With NO, we sublimated the negative energy through extreme music, and that became a form of ‘healing’ for ourselves. On the other hand, W has a completely different, chill approach, but rather than healing, they're more sounds that quietly 'awaken' people. At first glance, they conflict with each other, but it's because there are both that we're able to realistically represent our world.
There are few bands out there who are as consistently surprising, and rewarding, to be a fan of than Boris. Over three decades, they’ve amassed a back catalogue that holds little regard for genre or ideas of scene ‘coolness’, instead adopting an ever-evolving approach to releasing music that makes any attempts to pigeonhole them an exercise in futility. For the release of W, a more chilled and reflective companion to 2020’s incendiary NO, David Bowes spoke to guitarist Wata about the relationship of these two disparate siblings, as well as the band’s unique approach to art.
Translations: Kasumi Billington
Photography: Yoshihiro Mori
E&D: Congratulations on W, it’s a fantastic record and a great start to 2022. Did you already have an album like this in mind when you were writing and recording NO?
Wata: Well, by the time we were wrapping up recording for NO, the direction of W had already become concrete. With NO, we sublimated the negative energy through extreme music, and that became a form of ‘healing’ for ourselves. On the other hand, W has a completely different, chill approach, but rather than healing, they’re more sounds that quietly “awaken” people. At first glance, they conflict with each other, but it’s because there are both that we’re able to realistically represent our world.
NO and W were pieces of work that were created in a connected flow. Connect the two and it becomes NOW. Both are landscapes of the world in which we exist ‘NOW’, and are sounds that reverberate.
E&D: For the writing of NO, you’ve said that you set yourself a number of rules for the songs before you started regarding things like song length. Is this how you usually work and were there any conditions set for the writing on W?
Wata: For most Boris songs, we cannot see the final shape of the piece of music at the initial stage of creating one. From the editing of jam sessions, we make the general structure, and we flesh out the details such as adding the words and overdub to help the song reach its form. The rules aren’t that strict. It’s more like cues that we have before starting a jam session – such as comparing the image of the sound of melody to colour or shape. Depending on the weather or mood that day or time, it could change, but the general process of proceeding with the recording is the same. We used a lot of intense sounds during the production of NO so we didn’t use the Fuzz as much in W and we used more instruments other than guitars.
E&D: Texturally, W feels like one of the most open and expansive records that you’ve ever made. How did you approach the writing and construction of these songs and do you feel it was a successful experiment?
Wata: After completing the recording for NO, the moods in the jam sessions for W were calm. I think we were able to record and take in such an atmosphere. I think the newly introduced pedals and musical instruments also were a big factor. And, this time, once it was shaped into a Boris album, we asked suGar Yoshinaga (from Buffalo Daughter), someone who we’d been eager to collaborate with for a while, for additional arrangements and post-production. suGar took a strong liking to the music and was happy to take in the request. Her sound production allowed the work to reach an area the three of us in Boris couldn’t have reached ourselves, and the worldly view of the work expanded and deepened all at once.
E&D: One thing I’ve always appreciated as a fan of your music is your unpredictability when it comes to what you release. There’s a constant evolution in your sound but there are also frequent call-backs to earlier works and to the artists who have influenced you. Do you see these two directions as being opposed or are they all part of the same process?
Wata: It’s like our expression evolves as though they are manoeuvring in loops similar to going up a spiral staircase. If we were to describe a single spiral in this staircase as “now”, you’d still see that part of the spiral would be of the “past (memory)” and as you go up, there’d be the “future”. It’s difficult to explain in words. It’s not just going forward and backward… rather, we are rising, and there’s also a sense of deepening.
E&D: You’ve really embraced ‘Bandcamp Friday’ and your monthly drops of rare material has become one of its highlights. How has the process of revisiting and reworking those songs been for you as a band?
Wata: Bandcamp became the best opportunity to present many sound sources that were out of print or couldn’t be released from Boris’s activities throughout the year, in a new form. Up until then, the band wasn’t focused on digital releases. Due to the influences of the coronavirus pandemic, physical distribution became difficult, so it became a good way to connect directly with listeners under such circumstances. We have a large volume of archives from our recordings and live sound sources. We chose sound sources from there that were sufficient for releases and released them. It may not have been possible to review and check all of these sound sources if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.
We’re also able to go back and look at photos and materials used for album jackets and look back on our history. We’ll continue on so we hope that all the listeners can enjoy it.
E&D: The success of the Hizumitas pedal has shown that there are a lot of people out there who strive to emulate your signature sound. What prompted you to share part of your sound in a way that not many artists would be willing to?
