It’s been said time and time again, but Melt-Banana are as unique as bands come. Now well into the third decade of their career, Yako (vocals) and Agata (guitar) are still writing and touring their brand of light-speed noise rock with rare, enduring levels of excitement and proficiency. Now on the verge of a 15-date UK tour (the band’s eleventh on British shores), the pair found time to fill us in at Sputnik on their past experiences in the UK, their hopes for this tour, and a few hints about their elusive upcoming record…
JohnnyoftheWell/Sputnikmusic: Hello! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! Is this a busy time for Melt-Banana? Do you have much to do to prepare for your upcoming tour?
Agata: Hello. I think we are quite busy! Besides preparing for the UK tour, we are also working on new songs for our next album.
Yako: Hello. We constantly play shows in Japan when we are not on tour — like once or twice a month.
For anyone unfamiliar with you, would you mind explaining the essence of Melt-Banana?
A: If I need to explain our music to my parents’ friends, I say we play rock music, but a little bit faster, along with using noise sounds.
Y: Yes, we usually say we are a rock band basically. It is quite difficult to explain ‘sounds’. Maybe it is simple to say ‘fast loud rock with female vocals and effected, unique guitar, music like a roller coaster.’
You’re veterans to the UK and Europe at this point, so how does it feel to be coming back? Any cities or venues you’re excited to return to? Anywhere you haven’t played before?
Y: Of course we both feel very happy to be coming back to the UK again and appreciate all the people who make this tour happen.
A: I think we play in Exeter and Oxford for the first time. Oxford is a familiar name for the Japanese because of the English dictionary. I haven’t heard about Exeter before, so we’re looking forward to see the city.
Y: And I want to see [Greyfriars] Bobby in Edinburgh again. He is cute!
You’re playing a lot of shows – more than many UK-based bands would bother playing! What prompted such an extensive tour?
A: Many bands we know do similar things, especially bands in the USA, so we feel it’s natural. If we have songs to play and if we can physically go and play, we like to play as many shows as possible.
Y: We like playing shows. We feel like live shows are the best way to express music to people. And also it is good for us to see their faces!
Looking back to when you first toured here, was there anything in particular about the country that surprised or confused you?
A: When we first came to the UK, we did not know that the shape of sockets in the UK was different from the ones in Japan.
Y: When I first touched a one pound coin, I was really surprised by how heavy it was. I thought it was very British. The design, color, weight… I liked it a lot. It is a bit of a pity it has been changed…
… and is there anything that still seems funny to you about it now?
Y: Everything in UK looks lovely. Landscape looks very different from Japan, and I always enjoy driving. One thing that I would like to do but have not done yet is to touch a sheep.
A: I bought many UK socket plugs now, but I think if it’s a little smaller, it will be easy to bring.
When you’re not travelling or setting up, what do you like to get up to while touring?
A: Walking around the venue looking for interesting stuff.
Y: I like walking around in the supermarket.
Is there anything in particular about the UK that you feel Japan could learn from?
A: We need more reasonable fish and chips shops.
Y: We need more short breads and lamb meat. And it would be nice if we had a Ferris wheel in Tokyo like the London Eye.
…and anything in particular about Japan that the UK could learn from?
A: UK should import Washlet [Japanese toilets].
Y: Winter is cold and summer is hot in the UK, so air conditioners are needed in every hotel. When we toured in UK last time, it was really hot and many hotels didn’t have air conditioners…
From watching your picture journals on YouTube I was struck by the range of grind and noise acts you were playing alongside. I take it you’re playing without support bands on many of your UK dates? What led to this decision, and how do you feel about the UK noise scene today?
A: We usually play with other bands, usually 3 or 4 bands together in Japan. I think we’ve never played solo concert in Japan. We tour UK asking our booking agent to book headlining shows, but still we play with 1 or 2 other bands.
Y: Watching those bands is one of the [most] fun things about the tour.
A: I don’t know much about UK noise scene today, but when we see UK bands at the festival like Raw Power Festival or Super Sonic festival, that we took a part 2, 3 years ago, we saw many good UK bands.
Those journals are great by the way! Can we expect more installments from this tour?
Y: Thanks. With those journals, we can remember with what bands we played. And also, I think it will be interesting for foreign people to see bands in Japan. They can see a bit of underground music scene in Japan now.
A: During the tour, we would like to shoot videos when we can, and put them together as journals. Maybe we are too busy to make video during the tour, so it will be updated after the tour, I guess.
You’ve been playing as a duo for a long while, and it’s remarkable how well you adjusted to this without compromising your sound. Now that you’ve been at it for so long, are there any changes in the way you work as a team now compared to, say, how it was when you were recording Fetch?
A: Not really. When we recorded Fetch, we were already playing as a duo. When we started playing as a duo, we needed to try many things to find the best way for us how we play our songs. After Yako started using a wireless MIDI controller, there were not such big changes in our sound system. These days, we tried to use more wireless equipment, but it did not work well for some reason.
