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Taka (MONO) Interview

Interview with Taka from MONO
by Erika Kuenstler at 14 November 2016, 10:45 AM

There are few bands that completely defy the constraints of genre labels. And one such band that is notoriously difficult to pin down is MONO, from Japan. I recently had the opportunity to see their captivating live performance during their recent European tour, and got to speak to founding member Taka about their newly released album "Requiem for Hell", as well as about the band's equipment, a bit about their history, and the bond they share with their fans through music.

MONO have just released a new album “Requiem for Hell”. Congratulations on that. It has been out for two weeks now, how has the reception been?
Thank you very much. Well, most of the songs on the album have already been played. When we finished composing them, we practiced them and then tried them out during the tour. So it’s pretty familiar for us already. But we’re still excited for this tour.

“Requiem for Hell” is one of your darkest and heaviest releases to date, perhaps comparable to 2003’s “Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined”. Why is it so dark?
Well, we are from Japan, and I wanted to show some Japanese atmosphere in the record. If you see our live show, it would be great if you could see the Japanese sky. This was my purpose, through the compositions. After we released “For my Parents” it’s about trying to explain about the Japanese sky. It works in Europe, but it didn’t work in the States, because the States are more heavy. The early MONO was very heavy. I was very confused, because when we started our journey as a band, there was no genre Post-Rock. I didn’t want to do the same shit, I wanted to find a new way. And during an American tour, I had an inspiration about combining orchestration with more metal-like things. And that’s my purpose. Actually, I didn’t want to think about what we should do, or why we have to do it, I just wanted to release the record and watch it. It’s also been 17 years, so we have a lot of history together. I just wanted to release a chemistry grow with the band.

There’s quite a lot about the journey of the soul in “Requiem for Hell”. How did that come about?
After I finished composing the songs, by accident I learned about Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, and I was like “Wow, this is a beautiful story”, because the theme of the book is about saving the soul. It’s funny, before I learned about the book, I already had the idea for the title: Requiem for Hell. After I read the book, it was like a jigsaw puzzle, just a really great experience.

It sounds like it all fitted together really well.
Yeah, it’s a very beautiful story. We even used the drawing by Gustav Doré. That was the last scene of “The Divine Comedy”: two people moving into the light from the darkness, from hell. It’s the last scene in the book, so the last song of the album I gave the title “The Last Scene”.

I actually noticed that. The album starts of dark and gets progressively lighter and more angelic.
The last notes of the album are about not going back. You know we never know what’s going on.

This album also sees you resume working with Steve Albini. What lead to the pause?
We used to work together. We are very satisfied to work with him. I had planned that maybe we should work together for our anniversary. But one day, Steve Albini contacted me, like “Hey, we want to tour with you guys in Japan”. It sounded great, and we decided to tour together. In the end, we were hanging out, and we decided maybe we should work together. So it was a great experience. And I wanted to see how much we could grow as a band.

One of the most outstanding songs on “Requiem for Hell” is “Elys Heartbeat”. It’s a really interesting idea to use a sample from an unborn baby. How did that come about?
I wanted to combine the theme of that song to Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, as a symbol of the new generation or as a symbol of hope, of the new born. And a long-time friend, Jeremy from New York, who is the owner of the New York label, he had his first baby. He sent me a movie. Still Ely is inside her mum, and I thought it would be great if we could combine this with a song as a gift. If Ely hears this after ten years, it will be something special.

That’s a really nice gesture!
Yeah, it’s like respect and love.

And what about the music video for “Requiem for Hell”?
That was a film director from Finland. He makes the videos for SOLSTAFIR. We toured together, and they introduced us. We wrote the script, and sent that to him. It’s like a story from “The Divine Comedy”.

It seems to me to be a story about death’s ability to tear people apart, but also to reunite them again. I really enjoyed that video.
He’s a really nice guy. The costs are very cheap, and he’s very quick. Each idea of ours led to an amazing cooperation.

Your instruments are listed as being a 1966 Fender, a 1974 Fender, a 1966 Gibson, and a 1970s Ludwig drum kit. Do you still use that equipment?
We released nine albums using the same guitars. All albums have the same guitars. Because the first time that we met, the first practice in Tokyo was an amazing experience: we already had this sound. It’s been 17 years, and still we continue this sound. I feel like it’s an open door; the sound is a totally different world. So I told them “hey, please please continue forever with these guitars and bass”.

So there’s no plans to switch to newer guitars?
No, no. Not at all.

That’s cool. A lot of bands want the latest guitars and so on.
When I was looking for band members, a friend of mine introduced me to the others. The first night we practiced, I’ll never forget. The sound was amazing.

When you play live, there’s an amazing intensity in how you play. What do you feel or what goes through your head when you’re on the stage?
For example, the guys at the front are all closing their eyes, like they’re in a trance. I think that we have the same feeling. It’s hard to explain. Music is like a journey, you walk the music. It’s amazing, there is no control, it’s like being out of control.

When I see your fans, it seems to me like your fans feel this connection with the band through the music. Do you also feel this connection with your fans?
Definitely. Our fans are very strong. I write songs which can save me by myself. So I write the songs, and release the emotion, and I can say I was saved by music. Music can save people. Sometimes we get an email like “I was going to die, but I didn’t because of MONO”. It’s a beautiful thing.

That must be quite a feeling to know that you have that kind of impact.
Yeah. We can have the exact same feeling on stage sometimes. We want to explain about hope and light, but you know the Chinese yin-yang? If we want to explain about how beautiful life is, how it’s light and positive, we have to explain other side, the darkness. It’s like we’re walking in a tunnel. It’s darkness, and we cannot see the light, but you have to keep going then you see a small light, and finally you’re like “okay”. So we want to explain the light, but before that, we have to explain the darkness.

You’ve toured extensively throughout the world. Do you notice differences in your fans from say Europe compared to America or Asia?
Not really. The tours made me realise that music is an international language. Music can be a bridge without borders, nationalities, cultures, histories… Sometimes people have a sickness of the mind, but maybe art can save them. Maybe art can release the mind.

And is there a difference in the music scenes between Europe and Japan?
Japan is the hardest part for us. We are trying to be very underground and DIY, We don’t want to be like a fucking a major artist. So Japan is very hard.

Promoters aside, are there any place you’d really like to play?
The moon.

Hahaha, well, that would certainly be a first!
We’ve toured more than 55 countries you know. This is the earth: animals and creatures. But I want to play on the moon! Hahaha.

That would be quite something. Well, those would be all my questions, thanks for taking the time to answer them.
Thank you very much!


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Edited 28 November 2021

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