Mono Interview: “We have the same hunger as when we were young”

Mono

Mono’s new album Nowhere Now Here is out now via Temporary Residence Ltd. (North America) and Pelagic Records (Europe).

20 years. 10 LPs. 3 EPs. 3 Split EPs. 3 live albums. 1 remix album. And, finally, 1 compilation album. Not too shabby. Such is the produce and legacy of seminal Japanese post-rock quartet Mono. It would also appear that they are stronger and more driven then ever if their new album Nowhere Now Here is any indication. Incorporating vocals, electronics, and a new drummer called Dahm Majuri Cipolla. The record is at once ambitious and adventurous, while also incorporating archetypal Mono touches to give a touch of the familiar.

To celebrate the release of the new album we spoke to Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto (guitar) about the musical direction of the new album, playing Hymn to the Immortal Wind alongside the Jo Quail Quartet at Roadburn this year, and the band’s legacy.

Overblown: You have added electronic elements on your new album ‘Nowhere Now Here’. What inspired you to incorporate these elements?

Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto: For this album, I used a lot of electronic elements. This was inspired from working with John McEntire of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake for my solo project Behind the Shadow Drops in 2017, and I also had a lot of different inspirations and ideas that are different to the band’s sound this time around.

I wanted to try creating an original unique worldview much like one of my longtime favourites Philip Glass’ early works.

Overblown: The band has also had its first ever member change. Dahm Majuri Cipolla has joined the band on drums. How has this affected your songwriting process?

Taka: By Dahm joining the band, the band’s sound itself changed. He truly is a fantastic drummer.

The new songs were written before we met him, but it felt like they were waiting for him to arrive, and the sound was exactly what we were looking for.

Expressing the new album’s energy, vitality and power were definitely not possible without him.

Overblown: Recently, the band released a short film created in collaboration with French filmmaker Julien Levy. How did that come about and what inspired the film?

Taka: I’m very close to Julien, the director. We have a very similar sensibility. He currently resides in Tokyo and whenever we get a chance, we go out for drinks and talk about art endlessly. I personally really like how he feels and portrays Tokyo; the feeling is chaotic, lonely like there is no true place for yourself, and you can’t find what you believe in and deep inside your heart is screaming.

I really enjoy collaborating with Julien. We give each other inspirations. For this album, we got him to give titles to each song and wrote the lyrics for “Breathe” together. For “After You Comes The Flood”, we decided to not release it as a single’s music video but rather, release uniquely as our collaborative short film.

Overblown: On the new album, Tamaki makes her vocal debut on the track ‘Breathe’. What inspired the decision for her to sing on this record?

With “Breathe”, there was something I really wanted to tell with words.

In recent years as the band grew and more people got involved, we started to have annoying business issues which are completely far from creativity, and because of their egos, we got really tired to the point of not being able to breathe. From such an out of control situation, we wanted to express our determination “we’re going to cut the past and move towards the new surface” with a song and lyrics.

When I told Tamaki that I wanted her to sing, she was very surprised, but I was convinced that she would be the only one who will be able to properly express these words by singing. As a result, her singing was more beautiful than I imagined. I feel that it turned out to be something that really echoes in people’s hearts.

Overblown: At this year’s Roadburn festival, you plan to play ‘Hymn to the Immortal Wind’ in full alongside the Jo Quail Quartet. What do you think you that album when you reflect on it ten years after its release?

Taka: Since a long time ago, I’ve been a fan of music like film soundtracks that visuals float in your head while listening. After a while, I started to think I wanted to mix those elements with Rock music and that’s when I started to self-teach Classical music. After all, Classical music is also the same instrumental music.

In the beginning, however, because we’re basically a standard 4-piece Rock band consisting of guitars, bass and drums, things didn’t go as imagined but after experimenting many ways, we eventually were able to find what we can call our own style of playing and by using pedals.

I think “Hymn to the Immortal Wind” is the album where we felt that we finished constructing one of the styles we were after as our goal.

I’m really looking forward to playing together with Jo’s quartet at Roadburn this year.

Overblown: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that this album is the fifth the band has recorded with Steve Albini. What is the appeal of working with him?

Taka: Yes, this album was recorded with Steve. Steve is our good friend who we’ve known each other for now 17 years, and we’ve recorded many albums together.

Steve has always been the world’s best engineer. For our recordings, we record exactly the same as live. As soon as it hits record, we all play. Steve is the person who can capture all these moments perfectly on a tape. We do a high-quality analogue recording where all of us, the band or Steve, are pressured to not make any mistakes.

I love the sounds he records. They’re organic, loud and beautiful. He’s one of our most important partners and friends who understand about MONO the most in the world. I want to continue creating albums with him for as long as we can.

Overblown: It seems to me that the songs on the new record are more concise and direct than the last few albums. Is that a fair statement? What inspired this stylistic choice?

For this album, I wrote an extreme number of songs including the ones we ended up not using.

“Nowhere Now Here” became a musical trail of all the troubles we faced as we walked towards our new chapter.

In 2017, because of our troubles and termination with our Japanese management and label, as well as our drummer’s departure, we were in a state of not being able to take one step. We didn’t have any of our schedule locked and we were all in the mood of “if it was a regular band, this is when they’d disband”. We were really in the dark and couldn’t see anything ahead. We were in a crucial time of needing to decide whether the band should reborn or stop its activity.

In result, I left a story about regenerating from the pitch-black darkness which felt like “nowhere”, then through dawn, welcoming the new chapter “now here”. Because of this, this album is filled with completely different energy compared to our last albums.

If you cut the word “nowhere” in half, it becomes “now here”. I wanted to express that by pouring the feeling of love and positivity into that one single space, you will be able to change everything.

This album portrays a story about parting with the past. From wondering a pitch-black darkness filled with hatred, anger and a sense of incongruity in the deep pit of your heart, to facing yourself and fighting through struggles, hidden light and hope of what you wish to remain, then eventually in the last scene “Vanishing, Vanishing Maybe”, you part way with the past.

Overblown: ‘Nowhere Now Here’ is the band’s tenth album. How do you keep the process of writing and recording music fresh and exciting?

We feel pure endless happiness when we’re working on our music. The fact we can devote ourselves like this is truly the most satisfying thing in such a deep level. Of course, it is important to be able to achieve some sort of a result, but simply being able to forget time, focus and work on music are the most irreplaceable and precious thing.

Even now, we have the same hunger as when we were young. “This is not enough”, “we want to explore deeper” and “we want to keep on moving forward” are our most important motif, not just for music, but to live.

Overblown: This year is your twentieth anniversary as a band. What thing/event from that time do you look back on with the most pride or enjoyment?

Taka: We’ve received emails like “I’ve been struggling and thinking about killing myself. I wanted to listen to MONO before I died, instead, tears dropped from listening to the songs and I stopped thinking about killing myself”.

A lot of things happen in life. There is a saying “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”. No matter how much of a struggle the time may be, and even if I feel that I can’t see what’s ahead, I believe that if I don’t give up, the path will eventually open up. You really understand what life is about at the time of adversity.

I really feel happy about being able to share the darkness I held and the hope I looked for through music with all the people in the world.

Thank you,
Taka

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