Y: We often try new gadgets if it’s interesting.
And how about the way you make music together? The production and layering on Fetch were very impressive; it sounded like you really embraced having the time and focus to concentrate on the studio end of things. How has this part of your craft developed over the last few years? Has anything else changed in your sound?
A: It’s also the same. We write most parts of the music at home and bring it to the studio… I mean, it’s not a recording studio, but a rehearsal studio — to play it loud and go back home and change some parts of it and bring it to the studio again. We do this again and again. That’s how we write music.
Y: When we play songs loud in the rehearsal studio like playing at a show, we can see more things to improve the songs. It depends on each song, though.
What’s been your most difficult record to make so far, and what did you learn from it?
A: I think the record we are making right now is the most difficult one. Every time we make a record, I feel this way… and sometimes I feel we cannot write music anymore.
Y: I agree. I always need to think and think and think to reach the best fits.
There’s something joyous and carefree about your sound that feels out of place in the 2019 zeitgeist, in a very refreshing way. So much new music is self-conscious or political in a way that sometimes feels powerful, but sometimes seems as though the artist felt trapped by the time and place they were working in. I remember you commenting on how you found it impossible to make new music after the 2011 Tohoku disaster because everything you tried to make sounded too sad for your liking — do you have any advice for musicians who struggle to escape the circumstances they’re living in?
A: I think travelling is the best way if someone wants to change something. After that big earthquake, we had a USA tour in the fall. We were planning to finish recording and go to tour for the new album, but we could not finish recording at all and we still had a tour already booked. So we just went to the tour without any new release. I think we were a bit strange on that tour. Yako brought a cat costume and walked around the venue before we played and kept taking pictures with people who came to the show, and we posted all the photos on our Facebook page every day. After staying away from home and playing music for one month abroad and taking pictures with people, I felt we were back to normal when we came back to Japan.
Y: After that big earthquake occurred, everything looked in vain to me — even music. But after a while, I thought like living life as usual was the only thing that I could do, and it was the way to regenerate: writing music, playing shows, seeing people on tour.
You’ve said you plan on releasing a new album next year! Not to get too over-excited, but can you give us any hints on what to expect from this?
A: We are trying not to do the same thing as past records, but doing the same thing we usually do. It’s difficult to explain, but I think Mr. John Peel said something like this. That’s what we want to do. We don’t suddenly change our music to another genre, but try to do new things for ourselves.
Y: We just write what we think is good now.
A few quickfire questions: what’s your favourite kind of audience?
A: It’s a difficult question. I never thought about it. Maybe if they look happy, I’m good!
Y: If we have an audience, we are happy.
Ever come across Sputnikmusic before?
A: Yes, I think young kids in Sheffield recommended Sputnikmusic to me long ago when I asked them about music websites in the UK. I don’t think there is a website like Sputnikmusic in Japan.
Y: We hope we have one like yours in Japan.
Cats or dogs?
A: I was not interested in animals ’til I met Yako, She brainwashed me somehow and now I like both cats and dogs.
Y: Anything furry makes me smile. But no insects, please. They are from outer space, I believe.
Favourite city in the UK?
A: There is no special reason, but I like London. It’s like I like Tokyo without any particular reason.
Y: It is a difficult question… I like London too because Big Ben clock looks pretty. But as I mentioned before, Edinburgh is nice too because I can see [Greyfriars] Bobby and Dolly [the Sheep]. Glasgow is fun, too, because we always have a good time there.
A: Ramsgate was fun, too. We had time to walk around last time and it was a very nice small town.
Y: I like Brighton, too. Actually I like the landscape of Dover. I always feel that I am in the UK when we arrive at Dover.
What have you been listening to lately?
Y: We like to listen to bands we play with.
A: Dope Purple, 444Capsule, Wrench.
Any final comments?
A: See you in UK!
Y: We are very happy to be back in the UK to tour. Hope everyone come out to see us! And I hope I can take a photo with sheep on this tour at last.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat and all the best for the tour!
Melt-Banana are playing the following UK dates this month:
Wednesday 16th October – Dingwalls, London
Friday 18th October – The Caves, Edinburgh
Saturday 19th October – Stereo, Glasgow
Sunday 20th October – The Cluny, Newcastle
Monday 21st October – Gorilla, Manchester
Wednesday 23rd October – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Thursday 24th October – Cavern, Exeter
Friday 25th October – Exchange, Bristol
Sunday 27th October – Wheatsheaf, Oxford
Monday 28th October – Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
Tuesday 29th October – Bodega, Nottingham
Wednesday 30th October – The Parish, Huddersfield
Thursday 31st October – Portland Arms, Cambridge
Friday 1st November – The Haunt, Brighton
Saturday 2nd November – Music Room, Ramsgate
Tickets available here: https://www.seetickets.com/tour/melt-banana