Noise Rock Trio Boris Push Boundaries Of Modern Japanese Music

Guitarist/vocalist Takeshi on finding catharsis in extreme music and releasing music independently.

Being a rebel in a country full of renegades is one thing, but for Japanese noise rockers Boris, going against the tides of tradition was a much more controversial proposition. Defined from the outset by their brutal and beauteous compositions exploring the interplay between power and pop, the groundbreaking outfit has always defied convention, pushing the boundaries of modern Japanese art and music since the early 90s.

Opting to go the independent route for their latest album, NO, vocalist/guitarist/bassist Takeshi, vocalist/guitarist Wata, and vocalist/percussionist Atsuo distilled a year’s worth of thoughts and emotions into one resounding statement before entrusting the files to mix-master Koichi Hara for sharpening.

Gliding between styles with a shapeshifter’s ease, Boris tapped into the core of their collective anxieties to transmute their insecurities into sonic certainties. Assuming an activated stance in response to the current global crisis, the psych-metal trio has come together with a common goal, forming an effective outlet to rechannel any negative energy that has besieged 2020.

Pressed to answer the burning questions of fate and fortune, Takeshi and his bandmates point to the potential of extreme music to elevate the human spirit. The strength of that conviction shines through in every moment of NO, encapsulating the band’s desire to create a new means of artistic expression while offering a place of psychic solace.

Why did you decide to self-release this album? Did this make things easier or more difficult?

Takeshi: We began song-writing sessions for this album on March 24. The speed of album production was the fastest in [our] recent history, but the (coronavirus pandemic) became worse even faster. Thus, we wanted to release quickly and deliver to the listeners. Without going through a label, we were able to determine our own decisions and speed. It’s less stressful because we don’t need to wait for someone else’s decision. Distributions are stagnant worldwide, so we can’t wait for physical copies to be completed. That’s why it was completely self-produced and released only on Bandcamp.

This was our first time doing streaming-only, but results-wise, we felt it was the best way in this situation. Hopefully in the near future, we can get CDs and vinyls pressed.

What was your attitude going into the studio to record NO?

T: We began recording NO around the time we were finishing up the LφVE & EVφL World Tour in Japan in 2019. This was around the time when we were entering the coronavirus disaster. Most live concerts and tours were getting cancelled, and we felt the need to keep creating pieces of work. The world is chaotic, and cultural acts are stagnant. We resisted it by creating music and delivering it to the listeners. 

What themes and moods did you want to explore and introduce to your audience?

T: NO is an attitude that a person should have. Currently, there’s so much negative language and information that is confusing and overflowing on the TV and internet. We take in the information without questioning, we conveniently interpret, and we’re eventually paralyzed even to unreasonable things. You eventually forget to think about how to interpret what that means.

It’s an abominable system. Everything begins by questioning yourself first. Thus, we want you to feel and understand this work.

Would you still consider Boris to be outside-the-box compared to your peers?

T: I’ve never advocated that Boris’ music genre is XXXX. We don’t try to stick to a limited style of music. All we’re doing is shaping the sounds and images that we find interesting in those moments. Kind of like drawing as we like. It seems the people who are in bands around us establish a band to run a band, which differs fundamentally. For Boris, it feels like we have a band to draw and to create a movie. It’s like we’re drawing a picture, and with time, those pictures become a movie. That’s how Boris’ music and work are created.

What do you think defines Boris as a Japanese band, especially when you are abroad on tour?

T: When we first began traveling internationally, we were surprised by the food and culture. Now, we’re not really conscious of ourselves being Japanese. It’s probably because we’ve gained a global sense. We have many overseas tours, so on the contrary, we feel more self-conscious that we’re Japanese when we’re back living in Japan. We feel suffocated through realization of the strength of collectivism unique to Japan.

What is the overriding or underlying message or emotion behind NO? And how is this philosophy or feeling presented to the listener? 

T: We only create positive work. When I was in my teens, I would release unspeakable anger and frustration by listening to extreme music such as hardcore and thrash metal. The emotions I couldn’t verbalize rode the evil noise and spoke for my negative emotions. There’s anxiety, hatred, and sorrow widespread in the world now. I hope this album reflects people’s negative emotions like a mirror and reflects them into another direction with something positive.

Under this type of situation, we actually need mean, extreme music. We hope that listening to this album will help people heal and give them strength to move forward.

How do you see yourself presenting these albums once touring becomes a possibility, again?

T: It’s tough trying to see what the future will be like, because the situation is still uncertain. There may be more albums before we begin touring again. All we can do is create, so we are constantly continuing production. Many artists are live broadcasting and are taking action through trial and error. Those actions may kill the culture that has been cultivated this far. We want to think and act carefully. We’ve felt this before, but the band is a miracle. So many miracles have continued to happen. We think of this new album as a piece of miracle. We’ll keep moving forward to create new miracles, and to move towards one day getting to see everyone again. Please keep supporting us. We really thank you.

After 28 years together what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a band?

T: I’m appreciative of those around the world supporting a Japanese band doing whatever they want. We receive power from the audience while touring, and that becomes the motivation for producing the next piece of work. It’s thanks to this that we three have been able to do this for so long.

Translated by Kasumi Billington