Some bands manage to make a living crafting the most commercially unviable music imaginable. Melt-Banana is one.
The Tokyo-based duo – vocalist Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata – are capable of pop-based sensibilities. They just bury it under layers of strafing effects, and play it at inhuman speeds and stentorian levels. That still attracts divaricated fans. As proof, Melt-Banana performed at the Maryland Deathfest in May, while this month they’re on the bill for the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner.
With eight albums, two live albums and 26 EPs under their belts, Melt-Banana have worked or toured with fellow avant-garde luminaries such as Merzbow, John Zorn and Mr. Bungle. With a new singles and covers compilation available now, they’re playing July 13 at the Hi-Fi with Torche opening.
We caught up with Onuki and Agata with a recent email exchange.
NUVO: What inspired your brand of music?
Ichiou Agata: We were inspired by Western music and culture like punk, metal, rock, experimental music, dance music, hip-hop and even classical music in the beginning. I think if we didn't listen to those types of music when we were kids, we would not be writing the music we do now.
Yasuko Onuki: We live in Tokyo, so I guess we are influenced by things here like culture, life, food, music, arts, etc., too.
NUVO: Were there other bands with a similar sound in your native Japan or did you kind of stand alone in your sound?
Agata: I think we are kind of standalone.
Onuki: We play with many bands in Japan, but they sound different from our music.
NUVO: How difficult is it to incorporate melody into your songs while keeping it noisy and fast?
Agata: It's one of the most difficult things for us when writing songs.
Onuki: It's difficult to find good balance.
Agata: I agree. That's why we are very slow when writing new songs.
NUVO: Is there more of an attempt at this point in your career to have your music more conventional to more people, or do you think it's as experimental as it's ever been?
Agata: We have been trying to write catchy music from the beginning of this band.
Onuki: I think our approach to writing catchy music has changed and evolved. And also we have more ways to express what we like to do now than before, having played music for a long time.
Agata: We were really beginners when we started this band.
NUVO: Are you self-taught as musicians or did you learn your style from others?
Onuki: Both of us are self-taught.
Agata: This band is my first band playing guitar.
NUVO: Is there a country or region of the world that has a bigger concentration of Melt-Banana fans, or are they pretty evenly spread at this point?
Agata: It seems that more people come to our shows in the U.S. and UK.
NUVO: Why have you gone through so many drummers?
Agata: I also want to know why.
NUVO: Is there a genre of musical fans that embrace you more than others, or do your fans come from several tastes?
Agata: I think they are from several tastes, from metal to punk, from noise to pop music. Something like that.
Onuki: They are very open-minded and they love music. That's what I feel when I see the audience during a show.
NUVO: Are you as inspired to write, record and tour now as when you were just starting?
Onuki: Yes, of course.
Agata: There are more things we like to do now than when we were just starting.
Onuki: Problem is that it's difficult to do everything what we want to do.