Japanese rock icons MONO last week dropped their latest album, Pilgrimage Of The Soul via Pelagig Records.
We seldom publish Q&A interviews at HEAVY but with the language barrier a little hard to get over we have relented on this occasions, with guitarist Taka answering some questions via email.
HEAVY: Mono are releasing your 11th studio album, Pilgrimage of the Soul on September 17. Tell us about the album musically and what you were going for with it.
TAKA: The band was completely reborn when the new drummer Dahm joined; he joined before the recording of Nowhere Now Here and we completed an over year-long world tour together, including a set of special 20th-anniversary orchestra shows. We felt we were doing the most satisfying live performances and as a band, we could welcome the best time. His drumming was like a gift from the universe.
This was the first record I wrote ever since Dahm joined. I was able to write very freely while imagining his drumming. Even if we incorporate beats or electronics that we’ve never used before, I feel that we can sound like us. The range the band can express now has expanded exponentially.
I think things will continue to evolve more and more. I’m really looking forward to it.
The album features newer electronic instrumentalization and textures. Was that a focus going into writing and recording to add those elements?
I always want to continue to evolve. Of course, I’m confident about the music I’ve been writing and satisfied with them, but I want to pursue music more and more. The feeling of wanting to write even better music hasn’t changed ever since I was young.
At any given moment, I always aim to create new, unique and original sounds that no one has ever heard of.
In the experimental stage such as adding electronics, as a band how do you know how far to go without changing the sound too much for long term fans of the band?
I felt we managed to record everything we had done and wanted to do on the live album Beyond the Past released this year, so I think I had a strong desire to try a different method to express.
Saying that, I never force myself to do anything. For example, all of these songs recorded on the new album were written between January and February 2020, and it was the smoothest, easiest process I have ever done.
It was very pleasant to express love and gratitude for the world and everything through our 20 years of travel, much more than expressing the anger that lies deep inside your heart and the darkness that you can’t see.
It also features faster tempos influenced by disco and techno. Can you explain how this fits in with the music?
On this album, we incorporated various rhythms and beats. I think it’s because Dahm’s drumming gave me a lot of inspiration when I was composing. We truly love his drumming.
J-Pop is huge in Japan, does that ever creep into your music?
You have released the singles Riptide and Innocence. Are they a good representation of the album as a whole?
I always write a story for the whole album like a movie. This time, we decided to release these two singles as two short films because we could collaborate with the Spanish film collective Alison Group.
The collaboration with them was really like a miracle. These short films were exactly what I was picturing in my head; it was almost like Alison looked inside my head.
Through these short films, I believe we can connect with each listener deeper and more specifically.
The title, Pilgrimage of the Soul, is pretty deep. Can you explain the meaning behind it?
When we finished our 20th-anniversary show in London, due to the excitement still, maybe, I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time that night (it was also the final day of our year-long 2019 world tour).
That’s when the last 20 years flashed back suddenly and I felt that one of our journeys that we continued to run relentlessly had just finished.
The journey felt like a pilgrimage, like how Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist’s main character felt. That’s when I thought about describing our last 20 years on the next album.
It was recorded during the height of the COVID pandemic in Japan. How did that affect your writing and recording process?
Back then, we were not even sure if we could enter the US to record. We looked into this thoroughly as well, but no one could give us a clear answer.
Although a lot of people around us recommended not to, we weren’t thinking that seriously. If we can enter, we’re lucky and if we can’t, we can simply postpone — we were relatively optimistic.
But despite all of these feelings, we had a strong wish to record. All of the songs were finished prior to the pandemic, and we also had just successfully finished our 20th-anniversary world tour, so our motivation was very high.
Since our drummer Dahm lives in the US, the rest of us practised together in Tokyo and communicated with Dahm remotely. Then once we got to Chicago, we all met up, rented one of Steve’s studios, rehearsed over several days and we recorded.
We had worries, of course, but in the end, everything went smoothly as planned, thankfully.
Mono started in 1999. What was the musical climate like in Japan that gave birth to the band and where did Mono fit in?
The opening track Riptide is about what we were feeling when we formed the band; being trapped in a man-made cage so-called society, and conflict and escape from its rules.
I wanted to express that no matter how big the risk may be, we will continue to move forward with the paths that we believe in. Back then in Japan, no one wanted an instrumental band like us nor could we easily perform a show.
Spanish film team Alison made a fantastic music film for us based on this theme. We’re very satisfied and thankful. The film portrayed the exact feeling we held back then.
How have you changed and adapted over the years?
I feel we spent a very long time trying to find our own style, that’s a fusion of Classical music like Beethoven and Ennio Morricone, and beautiful guitar noise like My Bloody Valentine, who were all our influences. It was like trying to mix fire and water.
I now instead started to feel I want to find something that doesn’t simply feature orchestra like guests, but rather, something that the whole sound itself can be a new sound or genre.
Do you find you have had to alter your approach to appeal to markets outside of Japan?
For us, music is everything. No matter what, we can’t lie to music or compromise. Of course, I understand there is a business side, but I would never bend myself in order to sell, gain popularity, make money or become famous because if you do that, you, yourself, will start to disappear and become nothing.
Even if it may be a difficult road, we want to express emotions in life that we simply can’t express with words through music in our own way. That’s the voice of our hearts that hasn’t changed ever since we formed the band.
The band has also made your name as film score composers. Can you give us more details on that?
At the moment, we’re working on a soundtrack for a Japanese documentary film. The release details are yet to be confirmed, but when it’s released, we’re hoping to share it as an album.
13) How different is it writing music for film than for an album?
Writing for an album comes from your own point of view, whereas for films, you have to understand what the director is thinking and wanting to express, so it’s a completely different approach. Both are creative work and I really enjoy them.