Boris drummer Atsuo breaks the sound (and language) barrier.
By Austin Powell,
3:03PM, Fri. Mar. 23, 2007
Even watching Boris soundcheck during South by Southwest felt like a blessing from the southern lord. The Japanese trio, who played their only U.S. gigs at the Fest, pointed and signaled their way through each endeavor, always beckoning for more volume.
The performances were otherworldly, leaving me breathless and broke each time I rushed to the merch booth, shedding every last dollar to complete my personal Boris altar. Had I been able to conduct this interview after finally experiencing Black: Implication Flooding, their collaboration with Keiji Haino, or been able to ask follow-up questions, this would have taken on a different life. Still, via e-mail and a translator, drummer Atsuo unpacks the band’s bountiful and boundless avant-garde metal.
Into the Void: Boris takes their name from a Melvins song. How did you first get into the band and stoner rock in general?
Atsuo: I was working at a record shop around the time grunge started to become more popular. I think most bands were trying to have heaviness in their music. Among those bands, the Melvins didn’t stick to one kind of playing style; they mixed a lot of different styles, and I felt that because of that, the Melvins brought to life a world unique to each song. This changed the way I thought about music and bands. Earth 2 also changed my life. We don’t really feel that we are playing stoner rock. It might be because we listen to the same kind of music as stoner rock bands, so our sound has some similarity. We do consider ourselves a band coming out after Melvins.
ITV: What pushed you to start experimenting with drone techniques?
Atsuo: When we started the band, we didn't even know there was a music style called drone. With down-tuning and maximum volume, we experience great feedback that takes us to heaven. We experience drone in the name of rock. Later, we realized that contemporary music has an element of drone and even religious music.
ITV: In America, part of the musical experience gets lost in translation. How does the band try to confront this problem?
Atsuo: It’s impossible to convey what we make to listeners. Actually, we are not trying to. For example, if Japanese people read a Japanese lyric, each person will have various interpretations. Each person translates the lyric based on their own perspective. Even with the same word, the meaning might change based on their experiences, intelligence, and memories. Translation is only a tool for the listener to picture the music, so we don’t have to really worry about the problem.
ITV: In many ways, your drone and larger instrumental pieces overcome any lingual, spatial, or temporal boundaries. Is this the purpose of the music?
Atsuo: When I am playing music, I'm not playing toward any goal. But, from a view point of producing Boris music, I wish I could change the world with our music.
ITV: How would you describe the connection between ambient and metal music? The two seem to be polar opposites, but your music manages to convey both moods.
Atsuo: Everything is connected. It’s really easy to say this but difficult to explain with words. There are genres of music and these genres are created by the media and listeners. The media made these music genres as polar opposites. It is essentially the impression of chaotic sound; there are no boundaries. We do not try to assimilate ambient and metal music.
ITV: What was the most rewarding part of working with Sunn0)))? Were you surprised at the results of the collaboration on Altar?
Atsuo: There is always something to gain and surprise with each collaboration. Expression is always thrilling and unpredictable. Collaborating with Sunn0))) made us feel like we have a comrade from far away.
ITV: How did you first come into contact with Michio Kurihara? What made you want to collaborate with him, and what were you going for musically with Rainbow?
Atsuo: We both use a studio called Peace Music. When YBO2 reformed in 2000, he played guitar in that band, and we performed together. To put it simply, we are huge fans of his work. As a producer, I like to hear his guitar. I mean his crazy guitar. This work came out as an even more amazing album than we expected. It was a really good experience for Boris. Actually, this project isn’t finished yet. Inoxia Records is making a 2-LP box which is coming out soon. That will be a special release for Boris. Please look forward to it.
ITV: What about Merzbow? How have those collaborations influenced your individual writing techniques?
Atsuo: We first collaborated with him for a live show. We had been greatly influenced in so many ways by recording with him, like how music should be listened to, and he broke the concept of composition musicians normally have.
ITV: Boris seems to defy categorization, but Pink is at times a more straight-forward rock & roll record. What pushed you to do something more along those lines, and were you surprised at all by the response it received?
Atsuo: We don’t defy categorization, we just don’t think it’s possible to categorize. Pink showed the future of rock, which we saw during the world tour. We were in a situation where we didn't care if people would understand our music, because we needed to hurry and make the album. After we released the album, we were surprised that the world accepted our music and we had reactions from all over the world. We thought, the world is great.
ITV: There seems to be a larger philosophy in place regarding Boris' themes and eclectic writing style.
Atsuo: When we play music, we run after the pleasure of the music itself. This is the theme of the last song on Pink, “Just Abandoned Myself.” It’s like if you deny your own originality, you can find true originality. We don’t want be one side of two, such as merchandise and work, individuals and others, or peace and chaos. Those situations change as the sounds come out.
ITV: Boris' recording style seems to capture or convey a live atmosphere. How is this accomplished?
Atsuo: Actually, we don’t even try to capture or convey a live atmosphere. The recording studio has its own atmosphere, and we seek to capture thrilling sounds when we are recording and editing. Ultimately, we try to make music that lets people discover something new no matter how many times they listen to it. Some people say that the sound quality is bad. We aren’t expecting listeners to understand our music. We just want to create an experience for them.