Instrumental band Mono talks about musical evolution before India debut at Ziro Festival
The band has already visited 55 plus countries and is preparing to celebrate their 20th anniversary
Rock music is often perceived in stark contrast with the bow-tie-elegance of classical music. However, veteran Japanese musicians Mono make a disconcerting bunch, sporting a musical evolution that has confounded even melomaniacs by creating an effective and emotive blend of these two styles.
Writing a unique brand of instrumental music since 1999, the longtime quartet, consisting of Takaakira Goto, Hideki Suematsu, Tamaki Kunishi, and Yasunori Takada (who quit the band late last year), has successfully given the genre game a slip through their nine-album discography by growing beyond their post-rock roots.
Their music is discernible for its multitude of elements—from waves of atmospheric textures woven by effects pedals and heavy, distorted walls of sound to long-winding string solos and an entire album primarily composed without a guitar.
The main man behind the band, Takaakira Goto aka Taka, talks to Indulge as they have marked India’s Ziro Festival as the next destination on their extensive career tour graph which features 55 plus countries and nearly 150 shows a year.
Beethoven, a punk rocker?
A sole Asian presence among what can be called the second wave of post-rock at the turn of the millennium, Mono quotes two art forms which have inspired their sound the most—western classical music and movies.
“I’ve been a fan of film soundtracks which create floating visuals in your head. After a while, I wanted to mix those elements with rock and that’s when I started teaching myself classical music. Whether it’s classical or techno, it is still all the same—instrumental music,” says Taka, who has even roped in string ensembles for recording albums including Hymn to the Immortal Wind and For My Parents.
The popularity of classical music among the earlier generation made Beethoven a hero for Taka, alongside bands like My Bloody Valentine. “To put it simply, Beethoven was a punk rocker. At a time when music was funded by noblemen, Beethoven came to a decision—‘I’m not going to write music for noblemen anymore, but for myself and the people’—and started to sell his own music, DIY,” says the composer, putting things in perspective.
Catering to his passion for films, he structured their fourth release (You Are There) around a self-written script and the group has also made musical appearances in movies like Wildlike (2014).
Aggressive, yet beautiful—that’s the frontman’s own way of describing their songs. “Half of the world is filled with so many sh**ty people who think only about their profits. Don’t you think music can raise the finger (euphemistically transcribed) to people like them? At the same time, there are beautiful parts of this world...” explains the guitarist, about mixing noisy and melodic sonic components in their compositions. Their rather unusual style of recording albums with all the members playing live in a studio also helps preserve the emotionality of their rather long tracks.
As part of their 20th-anniversary celebrations, Mono’s Facebook page is currently sharing memories associated with some of their famous tracks under #Mono20years. The jubilations will also include the release of their 10th album with a new American drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla. “He’s a very loud-yet-artistic rock drummer who has a good sense for putting priority to the songs’ worldview,” says Taka, informing that they’ve completed recording the LP.
Their Indian set—just like their other eccentric and energetic global performances—will have old and new tracks including their latest single After You Comes The Flood, which will be released worldwide on September 22.
Mono performs at Ziro Festival on September 27.
Excerpts from the interview:
* You guys have talked a lot about growing up with Western classical music. How was it being in Asia yet growing up with Western music?
I think Classical music was very popular with my parents’ generation. Many households had a piano and so did mine. I wasn’t interested in instruments at all, however, but my brother and sister were both learning it. Because of that, I often heard Beethoven’s piano sonata. I think it was 2001 when I started to take an interest in Classical music and the first piece I revisited was Beethoven’s piano sonata Moonlight. I was stunned by it. So many emotions built up and it was like the song was portraying my exact self at the time. Since then I started to be curious about Beethoven like what kind of person he was and why he wrote his songs the certain ways. After reading his biography and more, I felt like I could understand all the meanings behind his notes and melodies.
* There’s a lot of textural work in your music. What element in music offers more space for exploring emotions?
Composing is a process of going inside your heart. I go down deep within and start by pulling out shining bright soul-like elements from the maddening darkness. I myself get saved by writing songs. I feel that “it’s ok for me to live” and “there is a reason for me to keep being who I am.”
* How important is staying aloof for creating new music? What’s the process before writing new music?
I don’t really take any breaks. If I stay away from music and tours for more than a week, I start to think that I want to write songs and play shows. Movies and books are essential in my everyday life and also during tours. They give me a lot of inspiration.
* What does noise mean for you musically and how do you keep your compositions from getting too abrasive so as not to affect the emotionality of music?
I haven’t thought about that much. I think there are different types of noise, like the noise of anger, and the noise of cheer. If you take a look at goosebumps, for example, they usually imply fear or discomfort, but they also happen when you’re extremely moved or happy. I think ‘noise’ is a lot like that. It’s a deep unconditional reaction at the cell level. There is no logic to it.
After six consecutive editions, Ziro Festival has made it into the bucket list of outdoor performance aficionados. The four-day-long annual affair is hosted by the native Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh and this year’s lineup features quite a few international acts like London-based jazz artiste Nubya Garcia, Malian kora (string instrument) player Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté, and Israeli avant-garde jazz-pop act Malox. Diverse music from across India also finds representation as Mumbai-based electronic producer Func and Delhi-based MC Prabh Deep will perform in the valley. South Indian names like Thrissur-based Oorali, Bengaluru’s Sukanya Ramgopal and Chennai’sOorka make the fete more vibrant.
Ziro Festival from September 27 - 30