Friday 15 July 2016

Looprider "Ascension" interview

With Looprider releasing their second album in less than a year this May, the band's mastermind Ryotaro Aoki and Call And Response Records' Ian Martin got together to talk about this latest phase in Aoki's ongoing musical odyssey. (The interview serves as a follow-up in some ways to the one we did last year around the release of debut album My Electric Fantasy).

You can get the CD from Call And Response's online store here.

IAN: So, less than a year after making My Electric Fantasy, which was a mix of metal, shoegaze and pop, you’re followed it up with a punk record.

RYOTARO: Yeah, or hardcore.

IAN: What’s the difference?

RYOTARO: Basically it’s just faster. My favourite punk band is The Germs, so that’s where a lot of it comes from.

IAN: You’re not fan of The Sex Pistols?

RYOTARO: They’re better than The Ramones — The Ramones were too happy. With The Pistols it all seems like they’re just having a big joke.

IAN: British punk was often like that I think. There’s a lot of cynicism and irony in it.

RYOTARO: What you got with The Germs was really all at face value — there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. It feels more… real isn’t the word.

IAN: It approaches you with more of an open heart maybe.

RYOTARO: Anyway, Darby Crash killed himself to make the band famous, but unfortunately at the same time John Lennon died, so no one gave a fuck. And they just couldn’t play music.

IAN: Isn’t that sort of how punk should be?

RYOTARO: Up to a point.

IAN: So when you were making this album, did you feel the need to sort of unlearn a lot of what you know in terms of technique and songwriting?

RYOTARO: We set lots of rules. We had to write the album and record it at the same time — don’t think about what you’re doing, and do everything in no more than three takes. We had to play fast and play loud, and (drummer) Sean couldn’t play any dancey rhythms.

IAN: As soon as you start bringing in dance rhythm, it’s postpunk.

RYOTARO: We recorded it while we were still working on My Electric Fantasy. It was taking so long, and I was getting frustrated, so I wanted to do something really quick. And of course I then ended up tweaking it for a year!

IAN: [Looking at The Germs’ album’s track list] Lexicon Devil — nice title!

RYOTARO: If you listen to the later version of the song, you can really hear that this is where Black Flag came from.

IAN: I can hear a bit of Wire in there too. A bit of 12XU.

RYOTARO: Wire are more sophisticated though.

IAN: Yeah, listening to them back to back you can hear the restraint. Wire are very aware of what they’re doing.

RYOTARO: So The Germs is much more simple and direct. That’s what we wanted to do, but we had to sort of reverse-engineer that.

IAN: You’re doomed to failure then!

RYOTARO: Yeah! But at the same time, this music is fundamental part of my musical roots. When I was first getting into music, the popular music was that pop-punk stuff and the issue of authenticity was a big conversation, it seemed to me. Kids with Anarchy patches saying, “That’s not punk: this is punk.” Sometimes we talk about how maybe there’s no real difference between indie and pop these days — indie just as bad. So I started thinking about authenticity: I wanted to be real, I didn’t want to be called a poser, because that’s the worst thing you can be called as a punk. Anyway, there was a kid in my neighbourhood who had these CD books full of loads of Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, that sort of thing, and he burned me everything. That’s how I got into “real punk”.

IAN: I had a phase of being into punk, but I sometimes think you should only be really into punk for about six months. After that, if you still like it, sure, that’s OK, but you need to get into something else: you need to take it somewhere.

RYOTARO: At the same time though, a lot of the seeds were planted at that time. This album is a way of recapturing that.

IAN: In a way, My Electric Fantasy was a very meta album: it was almost wilfully inauthentic, adopting different positions, stances and characters in relation to the music scene. After that, this feels a bit like a sort of cleansing experience, just focusing in on one thing and going all-in on that.

RYOTARO: I’m actually worried people will just think I’m taking the piss.

IAN: There’s definitely a precedent for punk not taking itself seriously — that brings us back to The Sex Pistols again, I guess.

RYOTARO: Also since I was starting from a metal-influenced background, there’s the whole thing of punk and metal not getting on. Although I guess grunge made that OK.

IAN: We’ve talked before about Bitch Magnet — they combined influences from punk and metal.

RYOTARO: And they were recorded by Albini, and you can hear that in a lot of his stuff. Here, let’s listen to Minor Threat.

[We start listening to Minor Threat]

RYOTARO: This represents what the music scene should be — at least, what people say it was like. I don’t know if it ever lived up to the legend. The whole DIY ethos we have going here (in Koenji) is similar I think. People with no real career ambition, making tapes, sending them to each other, making zines, organising shows. Ian McKaye made this label, probably sending everything out by hand. It was a small community, which is what I imagined being in a band would be like when I was a kid. They were really young, these guys: maybe not even twenty.

IAN: In Tokyo we kind of have this, but there are so many scenes to choose from that it’s still capitalist in a way: you select a lifestyle and the market decides which is attractive. It’s a marketplace of lifestyle images. It feels like the challenge is more to break down the barriers between scenes.

RYOTARO: Yeah totally. It sounds cheesy, but if people collaborated more, it might change it.

IAN: Punk tends to be like that: it can be very introverted. The sense of community comes in large part from the strict policing of its borders.

RYOTARO: Punk’s supposed to be a place for the rejects though, but Tokyo seems to rejects the rejects.

IAN: So there are all these scenes that catch the rejects from mainstream, but beneath them there need to be even more scenes to catch the rejects of the rejects — like catching falling pachinko balls.

RYOTARO: There are bands who’ve been working the live circuit for years, and you’d think they’d share some space with each other, but they never meet. They’re just trapped in the same circle of people to gradually diminishing returns because they never step outside.

[We start listening to Ascension, and opening track N.E.C.O.]

RYOTARO: We’ve been talking about punk, but the first track’s actually noise. I’d been wanting to do stuff like this for a long time but never wanted to be in the situation where this was the only thing I do.

IAN: This is what Hell sounds like.

RYOTARO: Can I put that on the obi strip? “This is what Hell sounds like…”

IAN: “…Ian Martin , Call And Response Records”

RYOTARO: Sachiko from Umez is on this track. Doing this and the last album, I was definitely inspired by Umez a lot.

IAN: That’s what was so amazing about Umez really: you had to make two albums to cover the ground they’d cover in one song. I’m sad they’re gone, because no one does that combination of elements now. Until your 4th album at least.

[Fantômas comes on]

IAN: What’s this song about, then?

RYOTARO: None of them are about anything.

IAN: I want to start asking young punk bands this. I think indiepop is losing its momentum and there seem to be more young people making loud, aggressive music now, so I want to ask them, “OK, what are you angry about?” and see how they answer. That’s typical of me maybe: finally people are doing what I like and instantly I’m suspicious of their motives for doing so! “This shit has been uncool for so long: I don’t believe you mean it!”

RYOTARO: Considering how little time we took, I’m surprised at how good it sounds.


IAN: There’s metal in there for sure. It goes back to what we were saying earlier about how metal and punk converged a bit in the late ‘80s.

RYOTARO: You can hear the metal comes in more with each successive track, and you can hear how, as the album goes along, we’re thinking more about it. I noticed it as it was happening and I had to cut it off because we were breaking the rule: thinking too much.

IAN: So you had to make a conscious decision to stop thinking. That’s ironic!

RYOTARO: You can hear the songs getting longer now. The title track really is kind of a metal song, eh? I never thought of it like that.

IAN: It’s punk evolving into metal before your eyes over the course of twenty minutes.

[Closing track 667 comes on — seven minutes of harsh noise]

RYOTARO: And then it turns back into noise again at the end. It’s interesting the way we had to think about not thinking.

IAN: It’s like I said earlier about unlearning what you know and how that’s doomed to failure. But even if it’s doomed, the way you fail is what leads you to where you end up.

RYOTARO: It’s the process — right! You called it “cleansing”, but it’s also an important part of my music life that I had to get out. None of the bands I was in before would have let me do My Electric Fantasy and Ascension in a row like this.

IAN: Will this one keep letting you?

RYOTARO: They’re already signed up to do the next one! They’re like movie stars: I have to sign them up for each new release!

