Interview: Gendo Ikari
It’s less about going in a particular direction, more about finding an interesting idea and building upon it. We all have different tastes but the one thing we all want is catharsis. It’s just the four of us, no producer, and that combination is what the band is.
Now an essential part of Glasgow’s ever-fertile underground, Gendo Ikari have worked relentlessly to get where they are. A steady diet of local shows in dingy basements and sunnier stages at extreme festivals throughout the UK and Europe have brought them to the release of their long-awaited debut album Rokobungi. A tottering, spasmodic fusion of noise rock heft, grind savagery and technical brilliance, it’s almost par for the course for those who have watched them develop in these past seven years. David Bowes spoke to Gerald Chau about the band’s beginnings and the creation of this belter of an album.
E&D: How did Gendo start?
Gerald: Me, George and Jay used to play in a band called The Colour Pink Is Gay, back in 2013. I finished uni and all my uni mates left Edinburgh, and I realised that I didn’t really know anyone anymore. I was friends with Pedram from Frontierer, who at the time was in Sectioned, and he said that a band he knew was looking for a bassist, and did I want to phone them and ask about it. I said alright, met those guys, and Simon and Spud, rehearsed in Maryhill then joined the band. As we put it then, it was ‘Myspace tech-metal’. 2000s-era, almost experimental as the guys were showing off what they could do with a whole hodge-podge of genres in there. It was fun, and we did record an album but it died in production hell for various reasons, which was annoying as those bass parts were really good. There were so many other things in the chain that went wrong.
I remember that there was one moment where we were jamming, and George, Jay and I had our parts down. I had laid down the bass, and the guitarists were trying to get the harmonies and going through each part, but George, Jay and I were standing outside, like “Man, this sucks”. They could have done it in their own time and we thought we could be doing something while they were figuring things out. Eventually, Spud moved to Australia and playing in bands like Who Bastard and Munt. He was always more into evil black metal and deathcore riffs, and Simon moved to England, where I think he plays in Void Of Light. It was just the three of us left, and we thought, “Let’s not do this any more. Let’s just play fast and short, keep it simple”. I was really into Pig Destroyer and Discordance Axis. I think the reason we went with the name Gendo Ikari was from George, as he just thought that he’s such a bad-ass character, and that he could do this thing where the double-kick drums could look like his glasses. Which is funny, as he doesn’t play double-kick anymore!
We were looking for a bassist and Chris Ryan from Party Cannon joined up as he loves doing music. We were jamming, had our set of songs, Chris had his songs. I wanted it to be as liberating as possible. Everything about The Colour Pink was fun but it was very rigid. A lot of metal is very structured, where it’s one person’s vision and you go from A to B, B to C, and so on. I wanted this to be, for lack of a better term, a bit more YOLO. The first EP, Unit 01 came out in 2018 and there are a lot of funny things about that. It was totally a Discordance Axis ripoff, especially The Inalienable Dreamless which is one of my favourite albums. I remember Chris asking me what I was playing, and I had this bass where you can’t see the fret numbers on it. Normally I tab things out as I forget what I’m doing otherwise, but this time I just said for him to make it up. He was very used to structured, regimented playing. George is a machine at drums so he can ad-lib his way through anything. The whole thing came together really fast. It sounds like a different band as it’s so fast. On the new record, Rokobungi, we tracked it all properly like an actual band but for the rest, they were recorded live in a room together.
Something happened with Unit 01 and for some reason the digital version got bumped as mono, so if you ever listen to it on headphones it sounds like the kick-drum and snare are boring into your skull! I never knew until one of my friends said, “Hey man, I can’t believe you did mono. That’s a crazy decision!” What? Holy shit! So yeah, Unit 01 sounds insane for totally unintended reasons, which is pretty funny. The artwork was done with Mindripper Collective, which is Gray from Endless Swarm. That was the last record he put out because we got x amount of 7”s pressed but demand was super-high. I think he actually made money off of it! It worked out well but it was too much for him. People still want us to do that stuff but it’s been 7 years and we’ve gone in a different direction.
Since then, we’ve been progressing as a band. Chris Ryan left in 2017/18 because he does Party Cannon, and Party Cannon are huge! He likes to keep busy, that’s for sure, but we needed someone full-time and dedicated to this project. Before he left, we did a split with Droves and Hamish Black mastered it. I’ve known Hamish for years. He used to be in a hardcore band called Notebooks but he’s done loads. He’s a noise rock guy who loves Swans, things like that, and it was good as we’d wanted to be in a band together and this meant we didn’t have to do all the early bits of being a band. I know he can write as he does it all the time, both music and other stuff. It was good timing when he arrived as George hated double-kick. He never practices with it and it’s not great if you’re trying to create a groove. With it, he felt he was playing at 80% capacity, he was holding back. Using a single kick, he was forced to come up with different grooves and play to his best. It also meant that we couldn’t rely on the double-kick to fill space and had to be creative as well.
Hamish and George just clicked as soon as they started jamming. They were in the zone! George also loves noise rock so we knew this was going to solve a lot. I know some bands have a thing where they can have someone fill in if a member can’t make it but I think with this band we all bring our own character to the instrument. If one of us can’t make a gig, we won’t do the gig. I don’t want someone to fill in. I like to think that no-one could fill my parts but I don’t think anyone could fill Hamish’s, or George’s, or Jay’s. Jay’s takes on rhythms are so mad, and he knows how to layer vocals, how to approach them in a unique way. It always becomes apparent after we record.
