Here Comes The Flood

30 May 2013 | 2:49 pm | Chris James

"They do tire you out, those drums. Oh, but I don’t know. Personally I don’t feel like I’m hitting drums, it’s more like dancing… or maybe swimming."

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"Delirious.” Not “fine,” “good,” or “ok,” delirious is apparently the way Boris' drummer Atsuo feels as he embraces the flat out goneness that can only be experienced by having just played 26 dates in the last 30 days, coast-to-coast and back again across the US. “Being completely exhausted is the best way to be,” he professes. “You perform better because you're not distracted by extra thoughts. All you need to do is perform live everyday; that's how you'll be. America's so big, the drive is long, and even if we're back at the hotel we don't get to sleep for extended periods of time.”

It's not just their marathon gigging however; Boris' superhuman work ethic can be evidenced by their almost industrial scale output. Their veritable warehouse of a back catalogue consists of 18 studio albums, half a dozen collaborative albums with other artists, a handful of live albums and a few EPs to boot. Despite having already recorded and released one album this year - the limited edition but blissfully excursive Präparat – in all likelihood there'll be more to come. “We start recording for a new album once we finish the Australia tour, and we're organising that now. We're usually either touring, recording or making new songs; like a continuous cycle,” Atsuo confirms.

If it's true that there's no rest for the wicked, then all three members of Boris must have done some truly terrible things in their past lives. Performing both drums and occasional vocals, Atsuo arguably has the hardest job of all, as a recent medical trial in the UK found that one hour of drumming burns 400 to 600 calories, whilst 90 minutes of drumming could propel even a 30 year veteran of the trade's heartbeat to 190 beats a minute; a feat requiring 'extraordinary stamina' according to the project's top doctor.

“Oh man,” Atsuo admits. “They do tire you out, those drums. Oh, but I don't know. Personally I don't feel like I'm hitting drums, it's more like dancing… or maybe swimming. Like I'm swimming through air, I guess that's closer. I don't really think of myself as a drummer.” It's a level of exertion a soccer professional would expend during an English Premier League game. Fortunately for England's top footballers, they only play once or twice week, not six nights out of seven. “You need to take an appropriate amount of care,” Atsuo advises. “Make sure you don't just crash out at night. Take a shower, or take a bath before going to bed. If you don't put in the little bits of care, the long tours become near impossible.” Hmm, bad news for aspiring drummers wishing to ride the Led Zeppelin-esque rollercoaster of rock and roll hedonism; spend less time draining the mini-bar and more time picturing yourself swimming through the air appears to be the way seems to be.

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Despite their vast body of work, little is known of Boris' three individual members. Winston Churchill once described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” but had he been alive 50 or so years or later and been a frustrated music journalist rather than a wartime Prime Minister, he might have been talking of Boris. They keep their family names a closely guarded secret and communicate only in Japanese; natural enough since it's the only language they know. Atsuo handles nearly all interviews, so that Takeshi and guitarist Wata - whose frozen-in-time youthful elegance is often the focal point of the band's press shots - remain enigmatic figures.  Their music - characterised by a unique sound made of rock, metal, drone and shoegaze, all oozed into a psychedelic hotpot that's always different yet distinctively their own – can be a tricky entity to fathom, especially with nothing more than unofficial internet translations of their lyrics which give little indication as to what they're actually about.

A pivotal moment in Boris' development arrived in 2000 on the album Flood. While the band remains notorious for their excursions in extreme volume – so much so that during their last trip to Perth, The Bakery's management took the unprecedented step of closing the main room doors to contain their volcanic din – this release featured an abrupt shift, containing gentle, almost ethereal passages. “We performed Flood at a festival in Japan last year, and the response was amazing,” Atsuo enthuses. “Usually, our performances in America, Europe, and Australia are part of a tour, after we release an album, and so all the songs end up being from this album. Flood was released long before we started performing outside Japan, so we wanted to play some older songs that our fans wouldn't otherwise hear in our usual album release tours. That's why we had a two day residency show in America, where our fans could hear some older songs, and we'll be performing Flood [in full at the Rosemount in June.]”

Perhaps not the ultimate Boris' statement, but certainly the first of their works that could be described as 'beautiful,' it was a seminal landmark on a journey that broadened their fan base from metalheads with exotic tastes, to indie kids and the post-rock crowd. Yet despite these accomplishments, recognition in Japan has remained elusive. Wondering why, I ask Atsuo if he feels misunderstood in the land he calls home. “It's not like having popularity in America or Australia would generate interest amongst Japanese people,” he points out. “We just made the songs that we like, and it so happened that they were embraced by American, European and Australian audiences. And it just so happened that Japanese audiences didn't quite embrace us. Of course, we have fans in Japan too.”

The life the band members have chosen to pursue has sometimes left them standing on the edge of Japanese society with its traditional culture of conformity, as illustrated by Atsuo's decision to become vegan. “There are many vegans amongst musicians, and when we collaborate together, I just thought I'd make a gesture to get rid of any walls between us,” he illustrates. “It's something I started for the music.  And now, you know, of course I like animals too.” These days he's often made to eat alone or at home. “I can't really go out to a restaurant in a group of just anyone in Japan. In both American and Australia, it's very possible to have people of differing values or ideologies sitting around one table and eating together. But in Japan, the atmosphere is that unless you share the values, you can't join the table.”

“It's like they've all been brainwashed,” he expands resignedly. “Don't have ideologies,” or something like that. I think Japan is full of complications. It's really twisted; beyond twisted. Like the music scene and the music business, the structure and atmosphere is completely different to any other country. I think it's a distinctive country; very distinctive.”

Shut out by sections of Japanese society, accepted abroad although almost no one speaks their tongue, the overriding positive for Boris has been the elation they've given to fans through their immense works. Atsuo politely thanks me and says he's looking forward to visiting Perth, where no doubt he and his comrades will once again demonstrate that music is the only universal language.