believe that rock has now completely severed its connections with its roots and its original socio- political contexts, and has become something unique of itself. Rock has become something that anyone can play, regardless of musical training or technique. Its style now exists only in its absence. For me, this is why rock has become something that I only judge on its coolness or uncoolness. No matter what form it takes, if it is cool, then that is enough.
Q077: Speaking of the 1960’s, one of the more extreme manifestations of hippie communal living and psychedelic dropping out is the Manson clan; how is Manson viewed in Japan?
I’m afraid I don’t have much idea about how Manson is perceived generally. He’s popular on a cult kind of level, but that’s probably the same everywhere, right? It’s the same as Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult who gassed the Tokyo subway – some American label released a bootleg of their music.
I don’t have any attachment to that sixties hippy scene, nor do I feel much sympathy for their political values. I have no interest in Manson as the leader of a thrill-kill cult, but I do like his songs as one expression of acid folk. Not that I understand his lyrics since they are in English, and anyway personally I am never interested in lyrics.
I see hippies as a kind of social dropout, like what used to be referred to as ‘riverbank beggars’ centuries ago in Japan. Free sex is now so common that there’s no need even for it to continue to exist as a slogan. Neither does communal living have much appeal for me, since it’s only a dream that eventually turns into egotism, jealousy and fighting. That’s why we refer to AMT as a ‘soul collective’.
Q078: How do you feel touring? What are your impressions of Canada? What are you impressions of the United States? What do you like most? What do you like least? When you get back to Japan, what do you feel you’ve missed most? What do you feel most annoyed to be reminded of?
I recent years I’ve spent six months out of every twelve on the road. It’s great to be able to meet all kinds of people, but touring really does wear you down both mentally and physically. When I’m on the road I get loads of new ideas that make me want to rush home and start recording. But when I’m recording every day, I get this desire to get back on the road.
Wherever I go people ask me about which countries or cities I enjoy the most and I always give the same reply – “there’s good things and bad things about everywhere, things I love and things I hate. Wherever you go there’s people, cities and nature, and it’s all pretty much the same. And besides we get to see very little of the places we visit apart from clubs, record shops and wherever we’re crashing that night.”
If there’s one thing that really gets me down on the road, it’s the food. I prefer to stick to a pure Japanese diet and trying to change that is really hard for me. I don’t like bread, cheese, ham and other processed meats, pasta, pizza or fruit, so often it is hard for me to find anything that I can order. Recently I’ve been drinking nothing but shochu, and I can’t really drink much beer any more. But everywhere we go, we always get given beer. I try vodka instead, but what I really want is shochu! In February I went on a solo tour of Europe and this time I didn’t bring any food with me from Japan and tried to get by on what I get locally. That’s was tough and my health suffered. On the road it’s important to look after your health, so the change in diet is the most difficult thing for me.
Q079: Japanese audiences seem to know how to listen to music a whole lot BETTER than western audiences. I mean – I saw a Haino Keiji show in Koenji, and was stunned at how silent and attentive everyone was. They waited til the end of the whole 40 minute set to applaud, didn’t order drinks while he was performing (or managed to do so while remaining completely silent), and they really LISTENED. How do Japanese and North American audiences differ, in your opinion? Is there a good side/ bad side to western audiences?
If there is a difference, it’s that Japanese audiences come to hear the music and that American or European audiences come to enjoy themselves. In addition, tickets are expensive in Japanese clubs so most people will only be able to afford to buy one drink. But in the US and Europe people will drink will listening to the music and they’ll go to the bar even during the performance. Japanese audiences will also watch all the bands on the bill – firstly because they’ve paid a lot to get to in, but also because they’re simply curious about the bands even if they’ve never heard of them before. I don’t know which attitude is better. If you’ve paid your money to get in, then you should have the right to enjoy the music in whichever way you like. You can listen quietly or if you’re bored you can chat with your friends, it’s up to you. Maybe it’s more important for the musicians to try and play in such a way that people won’t feel like chatting?
Sometimes in Japan you’ll see people sitting down criticizing those who get up to dance, and I’m not too sure about that. If it’s rock then of course I think it’s natural for people to want to move their bodies. Because Japanese audiences are so restrained in their reactions, sometimes Japanese bands that play overseas get overly surprised by the reaction they get there. But that’s just stupid.
Sometimes there’ll be some really tedious band on the bill and they’ll get just as big a round of applause as us. At times like that I wonder how much you can trust the audience. But the audience are there to enjoy themselves, so that’s their prerogative but musicians need to wary to getting too carried away by audience reaction. You need to step back and think more clearly.
Q080: Do you have children? Will you send them into the ordinary high school system? Do you feel the need or desire to protect them from the normal conformism of Japanese society?
I have no children and I don’t think I’ll ever get married. Perpetuating my DNA would probably have a bad effect on future society! People as useless as me should be prevented from reproducing. Not having kids will be my contribution to society.