Boris are, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most legendary guitar bands in the world. The Tokyo based trio of Atsuo (drums & vocals), Takeshi (bass, guitar & vocals) and Wata (guitar, keys & vocals) have been releasing consistently brilliant experimental music for nearly two decades now, sounding like almost nobody else on the planet in the process. For this interview I met the band at London pub/venue The Lexington in the aftermath of their triumphant headline set at this year’s Desertfest and ahead of the release of new album Noise. Whilst their musical partnership appears highly egalitarian, it is noticeable from the outset that Atsuo is the de facto spokesperson of the group. In fact, Wata sits in almost complete silence between her bandmates. Whilst all three of the band are friendly and seem in good spirits, Boris are an enigmatic band and, over the course of the interview, it becomes clear that even meeting them in person doesn’t quite enable one to understand their unique approach.
In a first for me, the band communicated via translator Haruna Taira, to whom I am greatly indebted.
(((o))): How would you describe Noise as a record?
Atsuo (after much discussion with Takeshi): I think we would have to say that it’s typical Boris!
(((o))): What would you say is typical Boris? I’m sure lots of people would argue about that!
Atsuo: I think we work in quite an ordinal way as a rock band. Typical Boris is whatever we feel is natural and whatever we think makes sense for us. For us the relationship between us as band members and the songs is like a circus… Before we felt that we were battling the lions from the circus group but now, on Noise, we’re sitting together and being friendly with the lions.
(((o))): You’ve gained a reputation as a rather eclectic band over the years, but you only seem to have become more so as the years have gone by. What do you attribute that to?
Atsuo: The approach on Noise is largely inspired by us feeling more comfortable. A lot of the music we have done in the past was inspired by wanting to do things that other bands had not done, whereas now we feel quite comfortable working with more “ordinary” sounds and forms.
(((o))): Is it natural for you to write music that counterbalances so many different elements?
Atsuo: The elements have often seemed really separate in our work I know, but for us they’ve all been together under the banner of “noise”, hence the title of the new record!
Takeshi: If you mix some particular elements straight away it would be really boring but we have the “noise” glue we can use to hold it altogether.
Atsuo: “Noise” can be the counterbalance that allows all the elements to fit together.
(((o))): When writing more pop-oriented tracks do you ever have to restrain yourselves from wandering into more experimental territories or do you find it quite natural to write ‘pop’ music sometimes?
Atsuo: It depends on how we’re feeling. Takeshi has a big pop imagination…
(((o))): I definitely feel you have become more “pop-oriented” in recent times though…
Atsuo: The pop song is quite natural for us now that the lions have gone. Before we got quite tired every time we worked on a record but now it’s a lot more relaxing.
Takeshi: It was more that the songs turned out different this time, rather than being directed by us. They naturally ended up as they are.
(((o))): The press release for this record talks about Noise being a mix of everything that you have done as a band thus far. Where is there still left to go? Are there any things that you feel Boris definitively could not do?
Atsuo: Most of the things that there are that can be done are things that I can’t do, so that’s quite limiting! I’m only as good a musician as a high school kid so there’s not much I can do.
Takeshi: When we find something we want to do creatively we usually can’t do it straight away. Atsuo: Sometimes in the middle of the process things change completely!
(((o))): Despite your diverse sound you seem to have a really strong connection with the metal scene, and metal fans seems to lap up all your varied work. Do you reciprocate that strong connection?
Atsuo: We really love metal, but we have never seen ourselves as a metal band! We’ve got used to being seen as a metal band, especially in Europe. We don’t care how people describe us. In Japan people think that metal bands must be really skilful, but as we’re so bad at our instruments we can’t be a heavy metal band… Lo-fi heavy metal perhaps…
(((o))): You are famously prolific, to the extent that I think some people new to the band sometimes struggle to pick up on all the amazing music you have done. Are there any records from your back catalogue that you feel are perhaps overlooked and that you would like to recommend to new Boris fans?
Takeshi: To be honest, I think right now that it’s definitely the case that we want people to hear Noise…
Atsuo: I think it’s an ideal entry point for new fans. New fans can find which elements of Boris they like best on Noise and find whole albums of stuff in the past that we’ve done that they may enjoy the most!
(((o))): Japan has produced so much remarkable experimental music in recent decades but Boris are a rarity in that you have managed to attract a fairly large audience around the world. Why do you think that might be?
Atsuo: I think skill is, ultimately, unimportant. Music is not just from skill. Someone tweeted us once saying that we were only “atmospheric” but we feel that the feelings we express in our music can be felt all around the world, whether what we’re doing is “experimental” or not.
(((o))): You’ve done a lot of collaborations in your time. How do those work for you? Do they always work very straightforwardly or can they be very challenging?
Atsuo: Sometimes we do battle with our collaborators but originally we meet as friends so I think the friendship between us is what enables our collaborations to work, rather than the background of the collaborators or our own musical backgrounds…
(((o))): A lot of experimental bands seem happy to come across as being ultra-serious but Boris always seem to be having fun as well. Is that the primary objective?
(Laughter from all three band members)
Atsuo: Why? Does it look silly? We want to enjoy the music even when it’s serious and experimental. Again, it’s all about counterbalancing the different elements. Rock for us is about having fun and about enjoying it so we always look to do that.
(((o))): Have you intentionally being trying to get that across on recent records, which have perhaps been more accessible?
Atsuo: We never try to write anything intentionally but the three of us all have different background so we never intentionally go into the studio looking to do one thing or the other really. Each album makes a new world for Boris individually, and I think that continues on Noise.
(((o))): What are your plans for the rest of 2014? Will we see you back in the UK before long?
Atsuo: At the moment we have shows in Japan and America. We’ll come back here as soon as we can definitely.
(((o))): Leeds would be nice…
Atsuo: We have really good memories of playing in Leeds, especially at the Brudenell Social Club, so we definitely want to go back! I must ask, do you have any questions for Wata? She needs to say something! (Laughter)
(((o))): Well… I’ve heard, Wata, that you’re really into video gaming. I know nothing about video games whatsoever so… if you were to recommend me a video game to convert me then what would it be?
Wata: (After a pause) Well, recently I’ve been really enjoying Pokemon and Zelda games… Zelda is quite new to me so I’m catching up.
Atsuo: She’s wants to get the new Nintendo 3DS for going on tour. It has a network where you can play against other users that are nearby…
Wata: So maybe people at shows can get in touch and play against me on the 3DS when I get one!
Thanks to Rachel Silver and, once again, to Haruna Taira.
Noise is out tomorrow via Sargent House - read Jake Murray's review of the album here.