Interview: Boris

PHOTO BY MIKI MATSUSHIMA

I am forever captivated by Boris. I can’t think of many other bands that harness such a playful relationship with identity and legacy, either by releasing records that run against the trajectory of their previous work – such as those inexplicable turns into pop or bursts of psychedelic punk – or by tampering with their own discography, putting out drastically different versions of the same record, or recycling their own album titles to obscure all attempts to trace their chronology. If there’s one central facet to the Japanese trio, it’s the notion of “heaviness”: the stretching of heaviness across crumbling guitar drones, the blizzards of heaviness that collide in their collaborations with Merzbow…even the palpable absence of heaviness that carries their detours into quieter, more shoegazing territory.

On their 2017 album Dear, heaviness became a conduit for both obliteration and optimism. The album cuts between sludge and sunlight, renewing my appreciation for space by suffocating it. After enduring the weight of “Absolutego”, I’m doubly grateful for the calm, spacious waltz at the opening of “Beyond”, which in turn beckons the hail of gong and distortion that marks the commencement of “Kagero”.

The band will shortly be heading out on a UK/EU tour with Amenra. Check out the dates here. Below, guitarist Takeshi and I discuss shaking the air, ritualistic performances and pushing beyond the negative surface of death.

You’re heading out on tour with Amenra next month. Have you spent much time with Amenra previously? Are there any particular aspects of the tour that you are looking forward to?

Back in 2016, Amenra’s guitar player Mathieu [Vandekerckhove] opened Boris shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg as a solo unit. He was a very good musician and a nice person as well. Then I listened to a couple of Amenra records and definitely had sympathy with them, because their music sounds very deep. I am very much looking forward to sharing the stage with them. 

When I first pressed play on Dear, I was struck by the vitality of the record. Even after 25 years, it sounds like you’re still inspired and enthused by eachother. Do you have any thoughts on what has allowed Boris to remain so fresh and urgent after all this time?

Since our earlier days, we haven’t looked back at what we did in the past. We just move forward to look for new sounds and music. It is obvious that circumstances of the entire world or my situation change so quickly, and Boris try to keep updated in what we do. Simply put, Boris would like to deliver new and fresh stuff to fans – nothing has changed for 25 years.

I’ve seen you describe Dear as “heavenly”, and there’s definitely something very positive about the tone of the record. Do you see Dear as an uplifting release? If so, are there any particular reasons that it turned out this way?

As you can see from the song titles and cover art of Dear, it definitely has concept of “death” or “the end of the world” at the very basic and deep level, though I would like to see a bright and beautiful world beyond the negative surface of death or the end. I am so grateful that you can feel something positive and uplifting vibe from Dear. Thank you. 

I hear that you deliberately scaled down the instrumentation for Dear. Could you tell me what this reduction process looked like? How did you decide on the essential elements (in terms of instruments and equipment) for Dear?

During recording and jam sessions, we tried numerous methods and various ways of playing. Now we prefer to play less notes at the strongest impact, so that both Wata’s and my playing have greater interaction. I tend to pick up an instrument that has a “thrilling” taste – I mean, I love unexpected and even faulty tones because they carry more information than one that’s more planned. 

I understand that the final tracklist of Dear was whittled down from three albums’ worth of material. How did you find the process of reducing this tracklist down to just 10 songs? 

Well, it is not special for us to reduce many songs to the final tracklist.  Whenever we work on new record we omit lots of stuff, and thus have a bunch of unreleased songs. After a long tour or a new experience we get inspiration for a new concept, then a certain song will lead us to the final tracklist of the album. 

You’ve been playing your instruments for several decades now. Have you noticed any changes in your relationship with your instruments over the years? Do you think differently about playing them, or about their sonic potential?

When I first played guitar, my major focus was “playing” and repeatability more than expression. At some point I realised that nothing is going to happen if I continue to play in that way, then my playing style changed. To us right now, musical instruments are just sonic devices to shake air and to make some atmosphere to share with the audience. The most important aspect of musical instruments is how they can “connect” with others. “Playing music” is way too easy. 

How have you found the experience of playing the new material on stage? Given the distilled density of this music, it feels like a record that would really lend itself to being performed live.

Definitely. All songs are living things. They show us very different moods and sounds whenever we play them live. You know, the score has an undescriptive silence, tempo and mood – they lead us to how they would best like to be played, especially at shows. Maybe it seems to be a ritual more than performance – every song on Dear certainly has that vibe. 

What albums are you listening to at the moment?

In fact I haven’t listened to new music these days. I am more into movies and books. More than that, I am inspired by them.

 I’ve seen you mention that Dear started off as a farewell letter. A lot of writers have noted that it feels like the conclusion to something. What does the future of Boris look like? Is it possible to say whether there will be any more releases from you in the future? 

We had a hard time around 2014, due to family issues and unexpected events. During that period we were unsure if we could continue as Boris or not, so we wanted to write songs as much as we could and record whatever we had to leave. Luckily enough of these things have cleared now, and we are very excited and happy to play and write music as Boris. I can’t thank our fans enough – their endless support is driving force of the band. I really appreciate it, and that is one of the main reasons that Boris have to present fresh stuff to our loyal fans.


AMENRA AND BORIS CO-HEADLINE 2018 TOUR 

UK Dates:​
14/02 – Bristol, Thekla, UK
15/02 – London, Heaven, UK
16/02 – Norwich, Arts Centre, UK
17/02 – Nottingham, Rescue Rooms, UK
18/02 – Manchester, Gorilla, UK
19/02 – Glasgow, St. Lukes, UK
20/02 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club, UK
EU Dates:​
21/02 – Lille, Aeronef, FR
22/02 – Oberhausen, Drucklufthaus, DE *No Boris on this show
23/02 – Dresden, Beatpol, DE
24/02 – Warsaw, Progresja, PL
25/02 – Prague, Palac Akropolis, CZ
26/02 – Budapest, A38, HU
27/02 – Ljubljana, Kino Siska, SL
28/02 – Bologna, Locomotiv, IT
01/03 – Rome, Monk, IT
02/03 – Milan, Santeria Social Club, IT
03/03 – Karlsruhe Jubez, DE
04/03 – Haarlem, Patronaat, NL