Westword Interview: Atsuo on the band’s numerous collaborations over the years and New Album
Boris has had one prolific career thus far with seventeen albums released since its start in 1992 and multiple collaboration projects with artists like SunnO)))), Keiji Haino and Michio Kurihara of psychedelic band Ghost. Though based out of Tokyo, Boris found more of an audience for its own brand of heavy psychedelia in the United States where its spirit of experimentation fit right in with like-minded artists like Sleep and Wooden Ships, among others.
This year alone, Boris has released three excellent albums of its richly textured, atmospheric rock, including its latest, the appropriately titled New Album, which drew immediate comparisons to My Bloody Valentine for its gritty, dreamy soundscape pop songwriting. We recently had a chat with the band’s main spokesman, drummer Atsuo Mizuno, through the group’s excellent translator and spoke about the band’s collaborations and the artwork for its latest record.
Westword: You did an interview with Pitchfork when you put out Smile and talked about coming to terms with being Japanese and also not fitting in with the music scene in Japan. Would you say that you feel any kinship with some of those experimental bands of the ’60s and ’70s, like Flower Travellin’ Band and Les Rallizes Denudés?
Atsuo Mizuno: I don’t want to name which band that’s similar to us or anything. In Japan, we don’t really have a place for live bands to play. Yes, we have venues, but it’s not really like in America where you can just go out there there any play clubs. It’s not to say we’re not a Japanese band or anything; we just fit into situation overseas, especially in America, where we fit into a live band scene.
How did you come to work with Michio Kurihara?
Actually, it was kind of very natural. We and Michio did a collaboration album first and then we went on a tour together. Then we would play some Boris songs and some songs from the collaboration album. So it was natural after that tour that we would work together. We were using the same studio and the engineer was the same guy so that’s how we met.
This year you’re putting out a total of three albums. Did you go for a specific kind of feel or sound for each, and what decided which songs should go on which album?
Actually, we had one album in the beginning we were going to put out but we canned the idea. We kind of wanted to salvage that album so we made two albums out of it. That was Attention Please and Heavy Rocks. The third one came from when we were mixing or adding some songs from those two. We had an arranger/producer, Shinobu Narita, do it.
You’ve collaborated with numerous other bands and artists over the years. How did you come to work with Sunn O)))), and what is it about their music that you think resonates with your own?
We first met in Seattle during our first US tour. They came to see us, and we started talking to them and exchanging emails and letters, and they offered to release our album on their label. They’re old friends so it was natural to collaborate with them.
Were you familiar with Merzbow before you started Boris, and what do you like about working with him?
Yeah, of course we knew Merzbow before we formed the band. He has always expanded our experience with music. He was actually the one that made us realize that there’s a tone before it becomes music. And that the discovery of the tone itself was a mindblowing experience for us. He was the one that let us experience that there’s something between the tone and the music. So whenever we work with him, Merzbow makes us reinvent what we’re doing.
You did a collaboration release with Keiji Haino. Was his music an influence on your own and had you seen his band before then?
We knew about Mr. Haino. He had heard that there was a super loud band in Tokyo and he wanted to check us out and that’s how it started. We did see Fushitsusha. What did we think of that band? How do you say “…”?
Your album covers have a very simple, but colorful flair to them. What got you started making art, and how do you approach designing the album artwork and other artwork for the band?
It totally depends on the album. Sometimes I do it by myself, but sometimes I get inspired to use another artist. For New Album, it was made by an illustrator named Xhihix. She is an old friend of ours as well, and we’ve been really fond of her style. She only uses Photoshop to make her stuff. There’s a link between Shinobu Narita and her because they both do something digitally on a desktop computer, but there’s kind of a feeling that makes it seem like we’re doing it in an analog way. Both of them have that kind of magical way about their own art. We thought that was the perfect combination for this album.
How did you get started playing drums and how did your role as a drummer changed as the line-up of Boris changed?
I played drums in high school, and I was a singer. When our other drummer left, I said I would do it. Whether vocals, guitar or drums, it’s like singing. It’s the same in the context of the music or the art. With physical and technical difficulties, sometimes we need practice in being able to play and sing at the same time.