Melt Banana Interview

interview - 15.11.2005 12:00

Interview with Melt Banana in London (U.K.)

When I arrived at the "Highbury Garage 9" I noticed that I had arrived nearly half an hour early. The main entrance was still closed, so I went to the backstage entrance. From inside I heard the last sounds of Melt-Banana's soundcheck.

After explaining to the security-guard why I was there, he let me in without any further problems. Inside it was very busy. Staff and band members were running around preparing everything for the upcoming concert. I didn't want to disturb them at this point and I was too early anyway, so instead I sat down and observed the soundcheck. Whilst waiting I passed the time talking to staff members and the supporting bands.

After a further 10 minutes, Yako, Agata and Manuel, the tour-manager passed by. They seemed in a good mood and Yako waved towards me in a friendly manner. The other bands were still doing soundchecks, so we first had to look for a quiet place where we could make ourselves comfortable. Agata sat down beside me with his guitar and started playing a bit. Unplugged of course. His guitar play added a very relaxed touch to the whole atmosphere. I then introduced myself and JaME, but before I had a chance to ask any questions, Yako started to interview me instead.

Yako: What bands do you write about?

We try to access all areas of Japanese music.

Yako regarded me with interest and gave me the impression that she was waiting for further explanation

We write about the popular Japanese music that can be found in the Oricon Charts. Also we write about alternative/indie bands, punk/rock artists, visual bands and the japanese underground scene. Our database currently contains around 400 artist files.

Yako: Ohhh! And you have interviewed all 400 bands?

No. We've interviewed a couple of bands, but the previously mentioned 400 files detail information about the bands including discographies, biographies and profiles.

(Everyone laughed because I mistakenly gave them the idea that I had interviewed all 400 bands)

Would you introduce yourself please, for all the readers of JaME who don't know you yet?
Yako: We are Melt-Banana, based in Tokyo and we're a kind of punk band. I'm Yako and I'm the singer.
Agata: Agata! Guitar!

How has your tour been so far?
Yako: Very good so far!

Have you played in Germany before?
Yako: We started the tour in Germany. But we have also played in Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium.

If you ask 100 people about Melt Banana's musical direction, you will get 1000 different answers. So how would you describe your music?
Yako and Agata looked at each other and giggled. They then had a quick talk in Japanese, before answering my question.
Yako: It’s too hard to describe.

Because of your unique and extraordinary style you can't really categorize Melt-Banana's music. So what is your inspiration and who are your influences?
Yako: Japanese pop bands from the 80s and punk.

Pop bands?
Yako: Yeah. Bands like RC Succession.

Tell me something about the way you compose. Who writes the music and who writes the lyrics?
Yako: Agata writes the music and I write the lyrics.

Your fanbases in Europe and America are quite big now. How big is your fanbase at home in Japan?
Yako: Not that big. Quite small.

So it's bigger here?
Yako: Yes!

Is there a difference between European/American fans and the Japanese fans?
Yako: They are not different. The difference is really only the greater number of people who are listening to our music.

Japanese music seems to have become increasingly popular in Europe. A number of Japanese Punk-, Rock-, and Visual bands have toured throughout Europe during the current year and they have been doing so with great success. Have you heard anything about this?
Yako: Not that much, and I don't know that much about Visual bands either.

The Mad Capsule Markets played during Ozzfest at Donnington.
Yako + Agata: Oooohhh
Yako and Agata talked to each other in Japanese about the Mad Capsule Markets. Agata seemed to be kind of pleased.

What do you think about it?
Yako: That's good!

In 1995 you had a tour with Ufo Or Die, which was a side project of the Boredoms. Which other Japanese Bands are you related to, or have done projects alongside?
Yako: We did a collaboration with Merzbow as Merz-Banana, and also with Violent Onsen Geisha.
Agata: Yoshihide Otomo!
Yako: Yeah, and with Yoshihide Otomo!

Sorry, I don't know him.
Yako: He is an avant-garde musician.

Which Japanese bands do you listen to?
Yako: Emiculania!
Agata: Very good band!
Yako: We also like Nice View and Corrupted.
Agata agreed.

You have already worked with lots of famous people like Mike Patton (Faith no More/Fantomas/Mr. Bungle), John Zorn (Painkiller) and even with avant-garde musician Steve Albini. Who impressed you the most and which collaboration was the most enjoyable one?

Again a quick chat between Yako and Agata in Japanese took place. Agata mentioned Mike Patton, but for the time being I got this answer:

Yako: It was fun working with Steve Albini. Maybe it is just because it was the first time for us to record an album.
Before we rented recording studios in Japan, but the engineer there was not very good.
However, working with Steve was a really good experience because he was so professional.

We talked about Yoshihide Otomo before? Can you compare him to Steve Albini in terms of avant-garde music?
Agata: Yoshihide Otomo and Steve? They are very different.
Yako: Steve Albini is more of a rock guitarist.

Now Yako decided to tell me something about the work with Mike Patton.

Yako: We've worked with Mike a lot and we toured with Mr. Bungle. We also toured with Fantomas and it was always very good. Very different.

You released a Split CD with Fantomasthis year, right?
Yako: Yeah. (smiles)

Your tour features the Single-Compilation The 13 Hedgehogs which contains all the singles and Splits from 1994 to 1999. How do you feel now, if you take a look back on 5 albums, 23 Eps and Splits, a huge number of compilations and 12 years band existence?
Yako: We should have made more albums. Well, 12 years and 5 albums does not really sound like very much. Since bands usually release one album per year.

Mmm, that doesn't sound like a lot but compared to other bands you have released lots of collaboration singles. That is something very special though, isn't it?
Yako: But nevertheless, we have only 5 albums. But we like to release many singles in different countries. If we get offers from people from other countries for collaborations and we are interested into their music we are like...
Yako raised her fist and demonstrated with a "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" how motivated Melt-Banana are about collaborative work.
Yako: We've worked with many people and released many singles, but it's fun!

How was it to play a John Peel Session?
Yako: I was really nervous. He said he would give us thirty minutes, and we could do whatever we wanted. And so we did. We just played. It was a very unusual experience.
Yako to Agata: It was our first "live on air session" on the radio, right?
Agata: Yeah! It was like...if we did this...(demonstrated what he meant and played two chords on his guitar) went everywhere throughout the UK at that exact moment.
Okay, that's a good reason for being nervous, I guess! (laughter)

At the UK MTV Awards of the years 95/96 you were nominated for one of the best videos with sick Zip Everywhere, whilst the American MTV refused to play the video. How was that experience for you?
Yako: Oh, really? I did not realise that they had not played it. It was the one with the burger, right? That was a very ugly one...(laughter)
We didn't really like it. When the video was shot, the label decided everything and we had to do what they said. On the day the video was shot, we arrived on the set and found out that it was about a hamburger...and we were like...
Yako rolled her eyes: Ohhh noooo...
...but the studio was already booked and...well...(everybody was still laughing)

So you did not have a choice!!
Yako: Exactly!

At this point we had to calm down before continuing because we had spent the last five minutes laughing. Everybody who has seen the video to sick Zip Everywhere will understand why.

Yako: Yeah, it was a funny video.
(everybody agreed)

Okay, our time has nearly gone now, and I have asked all of my questions. So how about a short message to the european fans?
Yako: After this tour, we will return to Japan and we will then start working on our next album which will be released next year.

That is very good news. And hopefully we can welcome you again in Europe featuring your new album.
Agata + Yako: Sure!!

Thank you very much for this interview.
Agata + Yako: You’re welcome!
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