Boris' Atsuo

Boris' Atsuo
There’s a distinct evolution the band has undergone in its 16 years. Was that a conscious decision to change over time?
Atsuo: Yeah, I think we’ve always just pursued what makes us happy. "Doing something new” is definitely something that’s always on our minds. But the music we come up with has always been heavily influenced by our subconscious too, so it goes both ways.

Going from a hardcore punk band to a doom act on Absolutego to a deafening psych band on Smile seems like a remarkable stretch. Do you see Boris continuing to evolve? If so, where do you think the sound will end up in the next few albums?
We’re not really sure. ’Cause this whole process of talking about the music always occurs after the record is out. And the next record isn’t out yet, so…

What were you looking to do on Smile that was different from your previous albums?
Wanting to make something new, and wanting to document our lives at the time of the recording - these elements haven’t changed. Something I was conscious of, that made this album much different than the rest, was our growing boredom with "cool” music, rock music, and the normal way of operating a so-called "band.” I think we were looking for the "experience” that lies at the root of expression, rather than just "music.” I think we were able to incorporate the discomfort and even disgust one feels when listening to "uncool” or vulgar music into Smile.

Especially when I listen to Absolutego now, Smile certainly feels like you’re interested in appealing to broader tastes, perhaps even more so than Heavy Rocks. Are you looking to find a bigger audience now? And in order to do that, do you feel it’s necessary to make your music more streamlined?
Of course, as always, I would like lots of people to hear our music. But I think expression lacks impact if it’s just easy to understand, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, simply a mess. I think it’s important to consider how we can share with others our individual take on sound, and more broadly the sort of worldview that’s implicit in the music we make. If these other elements aren’t part of the music, I don’t think there’s any point in making an album.

It’s hard to express this in words, but I don’t think we’ve actually done anything to make the music more accessible. I think there are various ways we could make the music "easier to understand.” But even attempting to make a song more "difficult” can often have the opposite affect, depending on who’s listening, and ultimately make the song "easier” to understand. This is a difficult topic to discuss.

We’ve heard various reactions already to Smile, and heard people say that because of the more prominent melodies, and clearer vocals, it’s a more accessible record, but at the same time, for lots of people, the more pop side of BORIS is actually the more confusing one.

At this point, this record’s only been released in Japan, and we’re just about to release the worldwide version, start touring, and getting a sense of what this release is all about, so right now I think we’re doing what we need to do – just taking in the various reactions to the record.

Smile is also the first Boris album to have vocals on every track. Was that something you were planning from the beginning or did it just end up that way? Do you feel vocals are more important to the band when you’re trying to write more rock-based music?
I touched on this a little in my response to the last question, but yeah, I think with prominent vocals and melodies, you can reach a lot of people. ’Cause not everyone can play the guitar, or play the drums. But just like us, everyone’s got a "throat” and they can let our their voice, and sing. Thinking of the physicality behind it, "song” is definitely something easy to share with others. The question isn’t whether it’s an important part of rock music or not, it’s simply a very important element in forging any kind of deep, communal relationship with others.

Recently I’ve been listening to some of the music I listened to when I was a high school student, and thinking how I hear it differently now. Once I started becoming familiar with the sounds guitars, drums, etc, made, I could isolate each of these sounds in the songs. But before I only really felt the total sound, the sum of all the parts. I think learning more, in a way, made me hear less.

You've collaborated in full with artists such as Michio Kurihara, Merzbow and Sunn O))). And on Smile you have Stephen O'Malley and Michio contributing as guests. Were you looking to them to bring something in particular to the music? Or was it all very open and free for them to experiment?
We made Rainbow with Michio Kurihara, toured on the record, and just sort of naturally ended up working with him again on Smile. We gave him a few pointers but for the most part just had him play whatever he wanted. As far as Stephen goes, I often wonder why we haven’t asked him to play on every Boris release we’ve ever done. I personally have for a very long time thought of Stephen as a member of Boris. Like with Kurihara, we gave Stephen a few pointers but basically had him come to the studio and do whatever he wanted.

