I just had the honour of interviewing one of my heroes Yamantaka eYe for Vice to coincide with his performance at the ICA along with Soft Circle. Here's the unedited interview, thanks to Lena Oishi for translating.
Hello eYe, how's it hangin'? You're playing at the ICA with Soft Circle on 6th November and I can't wait - will this be very different to what you do with the Boredoms and your recent Boadrum shows? I know Hisham Bharoocha, who is one half of Soft Circle, had a big hand in organising the Boardrum shows in New York and LA with you and plays in them as well. He told me that when you 2 have played together in the past you formed some kind of duo named GaTax, is that what will be playing at the ICA?
We haven’t decided yet, but will probably be a primitive voice improvisation. GATAX was actually the name of our art exhibition. We won’t be performing as GATAX this time around, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.
As well as Hisham and Soft Circle you seem to collaborate a lot with people whether it be musically or with your art, I'm a huge Misha Hollenbach fan and recently saw you did a new t-shirt for his clothes label Perks & Mini who you have previously worked with producing a book of your art for PAM Books and remixing a video for his collective, The Changes. How did this and other collaborations come about, are they usually friends or do people often come up to you about collaborating?
I first met MISHA quite a long time ago, and I’m glad I was finally able to catch up with him again in Melbourne recently. With PAM, I always feel this extraordinary flow of energy, as if I’m standing in front of a waterfall. I often collaborate with friends but with other people too. For example, I collaborated with an elementary school from my local neighborhood.
The Boredoms' music has evolved heavily over the past 20+ years, it's still incredibly powerful although there seems to be a bit more order in all the chaos, is this just a natural progression of growing up or has it been a conscious decision to change?
I agree with your insight. I think that it also rings true if you replace the word “order” with “accuracy”. It’s like an email address; even one misplaced dot will prevent the email from being delivered. In Japan, we have a tradition called hatsumode where people visit a shrine in the new year. There are rules as to how many times you must clap your hands before praying. People can’t just be like “I’ll only clap once” or do it their own way, because you can’t get your feelings across to the other side if you do it differently. When we are able to acknowledge the chaos, we can find some sort of order there.
As well as the music you also often make very musically varied mixtapes which seem to keep that fun/spastic spirit of Boredoms' work. Like previous mixtapes (Live Mixxx, Cassette Acid Garage Punk and Planetary Natural Love Webbin' 199999) your recent one, Sky Size Sea, is pretty out there and unlike any other mixtape I've heard (other than your other ones), and in some ways it's quite commercial with Kate Bush, Yello, The Cars and Black Box, yet they still manage to have that chaotic feel you get with your own music. What's the process with these?
I’m amazed that you’ve heard SKY SIZE SEA. That’s awesome. Thank you! The concept behind the tapes is to use the kinds of records that are sold for 100 yen a piece at thrift stores along the highway, rather than those sold at normal record stores. I must admit I’ve used a few songs that don’t fit that description on occasion… but my idea was to create something that doesn’t represent a particular era, something like a thrift shop. Or like a random CD that came with a bunch of stuff that you bought at a jumble sale.
Could you tell us about the incident when all your artwork from a show in Tokyo was stolen, and what happened in the months afterwards. I remember reading about the culprits coming to your house and waiting hours outside before returning some of the work and apologising as well as giving you some gifts then stealing clothes from your clothes line when they left?! Also didn't the news reporting it at the time describe the Boredoms as a "charismatic dance band"?
I think the culprits were shocked when they saw footage of themselves stealing artwork from my show on TV. It was one evening in the summer, when there were fireworks going off, that these culprits sneaked into my house. I was surprised to see that they were wearing quite fashionable outfits and drove a fancy car. They apparently came to apologize, but they caught me by surprise for the second time when I saw them stealing clothes from my washing line and shoving them in their car before leaving. Plus, they were people who I had shaken hands with at the art opening. Anyway, I wonder how charismatic dance bands dance? Wait, I probably don’t want to know… Does that genre even exist?
I saw a show of your artwork a couple years ago in London but as far as I'm aware that is the only show you've done in England recently. How come there haven't been more? I know you do all the artwork for the Boredoms' records but you have also created a huge body of other artwork in a variety of media. To me there is clearly a relationship with the styles in your music and your art, do they relate at all or do they work as separate pieces of work?
Obviously they are related; I have always placed equal importance on the music and the artwork of our records. Even 12 inches that didn’t have any artwork allowed me to enjoy them from a visual perspective. With everything being turned into data nowadays, the significance of music, and of course images, is shifting. I guess you could say that they are becoming a type of art that places utmost importance on the exchange of information, or sharing in general. I almost feel as if this movement can be described as a third Summer of Love. Yet the internet is only one of the many options that are available to us. Because we have access to the “innernet”, we can make a conscious choice of using the internet.
When I saw the Boredoms perform their Boadrum a few months ago the first thing that struck me was how much it reminded me of being a little kid going to a Matsuri in Japan and hearing the Taiko drums. Is traditional Japanese music an influence on your work? To me the Taiko drums are such a strong part of Japan's identity and I loved that your performance reminded me of that.
I grew up in the town of Kokura in Kyushu Prefecture, which is famous for their traditional taiko drum performances during festivals. I played taiko drums when I was a kid too. I think I’m also influenced by gagaku (ancient Japanese court music), such as the Shinto flute melodies that you hear at noh performances and shrines, without knowing it. The Japanese taiko drums are adorned with studs around the edges, almost like the studs that punks wear as a fashion statement. I love scraping them with my drumstick. Japanese taiko drums have a sense of anarchy to them.
Are there any plans for future Boredoms releases, Super Roots 11?
We’re currently working on it. It won’t be finished for a while yet.
It's an honour to ask you these questions eYe and I really look forward to your show at the ICA.