Mitsuru Tabata | Interview | A Talk With Japanese Underground Rock Guitarist
Mitsuru Tabata is a legendary Japanese underground rock guitarist, bassist, vocalist and composer.
Tabata formed and co-founded many underground groups from Japan, including Boredoms, in the mid-‘80s. In the following interview we discussed many projects including Acid Mothers Temple, Green Flames, Leningrad Blues Machine, Noizunzuri, RQRQ, Sanagi , Zeni Geva and many others.
How are you currently coping with the pandemic? What’s the situation in Japan?
Mitsuru Tabata: In daily life? Well, when I didn’t know about Covid-19 very well, I was doing a lot of stupid things. Getting home, opening the door, getting naked, going straight to the bathroom, taking shower but I stopped it. Washing hands, gargling, sterilizing, wearing masks in public and taking care of ventilation. I think I’m doing the same things everyone does. Mostly I was recording at home. Quarantine time made my recording skills up. There were a few better things in this pandemic. I had a few gigs each month but most venues can’t hold full-house shows even now. However I am still able to have gigs fortunately, even if the venues have a limited audience which is less than 50-30% capacity. However, I got into an accident on 18th September. I slipped on the street on a rainy day. I broke my left leg and tore a ligament. I had been in the hospital for three weeks. Surgery was successful but I had to cancel all the shows that had been booked for the rest of this year unfortunately. My musical activities such as live performance have been done but there are still many things to do.
The situation in Japan…The Japanese government appeared to have no counter plan against serious infectious disease before Covid-19. Also there is no law about strict lockdown here. When the first wave came here in the middle of March 2020, the government announced a state of emergency in early April but it was not like the US, UK or Europe did. The government asked people to quarantine themselves. There were no penalties under the law. People made it very well. However, the government’s reaction to helping people was so slow. For example, the government made business suspension requests to all restaurants and shops on the street. Most of them cooperated to shut down but the government couldn’t quickly compensate for pubs, restaurants and all the types of occupation that was difficult to keep social distance. A lot of companies went bankrupt before the government was going to help. I am very embarrassed to tell this story to the world even though a lot of people already knew about it overseas. The first thing the Japanese government had done for protecting people was distributing only two cloth masks each to everyone. This stupid idea came from our ex-ex-prime minister. It was May, 2020. Then, four months later, the government paid about 760 Euros each to all people. That’s it. A lot of people are still suffering from stupid state policy. Death toll of Covid-19 in Japan is not too many but it is still the worst in East Asia. There are more mistakes. The Japanese government doesn’t do PCR tests proactively. No test for people who don’t have any subjective symptoms like fever. If you want to test without symptoms, you have to go to a paid PCR test by private business. So, basically you don’t know who is Corona positive or Corona negative when you walk on the street. Even at the office, school and music venue. Vaccine distribution has started from April in 2021. It was slowest in G7 countries, Number 60 in the world at the beginning. Then, suddenly, the government feels frustrated that their tasks are stacked up because the date of the Tokyo Olympics is coming soon. They were in a hurry but it was not for people. Now, the government has succeeded in distributing vaccines even if it’s still slow for people in some areas. The only one good thing our ex-prime minister did. Oh yes, our prime minister was changed two times after the pandemic. Would you like to hear about the Tokyo Olympics? Olympics under pandemic? I don’t want to talk about stupid things they did anymore. I should stop bitching gradually because if I am going to claim to our government, it would be unstoppable. The fifth wave from this Summer in Japan was already over but it was the worst-ever here. Most of the people who were infected could not go to hospital. Many people died at their homes. My deepest sympathies. However I don’t want to say that it was because of the virus only. They died because of bad politicians without any abilities. Not only myself, but many other Japanese are disappointed with the Japanese government.
How did you first get interested in music and what would you say are some of the very early influences?
I was born on Halloween of 1965 in Kyoto, Japan. When I was a small child, I went to a kindergarten daily.
St. Mary’s Kindergarten run by Anglican-Episcopal Church. I think there was no deep reason to go there because there was no Christian in my family.
Maybe my mother thought it was ok for me. Or, all the small kids in that area used to go there…maybe the latter. Pastor told the story about Jesus Christ and the children prayed everyday, but when I got back home, Ultraman was fighting with giant monsters on the television screen.
