MONO Loyalty, trust and strings attached

Having cemented their place amongst peers such as My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Sigur Ros, Japanese post-rock legends Mono marked their 20th anniversary anniversary last year by releasing 10th album Nowhere Now Here to widespread acclaim. In celebration of their illustrious two decade long career (and in support of their latest album), the hard-touring outfit are in the midst of another epic treks around the globe – their annual world tours tend to comprise over 150 shows. Joining Mono for all their Australian shows is British cellist and composer Jo Quail who has toured extensively with the band. Quail will help Mono reprise their acclaimed performance at last year’s Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands as a special guest performer during a career-spanning 100-minute set. The Perth leg of Mono’s Australian tour sees the band playing The Rosemount Hotel next Wednesday, March 4 with post-rock collective Selfless Orchestra supporting. ZACK YUSOF chatted with lead guitarist and main composer Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto about the making of Nowhere Now Here and all the drama that came along with it, the anniversary tour, as well as 20 years of Mono.

Mono are currently in the midst of a world tour celebrating your 20th anniversary. How has tour been going?

I think the tour has been going great so far. We have a new drummer (New York-based multi-instrumentalist Dahm Majuri Cipolla replaced Yasunori Takada who abruptly left the band in December 2017 for personal reasons after 18 years as Mono’s drummer) so it feels like a restart (for the band). We feel very fresh, like we are on the next chapter, you know? We feel very strong now.

You’re returning to Australia next month, three years since your last visit. Excited to be returning to Australian shores?

Well as I mentioned, we have a new drummer and the band is very strong now so we can’t wait to play in Australia again. It’s always good to be able to come to Australia because we always have a great time playing (to our fans) there. Last year, we toured the States twice, twice in Europe and also in Asia so Australia is kind of like the last place that we visit on this tour.

Joining as very special guest for all Australian shows is British cellist and composer Jo Quail, who has toured extensively with you in the past…

Yes, we will be playing together with Jo. It’s been two years since we first met each other. She’s always busy playing music. She’s very talented and is an amazing person, an amazing musician. On our albums, we are always using strings but on a normal tour, we cannot have (strings). But since we met Jo, I feel that finally we can have some great strings on stage. Her cello sounds so beautiful.

I heard that you’ll be reprising your acclaimed performance at last year’s Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands…

Yes, that’s what we will be doing.

A hundred minutes of classic Mono tracks live! That sounds amazing…

Heh heh yes!

Your latest album Nowhere Now Here was produced by your friend and longtime collaborator Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. What was it like working with Albini again on that record and what does he bring to the table for Mono in terms of being a producer – or ‘recordist’ as he prefers to be credited on recordings? 

He’s like a big friend, a longtime friend of ours, almost 15 years! He knows everything about what we do and he is so great at what he does. He’s always fantastic. When we announced that our drummer will be changed, many of our friends were worried and sent emails asking if we were ok. But Steve Albini was the first person to contact me to ask, “Hey Taka, what’s going on?” We are very close as friends. As you know, we don’t like our music to be over-produced. Recently, computers have become great and many bands like to use fucking computers to record but we hate it. We are always recording live, just the four of us in the studio all playing together. Steve can do live recording perfectly using tape, kind of old school, you know? But also, I don’t want to be playing (the same thing) four times, five times… it gets boring, you know? So we are always playing things only twice and Steve is always recording things perfectly. Yeah, I think I’m going to work with him forever (laughs).

Let’s talk about the vision for Nowhere Now Here. What kind of record were you trying to make and what was the creative process like?

Honestly, I had a bunch of trouble (at the time) and I felt a lot of anger, disappointment and fucking darkness when we were working on the album. Whenever I talk about music, I am always trying to explain my emotions. So when I was writing songs for the album, the timing of the moment was terrible. Each year, the band is slowly getting bigger and many people are happy (with us) and they say, “Let’s rock together” and “Let’s work together.” Always, we are trying to be nice saying, “That’s interesting, let’s start working together and we’ll see.” But then, these people panic and start always talking about money and fucking business. I wanted to become a musician because I wanted to be free you know? We don’t care about money. We don’t care about the fucking music business. But the management company was always talking about money all the time and eventually started saying, “You should change your label” and “You should change your booking agent.”  We were like, “What?!” For 19 years, our partners have always helped us. Our label is Temporary Residence from New York and the owner Jeremy (DeVine) is my best friend and we have a long history of working together. The management were saying “Let’s change the label” because they were thinking that this would make the band bigger. I said no, because I had a great friendship and we trusted each other and respected each other. So I said, “No thanks man.” Then we started to fight (among ourselves). You know, drama with management is kind of acceptable (laughs) but we were a band that had been together for almost 20 years. You know, each member has to take care of their families. I understood that. It’s only human to want to get more money but I couldn’t agree with anything. I was very tired thinking about it so this is when I started my solo project. I wanted to stop Mono.

You were under that much pressure that you wanted to stop Mono?

Yes, so I started my solo project and I released it worldwide and then my partners around the world told me, “Hey Taka, if you want to tour alone, we can book.” I said maybe, because I wanted to see what I had inside my mind. So I toured it alone in Europe, Malaysia and China. After that I came back to Tokyo and I discussed things again with the management and the drummer and I told them, sorry but I cannot continue to work with you guys anymore. And then I called Maki and Yoda, the members who were left, and I said, “Look we can stop Mono but I really want to continue with you guys. You can choose.” For two nights we hung out together. Of course, everybody was very tired with the situation but still in love with music and still in love with what we do. Eventually Maki and Yoda agreed to carry on. That’s when I started to restart writing songs for the new album and I really want to wanted to write about all the emotions (that I was feeling). Nowhere to now here, you know?

I read that during the recording of Nowhere Now Here, you used a lot of electronic instruments. What was the thinking behind that?

Well when I started my solo project, I used the computer instead of members so that’s how the idea came about, very naturally. With each album, we always want to change and try something new.

Finally, 20 years is a long time to be together making music music and touring. What is the secret of your longevity?

(Laughs) I don’t know. But we still enjoy doing it. The body is getting older and it makes me kind of crazy but the soul hasn’t changed so now I need to take care of the body.

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