Japan is known for a lot of cool things, some more badass than others: self-cleaning toilets, giant robots, wide-eyed anime girls and Obama action figures (I’m not kidding about that last one), but as cool as that stuff may be, it all pales in comparison to one of their not-so-hidden gems, Boris.
With such an unassuming name, it is easy to write them off as some journeyman band, but Boris rocks. No, seriously, they rock hard. They rock so hard that they have an album named Heavy Rocks. Jokes aside, few bands have to gall to even attempt what Boris does on every album: experimentation. Many groups claim to experiment with new sounds, but tend to stick to well-defined sounds or gimmicks to make themselves recognizable. Boris slips from genre to genre like a lizard shedding its skin and refuse to be pigeonholed. Dissenters would be hard-pressed to find a Boris album that sounds like a rehashed or trite version of another and this isn’t a three album wonder band that we’re talking about—21 years and 17 albums is a boast few bands can make, especially in heavy music.
The Japan-based rock trio started as a four-piece back in 1992, but when Nagata left in 1996, they kept moving forward in their present incarnation, only adding Michio Kurihara as a touring guitarist and guest. Few bands have been blessed with a lineup so consistently dedicated to the musical ideals portrayed by Boris. A band can have talent, connections and insanely good logistics—being located in a major metropolitan area, for example—but that won’t help them if they can’t remain stable enough to record and tour. Luckily, Boris have mastered that art and bring an excess of talent to the table to boot.
Despite the chaos that only touring can bring into a band’s life, Boris’ drummer/vocalist, Atsuo, was kind enough to spend some time answering questions. The transcription is below:
How does it feel to look back and know that you’ve 17 released full-length albums since 1996? Furthermore, will you do anything special to celebrate your 20th album in the future? 20 albums is almost unheard of in any genre.
I remember Merzbow released albums every month through a year; he also put out newly recorded 50 albums as one CD box set. To compare with him, Boris is pretty normal, maybe slightly prolific than other bands? Anyway, albums and any records mean a lot and [are] so special to us, we would like to keep on making something special for our fans and for us too.
How do the American and Japanese music scenes differ? As a band that has toured both places extensively, I would imagine you would have some special insight into the differences.
An established way that a touring band like us does was born and raised in Western countries and among its culture. I am afraid there is no (or lesser) custom in Japan to support a touring band. It is not so easy to comment on a general music scene and situation in Japan though in [the] case of touring or live show, I have a feeling things are not supportive unfortunately.
What is the songwriting process like in a band such as Boris? The styles the group touches on are very diverse. Do you set out with the intent to play a specific style or does it just happen that way?
No, we don’t have any specific idea or direction prior to studio time, we just jam there, playing various instruments and gear accordingly, trying whatever we think of. Most importantly, we record everything that we play. Then we play back the music after that, follow those sounds in detail and see how they are going to be. As for lyrics, we are just writing what describes the song’s atmosphere. That leads us appropriate words.
Given that Boris have so many respected albums, is there any reason that 2000’s Flood is getting special attention on this tour?
Because we have never played it [in the] U.S. Whenever we come over [to the] U.S., a tour is going to be an album support and we play new songs mainly. Of course it is important though we have lots of albums and songs we haven’t played in U.S., it seems to be cool to focus on those gems this time. Since we have named this tour as From The Past, The Present And Through To The Future, we are going to play not only Flood, but also lots of old songs and our newest one that has not been recorded yet.
How has the band managed to keep such a consistent lineup over its existence? With other bands, it seems like there’s a new band member in the mix every month. Care to share any band management tips?
Because we have so many loyal fans and listeners all over the world for a very long time, they have always been supportive and encouraged us in many ways. Of course, our crew and management are important too, very trustworthy and so reliable. We can share the same vision with them so that it enables us to keep going.
Despite being a Japanese band, only one full album title, Akuma No Uta, is in Japanese. Is there any reason for using English over your native Japanese when it comes to naming your creations?
Well, we have many albums that have a title in Japanese. Anyway, our major focus is neither Japan nor the overseas, but just thinking about both of them at once and doing whatever we can. Despite choosing an English word for a title, we are trying to pick up easier ones that general Japanese people can understand.
How do you guys balance your active touring schedule with such prolific album output? In 2011, you released three full-length albums.
Two new albums are out already in 2013; honestly, things have been so hectic since December [of] last year, though we still have more songs to record. Recording sessions are just fun, we record while we are not on tour and love it. Once we record and track it, there is new music that we haven’t listened to before. Just act, then everything becomes reality; it is way more thrilling and [we] can’t stop it at all.
Boris will be playing at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge on May 6 and 7. For more information, check out lepoissonrouge.com and borisheavyrocks.com.