When I’m playing, I have to feel the beat and focus. Despite saying that I wanted this band to be fast and silly, ironically enough it’s the band where I have to concentrate the most. It’s just me and the drums, and the drums are going 500bpm, and there’s no space to fuck around. It’s quite intense. It’s intricate, which is something that came out of our tech-metal past. We could always do more and move away from grindcore, and with Hamish we started bringing in more noise rock. It’s less about going in a particular direction, more about finding an interesting idea and building upon it. We all have different tastes but the one thing we all want is catharsis. It’s just the four of us, no producer, and that combination is what the band is.
E&D: There’s probably not a huge difference in length between Rokobungi and some of your past releases but it’s still your first ‘proper’ full-length. Was there any pressure that came along with that as you were trying to create it?
Gerald: I don’t mind doing splits but I was getting tired of doing them. There’s no responsibility with them, and it’s never clear what people are supposed to be doing. Another thing I wanted with Gendo Ikari was that I wanted things to move fast. There’s nothing worse than sitting on recordings. You can have the songs, but then there’s recording, and mixing, and mastering, and physical releases. By the time it comes out, the excitement is over. It makes music not that fun. When you write a song but know that it’s going to take another year for that song to come out, it does dull the appetite. By doing it ourselves, at least some people can enjoy it.
This one, we just wanted to give it a proper production as well. The last couple of recordings, we just did live in a room. It gives it a very energetic feel but also, mistakes happen. It can be quite rough as a consequence. I still quite like those recordings but you have to be damn good. This time, we multi-tracked instruments, Hamish took the time to mix and master it, George did a great job of recording it, Hamish took some liberties with adding layers and synths – very subtle, nothing crazy – and Jay spent ages crafting his vocals. He listened to that album loads. By the time instruments were done, I forgot about it but Jay was sitting on it for a while. I think we started recording in October of 2022 and all the instruments were done in three or four days.
Recording was interesting, actually. Most band will use a click track or guide guitar. Set your click, set your tempo, time signature, guitar will play the click and drums will track along. We’d do all the drums in one go, then guitar, bass, whatever, and then vocals. This was bizarre as we set up all the instruments and took turns recording. George did all the drums himself and he didn’t need any guide tracks. He just did it from memory, which was bewildering! He just said, “Eh, I think I can do this”. It was crazy. I knew the drums were detailed but hearing it in isolation, there’s so much stuff going on that we normally don’t notice because of all that other volume and guitars and bass. More often than not, he got it correct, but sometimes Hamish would be playing along afterwards and would say, “Wait a minute, I think there’s something wrong” and he’d added a beat or subtracted one by accident. Because there’s no click or guide, George had no point of reference so we’d only find out afterwards and then we’d have to readjust the song to add an extra beat or whatever. The songs sound a bit madder than usual, then, because they’ve been structurally changed by accident and we just lived with it.
George would take about ten minutes to do a song, Hamish would do the same but I ended up quad-tracking all my guitars – two left and two right. I hate doing that. There’s an advantage with double-tracking as it sounds bigger but quad-tracking is ridiculous. I’m not playing the exact same thing every time so it always took me about an hour per song to track it. Those guys got nice long breaks while I’d be on take three of the same thing. You can’t copy and paste anything as there’s no click, the tempos do fluctuate but it was fine and we did it in three, four days. I don’t remember much of it to be honest as I got Covid just before and it hit me really hard. I was having back pains, having to play these (hard) riffs and I had to do them four times, every time. It came out sounding really good though. Jay did the vocals in a couple of days in George’s kitchen. George works as a lecturer teaching audio engineering so he knows what to do and he has the mics, Hamish knows what to do because he taught himself. The only money we really spent was on studio space. It worked out pretty cheap. I mainly handle all the admin stuff. It’s quite a sincere recording, in that regard. The songs themselves are a mixed bag too.
All of us wrote songs. Jay did a couple of songs. He doesn’t really play any instruments so he’d just give us “Dun dun dundundun” and we’d transcribe that into music. George’s ones tend to have crazy rhythms, mine are groovy death metal ones, Hamish ones are very… I think ‘Fantomas on steroids’ is the approach he was going for. The whole album is a mad mix of stuff and I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t sound good when put together but after Jay did his vocals, that cinched it for me. Then it sounded like a whole album and not just a mish-mash of songs. I’m really proud of what’s come out.
E&D: The album feels quite relentless but with ‘Lip Service’, it has this point where it just drops out for about a minute. What’s going on in there?
Gerald: There is a very specific thing on this album that Hamish has inserted all the way through it. Have you ever seen Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster? It’s one of the funniest things in the world. It’s four middle-aged men having a breakdown while making an album that cost a bajillion dollars. It’s off the scale. There’s a b-side cut of Metallica, Ja Rule and Swizz Beatz making a song on YouTube, which is terrible. Lars Ulrich and Bob Rock are sitting there, then Ja Rule, Swizz Beatz and their crew walk in. They start smoking, playing craps on the floor, and Bob Rock sits there like the most uncomfortable white man ever, going, “Yeeaah”. The song is terrible, but all the samples on the album are from this YouTube clip. Hamish stretched it, or warped it, but every single sample except one is just that one clip. Hamish added some synths to pad it out but there’s at least three or four samples of that clip on there.