Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, Mono has become one of the main defining acts of the Japanese post-rock scene, contributing with 15 years worth of music composing and continuous touring. This fall they come back with their most anticipated record, releasing two albums at once, driven away from their comfortable zone and changing their orchestral touches to a more darker and aggressive approach.
We got to talk to Taka about the inspiration behind the new albums, the motivation towards that change and what the future may have in store for them.
LISTEN: MONO – WHERE WE BEGIN
This is a very interesting time to be conducting this interview with you guys. Your new albums are about to be released, with a lot of tours planned directly after the release. How does finishing these albums particularly feel to you guys, and what was unique about their recording experience?
The two albums ended up representing the counter points in life. Light and darkness, hope and hopelessness, love and loss, the emotions which can’t be expressed, pain which you can’t put into words, happiness which you can’t simply measure. We also at the same time felt and hoped that they could be something to exceed the darkness. This time, I think we managed to leave the chaotic ones as chaotic as possible, and the positive ones as positive as possible.
I think our new shows will be a lot wilder than the previous tour in every aspect. The dark and aggressive songs will create more extremity, and the songs filled with hope and light will create even more beautiful scenery.
”For My Parents” was a journey back to your roots, while the new albums feel rather like standing on a crossroad looking into the future. What do these albums mean to you personally, and what was the inspiration behind their concept?
This time, the inspiration came from a story I recently read about this athlete. He was a very fortunate and talented man since he was little, but one day, he injured himself during one of the games and became unable to play sports anymore for the rest of his life. He fell into a deep depression and lost his purpose to live, could no longer have any dream or hope for many, many years. He even thought about killing himself.
Many years later, he rose from the darkness and wrote a book for athletes to create a body that would prevent them from getting injured. The book became really popular in the sports world and is now considered to be one of the most important books. He found out about the meaning of the deepest darkness for the first time and discovered what his destiny is.
This time, I wanted to express both sides of darkness and light, which everyone experiences in their lives, over two albums.
For those who are struggling to keep up with this progressing world, thinking about giving up on their dreams, have fear towards their future or can’t find their own place, I wanted to give them the music that will allow them to go over their walls.
The darkest place is near the end of the tunnel. Don’t give up and keep walking towards the light. You might not notice then, but the darkness is there for you to be stronger and to get to the higher place. I wanted to show that and give people hope.
Unlike what we are used to in the previous records, you chose to limit the orchestral elements on this record. Why did you decide to do that, and did this limitation effect your approach towards your other instruments?
As far as the orchestral based music we have been desiring to create for the last decade was achieved through “For My Parents”. We have also managed to experience more than any indie band could ask for, like playing with full orchestra in New York, London, Australia and Tokyo. We’re really satisfied with the outcome!
This time, we decided to not use much orchestra or strings we have been using heavily. As a result, we only used a small quartet in “The Last Dawn”, but overall we wanted to go back to the straight forward approach of expressing everything as a four-piece band. We also wanted to expand the possibility of guitar music and create a wall-crashing sound like we used to back in the day.
Although the two albums were recorded simultaneously, they seem very different and opposing to each other. How did you manage to separate your creativity in this way, and can you share with us what the recording process was like for both albums?
The main human emotions are divided into positivity and negativity, and let’s say that they’re both 50/50 to begin with. If we have even 1% more positive emotions, everything will start to lead towards the light. To simply put, for “The Last Dawn”, in a minimalist approach, I wanted to express that regardless of your current situations or emotions, if you accept everything as it is and find more positivity, you will eventually be able to overcome all the negativity.
On the other hand, for “Rays of Darkness”, I wanted to express that if you have even 1% more negative emotions or thoughts, the chaos will eventually spread and drag you down to darkness without you noticing about it. I just started to think that even everything is in disorder; there is something that’s always in order. I really wanted to express that to the world as art.
Every track of the two records has a unique feature to it, but “The Hand That Holds The Truth” was rather a shock to my ears! Such an angry, doomy sound with Tetsu Fukagawa’s vocal on the top made it stand out a lot. What’s the story behind this track, and should we expect to hear some more vocal lines in the future or that was a one-time thing?
Personally, for a long time, I wanted to collaborate with Tetsu. He’s been a good of friend of ours for so long so I’m really glad it became a reality. Even during the time I was writing the song, I could clearly hear how his vocals would fit in together.
When we actually collaborated, I didn’t really give him any instructions, but he already knew what I was hoping to achieve. The song turned out to be such an incredible piece and we’re all very proud of it!
You chose a very interesting art piece and chopped it in two to put each half on the cover of the albums. Why did you use one drawing, and how does this piece represent the duality and change that these albums offer?
The art works were drawn by Pat Perry, who was introduced by Jeremy from our label in New York, Temporary Residence. We basically gave Pat the demos of the two new records and asked him to freely draw what he felt. He’s truly an amazing artist. He managed to draw up the two worlds we imagined, darkness and hope. Artworks turned out really beautiful, and we are really satisfied with them from the bottom of our hearts.
You contributed in the last period in many short and independent movies such as the dance film “Where We Begin” and the journey of “Nobukazu Kuriki”. What do such artistic collaborations mean to you, and are there any plans to make new ones in the near future?
We were very fortunate to meet all those people and do a lot of new collaborations. We’re currently working on more projects but unfortunately, we can’t share any of that information just yet. A lot of them are actually already complete for our parts; we’re just waiting and hoping everything else to finish smoothly.
After such a long time of music making and continuous touring, it becomes harder for a lot of bands to draw inspiration and come back with new ideas, but you always succeed in doing so. How do you manage to keep your excitement and enthusiasm towards the band after those years, and what do you do to keep your imagination and inspiration evolving?
To be honest, it’s not easy to write 7 to 8 albums while trying to create and do something new every time. There was a lot of struggle this time as well, but I had to create something new and different.
I think music allows you to express your feelings more than words; it’s the best gift this world has given us. If we were to borrow Mother Teresa’s words, we’re just one of the God’s pencils. We’re trying our best to leave something important to this world that is yet to exist.
Jeremy, from our label Temporary Residence, who is in fact one of our oldest friends who we have known for over 10 years now, has given us a lot of support which helped enormously.
So where does Mono go from here? Making any new experiments or projects that we should know about?
It’s been 15 years now since we formed the band. We hope to continue playing, recording albums and traveling with the four of us like before. I feel that as we age, our sounds and expressions are getting a lot bolder, stronger and more aggressive. We will see how things progress.
Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto