High Rise


Interview with Munehiro Narita.

The following interview with Munehiro Narita originally appeared in issue #4 of the New Zealand magazine Opprobrium. It is reprinted here with their kind permission.

Born in 1959. Joined Tokyo in 1979, and played at Minor in Kichijoji. Formed Kyoaku no Intention in 1980. While that group was still active, he also participated in Kosokuya as a drummer from 1981. Joined Taco in 1982 for a recording session. In the same year he formed Psychedelic Speed Freaks, the original High Rise, with Asahito Nanjo on bass and vocals, and Ikuro Takahashi on drums. In 1984, they changed the name of the group to High Rise, and their first album Psychedelic Speed Freaks was released on PSF. The band is still extant, though it has undergone many changes of drummer. To date they have released five full albums, including one live one.

When did you first start playing an instrument?[1]
In my first year at middle school. I started off playing folk guitar. But I couldn't hold down the chords properly and I didn't like instruction books or folk songs, so basically I never learnt how to play properly. And I still can't.

What sort of music were you listening to then?
Rock - I listened to a lot of what they called "new rock". Supergroups and stuff like that. My uncle had a lot of those records. And The Doors, Pink Floyd, even Wilson Pickett. That was mostly what I was listening to.

What about Hendrix?
I didn't listen to any Hendrix. Even now I haven't heard much of his stuff. Very recently I've started to look at some of his videos. So I'm a bit different from the normal Hendrix freak. It seems like everyone who started playing electric guitar at school was into Hendrix. Even now I'm more interested in the way he stood, or the amps he was using, or his staging. I've absolutely no interest in his studio recordings, in the way they were done. I like the live stuff though.

So who was the first guitar player who had a big influence on you? The guys from the supergroups?
Probably Mike Bloomfield or James Garley, someone like that. I didn't know anyone who was listening to that kind of thing. Everyone was so into Zeppelin and Deep Purple that I deliberately stayed away from rock. There was a time when I was just listening to enka and these weird-sounding TV theme songs[2]. When I went to high school, I went through an avant-garde phase and listened to Syd Barrett etc. But that was the hip thing to be into back then. Everyone goes through that kind of a phase when they're kids, don't they? Then I started listening to Captain Beefheart and free jazz. And then Haino's Lost Aaraaff were on the scene at that time too[3].

So you were listening to free jazz and psychedelia at the same time?
I didn't have any special awareness of psychedelia, it was just something that was around at that time that I took for granted. Back then information about The Velvet Underground and The Doors suddenly stopped appearing, and all the records from the late sixties had been deleted. People laughed at you then if you were too into psych. None of the records were available, and even if you'd wanted to buy them there was nowhere selling them. So there was virtually nothing you could listen to - people who were into it had to spend their days trawling the secondhand shops. So I suppose that free jazz had a greater impact on me, as it was all happening at that time. Akira Aida[4] was still alive, and I saw some of those concerts at the Kido Airaku Art Hall[5] that he produced. They had a pretty big impact on me.

Was this when you were in high school?
Yeah. I saw people like Kaoru Abe[6], Motoharu Yoshizawa[7], Takehisa Kosugi[8]...

Pretty unusual to be into that kind of thing in high school?
Umm, I suppose that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And then there was the influence of this guy in my class from high school. I don't know if I should give his name or not...what the hell, there was this guy called [Jun] Hamano who was the guitarist with Gaseneta[9] and later he was also in Fushitsusha. He'd been listening to Keiji Haino and Hadaka no Rallizes since middle school. So I got into Haino through him. Then he said that there was this sax player called Kaoru Abe who'd played with Haino and who was pretty good, so I went to check him out, and of course I was blown away.

Were you already playing electric guitar by this stage?
Not yet. My folk guitar was still sitting around with its strings rusting. Back then it seemed like everyone around me was playing electric guitar or was in a band, and I totally despised it all. Rock had already become Japanized, and all the people who wanted to be musicians were all the same. They all had long hair, high heels and they were all in the same kind of cover bands. In fact, not really that different from the guys you still see in guitar magazines now; I wanted to stay away from all that. All the Japanese rock bands you'd hear about back then were very dodgy. There wasn't any indie scene like there is now, so all you'd have would be this bands making their major label debuts - like cabaret rock. All my friends were listening to stuff like Creation, Funny Company, Carol. Stuff that I had absolutely no use for. So I thought that jazz and theatre people, people who were totally going for individuality were far better than that whole fake rock world. I was attracted by jazz because it felt so much more free.
Before I got into jazz, I thought that preexisting instruments were uncool. If you were really going after individuality then you should build your own instrument. I'd been breaking microphones, attaching guitar strings to an old pole, hitting a saw with a plectrum and then recording this stuff onto infinite tape loops. I'd play this stuff, stick a mike coil into a guitar with broken strings and wail away. I had no interest at all in preexisting instruments. And then I saw Kaoru Abe, and I was amazed at what he was able to do on an alto sax - just a normal instrument that anyone could play. I realized that it was possible to do amazing stuff on normal instruments. So I thought that I'd try it myself, and it just happened that I knew someone who wanted to sell an electric guitar. So I bought it. I must have been 18 or 19. Anyway, I hadn't played anything like that for a few years, maybe because I hated musicians. Or what the world calls musicians anyway - major-oriented musicians who have no idea what music is. There's still so many of them - people who can play perfect copies of something else. In my case I never even wanted to copy anything. I just wanted to do something that would be different from everyone else.

You had that attitude from very early on then?
Yeah, from the start. So in that sense I didn't really practice. Well, I did practice the absolute basics to a certain extent, simple chords and so on. But I never tried to use those techniques as they were.

So you're not good at the guitar in a conventional sense? I always had this idea of you as a guitar wizard.
At that time free jazz was a big influence on me, so all I was thinking about was how to make my guitar sound like a sax. My sound and what I was trying to do then was probably different from my sound now [in High Rise]. It was all improvised. Like beginning and ending from nothing. I've always had this idea of wanting to do free jazz stuff through rock guitar.

Were you listening to any free jazz guitarists?
I went to see Derek Bailey and was very bored. I didn't really understand what he was doing. I was trying to do something a bit different to that. What Derek was doing may have been fine conceptually but it didn't touch me.

Yeah. There isn't any hint of heat and convergence in his playing, is there?
That's right. It's like, I need an ending, a peak - I need that sense of sexual climax. I need to have that kind of stimulation.

Who were you playing with back then?
Soon after I bought the guitar I joined a punk band called Tokyo[10]. They hadn't got a guitarist so they asked me to play. That was when I was 18 or 19. They told me to just play something suitable. No New York was popular just then, so I played something close to that. [Tamio] Shiraishi[11] had an event called "Joyo Kachi Bunkai Kojo"[12] at Minor every month and the band played there. So I was already playing live just after I'd bought a guitar. There were a lot of people in that scene who helped me find my direction in life. So I played there and got a pretty good reception. I enjoyed it and everyone else seemed to get into it too. There were all kinds of people in the audience, Haino was there too.

What was the Minor scene like at that time?
Minor had originally been a jazz coffee shop, then they started having live jazz gigs there. Gradually people like Haino and Shiraishi began to play there, and then some rock people too. Gaseneta and Kosokuya[13] played too. In time all these jazz / rock hybrid units started appearing, and that style became known as the Minor-style. Looking back now it was a very exclusive scene, but I was on the fringes of it all. I was soon fired from Tokyo - I probably didn't fit in. My guitar- playing was really upfront.

How would you describe your playing at that time?
It was pretty close to the way I play now, except that I didn't use any fuzz - it was just straight to amp. Everyone played that way back then though. They all thought that using effects was like selling out (laughter). Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I didn't know that.
Yeah, I'd have the amp turned up to ten, playing this freaky guitar. At the time compact effect boxes had just appeared, and everyone was really into lining up a whole train of them. I thought that was uncool beyond belief and there was absolutely no way that I was going to do that. So I wasn't using any effects at all then. I'd carry my guitar around in this old beat up bag, sometimes even without a bag.

