Live, Boris can get a bit intense. In 2010, they played a brief set as part of the VividLIVE ‘Noise Night’ at the Sydney Opera House. After 20 minutes of melancholic, ambient post-rock, the Japanese trio decided to close the set with a blast of slumberous guitar riffing so sudden and loud that it made the first few rows jump. As guitarists Wata and Takeshi ground the doom-laden theme, at full tilt, into the very bowels of the earth, drummer Atsuo stood, ashen-faced, wearing a large-collared, white leisure suit, and stuck his drumsticks high into the air, his arms forming a ‘V’. He then proceeded to walk, dramatically, over his kit, and stalk regally off the stage.
At heart, Boris is a heavy rock band, and the sets the three played on their last tour to Australia attested to this. In the studio, it’s a different story. Their recorded output is erratic and the material mercurial, changing drastically from release to release. In 2011 they put out four separate records, each different to most of the group’s back catalogue. New Album sounded more like the work of a futurist pop ensemble than a hard rock band, and received three separate releases, each with its own tracklist and audio mix. Later in the year (or earlier, depending on which country you live in, or which version of New Album you ended up hearing) the cerebral Attention Please was released simultaneously with Heavy Rocks, a reiteration of a 2002 album of the same name, and with which Boris sought to “redefine ‘heavy’ music in a culmination of the band’s tireless efforts over the past two decades”. As if to keep fans on their toes, each of these three releases shared alternate versions of songs with the others. Finally, Boris also found time to release Klatter, their sixth collaborative work with Japanese noise scion Merzbow. Given that much of the band’s exposure in the western world is thanks to a series of reissues on drone/stoner/doom metal label Southern Lord, it’s almost as though Boris’ release schedule in 2011 was a deliberate ploy to dislodge any preconceptions that fans may have formed of them as a loud Japanese drone/doom trio. Which they are. Sort of.
Speaking to Cyclic Defrost before their 2012 Australian tour, Atsuo assures us that this bewildering release schedule was not designed to sport with our expectations.
Cyclic Defrost: The records Boris released in 2011 are very different from each other – did you aim to create three distinct records, or did you write a large collection of songs, and then find three separate, uniting themes?
Atsuo: Originally we had completed one studio album in 2009. Some songs were scattered on several singles, split EPs, and Attention Please and Heavy Rocks. After a long process that went on for years those songs were united as one album called New Album.
CD: What spurred the productive spree?
A: Whenever we are at our place in Tokyo, we keep recording all the time. When we record, the sound leads us to where we go next. Every piece has a story – stories want to be told and music wants to be sounded. Basically, we won’t set a specific goal in advance.
CD: With Heavy Rocks, you said you wanted to redefine heavy music. Do you think that heaviness will always be a part of your music, or do you aim to transcend it eventually?
A: Yes, but maybe the word ‘heavy’ to me is different from what you meant here, or the common meaning that the word has. I take ‘heavy’ as ‘real’: beyond reality or fiction. Does this make sense? I think New Album is our ‘heaviest’ album to date.
CD: What do you say to fans that only want to hear the loud riffing of past albums like Amplifier Worship or Akuma No Uta?
A: I don’t have any words to say really, no negative comment for them at all. I am so happy they enjoy Boris’ music. Everyone has their own taste – Boris just builds doors for them to open.
CD: Live, you play very loud. Do you ever worry about your hearing?
A: So scary to lose one’s hearing! I don’t know what I’d do if I lost it … maybe painting? Well, my answer for the question is quite simple: loud sound makes us feel so good. Loud sound can be an experience for everyone, and the experience is one of the most important parts of the show. I would like to share that feeling with our fans.
CD: New Album sounds so synthetic and futuristic; what inspired the sound of the record? What sort of music were you drawing on when writing and recording it?
A: New Album is the record that our sound producer Shinobu Narita re-arranged and made post-production to songs and data files from Attention Please and Heavy Rocks. When we found new lives for those songs, we wrote more to imagine how they would be after his process.
I listen to lots of ‘anti-song’ music (i.e.: songs or soundtracks to cartoon animations) very frequently. Those songs present other possibilities for music, since they are apart from a musician’s ego and are written just for another world of fiction. Let’s say New Album is designed for the world of Boris.
CD: What do you like about working with Merzbow?
A: In general, rock music is very semiotic. Actually, all music is. Musicians create music with symbols like melody, chords, riffs, rhythms etc. What Merzbow does is to focus on sound itself, as though to make music return to sound itself. It is thrilling to go back and forth between music and sound. Like a trip of consciousness.
CD: Much is made of your influences in bands like Earth, The Melvins, and Sleep; are there any major influences that people don’t often notice? How do they manifest in your music?
A: Since Boris members are Japanese and live in Japan, Japanese culture is one of the biggest influences on us. For example, pop music that we heard when we were young, theme songs for cartoon animations etc. So, I guess those factors and the band names you mentioned here were all mixed up – then Boris got weird.
Also, I think both ‘heavy metal’ and ‘Japanimation’ have very similar points to each other. Style and concept first, then music and story follow. Both music and story are just a couple of the factors required in order to make up a style and a concept.
CD: Metal and heavy rock bands tend to be very faithful to their genre – bands often play one very particular type of music, and inhabit it fully, even stubbornly, which is wonderful in its own way. I get this feeling from everything Boris does, but you play so many different styles of music. Is there a particular style of music you feel most comfortable playing?
A: Well what I feel comfortable with varies according to the mood at that time. If something comfortable is going to be repeated over again, then it is going to get so boring. I feel ‘comfortable’ is boring. I would always prefer to do something new and stimulating. Both persistence and change are equally important – those opposite elements lead to trying new things. At the same time, I don’t deny the past and won’t throw it away – these things are all connected.
Boris plays The Metro, Sydney on Thursday March 22, The HiFi, Brisbane on Friday March 23 and The Corner Hotel, Melbourne on Saturday March 24.