Japanese noise rock pioneers Melt-Banana hit the UK next week for a string of dates including the Hare & Hounds, Birmingham on the 28th and Nottingham’s Bodega on the 29th. Peter Dennis caught up with vocalist Yako and guitarist Agata for an exclusive chat…
Soon Melt-Banana will be 30 years old. Did you ever think you’d still be performing?
Agata: No, not at all. But I feel very happy I can still play music. I never imagined my life would be like this when I started playing music.
Yako: It doesn’t feel like almost 30 years since we started the band. Yes, we are happy and lucky doing what we like.
How hard is it to survive as an independent artist?
Agata: I think we are very lucky because we’ve met many good people who’ve helped us. We learned, and still learn, most of the lessons from these people. There are some books about how to tour or how to publish music but we always learned the most important lessons from other people who we’ve worked with or who’ve met through music.
Yako: The hard part is that every decision we make affects us, sometimes it is a good thing but sometimes bad, although we can make our own decisions, but it is OK because it’s what we want to do.
Your sound is a mixture of hardcore, punk and electronics. How do you bring these different genres together in a cohesive whole?
Yako: I don’t think we consciously try to mix genres, it’s just a result of what we listen to and what we enjoy and like.
In what direction will your music move in the future?
Agata: Honestly I have no idea. We both are not too good with music theory, so when I write music, I just enjoy playing some ideas using guitar, pedals and computer software to record ideas. Usually those ideas are about a minute and if I record something that I want to develop, I try to develop it and ask Yako to add vocals.
It’s been 6 years since your last studio album. Why the long gap?
Agata: That’s because we are just slow. We keep writing music but it takes us very long time to finish one song these days.
Yako: And also maybe we are too picky. I think that it’s not an easy thing to write music that satisfies both of us.
On your records and at your shows you play some eclectic cover versions. How do you choose which songs to cover?
Agata: Mostly it’s songs that our friends played or have recommended. If we like it, we do it. I think we started playing cover songs after we toured with Mr. Bungle. They were playing several cover songs and we thought it was fun thing to do not only for audience but also for ourselves. I don’t remember too well but I think our first cover song was The Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ USA’ or The Damned’s ‘Neat Neat Neat’.
Yako: Do you think so? Wasn’t it ‘Paint It Black’? Anyway I prefer to pick a song that I am familiar with.
You’ll be touring the UK in October. How do you like playing in the UK? How do UK audiences compare to the rest of the world?
Yako: Actually when we first toured in UK, I didn’t get a good vibe but the more we tour the UK, the more I like it. I like seeing towns with old houses and that whole atmosphere and I like the countryside full of green fields and sheep. Also I like hearing the sound of British accents. Sometimes I can’t understand people who have very strong accent but still it’s still congenial to my ears.
Agata: I always like touring UK. When we first came to UK, we could only play in London, but now we can tour the whole UK playing more shows which I think is great. When we play in Japan, we mostly see young people, but in UK, and also in USA, we see both young and old people. I think it’s that’s good.
Do you have any strange or funny tour experiences you’d like to share?
Yako: Two dogs were running around on the stage during we were playing a show, which was fun.
Agata: We have played with a Mariachi band, which was actually fun.
Yako: I once fell off stage because I drank too much!
Agata: When we’ve eaten something and it tasted great we said to our tour manager ‘You want some?’ He understood what we meant but he told us that sometimes people in UK use this expression when they want to have a fight.
You have toured with some legendary bands. Do you have a favourite? Is there any band you’d really like to tour with?
Agata: Every band we’ve toured with were very good and nice people including their crews. We had never played in a large stadium, so when we supported Tool, it was very different experience and actually we enjoyed it very much.
Yako: I remember touring with Mr. Bungle well. That was a great experience and we learned a lot.
A: We were once asked to support Lou Reed in Europe for a month but we could not do it because the tour was too hard for us to drive by ourselves. But now I feel we should have done this and found someone who’d drive us and sleep while we were playing shows. After all, we met him when he invited us to his festival at the Sydney Opera house in Australia, but I still sometimes think about that European tour.
Yako: It was our honour to be invited to his festival. He was very nice to us and it became a special memory in our life.
People in different countries, and from different cultures, really embrace your sound. What makes your music travel so well and cross cultural divides?
Agata: I’m not sure about the reason but I think it’s very nice if people from different countries and different cultures enjoy our music. I grew up listening to music mostly from the UK and the USA so I am always curious to how people in UK or USA think about our music.
Yako: I think it means that music doesn’t have a border.
How would you describe a Melt-Banana show to those who’ve never seen you?
Agata: A bit loud and fast rock music with female singer, distorted guitar and some sound effects.
Yako: It is pretty difficult to explain everything but maybe it’s easier to witness than it is to explain. I hope people who hear about Melt-Banana and come to our shows, enjoy it and smile listening to our music.
Catch Melt-Banana on the following dates:
Wednesday 16th October – Dingwalls, London
Friday 18th October – The Caves, Edinburgh
Saturday 19th October – Stereo, Glasgow
Sunday 20th October – The Cluny, Newcastle
Monday 21st October – Gorilla, Manchester
Wednesday 23rd October – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Thursday 24th October – Cavern, Exeter
Friday 25th October – Exchange, Bristol
Sunday 27th October – Wheatsheaf, Oxford
Monday 28th October – Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
Tuesday 29th October – Bodega, Nottingham
Wednesday 30th October – The Parish, Huddersfield
Thursday 31st October – Portland Arms, Cambridge
Friday 1st November – The Haunt, Brighton
Saturday 2nd November – Music Room, Ramsgate