Although virtually unknown at home, in 2005 the international release of “Pink” turned Tokyo’s Boris into one of Japan’s biggest underground exports in the new millennium.
Hipster Web sites such as Pitchfork.com and mainstream rock rags like Spin raved about the album’s awesome coupling of sludge metal and bluesy, psychedelic rock, exposing the indie act to a larger fan base in foreign lands. Unaware of official worldwide sales figures for “Pink,” guitarist and bassist Takeshi estimates that more than 30,000 copies have been sold in the United States alone.
“From now on, we hope more people will listen to us,” says Takeshi in an e-mail interview with The Japan Times. “We are not trying to become a mainstream act, but don’t want to be called a ‘cult band’ and remain in a small world. If we create something good, positive reactions and listeners will continue to find us naturally.”
To lose the cult tag, Takeshi, guitarist Wata and drummer Atsuo will have to curb their seemingly limitless creativity. Since their 1994 inception, they have released over 15 full-length recordings, several singles, and nearly a dozen split albums and collaborations. Some of their records have alternate track listings and artwork for different countries, causing headaches for even the most fanatical collectors, let alone average listeners.
“I can’t even count how many different recordings we’ve done, to be honest,” says Takeshi. “We have always tried to say ‘yes’ to all offers we receive. New offers come in all the time, so we stopped keeping track after realizing there were so many records released.”
Despite the difficulties with mass marketing several albums a year, Boris have no intention of slowing down yet: Following a recently released two-song collaboration with Japanese noise guru Merzbow titled “Walrus/Groon,” a split CD/DVD with Shizuoka’s Stupid Babies Go Mad, a split live recording with Doomriders and a solo disc from Wata should all be out soon.
On top of all that, the band will craft the proper followup to “Pink” this year. If not for promotional obligations and regular touring, there would never be a break in the barrage of new Boris material.
“We have so many ideas that we want to try. Whenever we jam, we make more music, but often don’t have the time to polish it into a tight production,” says Takeshi. “We all work full-time as musicians and have to do all the work that surrounds music, so we never have enough time to do everything we’d like.”
One thing that stands out in Boris’ catalog is their range of musical experimentation. Having deeply explored most subgenres of rock and metal along with folk and noise, it is difficult to properly classify the group’s sound.
“For me, Boris has always equaled the music I want to hear now,” Takeshi says. “A Boris flier overseas once said ‘Heavy ambient sludge, doom noise punkish psychedelic rock!’ We thought this was interesting because they couldn’t categorize us into any existing genre and had a hard time describing us.
“If people want to label us as something they should just say ‘unknown music’ because if something is unknown, that means it’s new.”
Unconcerned with industry norms or scenes, Boris have always strove to make something that excites themselves first and foremost. Takeshi sees no reason to change as this has worked well so far.
“Boris is a Japanese band made of Japanese people, but Boris is Boris. We do not belong to any scene. People say that music and rock are free, but actually there are so many strict rules and tribes so we simply create our own place to fit us.”
Currently gigging with SUNN 0))) in support of last year’s dark, heavy collaboration, “Altar,” the two groups will be playing dates in Japan next week. Friends for over a decade, a record shop’s April Fool’s Day prank advertisement of a fictitious limited three way split between SUNN 0))), drone-heavy, Washington state-based band Earth and Boris, inspired Atsuo to approach SUNN 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley about a real coupling. Earth’s Dylan Carlson and former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil also lent their time to the project.
“It’s always stimulating to play with other artists,” says Takeshi. “There were only two riffs that we decided together. The rest of ‘Altar’ was born out of jam sessions. It couldn’t have been created without both bands. We each kept our own character, but were still able to create a completely new sound.”
Mum on performance details, one thing is certain — it will be extremely loud. Attendees wishing to spend the next few days without their ears ringing may want to consider earplugs, regardless of Takeshi’s feelings.
“When I go to other artists’ concerts I don’t use earplugs. They make huge sounds for us, so it’s rude to wear them,” he says. “In rock music, volume is absolute power and will take us and the listeners to a special world. It’s like a gateway. If you want to see the new world, you have to take the risk.”
Boris play with SUNN 0))) May 13, 5:30 p.m., at Niigata Lots ( 246-2311); May 16, 7:00 p.m. at Nagoya Club Quattro ( 264-8211); May 17, 7:00 p.m. at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka ( 6281-8181); May 20, 6:00 p.m., at Kawasaki Club Citta ( 246-8888); Tickets for Niigata Lots 4,000 yen in advance, all other shows 4,800 yen in advance. For more information visit homepage1.nifty.com/boris/top.html .
The heart of the SUNN
“What makes Boris unique is their capacity to evolve, without seeming ever like a chameleon, and the absolution of aesthetic in every aspect of their game,” says SUNN 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley via e-mail. He has a good idea of what he’s talking about. Both he and his SUNN 0))) partner Greg Anderson worked with Boris last year on their bands’ collaborative effort “Altar,” and have been releasing the Tokyo trio’s albums through their record label, Southern Lord, since 2001.
Formed in the late 1990s as a tribute to pioneering drone metal group Earth, SUNN 0))) are now widely considered to be one of the leaders of the subgenre. Using almost no percussion, the U.S. act’s heavy, ambient compositions rely primarily on distorted guitar notes and feedback-drenched sound effects that are slowly drawn out over the course of a dozen minutes or so. Live, the two members wear long, black-hooded gowns that mask their appearance and add an extra level of darkness and uncertainty to their music.
Their sixth and most recent full-length studio recording, 2005’s “Black One,” featured guest musicians including solo American black-metal artists Xasthur and Leviathan. Xasthur’s vocals on the record’s closing track, “Bathory Ereszbet” were supposedly recorded while he was locked inside a coffin. Next week’s shows with Boris mark the duo’s first visit to Japan. While here they will also team up for a show with Merzbow, who remixed two songs on 2002’s “Flight of the Behemoth.”
SUNN 0))) play with Merzbow on May 15, 7:30 p.m., at Shin-Okubo Earthdom, Tokyo; Tickets 4,800 yen in advance. Greg Anderson will play as part of Burial Chamber Trio on May 28, 7:30 p.m. at Shin-Okubo Earthdom. For more information visit www.daymarerecordings.com/
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