Were you already going to see Masayuki Takayanagi?[14]
No, not at all. Of course I'd heard of him and knew what people were saying about him. But back then I was listening to people who were a lot more obscure than that; I was listening almost exclusively to those people that Akira Aida was promoting at his events. But then I started doing all kinds of weird stuff at Minor and I stopped even listening to them. Kaoru Abe and Aida had both died. Umm, and then the people around me were more sort of rock. Haino had started to play rock with Fushitsusha. That was just before Minor closed.

Was Hamano involved?
Yeah, Hamano had left Gaseneta and joined Fushitsusha. I suppose that Gaseneta had been a rock band though. Then I wanted to do some improvised stuff using rock sounds, in a band context, so I started playing with this fucked up group called Kyoaku no Intention.

This was your second band, right?
Yeah. I started Kyoaku no Intention[15] with Hisashi Yokoyama who played synth with Kosokuya back then, and a free jazz drummer called Hiroyuki Usui was a member for a while. It was totally improvised, no songs. We first played at the first "Tengoku Chusha no Yoru" event. We came on after Kan Mikami.

I think that was in about 1980. After that we played at Minor. We played there until it closed, at the "(Aiyoku Jinmin) Juji Gekijo" events[16]. What year did Minor close? Anyway, after that it was like there was suddenly nowhere for anyone to play. There was just no where else. Minor had been like this club house for people who couldn't play anywhere else. Then, I've forgotten who it was, but someone found this venue in Aoyama called Hakkyo no Yoru where we could play[17]. And everyone sort of drifted over there. The live space doubled as an SM dungeon so there were ropes and pulleys dangling from the ceiling. That was where we played next. It had a real underground vibe to it.

What band were you in then?
It was still Kyoaku no Intention, but I sometimes played solo too.

Were you still using just an amp with no effects?
No, I'd borrowed a fuzz from someone just after I'd started playing in Kyoaku no Intention, so I was using that. It wasn't possible to buy fuzz pedals back then so I'd borrowed this one from a guy who made instruments. Then he wanted it back so I asked him if there was anything he could sell me instead, so I bought a wah-fuzz. I'm still using it - it's a Maestro Wah Fuzz Fuzz-Phaser.

Had you seen some foreign musicians using them?
No. The guy at the guitar shop told me to take it off his hands because it was just taking up space in the shop. Back then there was just no one who was using wah-fuzz. Everyone was into compressors at the time, and people looked at me like I some kind of a freak when I told them I'd bought a fuzz pedal.

Everyone was into that super-clean fusion sound...
Yeah. I remember that before I bought the pedal the guy in the shop told me that I could use it as a fuzz pedal but that I'd have to be some kind of an idiot to want to use the wah-wah in this day and age. But I started using it anyway, and it was like fate had brought me and that pedal together. It was hard to work out how to use it though. I guess that it took me about five years before I was able to use it properly. I'd link it up with other pedals in Kyoaku no Intention, and I was using it when I played solo as well but I had no idea what kinds of sounds would come out when I started freaking out. I wasn't able to control it.

You were using fuzzed out guitar and synth, weren't you?
At the start, yeah. Yokoyama played keyboards and synth at the beginning but then he switched to drums. I'd just started listening to Silver Apples - people seem to be getting into them again recently in this techno revival thing. Haino would dig out all these weird bands and let us know about them. So I was listening to Silver Apples, so I suggested that we try it as a duo. So we did, and that became Kyoaku no Intention. I'd been messing about on the drums before, so I played drums and guitar. And that sort of lead to me playing drums with Kosokuya. Back then Kosokuya was a three-piece, with Kaneko on guitar, Mik on vocals and bass, and me on drums[18]. Mik was having a hard time playing bass and singing at the same time, and she suggested that we ask someone else to come in and play bass. So we got Nanjo, who plays with me in High Rise, to come and play bass.

Was that the first time you met him?
Yeah, that was the first time. Nanjo had a band called Red Alert previously, so everyone called him Red.

I didn't know that you and Nanjo had been in Kosokuya together.
It was just for a short time. Nanjo wasn't really a member - he was just helping out on bass.

