“Before the gig, we were quite intimidated: a lowly rock band performing in front of a god. After, we found we could do it, and that was the turning point for us.”
Going back to at least when Paul the Apostle saw the light on the road to Damascus, encounters with the divine have helped people find themselves, but for bassist/vocalist Yohei Toriyama and his thoroughly nonreligious bandmates in minimalist postpunk/alternative trio Extruders, this particular moment of revelation was more the result of a long personal journey and a lot of hard work.
Formed in 2003 as a quintet, before slimming down to a trio two years later, Extruders released a short, sharp, and beautifully understated debut mini-album titled “Neuter” in 2007 and full-length “Hustle & Bustle” the following year, before stopping to reassess their artistic ambitions.
“Before, we removed anything unnecessary, anything superfluous, and this was my way of expressing myself,” explains Toriyama. “We’d cut out refrains or anything we didn’t need.”
Like a sleepier take on the minimalist art-punk of Wire, the songs on “Neuter” were stripped down to the bare bones, but in the end, they may have honed their sound down too far, and the Extruders stopped, ditched their back catalog, ripped their sound inside out, and reconfigured themselves as a free-form noise trio called Toroid.
“I took apart my style to the point where I really couldn’t drum anymore and had to figure it all out again,” says drummer Toru Iwashina. “I started to see drumming as a big, white canvas and I’d splatter paint over it.”
It was in 2011, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, that the trio came back as Extruders and “rediscovered rock,” as Toriyama puts it, in Saimyoji Temple in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, under the watchful gaze of Benzaiten, goddess of the arts.
“We found the core of what we’re doing,” explains guitarist Ryo Okada. “Before, we had rules about ‘what Extruders is’. With Toroid, we took apart those rules, and when we came back as the Extruders again, we found ourselves more instinctive.”
The band released the Saimyoji performance as a live album in 2012, and the whole brief show can be seen on YouTube. It’s an amazing performance, with an audience of temple-goers (many of them of rather advanced years) seated solemnly as Toriyama coos the words in barely more than a whisper and Okada alternately unleashes walls of feedback, plays sparse noise solos with his own unplugged guitar cable, and gazes at invisible butterflies that only his eyes can see.
But if that makes the band seem a bit strange, they’re having none of it.
“We hear that a lot, but we don’t think we’re strange,” Okada says. “People sometimes write about us and say we’re not really a Japanese type band.”
“I like to think of our art and our place as different concepts,” Toriyama adds. “We don’t really have a ‘home’ in the sense of being from a specific place. Japanese or global is not something tied down to geographical location so much as a framework through which we can work.”
And despite the eccentricities of their performances, the songs on the Extruders’ new album, “Colors,” are things of extraordinary beauty, with echoes of American bands such as Yo La Tengo and The Velvet Underground, as well as a sparse, understated charm all of their own. Toriyama credits mixer Ryo Watanabe (of the band Convex Level) and recording engineer Yui Kimijima as being essential to how the album turned out, but perhaps part of the key to understanding it can be found in artist Motoko Otsuki’s cover art.
“It comes from a series called ‘Party’ ” says Toriyama of the abstract, red, orange and yellow toned painting, which has been interpreted as a sun setting between mountains, blood leaking from a wound, a mushroom cloud destroying a city, or any number of other things.
“I want people to interpret the painting’s meaning for themselves,” says Okada.
Adds Toriyama, “It’s like our music in that way.”
“Colors” is available in record stores now. Extruders play Nine Space in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, on May 3 (6:30 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance;  3205-1439); Lush in Shibuya, Tokyo, on May 4 (7 p.m.;  5467-3021); and Goodman in Akihabara, Tokyo, on May 25 (6:30 p.m.; ¥2,000 in advance;  3862-9010). For more information, visit www.extruders-official.blogspot.jp.