Also when my grandfather died, his funeral was Pure Land Buddhism style. So, I kind of knew I was living in a strange world. Religions were there but without serious meaning. Before my parents divorced…oh yes, my family name was different. Tabata is my mother’s family name. My name is Mitsuru Shogaki. That was my father’s family name until I was 10 years old. Mitsuru Shogaki was not interested in music very much but he was interested in sound effects such as Ultraman or any other Tokusatsu sci-fi television, Godzilla and Gamera films. For example, the sound of ray-gun, screaming sound of giant monsters…Gamera’s screaming was amazing…sound of flying saucers… How were sound designers making these sounds? I was thinking only about that everyday… If I say so, I look like a cool kid, hahaha…. Actually, however, I was wasting time with a coarse pleasure that was sniffing gas from a gas cylinder. Gas for cigarette lighter. I was only under 10 years old. Now usually small kids do baseball, football, reading books, TV games, any nerd activities or chat with friends. 46 years ago, I was having a close to death experience by sniffing gas. I was also reading some mystery or Sci-Fi juveniles but I used to be stupid fucked-up kid with bullying a brain for killing time. So ashamed.
Anyway, I was also influenced by Bruce Lee Kung Fu films a lot. These films were amazing. Of course “Enter The Dragon” was composed by Lalo Schifrin and “Game Of Death” was composed by the legendary James Bond films’ John Barry but other Bruce Lee films’ main themes by composers in Hong Kong were also fantastic. Maybe those soundtrack music, sound effects of Tokusatsu films and TV series were my primary listener experience before rock music. There is an interesting story. My first prog rock album was by Mike Oldfield, ‘Tubular Bells’ because of “The Exorcist” film. Also the second prog rock album was Goblin’s “Suspiria”. I listened to these film themes earlier than King Crimson or Yes coincidentally. I mean that Western pop music culture was not more familiar than any blockbuster movies to Japanese kids. I believe if I was born in the US or UK, I probably would have listened to King Crimson or Yes earlier than The Exorcist soundtrack that was released in Japan in 1974. Then, I moved to my grandmother’s house as Mitsuru Tabata with my mother. There were a couple of domestic pressing ’60s British Beat singles that were my aunt’s collection. Those singles were The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Animals…. Maybe that was the first time I got interested in rock and roll music. After that I tried to buy singles such as Led Zeppelin and David Bowie by myself…ah, primal school kids couldn’t get LPs because there wasn’t any money. Then, punk rock came in. FM and AM radio was an important tool to get the information from Western pop music culture.
I thought I looked the same as other kids but other classmates were not interested in music that was happening in the Western world. They were interested in Japanese pop music, not overseas.
One of the first bands you formed was Sanagi. This was your high school reggae band. Your music is featured on compilation. What can you say about those early Sanagi days?
Sanagi was formed when I was in high school in 1982. Reggae music came as a part of the post punk / new wave movement to Japan at that time. First, I started listening to bands featuring reggae elements such as Slits and The Pop group. Also New Age Steppers or any On-U Sound Records.
Then, British reggae music like Steel Pulse, Matumbi or Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was not interested in Rastafarianism or any Jamaican roots reggae stuff though I liked Black Uhuru. Even if I liked some Jamaican stuff, I was only interested in sound. Actually there was another reason why I chose to play reggae music. I wanted to play in the band in front of an audience as soon as possible but I couldn’t play guitar very well. Rhythm guitar of reggae music looked easy to play. I can’t say such bullshit now but when I started a band it looked easier to play. Also I didn’t want to play simple punk rock stuff because everyone was playing that at that time. That was the biggest reason why I chose to play reggae music. Luckily, Sanagi could get a recording contract for the first Japanese reggae band compilation.
It’s funny because it was my first and last release from a major record company like EMI or Sony. What was the name of that? Pony Canyon Inc. Are they still alive? Forget about it. I still remember I went to a recording studio in Tokyo even though it was during midterm exams in my high school. That compilation album has not appeared on Discogs even now. Maybe I should add it myself, hahaha…
Then you joined Noizunzuri. How would you describe their sound and what can you say about the years spent with this band?
If I describe Noizunzuri’s sound, it would be as below even though other members might say “No”. “Japanese traditional folk music meets Public Image Ltd. of Metal Box period”.
I think I joined that band in 1984. I was 18 or 19 years old. I was the seventh-generation guitarist in the band’s history. It sounds funny but there were a lot of members coming and going. When I saw them for the first time, I was a high school kid. Maybe I was already playing in Sanagi.
It was a venue called “Live in Fou” , same as Sanagi’s debut gig in Kyoto. There were a very few people in the audience. Almost three people including me? I was so scared of their performance because of lead singer Indori Igami.
He looked so violent but he didn’t do anything to the audience. Quiet, not moving and singing sometimes, that’s all. However he looked like betokened simmering rage and his existence itself was terror. Also their sound was like Nōgaku played by typical rock and roll electric instruments.
It was my first experience finding traditional Japanese elements in rock and roll format. I was shocked. Then I noticed they were usually nice people. Everyone was older than me and so nice to me. Sometimes, Igami was scary when he was drunk though.
