Japanese punk/grindcore/noiserock band MELT-BANANA is back in North America for another tour, request them on the Asian Music Show and Thee Hourz ‘O Power, and check them out during their two Michigan dates:
Despite being able to call legends like Lou Reed, Kim Deal, and Jello Biafra fans and friends, MELT-BANANA remains incredibly humble. Seconds after giving an energy-filled live performance, Yako will jump down from the stage to start selling the band’s tee-shirts and CDs, and greet fans. The band listens to the music they collect from fans on tour and if they think your stuff is good, they might even give you a call.
After 22 years of making music together, Yako Onuki and Ichirou Agata of the Japanese noiserock outfit Melt-Banana continue to create chaotic and complex music at the speed of 1000 mph. While there has been a rotating cast of bassists and drummers involved with the band, they’ve stripped down and moved on, taking advantage of computers, and programming in drums and bass themselves. Melt-Banana is currently on their 29th North American tour, called “2 do what 2 fetch”, in support of Fetch, their first album release in six years. Although the band had nearly finished the album a couple of years ago, Japan’s tragic earthquake and resulting disasters in March of 2011 delayed the album’s finish and release until October 1st of 2013.
The songs on Fetch are the band’s most accessible yet, but this sound and the longer track lengths were not intentional. Melt-Banana remains a total contradiction: slowly developing fast music, songs that are at once sinister and ecstatic, dissonant and melodious; both famous and obscure, Melt-Banana toes the line between difficult to listen to and cochlear ecstasy. Fetch‘s distinct high quality production was indeed intentional, and Fetch is the kind of album that you need to listen to as loud as possible multiple times in order to appreciate the many layers of sounds, especially on some of the longer tracks like “Candy Gun”, “Infection Detective”, and “Zero” where Yako and Agata have some time to explore some very complex sounds. For those that are fans of Melt-Banana’s more traditional sound, “Lefty Dog (run, caper, run)” and “Red Data, Red Storage” evoke the band’s more spastic past songs. Overall, this album is the most cohesive the band has ever made. Listening to this album is a different experience each time, surprising you with new phrases or underlying melodies or sound effects that you hadn’t heard before.
Hearing Melt-Banana is one thing, but going to their live show is something completely different. If you decide to see them on this tour, prepare to have your face melted off by Agata’s mind-blowing precision and speed on guitar, all while breathing heavily through a surgical mask, not to mention Yako’s intense energy: jumping, dancing, singing, shrieking like the ringleader of some twisted metalhead circus. Leave the kids at home. Melt-Banana is an experience you do not want to miss.
MELT-BANANA Interview recorded on Oct. 14, 2013
Elise Yoon: WDBM East Lansing, you’re listening to Impact 89FM. I’m Elise here, host of the Asian Music Show, joined by Bloodbeard from Thee Hourz O Power, and Ayami, our translator. Thank you guys so much for joining us!
Bloodbeard: Thank you for having me.
Ayami Agnes Kawamata: No problem.
EY: OK, and we’re joined by Yako of Melt-Banana. So, you just landed in California and you’re about to embark on another US tour to support your new album Fetch; how many times have you been to the US on tour?
AAK: More than ten times. She’s saying they’ve been here twenty-nine times in the US on tour.
EY, BB: Wow
EY: So, how do the American audiences compare to the Japanese audiences?
AAK: The people in the US speak more than the Japanese people during the tour.
BB: Given that you’ve toured so extensively in the United States, do you find that you have a larger fan base in Japan, or in the United States?
AAK: The US
EY: So this album is the first album that you’ve released in six years, did it take all of those six years to create the album, or were there difficulties in the process?
AAK: So they were doing the live [shows], during the six years, and they actually finished making the album in 2011, but because of the earthquake that happened, she couldn’t release the album, so they waited for a year or so. That’s why it took a little bit longer.
EY: Oh, OK. Now, who produced this album?
AAK: So, the two of them [Yako and Agata] produced this album.
EY: And I noticed that this album sounds a little bit more produced, or a little bit more hi-fi than your past albums, but it still keeps your signature lo-fi sound. What this kind of sound intentional?
AAK: So, they were trying to make it hi-fi. So I guess it was more successful this time, in making it hi-fi.
EY: And also on Fetch, I noticed that the songs are in general much longer than any other album you’ve made before, is this also intentional?
AAK: It wasn’t intentional.
BB: With your songwriting process, how did you go about writing your songs, did you start more with the melodies, or lyrics, or both? And you also use a lot of sound effects in your works, and I was wondering how do you select the sound effects that you use; how do you come up with that?
AAK: So it depends on the song, which part she writes first. She looks at the dictionary from A to Z, and she finds something that sounds interesting, and she makes the melody from that word.
BB: Awesome, that’s very unique.
EY: So, you mentioned that on the song “Zero+” you had spontaneously recorded these sounds from nature, and I was wondering, is this an inspiration for you in a lot of your music, nature and its sounds?
AAK: So I guess yes, and she filmed this as a field recording, so that’s why maybe she found more nature within that sound.
EY: Very cool.
BB: Awesome. You and Agata have been working together for over twenty years now, and I was wondering, is Melt Banana any different now with only two members? You have a very chaotic sound and I imagine replicating that on stage with just two members in a live performance must have its challenges.
AAK: So I guess since they were producing by themselves, so it wasn’t hard for them with two of them, but during the live [show] it’s kind of hard because there’s only two people. So they’re using the PC, so it might be easier for them to use more sound and sound effects.
BB: OK, also I noticed that you’re on tour with Dave Witte of Municipal Waste and I think you guys have worked with him before, has he had an influence on your drum programming or computer sound effects?
AAK: Oh OK, so it was in 2001 that they did a tour with… [Yako interjects] oh, it’s not 2001, 2000. It was live in 2000 that they did a tour with Dave. They’re doing a tour with his band [Brain Tentacles] this year, and they have been friends for a long time.
EY: So last time we talked with you, last time you came to the US on tour, you mentioned that you listen to a lot of CDs that you get on tour; are these from fans that are also artists, and do you ever end up touring with these artists?
AAK: So, they listen to their CDs and if any of the songs sound interesting they contact the artist.
EY: That’s awesome, I think that’s something that most artists wouldn’t even, you know, take the time to listen to their fans’ music; I think that’s really great.
BB: You’ve covered a wide variety of songs such as Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and songs from the Dead Kennedys and The Who; how do you decide which songs to cover?
AAK: They usually choose songs they like.
BB: Online I saw a video of you performing “Government Flu” with Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, I was wondering, how did you get into contact with Jello Biafra, what was it like to work with him?
AAK: So Jello listens to a variety of songs so [he] knew about them [Melt-Banana], and so the person who helped them on their tour knew Jello, so that’s why they contacted each other. So Jello knew that they were covering his song, and so he came to their live [show]. He’s a very nice guy, she said.
EY: So is there anything you want to tell us, or tell your fans about this upcoming tour in support of Fetch?
AAK: So she said that the album they made, they made it straight, so they want their fans to listen to the album.
EY: Well you can check out Melt-Banana here in Michigan Friday, October 25th, they’re going to be at the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids; you’ll also want to tune into the Impact for your chance to win tickets for that, and then they’ll be doing a second Michigan tour date Monday, October 28th at the Crofoot Ballroom here in Pontiac, Michigan.
Yako: Arigato gosaimasu! (Thank you very much!)
AAK: Arigato gosaimasu!
EY: Thank you so much Yako!
BB: Thank you very much Yako!
Yako: Ah! Thank you very much!
EY: Thank you, have a great tour!
Yako: Hai! (Yes!)