Japan has a very diverse range of music, but nothing that you guys seem to fit in with very well. Do you feel more in touch or relate better with non-Japanese bands? Why do you think that is?
More so than "foreign bands,” it’s touring bands or "live” bands that I feel a real camaraderie with. Music doesn’t have any borders, and I think bands that succeed internationally do so less for musical reasons than some element of "experience” that people are picking up on. I think the Japanese scene is to a certain extent dependent on "words,” and very few Japanese bands ever consider trying to play outside Japan. Record labels share a similar attitude. The very same people behind the music are limiting the potential for their own expression. As I responded to another question, I’m no longer interested in "music” so I have no intention of being part of any particular "music scene.”

You have a unique ideal for releasing records. There is the use of spelling with your name: capitals (BORIS) for the more straightforward music and lower-case (Boris or boris) for the more experimental music. What keeps you re-using the name in different ways as opposed to calling it something different? Do you find your fans appreciate all sides to your music?
To be honest, there’s no real significance to the two names. I mean, I think looking at it objectively, as a single band, our sound or style, superficially considered at least, might be a little too broad. We created the name system as a kind of guide for fans who’d be buying the records. But for me at least, all of the records are related, and connected. And getting our fans to appreciate all sides of our music was never a goal. Some releases are pretty hard to find at this point anyway. Each listener has a different image of what Boris is about, and I’m fine with that. I think when a specific individual encounters one of our releases, various images are born, and I think the impression a listener ultimately embraces is like a "mirror” reflection of that individual. I watch lots of Andrei Tarkovsky films, and I like the way they're less like watching traditional movies and more like looking in a mirror. And I wonder what it would be like if during interviews the "mirror” spoke instead!? (LOL) What do you think? Should I just stop talking?

What keeps you working with limited edition releases on vinyl through various labels like Important, Conspiracy and aRCHIVE?
The releases are limited because our ideas cost too much to put into practice, and regular manufacturers aren’t equipped to make them. So unfortunately, the releases become limited ones. But at the end of the day, we want to make what we want to make. I think the artist should have a real tenacious desire, or else the people buying the release won’t be able to have a "new experience.” In the same way, I think we (Boris) are also just trying to please ourselves, looking for experiences for ourselves. In the end, I just hope the people who purchase our albums have a "good experience.” And we have no plans to reissue old, limited releases.

Finally, what was your reaction upon learning Josh Baish's ear had been bitten during your gig? Do you normally get such hostile activity at your shows?
We first heard that there was "an ear on the floor” when we were loading out our gear after the show. Even during the show, when I went out into the audience it was really chaotic, and after the show I thought, "What a terrible night.” Sometimes I see people about to get into fights in the audience. But that night it seemed like there were audience members there just to be violent. I don’t think they were there for Boris – they would have been happy with any band.

After we went back to the hotel we saw police and an ambulance and realised that Josh was staying at the same hotel as us. I met him, but he was pretty "high,” and my English isn’t that good so I really understood bits and pieces of what had happened. Plus I was beat, physically and mentally. Later I pieced together more information and discovered that one of the guys who had been acting up at the show had been a problem for the local police many times before. He was waving around a jacket and threw it onstage, hitting Wata. When I saw that I flipped out, jumped offstage and grabbed the guy, but the people around us pulled us apart, I went back on stage, we played some more and finally finished the show. And at some point during the show Josh, who had been trying to help out, got knocked to the ground and attacked. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.

You used the incident as inspiration for writing "Floorshaker." Was tribute a way of trying to compensate for his loss?
What happened, happened. And I’ve thought that if I hadn’t jumped offstage, it wouldn’t have happened. But the facts are the facts. When we’re playing shows, or even in our daily lives, we don’t know which direction things are headed. All we can do is continue to do what we know how to do. He lost an ear. We wrote a song. That’s all.

I really hate the way there was an article written about it, and it’s become some sort of a moving story. We’re just doing what we can to keep the world moving towards a positive place.