Then, one day, I told leader and bassist Ken Fukuda that I wanted to join the band. Noizunzuri released two albums when I was in the band. It is the one of best honey in my musical life even for now. I still remember Fukuda’s request when I started to play in the band. He said to me, “Can you play a guitar like when a baby child touches it for the first time?”.
What kind of records did Noizunzuri guys listen to?
A funny story. Leader and bassist Ken Fukuda wanted to teach me prog rock somehow.
Actually I didn’t know very well about prog rock bands such as King Crimson, ELP and Genesis until then. First, he played King Crimson’s ‘USA’. That album opens with Fripp & Eno’s ‘Walk On… No Pussyfooting’ as a concert’s opening music before ‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)’. I was more impressed with it than their live material. Usually most people have been impressed with the introduction of intense rhythm guitar by Robert Fripp but I looked like a boy who was impressed to hear the national anthem before watching a football game.
Do you know what I mean? It was better than the game itself. I am not sure what kind of music other guys used to listen…Oh, I remember singer Igami liked to listen to pre-war jazz. I still meet the drummer of the first album Takumi Kawakami at music venues sometimes. A lovely and crazy guy. Public Image Ltd at Kyoto Kaikan in 1983. He suddenly came down grabbing the stage curtain to the stage from upstair’s seat of the second floor like a party crasher within a jogging suit.
John Lydon was very scared at first but he wrapped an arm around Takumi’s shoulders and they sang ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ together. This is offtopic, but I want to tell you, hahaha….
How did you get in touch with the Hanatarash that would later become Boredoms and what was it like to see their early shows?
I met Eye Yamatsuka at the Einstürzende Neubauten concert in Kyoto in 1985. I think I was a volunteer for a security job at the concert. Organizers could get concert crews easily because a lot of young guys want to see famous artists’ concerts for free even if I was not a tough guy. Somehow I had a demo tape of ‘Noizunzuri’ to give to Einstürzende Neubauten. Maybe I might have expected something but I couldn’t give it to them, hahaha… Most of the artists from overseas have received hospitality like superstars here. Maybe I missed a chance to meet them. Anyway, Eye was the one in the audience. He came with a friend of mine. A friend of mine introduced him to me. That was my first meeting with him. Then we became friends and we hung around sometimes. Somehow we started to live in a cheap apartment called Yasuda-so which has a few tiny rooms in Kyoto. We became house mates. He was in Hanatarash at that time. However, that band had problems getting gigs because their live performance was too dangerous. After notorious Psychic TV concert in Tokyo that Hanatarash was supposed to play as support act….They were going to blow the stage by time bomb but it was found before gig. Support act was canceled…..Hanatarash could not play anywhere. He asked me to found a new band together. Normal four-piece rock band. That was Boredoms.
You were friends with Yamatsuka Eye and were part of The Boredoms at the very start. What would you say was the original concept behind this group?
The original concept behind the group was playing music like a normal rock band does. Both of us loved Buzzcocks. I think that was where the name of the band came from. In short, pop punk bands like the band that the girl audience likes. I mean that was like a punk rock version of Bay City Rollers or something like Toy Dolls.
Oh man, I am embarrassed to talk about that even now. Anyway, this early concept was thrown away in the garbage box immediately. Other band members were Ikuo TaketaniI on drums from Hanatarash, later the original Zeni Geva (May he rest in peace) and Hisato Hosoi on bass from ex-Sanagi. I still remember our first gig. We didn’t have any original songs. We played Black Sabbath and Butthole Surfers covers on the set list. However I think no one knew Butthole Surfers songs at that time in Japan.
Eventually you decided to continue to work with Noizunzuri. Was The Boredoms really so much trouble?
Well, I’m not sure about my memory but as far as I remember, departing from Boredoms was not a big problem. Of course Eye asked me to stay in the band but Noizunzuri was kind of busy at that time. I think I was too busy to play in two bands. Some of my friends jokingly say that was the biggest mistake in my musical history. However if I had continued to be in the band, it might have destroyed their bright future because it meant there would be no other members who joined after me. Boredoms were totally useless when I was there.
On which Boredoms recordings did you appear and what are some memories (can be good or bad) from recordings?
It was the first single and it is already out of print. And also there was one song for a compilation. When I recorded that single with Eye, the drummer was already changed to Toyohito Yoshikawa.
Somehow that single was played by Eye and me only. We overdubbed guitars and voices to Japanese famous studio session drummer Ponta Murakami’s drum manual tape for practice. I was afraid for a long time that we had recorded it without a license because the single was reissued as a CD in the mid ’90s but it was license free. It’s still on YouTube.
You decided to start your own band again which resulted in a few CD releases under the name of Leningrad Blues Machine.
After departing Boredoms, Noizunzuri made a second LP. Then, we had a few shows but we had trouble with the singer Indori Igami. That was a kind of music festival in a college, Noizunzuri played there. I remember Shonen Knife was on the same bill that night. Igami was so drunk. He couldn’t sing any songs on the stage. He pissed other members off. We decided to kick him out of the band. Then, leader and bassist Ken Fukuda switched to lead singer. I think we had a few gigs after that. A few months later Fukuda decided to move to Tokyo. It meant that Noizunzuri’s activity would be in Tokyo. However I didn’t go to Tokyo.
So, time to leave the band. No band, no life. I wanted to form a new band. That was Leningrad Blues Machine. Leningrad Blues Machine was a quartet originally. There was a lead singer who was my high school mate. However he left the band quickly. Actually Leningrad Blues Machine had three periods of activity. The first period was from after departing Noizunzuri to joining Zeni Geva. The second period was during the temporary stopping activity of Zeni Geva from 1997 to 1999.
Third period was from 2002 to 2008. I’m talking about the first period now. After the lead singer left, the band became a trio. We changed the drummer soon. Mitsuru Tabata, Naoto Hayashi and Yasushi Yamazaki were a kind of regular lineup of the first period. That band was wonderful but we didn’t release any albums at that period. Many years later, two live albums were released. About the second period. I was already in Tokyo.
The end of 1996, Zeni Geva decided to stop activity temporarily to recover from tired of many tours overseas. I reformed Leningrad Blues Machine with other members who were Ryuichi Masuda, ex Ruins bassist and Yasuyuki Watanabe from Marble Sheep. That trio didn’t release anything even if it was very exciting. I still remember when that trio toured outside of Tokyo for the first time. It was a tour with the very early Acid Mothers Temple.
I reformed Leningrad Blues Machine again with Yasuyuki Watanabe and the new bassist was Masahiko Shimaji. The trio of third period released their first studio recording album called ‘Yaje’ and we had a couple of Japan tours.
I really enjoy the Grateful Dead vibes… very improvisational.
Thank you. It was kind of the first band to me as bandleader but I didn’t want to say to other guys like, “You should play like that” or “I want to play in this band like that”. Maybe I was believing in democracy. When everyone was happy to play, it worked very well. However, about the first period of LBM, the band got the Cream syndrome soon. I mean that was a problem because each member’s egos were too big to play good music. It was the destiny of democratic trio band. Leningrad Blues Machine has never announced we were done. There is a possibility that the third period of LBM will play together someday. Maybe yes? Maybe not? None knows for now.
How about Zeni Geva?
Great band which I’m proud of. Zeni Geva was the first international touring band. I joined Zeni Geva in 1989.
Two guitars and drums and no bass. I know some of the same form of bands like Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion and Dead C. However each sound is totally different. Once I saw a review about Zeni Geva in an American local newspaper.
They describe the band as below. “Mixture of Slayer and Henry Cow”. K.K.Null plays law-end guitar and I play high-end. Zeni Geva had recorded four studio albums and a couple of singles with Steve Albini.
Also we had a lot of tours in North America, Europe and the UK in ’90s.
All of the activities were very exciting and good memories. After departing from Zeni Geva in 2012, I didn’t see K.K.Null for several years but we met again. We made a new album with a drummer Philip Brophy from Australia as Kishino Tabata Brophy that was released from a Japanese experimental music label called φononon this year. Album is called ‘Dangerous Orbits’.
It does not sound like Zeni Geva but a mixture of styles. Recording had been done in file trading of home recording because of quarantine time. K.K.Null had edited all. His producing skill is amazing. I love this album.
You were able to make a transition from one kind of music to another without too much effort. Why do you think is that so?
I’ve never thought like that but if it’s as a band leader, it might be difficult. On the other hand, if it’s for sidemen in the band, it should be easier. I usually listen to many different genres of music everyday. Same thing. Having interest in various music and trying those is more fun. Yes, having some fun is the most important thing.
How did Acid Mothers Temple come about?
Another great band which I’m proud of in my musical life. First, I joined Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno as bassist in 2005. At that time, there were two names for the Acid Mothers Temple. The Melting Paraiso UFO and The Cosmic Inferno. Makoto Kawabata and Hiroshi Higashi were both in the Acid Mothers Temple. The Cosmic Inferno released six studio albums in their debut year 2005. Also we went on a UK/Europe and US tour in the same year. It was incredibly high pace but so exciting and fun. Playing bass as bassist was a kind of new challenge to me. Later, I joined Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO as second guitarist in 2012. We did a lot of tours and recordings.
These activities were very exciting to me. If you know what kind of process Acid Mothers Temple have passed for founding as band, you may know AMT members have to be what kind of band members. I tried to do everything I could as a piece of soul collective. I’m not sure that I could make it as a good second guitarist because there is already an incredible lead guitarist Speed Guru Makoto Kawabata. Finding space for my guitar was worth challenging.
Acid Mothers Temple is the ultimate D.I.Y. international hard working touring band. There are many things to do for overseas touring bands, not only music. I departed the band at the end of 2017. Last six years were the most busy days in my musical life.
Mostly it was so fun and exciting. Being a drag as Mitsuko Tabata was one of these exciting activities. I still care about the activities of leader Makoto Kawabata. I’m very impressed by his recent acoustic guitar solo.
Your project with Munehiro Narita and Jun Inui, Green Flames is really good!
Another exciting psychedelic rock trio. I am also playing bass in the band. When I play bass…I am basically a guitarist…always another great guitarist whom I like should be playing next to me. I have been a big fan of guitarist Munehiro Narita from High Rise since I first saw them. It was Boredoms debut gig that was the opening act for High Rise first-ever gig in Kansai Region. However unfortunately Green Flames have stopped activity since 2018 after drummer Jun Inui’s departure. I’m still keeping a relationship with Jun Inui even now. He was the original drummer of a Japanese legendary punk rock band called The Stalin. Also he was the original drummer of a Japanese legendary rock band that runs through with “excess” and “speed” called Gaseneta.
I have always played in these bands’ reunion activities with him. I haven’t been in touch with Munehiro Narita since pandemic. Maybe I should talk with Narita in the near future, but you know what a normal rock band’s activity is. Composing songs in the studio, practicing, having shows and recording together….Most of these activities are difficult under a pandemic.
How about 20 Guilders?
20 Guilders are a singer-songwriter duo with Suzuki Junzo. We are still going on. We might have a more fanatic side about classic rock music unlike other groups which I was because both of us are big fans of 60’s and 70’s Western popular music culture. A few years ago, we started to tour overseas more than before. Also more Japan tours. However our planning about tour fucked up after Covid-19 situation. When the pandemic came to Japan, it was the beginning of April.
We had a package tour with German artist Mik Quantius from Embryo. We saw how it went to the last minute but the tour was canceled unfortunately. No time for disappointment. After a few months of self quarantine time, we started to book some gigs but those gigs were acoustic shows in Tokyo. Both of us play acoustic guitar and sing songs. It was a very interesting new experience for us. I’m excited about what will happen next.
Also even when we don’t have any activity for now, I always would like to share information about music with Junzo. His attitude about getting as much as possible from music, books and films is very impressive.
Your Bandcamp page is full of various releases. What’s the latest project you work on?
I’m working on a solo recording project at home a lot more than others after Covid-19 situation. Let me think about how many records I have recorded as solo since 2020 that means after Covid-19. I released solo works for three compilation benefit albums for music venues in quarantine time from Japanese label Chaotic Noise.
Hmm…one song will be released as a compilation CD album with Richard Youngs and Alternative TV, et cetera from Fourth Dimension Records, UK. This song is kind of intense because the name of the song is ‘Don’t Make America Great Again’. Also a new solo album called ‘Música Degenerada’ is coming soon from Brazilian cassette label Tudo Muda Music. Also there is a new band called ZZZoo starting in 2019.
ZZZoo is a kind of supergroup from the Tokyo alternative rock scene. Another guitarist Kazuhide Yamaji from dip, bass and vocal, Seiichiro Morikawa from ZOA, Saxophone player Kazuya Wakabayashi and there are two drummers. Kazi and Den. Check our Bandcamp. We already have four studio albums, three live albums, one EP and one soundtrack album of self-made animation. Yes, after Covid-19 situation, ZZZoo also canceled a lot of shows but we started to make self-made animation in quarantine time.
Also I am playing in a kind of recording project band from the US called Perhaps. It was basically a prog rock band with alternative taste based in Boston but after main guy/bassist Jim Haney moved Florida, Perhaps became an international file trading recording band. We just released a split album with Acid Mothers Temple on Riot Season recently. Yeah, I recorded my guitar track for this record. It is a good coincidence because my old band is on the other side of the record, right?
How did RQRQ come about?
Oh, I love RQRQ so much. RQRQ is called Ruku-Ruku in pronunciation. It is not like any other band I do.
Several years ago, I moved to a new house in a small suburb of Tokyo with my wife. Lovely neighbors are living within walking distance. Mr. and Mrs. Doronco, Kiyohiro “Doronco” Takada and Yuka Ijichi. We became close friends and that was the time to form a new band. First I had an idea that I wanted to try but I have never done… Playing American standards like old fashioned jazz musicians but we shouldn’t be too technical.
That’s an important thing, but also we are not able to play standards very well basically because of too many changing chords, hahaha… Mr. Doronco is a fabulous bass player from Les Rallizes Dénudés but it was also a new thing for him. Singer Doronco’s wife Yuka was singing those standards’ in English songs lyrics at first. Now she is singing original lyrics in Japanese written by her for these pop standards.
Also I have another new group with Doronco from a few years ago though it has been stopping live activity because of bassist health problems. The name of this band is Fuyuichigo (Rubus buergeri) literally Winter Strawberry but the English name of the band is Locus Solus.
Doronco on vocals & guitar, Mitsuru Tabata on guitar, Chiyo Kamekawa on bass ex. Yurayura Teikoku, Mako Hasegawa on drums from Maher Shalal Hash Baz. Personally I have high expectations of this band. However there is no reason to hurry up. You are able to listen to our live performance at my Bandcamp.
I’ve been trying to get in touch with Takashi Mizutani for many years now. Makoto Kubota was the last person I spoke to about asking Mizutani for a possible interview, but I guess that’s pretty impossible [Official Website announced the passing of Mizutani]. How do you see his music and what places does it have in Japanese underground culture?
I saw Les Rallizes Dénudés only once. When I was 18 years old, I saw them at Seibu-kodo Hall (the west auditorium) of Kyoto University. I should explain about this historical venue but it is better to read about the place. Anyway, if my memory is not wrong, the show was supposed to start at 7:30 pm but it started at 9:00 pm.
They played over a four or five hours show. Also they played the first and the last encore in their history. I still remember that some of the audience that came from a neighboring city, Osaka, couldn’t get back home because there was no train to get back. Surprisingly there were not many people in the audience. 50 people? However, most of the young audience there, including me, became important persons in the Kansai underground music scene. Doronco was playing bass at that time. He told me that it was a pretty exciting show even for them because the young audience was kind of rare at the Tokyo show. I’m still thankful to my old friend who organized that show. Actually he was manager of my first band, Sanagi.
Maybe not a directly related question, but are you a visitor of Japanese Jazz bars? I’m obsessing over those bars full of old jazz and JBL and Altec gear….
I was a visitor when I was a high school student in Kyoto. There were a lot of good Japanese Jazz cafes and bars called “Jazz Kissa”, literally jazz cafes but I didn’t have any knowledge about jazz and audio systems. I just requested to play jazz records which I didn’t know because request records were free. Actually they seemed to didn’t like my request because I requested aggressive and a bit strange post bop such as Jaki Byard’s ‘Sunshine of My Soul’ or Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out There’ after they played sophisticated Bill Evans records. I was just asking them to play records with impressive cover art even if I didn’t know what those were, hahaha… I haven’t been there for a long time. I have never been to Tokyo but I wish to go there someday. You may ask my duo mate Junzo about the audio system. He knows about it much better than me.
You’re a record collector and you also worked at Shinjuku Disk Union. Would you like to share how that came about?
I worked at Disk Union for four years from 1993 to 1996. So, my story goes back to 1993. I was living in Kunitachi City, which was another suburb of Tokyo. I was already playing in Zeni Geva but I had to get a part time job for me to make a living. I already worked in the moving service but I was not suited for a blue collar job. There was a Disk Union Kunitachi near Kunitachi Station and I saw a Now Hiring flier there. That was the beginning. A year later, the manager of the Disk Union Shinjuku manager asked me to move to Shinjuku. I started working there. It was convenient because I moved to Koenji town which was closer to Shinjuku. Disk Union company has tolerated part time workers even if they were band members of the touring bands. I was already touring overseas with Zeni Geva sometimes. That was lucky. I think I was able to contribute to the company as a person who knows American indie rock labels such Touch & Go or Alternative Tentacles. For example, Shellac organized in-store live shows at Disk Union when they toured with Zeni Geva in Japan.
OK, let’s talk about why I quit this lovely job. When I go on a tour with a band overseas for a long term, of course it is impossible to get a paid holiday for a part time job. Zeni Geva had a long Europe tour from fall to winter in 1996. A kind of toughest tour in my life. We got our van stolen in Warsaw at the end of the first week of a 2 month tour, we lost all instruments and gears. Just dirty clothes and passports left but the tour was going on. Yes, we decided to continue the tour and we took a train to go to Berlin. Anyway anyone there don’t want to recall this story, so I will skip the details. We could finish all the schedules though it was very difficult to make it. When I got back home, I didn’t want to get back to normal daily life immediately. I needed more rest but it was impossible to get more holidays.
Let’s talk about being a record collector. I was and I am a record collector. When I was working in a record shop, it was the way to get knowledge about used vinyl. It makes people become vinyl junkies easily. Once I was a record collector for the first pressings. I sold all my collection for economic reasons at the end of 1998. The next few years, I didn’t buy any vinyl but a few CDs. Oh wait, I am talking about the record collector which means vinyl collector, right? Hahahaha…good point. I became a record collector again when I got back to tour overseas with Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. However I was not the original pressings fundamentalist anymore. Actually this philosophy comes back like a disease sometimes… The original pressings collector means to spend more money for one copy. I prefer to spend money on buying many LPs because I want to listen to more music.
What are some of the most interesting records in your collection?
I don’t like to say what are the most interesting records in my collection because the most interesting records are always changing. However I can say what are some of the not-interested records I won’t buy. Plain cover techno/Hip Hop 12-inches for DJs, Japanese teen idle pop star singles, any metal records with stupid mood from ‘80s Sunset Strip…Oh wait, I have Anvil….forget about it. Spoken word records of languages that I don’t understand. Every genre of records except the above are subjects for collection even if I don’t have many Argentinian tango records . Maybe I want to make my record room like a record shop.
Is there an album that has profoundly affected you more than others?
Absolutely impossible to pick only one album that has profoundly affected me from my collection. May I pick five albums? Still a very few choices but these five albums won’t be changed forever.
The Beatles – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’
Studio Der Frühen Musik – ‘Chansons Der Trouvères (Lieder Des 13. Jahrhunderts)’
Grateful Dead – ‘Europe ’72’
Miles Davis – ‘Pangea’, …sometimes it would be changed to ‘Agartha’
Satie / Pascal Roge – 3′ Gymnopédies & Other Piano Works’, …Oh my god I still don’t have a vinyl but CD. Let me put it in the list for buying vinyl in the future, hahaha…
Would you like to comment on your playing technique? Give us some insights on developing your playing technique.
As a guitarist? About practice, I’m basically lazy fuck. However it is necessary to have practice if I need to express something with a guitar. A volume swell by controlled volume knob, not pedal, is one of my favorite guitar techniques but only Stratocaster could make it. I’m not very good at using a volume pedal if I use a Gibson type. So I don’t play too well when I use a Gibson. I mean that is typical case why I call myself lazy fuck about practice. About single note guitar scale. I was addicted to Mixolydian mode for a long time whether it’s good or bad. For example, it is used for a lot of Velvet Underground songs. Also Television’s Tom Verlaine used to play it on ‘Marquee Moon’. Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia on ‘Dark Star’ or ‘Morning Dew’, mixolydian was the main mode behind his chromatic scale. Personally, it was becoming a habit to play this scale. Habit is second nature? Even so, if I’m bored about it I should run away from that. However I’m still half way of escaping. About the guitar pedal, a long time ago, I used to use delay all the time even if it was not necessary on the song. Maybe I didn’t have unshakeable confidence about guitar playing. Before I realized it, the reverb pedal had taken the place of the delay pedal. It was a more necessary thing. Electric guitar’s clean tone without any ambience still reminds me of feeling ashamed to be naked in public. This is off topic, but I like Johnny Thunders who said he was a reverb addict longer than heroin. Anyway wah-wah, fuzz and reverb are The Three Sacred Treasures for psychedelic rock. Having guitar practice a lot may be important but if it was under the same old mental image as before, it is possible to be nonsense sometimes.
It’s absolutely impossible to cover your discography. Would it be possible for you to choose a few collaborations that still warm your heart?
May I talk about bands and collaborations which you haven’t asked in this interview?
Hakaiders: It was named after a spin-off character from Japanese tokusatsu superhero TV series “Android Kikaider”. It was quintet by two guitars, bass, piano and drums. Short-lived band that acted around early ’90s behind Zeni Geva’s activity. Hakaiders didn’t release anything but live activity. I’m looking for live recordings for release if it is good because I’m still attached to this band.
Pagtas: Pop band formed by Ritsuko Sakata. I was playing bass. You know the main reason I play bass already but this is a kind of exceptional case that I played bass because her compositions a rebrilliant. Also drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto was amazing when I was in the band. He often plays with Jim O’Rourke. We released one album by this trio in 2010. Pagtas is still going on with other members.
Amazon Saliva: Acted from 2004 to 2011 with singer/bassist Hidé from Ultra Bide and drummer Nani Satoshima later Acid Mothers Temple. Alternative punk rock band. It was an unforgettable moment to play music with them.
Guilty Connector Und Tabata/The Guilty C. And Tabata Mitsuru: Unforgettable duo with Japanese one-man noise project Guilty Connector. He used to live in Tokyo. We were close friends. We started to do home recording naturally. Released two albums. I haven’t seen him for a long time. Maybe it’s time to contact him soon. We should make something because this duo is good.
Yuki Kaneko: Another duo with brilliant Indian violin players. I released two duo albums with her. She also plays with Makoto Kawabata in the band called Floating Flower. I also joined her band called Float. It’s still going on but there is long silence because of the pandemic.
Rie Fukuda: Duo with poetry reading artist. I like her voice. We are planning to record a new album.
Tigris Flowers: Trio with Rei Yokoyama on bass, Yoshiyuki Ichiraku on drums. Yoshiyuki is a son of Yoshimitsu Ichiraku aka Doravideo, also ex-drummer of Acid Mothers Temple. Instrumental psychedelic jam band. It’s still going on. Tigris Flowers released our first studio album a couple of months ago. Maybe I will upload this studio album on my bandcamp soon.
In addition, a duo with brilliant guitarist Mandog, and a drummer Masataka Fujikake ex-Zeni Geva called Alien’s Social Dance Party…Yes, it’s absolutely impossible to cover all of my musical activity even for me. If I haven’t mentioned some projects, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like them. Reliving the past makes me tired even if it was an amazing experience or even if it was kind of recently.
What are some future plans for you?
The most important future plan is recovering my broken left leg, hahaha…. I already talked about some of my solo releases. Let’s talk about any other releases. Guitar duo with Masami Kawaguchi from Kawaguchi Masami from New Rock Syndicate, Keiji Haino Hardy Rocks.
We released a duo live album on cassette this month. Also another guitar duo album with CazU-23 who is a brilliant effective guitar player will be released from Uruguay. 20 Guilders are planning to release a live album but the idea is a kind of newcomer with Junzo. We will see what will happen. Also, a brand new recording project called Macula Kuru will release an album. Originally the session was recorded without me in March 2020. Just a few weeks before Covid-19 situation in Japan, Suzuki Junzo went on his short European tour. He recorded with two Flemish guys Jan Dhooghe and Bart De Paepe from Slow Tapes in Antwerp, Belgium. Two guitars by Junzo and Bert, drums by Jan Dhooghe. Then, after Junzo came back home, he asked me to do overdub bass guitar. So, I recorded bass at my home during the pandemic. It was a very exciting and typical recording art form of the internet. Possible to make music with anyone even if I haven’t met them. These recordings will be released from Feeding Tube Records on LP early next year. I am always looking for labels who want to release my solo or any other projects. If its format is vinyl, it would be so wonderful though. Also I’m looking for someone who wants to collaborate with me. Let’s have some fun from making music. May I talk about other future plans? I have been talking about music mostly here but I am interested in many different things such as books, films, arts, foods, politics, religion, watching football, and even wasting time shit-tools. I want to enjoy everything in the future as much as I can.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favorite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
First, from my solo albums.
Tabata – ‘Brainsville’ (1998)
Tabata Mitsuru – ‘Mankind Spree’ (2010)
Tabata Mitsuru – ‘Lucifer’ (2010)
Mitsuru Tabata – ‘Get The Car’ (2019)
Noizunzuri – ‘Wish You Are Here’ (1986)
Leningrad Blues Machine – ‘Leningrad Blues Machine’ (1993) (Recorded 1987-1988)
Zeni Geva – ‘Total Castration0 (1991)
Zeni Geva – ‘Freedom Bondage’ (1995)
Zeni Geva – ‘10,000 Light Years’ (2001)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno – ‘Anthem Of The Space’ (2005)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno – ‘Pink Lady Lemonade ~ You’re From Outer Space’ (2008)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO – ‘In Search Of The Lost Divine Arc’ (2013)
20 Guilders – ’20 Guilders’ (2010)
20 Guilders – ‘2’ (2017)
Green Flames – ‘Green Flames’ (2017)
Mitsuru Tabata + Yuki Kaneko – ‘Caño Cristales’ (2016)
Kishino Tabata Brophy – ‘Dangerous Orbits’ (2021)
RQRQ – ‘RQRQ’ (2017)
Tigris Flowers – ‘Tigris Flowers’ (2021)
Oh my god, Favorite release albums are so many on the list….Also some of ZZZoo digital albums.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Thank you too. My last words are:
When the time comes to reach the end even if it is before achieving a goal, let’s have some fun at that moment. With love.
Mitsuru Tabata Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp / YouTube
One of the site’s finest interviews. Tabata’s musical career is like the history of Japanese popular music in the past 40 years. His amiable and generous sharing of his storied musical legacy is a pleasure to read.
I want to know why the Leningrad Blues Machine didn’t leave an album
Check discos out. There are some albums. https://www.discogs.com/ja/artist/543367-Leningrad-Blues-Machine