Inside the Skronking, Wacky World of Melt-Banana
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"I wanted to name the album using a word that was cute and started with 'F,'" says screeching vocalist Yako about the impetus behind fetch, the first album from legendary Japanese noise-makers Melt-Banana in six years. That happy-go-lucky vernacular is no shocker considering Yako and guitarist/partner-in-crime Agata have spread skronk-happy, bubble-gum punkazoid glossiness over 10-plus records and 20 years.
Melt-Banana playSaint Vitus Friday. The show is sold out.
While Japan's burning hotbed of sundry musics has blessed us with Boredoms, Zeni Geva, Merzbow, Ruins, Boris and Acid Mothers Temple, it's been Melt-Banana's noisy funhouse inciting the pogo riots with a face-ripping splattering of grindcore, prog and metallic insanity. The recently dropped fetch is pure fire-breathing avant-noise trippiness topped by Yako's piercing yelps and skronktastic blasts set to stop-start whiplash rhythms and propelled by sick bass grooves and animalistic drums.
In 2011, it came to a sudden halt when Japan suffered the devastating earthquake in Tōhoku and the repercussions that followed. The pair could barely summon the energy to complete what would ultimately be fetch as they dealt with the aftermath of the calamity. But an epiphany occurred when Melt-Banana toured the States and played ATP: they felt renewed and returned to Japan to finish fetch.
Now the noise-rock legends have hit the road after a lengthy absence. We chatted with Yako and Agata via email to catch up.
Where were you and what were you doing when the Tòhoku earthquake hit? Yako: I was at home getting ready to go out to see the Melvins' show in Tokyo. The area where I live didn't get much damage but the kitchen in Agata's flat was totally messed up. He said everything on the shelves fell over and the floor was totally covered in debris.
How did the event affect your mindset? Yako: After that earthquake, I feel that something has been changed permanently in my mind. It is difficult to explain exactly what, though.
Were you working on fetch when the earthquake hit? Agata: We already had the demos done in early 2011 and we were about to start the real recording. But after the earthquake I could not concentrate on writing music and recording for some time for reasons I couldn't explain.
fetch is Melt-Banana's first album in six years. How is this one different from previous Melt-Banana records? The songs are definitely way longer. Yako: I feel that what we do is always the same. I mean, we always do what we want to do and write what we want to hear at that time.
Both of you have been doing Melt-Banana for almost 20 years. How did you two meet originally? What records or bands were you listening to back then that influenced you in Melt-Banana? Yako: We attended the same university. I got a lot of inspiration from the compilation album, No New York. When I listened to it, I was really shocked; this album made me start to think that I wanted to make music which was unique and immediately identifiable.
Melt-Banana is one of the best band names ever. How did you think of it? Yako: You think so??? I am very happy to hear that! We wanted a catchy name.
What are your favorite things about touring in the States? Yako: That we can play shows every day! There are so many places to visit and play shows in the USA, which is great thing.
Agata, why do you always wear the surgical mask? Agata: Because It is comfortable.
Yako, why don't you wear one? Yako: Because I sing.
Jim O'Rourke helped produce one of your records (Scratch or Stitch) and he lives in Tokyo. Do you see him around in Japan? Yako: We don't see him much in Tokyo but seems to be doing well.
Besides O'Rourke, you recorded a couple of early Melt-Banana records with Steve Albini. Why did you decide to do everything by yourself on fetch? Yako: After Scratch or Stitch, our process of writing songs had changed and it became easier for us to record by ourselves. And also we can have as much time in studio as we need for recording and mixing if we record in Japan.
Agata: Actually, seeing Steve working at his home studio, we got interested in the recording process and felt that we wanted try to do it by ourselves.
You had a record released on Tzadik, John Zorn's label back in the late 1990's. How did that come about? Yako: We had met him before that record. He once lived in Tokyo and we sometimes saw him at shows. I think that Mike Patton talked to him about us when we released Charlie and John contacted us about releasing the live album on his label. We were very happy when we got his offer!
What's the best thing about releasing your own records on your own A-Zap label? Yako: We can release whenever we want and whatever we want. We hope to release music by some of the other good Japanese bands on A-zap but unfortunately we have only MxBx releases so far, because we have been so busy doing our own things...
What is a favorite New York memory for you? Yako: Playing a live show at CBGB! Also when our first show at the Knitting Factory sold out: we were surprised and happy to find out that many NY people enjoyed our music
Agata: Ipecac [label] night was also great.
Melt-Banana, Boredoms, Merzbow, Shonen Knife and other Japanese bands all have lots of fans here in the States. What's your take on Americans being so into music that comes from Japan? Yako: I am not sure but I guess music from Japan is a little different from music from the USA because of the different culture, traditions, way of thinking, foods, etc. So American people note the difference and it attracts them, perhaps?
Will it be another six years before another Melt-Banana record is released? Yako: Next album will come sooner than 6 years!...I hope!
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