Boris' Atsuo: "We Have Never Called Ourselves a Heavy Metal Band"

Normally, a band releasing three albums in one year would be a big deal. But in the case of Japanese power trio Boris, the rapid-fire output is less surprising than the diversity featured on the albums.

Over the course of Heavy Rocks (the group's second album sporting the title), Attention Please, and New Album, the group explores shoegaze, dream-pop, crunching psych metal, and electronic J-Pop, drawing comparisons to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and Mazzy Star.

Drummer Atsuo spoke with Up on the Sun about the group's three albums, not being heavy metal, and some upcoming confidential collaborations.

Boris is scheduled to perform on Thursday, November 10, at the Clubhouse in Tempe.

Up on the Sun: With New Album you guys worked with Shinobu Narita. Boris records are normally self-produced. What did he bring to the table?

Atsuo: Actually, Boris worked with another producer, You Ishihara on the Smile album 2008. To compare with New Album, his work was more remixing existing work than producing, though. I've admired and respected Shinobu Narita for years; I thought if Boris worked with him, we could do whatever we wanted to make everything exciting and interesting. He has had great skills and lots of ideas in much wider music style.

The program Vocaloid, used on New Album is similar to the American Auto Tune fad. Are you familiar with Auto Tune music, and if so, does American pop that employs it interest you?

To me they are totally different and the exact opposite. Vocaloid has definite shape as an individual character then creator put soul and meaning into it, Autotune seems to be a method to symbolize real thing. Here, I can clearly see the difference on expression way between American and Japanese, how they recognize and distinguish 'reality;' then express."

Has New Album attracted more of a pop audience in Japan?

I have no idea. New Album is not only for Japanese listeners and Boris hasn't and won't intend to make records only for Japanese, either. [We are] always thinking about listeners somewhere in the whole world and putting out records for them.

The band has been known for collaborations with Sunn O))), Merzbow, Ian Astbury, and more. What influenced the decision to do these records alone, and who might we expect to collaborate with the band in the future?

Well, we invited many artists on these records to collaborate. Usually collaboration starts spontaneously, which is so natural to us. We have had a lot of ideas. Since it is delicate and sensitive manner, we should keep it confidential until it is done.

With titles like "Jackson Head" and "Les Paul Custom '86," it's clear that the you guys are gearheads. Do you have favorite pieces of equipment?

Recently, we are using digital amplifier simulators, plug-in synthesizers, etc. Whatever works for us interestingly is the best. No obsession between analog and digital or something like that. The only one we need is Roland Space Echo. We are bringing three of them for the current tour.

With Heavy Rocks, New Album, and Attention Please, do you feel like the band has shaken off the "Heavy Metal" tag?

Boris [has not been a] heavy metal band at all. From the first day, we have never called ourselves as heavy metal. However, we are totally fine if everyone calls us a heavy metal band. We have been doing what we like and as a result we welcome if everyone says so, puts a tag on us or categorizes in specific genre.

There is overlap between Attention Please and New Album. What lead to songs like "Hope", "Les Paul Custom," and "Spoon" being recorded different ways?

These are not re-recorded versions. 'Re-arrange' seems to be fit more here. It seems for me when people say 'song' it actually sounds [or means] 'song arrangement' most of time. Maybe it is hard for them to imagine a tiny treatment of just one fader when mixing would lead to a totally different impression.

Right now we are feeling and considering 'What is Boris?'" It would be great if listeners feel significant differences among those three albums and possibilities what they can feel from there, differences and distances between recorded work and live sound. Anyway, we hope everyone enjoys our music, that is the most important part to us since we are just doing what we enjoy.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.