Published Nov 05, 2013Yamantaka // Sonic Titan have never been afraid to allow inspirations from a number of cultures into their music. Their new album, UZU, continues to stir a melting pot of sounds, genres and cultures that include metal, psych rock, Japanese, Chinese, First Nations and operatic stylings. Though it has drawn mostly praise, core members Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood, both of mixed race, admit that the album, and their band in general, has attracted criticism from people who don't necessarily understand what the group are trying to do.
"We were getting mocked early on," Alaska B tells Exclaim! "If we did anything 'Western,' people would be like, 'Well you guys are Asian,' and if we were being too 'Asian,' they'd tell us that we're only half Asian."
"We're mixed race," she says, which means unfortunately means that "there's always a way to cock-block you from success."
The Montreal/Toronto band's number of acclaimed projects, musical and otherwise (art exhibits, a rock opera) has found a devoted following of fans, but even fans and critics in favour of the band have had trouble showing it without making racial implications.
"That's when the most racist things come out," explains B, referring to critics or fans who have used the words "tribal" or "savage" to explain their music. "It's just these little things, and I know we've made a lightning rod for it."
Attwood does clarify that it's not all negative and racist — "The positive note is that we have found people who are genuinely interested and are like, 'This is so cool,' and that's something we've been really excited about over the last few years," she explains — but even booking shows has become an area of frustration.
"That's what really sticks out for me, are some of the shows we've been offered," Attwood says. "Maybe they're not really engaging with the project and we know bookers are just doing their jobs, but you're going to book me with the only other Asian band you know? That doesn't make sense."
"I like Andy Lau as much as the next Chinese person, but let's be real," B interjects. "Even in North America, people compare us to [Asian female-fronted bands] Deerhoof and Blonde Redhead."
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan may be very serious about these matters, but do admit that at the end of the day, they know how to laugh off most of it and be just as unserious as they are serious.
"We are very tongue-in-cheek," B states. "We are probably the most serious unserious band out there. Gwar isn't serious and neither is Kiss…or are they?"
UZU is out now on Paper Bag Records. The band have a few shows lined up in support of the album, including a concert at Toronto's Garrison on Wednesday (November 6) and Ottawa's Babylon on Thursday (November 7).