How long did the four of you play together?
I don't think we played out with Nanjo on bass. Then, a few months later he left and started up a new band - he liked making all these different groups. He's still that way. (laughs) And the band that he formed then later turned into High Rise.

Did he use the name High Rise then?
No, that name didn't come about until much later. The original members were Nanjo on bass and vocals, (Ikuro) Takahashi on drums, a guy called Mitani who left before the record came out on guitar, and then me. Before I joined they called themselves Conformist, and then they changed the name to Psychedelic Speed Freaks. That was around `82. I was helping out in another band at the same time - that was Taco.

Was Taco a real band?
It was at the start. After Gaseneta split up, the remaining members - (Harumi) Yamazaki and (Toshiharu) Ozato - formed Taco. I remember them playing at Minor. I wasn't a member then, but I can't remember who else was in there. Shiraishi and Tori (Kudo)[19]were in and out of the lineup. The people who played on the record and the people who played live were different. By the time I joined, the band had already split up. It's probably better to say that I helped out on the recording, rather than that I was a member of the band. When they split up, there was a record contract outstanding, so I just joined to help out on that. I could play a bit of guitar and drum a bit, so they asked me along to help out. I'd known Yamazaki from the time when he was in Gaseneta. Anyway, the record came out and we played live a few times, and the band just drifted apart. I was already in High Rise by this time and we'd played out a couple of times. Yamazaki asked us to play a few Gaseneta tunes as well.

Had you already started calling yourselves Psychedelic Speed Freaks?
Yeah, that was the name we were playing live under. Just before that "Hakkyo no Yoru" event stopped, a new venue called Gyati opened in Kichijoji. We played there a few times as Psychedelic Speed Freaks.

Who came up with the name?
Probably Nanjo. Anyway we wanted to play speed music, or the kind of music that speed freaks would be into. (Laughs) We didn't have any big plans or anything. But the name was too long, and it was too direct, and we thought that some places might not book us because of it, so we started trying to come up with a new name. Then Takahashi said that he'd read this book recently and it'd been great, so we changed our name to High Rise.

From the Ballard book. So Takahashi was the one who came up with that?
Yeah. I didn't care one way or the other. But we decided to go with that. But we came in for a lot of flak from Ballard fans, and from people who hated him too! While all that was going on, Nanjo took a rehearsal tape that he'd mixed down over to Modern Music.

Had you been going to Modern Music even before you joined High Rise?
No. I wasn't interested in new records. (Laughs) All I was buying was 2nd hand psych. So I was only going to normal used record shops. At that time Modern Music wasn't stocking much psych - in fact they didn't have much stock at all, so there wasn't any reason for me to go there. (Laughs)

Nanjo was a regular customer though, wasn't he?
Yeah. Nanjo was really into putting something out at that time. I guess he wanted to leave something behind for posterity. He probably was talking about that, and one thing led to another - I don't really know that much about how the first album came to be released. Anyway, it appeared.

How long did it take you to record it? Where was it recorded?
At some rehearsal studio somewhere probably. (Laughs) We don't spend money on expensive studios or any of that shit. (Laughs)

So did you just record with one mike straight to cassette?
It was a one-point stereo mike, I think. Direct to cassette tape. If the music is good then it doesn't really matter what kind of tape you're using. You can use as many tracks as you like - but if the material isn't up to par then it doesn't change a thing. (Laughs) All it does is cost you money - money and time. Of course, if your material is great to start off with then it might make sense to spend money on it. I've never really understood this whole thing about recording studios - all you're doing is making crap material even worse. That's all they're for really, aren't they? In the end, one-take recording is always going to be the coolest. If you listen to our stuff you can tell that we never use multi-tracking.

Don't you record the vocals separately?
As a rule, no. Doing that totally destroys the feel of the song. You lose any true sense of balance between the guitar and the vocals. That was why we started off by recording direct to cassette. We have no idea what was recorded where. (Laughs) We just picked tracks off our rehearsal tapes for the first album.