Wata: Our relationship with EQD began in 2016. When they came to Japan in 2018, we went on a Japan tour with the owner Jamie and his band, Relaxer. At that time, we asked if it was possible to make signature pedals, and they became very interested and the conversation progressed from there. I’ve used the ELK Big Muff for many years, which can be described as a symbol of my sound. I requested a pedal that could make the same sound as that ELK Big Muff. It took time until the completion, but they created the sound I was searching for after many, many trials and errors. Jamie and the EQD team truly love music, and they deeply understand Boris’s sound and worldly views, so we are very appreciative. Once it was released, we received positive reactions from people all over the world. I didn’t think it’d have such a big response, so I was surprised.
E&D: Was ‘Reincarnation Rose’ a response to the EarthQuaker partnership or was this something that was already in the works?
Wata: After the Hizumitas was completed, we decided to make a song that fully featured the Fuzz sound using the pedal. For this song, we asked TOKIE to play on the bass along with suGar Yoshinaga (the sound producer of W) on guitar and chorus. Both are artists that use EarthQuaker, so it became a piece of work that incorporated the “EarthQuaker All Stars”.
E&D: W sees you taking over vocals for the record in full. Does this mean it’s now something that you are a lot more comfortable with or are there still barriers to you taking to the stage in this way?
Wata: Once the skeletal structure of W was completed, we decided that I would take vocals for all songs. NO was made with the scenery from the top of the stage in mind, but W was made with the premise of the album not being played at a show. My voice is small and gets drowned out by the roar, so it becomes very restrictive when it comes to potentially playing on stage. Since we didn’t think about the idea of playing on stage this time, we were able to challenge various musical expressions in addition to singing.
E&D: Speaking of stages, most of the work that you write and release is done with the idea of playing it live in mind but the situation over the past two years has made that a lot more difficult. Does that change the way that you look at making and releasing music now?
Wata: Well, similar to the answer in the previous question, W was a work that was completed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Until recently, we’d gained inspiration through the amount of heat and power received from the audience on tour, the process of changing the music with constant performances, and that became the motivation for the next production. We want to embrace this method too. Because we’re in this situation, we need to create sounds that have “meaning” and have “significance”. The Bandcamp releases were a new release method in which we could connect directly with the listeners. We received their reactions directly, and we received a lot of strength and power. We really appreciate it. Entering 2021, the coronavirus pandemic harmed label releases in various ways, including taking a long time to press records.
E&D: Looking back a little, one of the last live performances that you did was the NO World Tour In Your Head show, which still feels like such an incredibly ambitious project (but one that worked perfectly). Who originally came up with that idea and how difficult was it to make it work in practice?
Wata: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many artists began performing and delivering ‘shows’ in a form with no audience. We viewed some of these, but we began thinking, how can we connect with the audience worldwide by cherishing the meaning of a ‘show’? Atsuo had always directed Boris’s music videos, and he suggested filming with a 360-degree camera. It was a project where viewers would be able to participate in a ‘documented video work’ from their preferred perspective. Since this was not real-time streaming, we were able to focus and be thorough on the quality of the sound through multi-track recording and mixing. Above all, we think we were able to deliver the sensation of being at a live venue by manipulating viewpoints that viewers would like. Since this was our first attempt on a technical front too, we encountered many problems, but we were able to open up new possibilities.
E&D: The videos for ‘Drowning By Numbers’ and ‘Anti-Gone’ both show an appreciation for dance. What about this kind of expression that fits so well with your own approach to art? Is this something that goes beyond video work and have/would you consider scoring a dance piece in full?
Wata: Everything we create is a piece of our work – art. Boris has many collaboration albums, but we could also call these types of music videos a form of collaboration with the videography team and performers. We have artists who are connected to Boris at that point in time, so any form of our work becomes our documentary. This type of video is often interpreted as made for promotion, but for us, like an album, it’s a piece of work or art.
For NO and W we produced videos that had dancing as a theme. In ‘Anti-Gone’, we produced a video of a young dancer’s lonely and impulsive dance. In April 2021, we had a chance to collaborate with another contemporary dancing team. We were in charge of the music and video. This also included ‘Drowning By Numbers’ and from that collaboration, the music video evolved and was produced. Here, a skilled dancer performed a finely crafted choreography.
E&D: You’ve moved over to Sacred Bones for W’s release. What prompted the move and will you still continue working with past labels (e.g. Third Man, Sargent House) in some capacity?
Wata: Sacred Bones has released music for UNIFORM, whom we toured in the US together in 2019. They were the ones who introduced us. UNIFORM has a great sound and personality, so we were naturally interested in the label releasing their work. The label also released Jim Jarmusch and movie-related works, so we felt they were following a different type of area from the previous labels.
For us, each time we put out work, it feels like we are collaborating with a label that suits that specific work. We work with the label thinking about what kind of listeners we’d love to deliver the music to. Each label has respected our way of thinking, and we’re happy to have had extensive releases.