IAN: One day you’ll deliver them an acid skiffle album and they’ll be like, “No way: you crossed the line Aoki!”

RYOTARO: It was only me, Sean and Sachiko on this album, and only me on 667.

IAN: Yeah, there’s clearly no Sean here, unless you’re cutting his spine with a chainsaw.

RYOTARO: I made a noise album when I was eighteen: it was really bad.

IAN: You just heard Merzbow and thought, “I’ll do that!”?

RYOTARO: Kind of. It’s a common criticism that “Noise is easy: I could do that!” so I tried and I couldn’t. Merzbow layers a lot and probably does lots of mixing and mastering too, so when I was eighteen it was a jokey, “Oh, I’ll make a noise music thing,” but by the time I’d finished it was like, “Oh, it’s really hard to make it sound… like Merzbow”. So that’s when I stopped making fun of noise musicians.

IAN: After your show with Sachiko last night (as a noise improv duo) you said it was more difficult than you’d expected. Is the challenge different between recorded and live noise?

RYOTARO: With recordings, you can tweak and edit until it’s just how want it. When you’re in the moment, it’s much harder to take it where you want it to go.

IAN: Like trying to wrangle uncontrollable beast.

RYOTARO: It took a lot more focus than I thought it would.

IAN: I guess you have to listen in very subtle ways to pick up on the direction the sound is going.

RYOTARO: And you really have to know what you’re doing, despite fact it might seem like you’re just making it up as you go along. With Ascension, though, I didn’t want to come over po-faced but I was also worried it wouldn’t be cool enough. I think this is a cool album — maybe not The Wire cool, but still cool. I wanted to be fun though — I mean, the first track is a woman screaming “Neko” for five minutes: that’s at least silly.

IAN: Punk should be fun. I mean, it is basically pop music, at least in terms of the effect it works on the audience.

[We start listening to Struggle For Pride’s You Bark We Bite with its intro by Kahimi Karie]

RYOTARO: I wishi Kahimi Karie would be on my album.

IAN: It can’t be that hard to get a woman to talk like this. I always felt Struggle for Pride sounds like a fascist band name though. Are they fascists?

RYOTARO: I don’t think so. There’s nothing about it on their web site!

IAN: So at least if they are fascists, they’re ashamed of it. I guess that’s something.

RYOTARO: I heard this shortly after entering university. A guy I was friends with because first time we met he was wearing a Germs t-shirt recommended it to me. I’d never heard anything like this before.

IAN: I remember seeing them at Daikanyama Unit. You could hear it three floors up, and by the time you got inside the hall, it was just a wall of sounds all smooshed together and three hundred people going completely insane in front of the stage. There’s something very pure about it, but I think that’s partly what makes me think it feels fascist: that fetishisation of purity is quite a fascist thing.

RYOTARO: For me, the important question is about authenticity. Ascension is in a weird place in that it expresses my roots, but I had to reverse engineer myself into achieving it. It’s supposed to be a stream of consciousness thing, but can it ever really be that if you’re forcing yourself to? Punk was a reaction against the excesses of ‘70s rock, but think about it: it’s bands saying, “We’re not going to play our instruments properly on purpose.” If it was a conscious reaction to something that already existed, how pure could it ever have really been?

IAN: So what you’re doing to yourself, reverse-engineering your musical consciousness, is what the music scene did as a neurotic whole in punk. Like when The Clash sang, “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones” — it’s a conscious manifesto to make yourself unlearn music history.

RYOTARO: So it comes back to this idea of cleansing.

IAN: Julian Cope writes in his autobiography about how Richard Hell described his song Blank Generation as being about “fill in the blank” but then when he named his band The Voidoids, Cope felt he’d sold out to this cult of meaninglessness. Cope was a postpunk musician and he felt this cleansing process of wiping the slate clean was in order to build something new. If you stay punk, you’re being wilfully dumb.

RYOTARO: The title Ascension is kind of about that. It’s about building to the next level — the album art also based on that same idea.

IAN: It’s an interesting image: like a depiction of the human ego dissolving.

RYOTARO: Yeah, but at the same time, the artist Nasutakeo, she said that’s how she draws when she doesn’t think and just draws.