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Q&A: Boris' Noise a Map to the Band's Sound

Nailing down Boris is no easy task. The Japanese band has released 19 albums in its 22-year career, all with varying material that shifts from doom metal, to prog rock, screamo to power pop, space to thrash--sometimes on the same album.

That's part of the band's appeal, however, as the trio follows its whim to make what feels right. Boris' latest, Noise, is perhaps the band's strongest in years, a mixture of finely crafted songs full of melody, mood swings and catchy hooks interlaced with masterful guitars among an overall proggy transcendence.

""If there is a sound map of Boris, Noise will be the center of it," Boris drummer Atsuo says simply.

Up on the Sun found Atsuo and bassist Takeshi in Japan, preparing for a lengthy U.S. tour. The pair agreed to a quick email interview to discuss the Japanese metal scene, musical experimentation, and their latest album, Noise. A print feature on the band will hit the stands on Thursday, but here's the rest of the interview that didn't make it into the story.

Up on the Sun: You've said before that Boris doesn't fit with the Japanese punk scene it grew out of, but is there much of a metal scene in Japan, and what is the following like for Boris in Japan? How does it compare with the U.S.?

Takeshi: We have a language barrier and major disparity in Western world and Japanese culture that we encounter when touring especially. However, we can deal with it better with music as mutual language and common understanding. Due to (the) internet, things are getting easier and I won't feel any time difference between Western country and here at all. Automatic translation works way better than before too. Western people seem to be more open-minded to art and music.

The band has clearly experimented with numerous musical directions--you have released 19 albums, all pushing in different directions. How have things changed over the years? Atsuo: Being "heavy" makes what we are, I think. But we are "heavy" in a different way from heavy metal. Perhaps some people find it pretty "heavy" to listen to "Noise Music."

Takeshi: We never called ourselves a metal band. I find it interesting we are often called metal in Europe and the States. Metal music in the West is much broader in reach and more avant-garde than in Japan.

I'm amazed at the level of intensity and noise, and at times screamo vocals, yet there's also an ability to craft wonderful melodies underneath all the heaviness. How do you achieve this balance?

Takeshi: We don't work in a process of the so-called "composing." Just record what we are jamming in studio, sometimes we record an initial rough idea of melody with Voice Memo, then we expand it. During the process of expansion of those elements, music will lead us where they would like to go or how they want to be in particular tone and sound. We have never felt a frustration with a song writing process at all. Only if we have to decide which record is the best for that song.

Whatever you think about that, "pop" always appears out of our trial on unconscious level, both for melody and riff. Even though we play heavy stuff, it just "appears" unconsciously. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable with it though I can deal with it naturally now. Well, I am not sure that pop music is conductive for experimentation, but that is what we have been influenced.

You put out so many albums in such a short time, and you keep reissuing older ones. Isn't there a fear of diluting the market for your music? Or is it a way to create new audiences?

Takeshi: We just want every listener to have fun, but we have done a lot, like making slightly different two albums under the same title respectively for Japan and overseas, or putting a different artwork for each. Maybe we are too willing to satisfy others' wishes.

Atsuo: A different format, CD or vinyl, means a different vision you have in your mind. We are just pursuing those different visions. In a press statement, the band wrote of Noise: "If we had to suggest just one album for those unfamiliar with Boris' music, we will pick this for sure." Why this album? What makes it more accessible or the best representation of Boris?

Atsuo: If there is a sound map of Boris, Noise will be the center of it I guess. Also, we can find anything new and the album brings something new whenever we listen to [it]. We hope you enjoy it.

Some tracks are very prog-like, others more noise-like, while some have metal elements. It's a real variety of styles. Was that the idea?

Atsuo: The concept of noise has been changing among general people and musician day by day, it is obvious in a digital era. The concept of noise definitely reflects everyone's daily and social life, in that sense noise is only defined by spirituality. I am confident that Boris could successfully reveal the solid answer to the "noise" with our last album, New Album. That is, the noise music in modern era and that the album is the definitive model after Merzbow and Masonna, as next generation.

The title of Noise is such a twisted statement from the band. Noise music can be criticism against others and deeply combined with a present era, so it should have something new and (be full of) possibility. Going forward, and a reflection of a daily life, that is what I call noise.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver