Interview by Billy Hell
Melt Banana from Tokyo, Japan have always done things their own way. These days playing live as the core duo of Yako (vocals) and Agata (guitar) with everything else programmed, they now have a unique technical set up for blasting fast hardcore mutations all over the world. Agata drew a cartoon of this which they printed on green or grey T-shirts to sell on their recent European tour, but initially it was intended as an instruction guide for venues! I put on Melt Banana's first gig in Manchester, and have now seen them play so many gigs I've lost count. I interviewed them for the second time after they played at the Rainbow Birmingham Warehouse at the end of May. It was a louder but more sedate gig than those in Manchester and Leeds earlier in the tour, where the Banana listeners were more animated. They finished each set with a cover of Louis Armstrong's song "Wonderful World," which they have yet to release in recorded form.
PSF: You have a very different technical set up to any other band right now. Have there been any problems with it?
A: Sometimes we get hum noise and sometimes we are not sure why. It depends on the venue.
Y: The electric things.
PSF: You were having those kind of problems at today's soundcheck. What's the little illuminated frisby-like device you are holding while you sing?
Y: A MIDI-controller. I can control samples and drums with the buttons.
PSF: Some of your vocals are in it aren't they?
Y: Only one song. There are some samples and I decide the timing of the drums and bass.
PSF: It's connected to the laptop?
PSF: Is everything running through the laptop now?
A: Not everything.
PSF: I guess not the guitar and most vocals?
A: Yes. Once I tried to use it for the guitar but it's too complicated.
PSF: You've got enough pedals! How many pedals are you using?
A: Only six. Before I was using about twelve or thirteen, but very small.
Y: It makes it easier to travel. The weight of the luggage for the airplane is very strict so we need to use less.
PSF: You always had lots of musical equipment stored in Europe for touring so you didn't have to bring it over from Japan, didn't you?
PSF: You've had a lot of different drummers, and then your bass player Rika left. Was it Rika's departure that made you decide to continue Melt Banana as a duo?
Y: Actually we were always like two people for writing songs. We'd been playing with Rika for a long time, but after we started using the PC, I thought it would be difficult for a bass player to listen to the drum machine and follow the machine. So we thought it was easier to program the bass also. Like the drummers, she was the support member for us. We thought it would be good for us if we could play as a two-piece so that we can control everything. Actually, Agata wrote most of the bass parts and sometimes he even played bass on our recordings.
PSF: You've had a lot of drummers in Melt Banana. Do you know how many?
A: About ten people, maybe eleven. Actually before we decided to be a two piece I held a live session looking for other bass players and drummers. They were all very good when I did improvisation with them. There were five drummers and three or four bass players together doing a show three times or something.
PSF: Was that in Japan?
A: Yeah. I felt if we really need drummers or bass players again they would be around.
Y: After he improvised with many drummers and bass players we found that there are many drummers and bass players around us who would be able to play with us. Thinking about going on tour or playing a long time, it will be hard to have a steady drummer and bass player so we decided that it would be good for us to play as a two piece so that we don't have to ask somebody to support for the tour.
PSF: Listening to Fetch it sounds to me as if some of the songs are your fastest ever. You must be able to program the drums faster than any drummer can play if you want to.
A: I think drummers can play those songs.
PSF: I think I've seen you play more gigs with Dave Witte than any other drummer. Do you know what he's doing these days?
Y: He's playing with the band Municipal Waste.
A: He's touring all the time.
Y: He's very busy.
PSF: Is Rika playing bass in another band?
Y: I'm not sure because we haven't talked with her in a long time.
PSF: I've never heard you play "Zero." Have you ever played that song live?
A: Only at studio.
Y: We practiced that song in the studio and we were able to play the song.
A: We were not sure if we should include it on our setlist.
Y: It's very different from other songs, so...
PSF: It might be good as an encore.
Y: But maybe too mellow!
PSF: Or you could start the set with it and maybe confuse everyone?
Y: Maybe, yeah. Many people said they like that song. So far we've put out seven albums and usually the last song on the album is a little different from the other songs.
PSF: "Outro for cell-scape" was very different. Do you think you'd make any more longer ambient tracks like that in the future?
Y: Maybe. We have played "Last Target" from Bambi's Dilemma at several shows.
PSF: Do you think you'd ever do Melt Banana Lite again, where you played with the stage lights off and wore headlamps?
Y: Maybe, but for now we don't have any plans to. Maybe we should try again in the future.
PSF: Last time I interviewed you, you told me a lot of your lyrics are about computer games...
Y: "cell-scape" was like that.
PSF: Maybe that's why Fetch gave me that impression. It seemed to me like a cat was running around in a computer trying to kill slugs!
Y: Actually for me, Fetch songs are mainly sad songs.
PSF: "Cracked Plaster Cast" from Bambi's Dilemma where you sing "An Earth-size trash can, where can I get one? I need it before it's too late" seems a really funny cartoon-like description of the way the human race is destroying the planet we live on.
Y: That's a sad song. Some people say that my lyrics don't have any meaning but it's language so there should be some meaning. For me, it's sometimes very serious but sometimes just a joke. It depends on the people who read the lyrics.
PSF: "Cracked Plaster Cast" might be my favourite Melt Banana song. I was glad you kept playing it this tour. The music doesn't sound sad. Your songs never sound sad!
Y: Maybe it's because I don't want to say sad things in a sad mood.
PSF: Why did you call the album Fetch?
Y: I wanted to name the album with a word starting with "F" because before that we didn't have an album staring with "F" and Fetch sounds really good. Usually I pick a word that I like the sound of. I like the meaning also, "Fetch" has many meanings.
PSF: If you go through the whole alphabet you'll have to make twenty-six albums!
Y: Maybe, but I don't think I want to pick a word starting with "X."
PSF: The first song "Candy Gun" could mean a gun that shoots candy or a gun made of candy. What is a candy gun?
Y: There are many irritating things and bad things in the world and I thought giving them candy is enough for them.
PSF: You used to put out a lot of split singles but you haven't put out any for quite a long time.
Y: Actually we'd really love to do that but we were too busy making our own album. We have several offers to do split EPís and we just put out our album last year so maybe we'll start writing songs for singles.
PSF: Are there any bands you'd like to do a split single with now?
Y: There is an Italian band called Zelth.
PSF: Have you played gigs with them?
A: Yes, two shows.
PSF: Have there been many bands this tour who you've played with and thought were really good?
A: Cowtown, in Sheffield.
Y: They sounded really good. We enjoyed them a lot. Glatze was really good tonight. On this tour we have played with many good bands.
A: Batalj from Gothenberg in Sweden. Two of them are from Sweden and two are from Germany. Mombu, and Soak from Denmark. It's sometimes difficult for us to remember band names if they are not English or Japanese if we don't know what it means.
PSF: Did you see any of the other bands at Fat Out Fest?
A: I saw Terminal Cheesecake and one guy before them, Run Dust from Hannover, very different from other bands.
Y: He was really good.
PSF: You must have put out enough singles since the 13 Hedgehogs compilation for there to be enough songs to make another compilation album. Are you going to compile another one?
Y: We would like to do another compilation album.
PSF: The second one would be even better, with lots of great tracks like your covers of "Love Song" and "Monkey Man."
Y: We should try to do that.
A: When we did 13 Hedgehogs, it was very hard because we had to contact every label. At first, some labels didn't want us to do it, so we had to explain and ask.
PSF: Why didn't they want you to do it?
A: I'm not sure. Some of them still had copies.
Y: And they wanted to keep pressing more.
PSF: Some of those singles were very hard to find! Have you got any favourite records that have been released recently?
A: Ruta from Poland. When we went to Hiroshima, we found their records and they are good.
PSF: Have you played any gigs with them?
A: No, I haven't even seen them.
PSF: What do they sound like?
A: The singer sounds like a punk rock singer, but the music sounds more like traditional folk music. They remind me a little of The Ex from Amsterdam.
PSF: The Ex are one of the best bands in the world! The UK tour before this one you played that gig with them at Islington Mill in Salford, which was great because initially Melt Banana and The Ex were going to be playing gigs on the same night in different venues. This time around Swans are touring at the same time and you play gigs on the same night as them in different venues in Newcastle and Brighton. Are there other Japanese bands around now that you like?
PSF: There was a band on Sub Pop in the early nineties called The Fluid. I think they did a split single with Nirvana.
Y: Worst Taste. There are many good bands in Japan.
PSF: Do you remember the first record you bought?
Y: Rod Stewart. I liked his voice. I have forgotten the name of the song.
A: Kiss single.
PSF: Obviously later on you started listening to punk rock. When did you start listening to punk rock?
A: Twelve years old.
Y: I was fourteen.
PSF: Which punk bands were you listening to first?
A: Sex Pistols. I like Nina Hagen.
Y: My sister had a compilation cassette tape that maybe one of her friends made. I listened to it and my favourite song on that tape was Buzzcocks "Boredom" and also The Damned.
PSF: You covered "Love Song" by The Damned but I could imagine you covering the second song from that album "Machine Gun Etiquette/Second Time Around."
A: We haven't heard that.
Y: We like their first album.
PSF: What was the most recent record you bought?
A: I wanted to buy Cowtown's record, but I was too busy.
Y: I bought a live DVD of Miku Hatsune.
PSF: What was the most fun gig of this European tour?
A: Rome, that show was crazy.
Y: Glasgow was really fun. At one point we had a hard time because one kid came up to the stage, dancing around, and crashed into the computer.
A: The computer fell off a table on the stage.
Y: The club people tried to stop him. Fortunately, the PC worked again.
A: We could restart the computer.
PSF: So no real damage done.
Y: It could have been. It was close!
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|