How did you come up with the songs?
Basically, we just messed around in rehearsal until we came up with some riffs. Whatever sounded cool we went with. At the very beginning Nanjo would bring along various bass lines and we'd build it up from there. Or we'd come up with a theme and jam on that. That's still what we do now. I just play what I want and try and fit it into the phrases. The bass lines are all fairly simple so it comes down to the guitar. In a way, I'm almost like an arranger within the group. We come up with the basic songs in a matter of minutes, but they evolve constantly as we're rehearsing - and new drummers always make the songs sound different. That's the way we've always done it. The first album sold pretty well - we got a bit of coverage in various magazines, like Doll and Fool's Mate[20] and that was probably a factor. We had what they called a "strong style".

That's a phrase that brings back memories!
Of course no one had heard of us, so Ikeezumi had to basically force a lot of people to buy the record. (Laughs) "If you don't buy this you're a loser. It's great." That kind of thing. I suppose that that evaluation of the band comes from him.

Some of the people who bought must have been shocked.
Well, it's like being hit by a hurricane . . . . .

We're used to that kind of sound now, but back then . . . ..
And since it was an analogue record, when we went to cut it at the factory, the cutting needle kept slipping because there was so much noise on there. It would keep slipping off the acetate - they told us if we didn't reduce the levels they wouldn't be able to cut it. You hear these records where the bass has been shoved to one side of the mix, and they always sound really wimpy. You've got to have the bass in the middle to get any real volume kick. We had a lot of trouble getting it cut. But in the end we came up with something that they told us couldn't be done.

[Ikeezumi: People who bought it made cassette copies for their friends, and gradually word started to spread, even overseas. There was a lot of improvisation on there, so free jazz fans got really into it - they even seemed to be more interested in High Rise than the rock people. We heard from people in London who were printing fanzines, collectors, maniacs from all over the world - and they all loved it.]

Obviously High Rise had played live before the record came out.
I think the first time we played under the name High Rise was probably about the same time as the record came out. By that time Takahashi had already left the band, and Ujiie had joined as our new drummer.

Where did you play first as High Rise?
At the Kido Airaku Art Hall. Then we got asked to play all over the place - with YBO2 and Hanatarashi. We played in Osaka a few times too. Yamatsuka[21] bought a copy of the record and spread the word all over Osaka for us. That's how we got in touch with the Alchemy crowd. Just after the first album came out we appeared on that Alchemy compilation. Renkinjitsu. That was the first recording with Ujiie on drums. He'd been in Execute and then had left that to join a metal band. Basically he was a hard-core metal drummer back then. When he joined the band, the whole sense of speed suddenly accelerated.

Yeah, there was a real change in the sound.
We suddenly got a lot faster. Like we just kept on accelerating. That's when we really became true Psychedelic Speed Freaks. There was a lot of confusion over what was the title and what was the band name for the first album. We had this track called "Psychedelic Speed Freaks", which was virtually our anthem. Anyway, in the end we changed the name of the band, but we still play that song. I was into motorbikes too - and that wah-fuzz sounds just like a bike. Not like one of those Harleys that everyone's into now, but one of the old racers with the massive acceleration. It gives a real sense of speed. Like there's a bike roaring around in your skull. Someone told me that every time they get on a bike the sound reminds them of High Rise. You shouldn't listen to High Rise when you're driving - someone else told me that it makes them drive totally recklessly and that they almost caused an accident. (Laughs) That was the kind of sound that we were aiming for from the start. The music itself is totally the opposite of so-called black (dance) that makes you feel up and positive. Our sound gradually became something that drags you down into the dark, into closed and dangerous directions. There's no feeling of liberation. If I had to put a word to it, it's more like oppression and danger.

Do you aim for those kinds of feeling when you play guitar?
People talk about self-annihilation and destruction - it's something close to that. Anyway, I'm aiming for an extreme, whether it's a low or a high extreme doesn't matter. Though the name of the band does have "high" in it. (Laughs)

Getting back to the sound - the first album has a drone feel to it. There are tracks where you keeping repeating the same loop, getting deeper and deeper into it. Then that changes on the second album. . . . . .
Hmm. I reckon that was because of the change in drummers. The drummer on the first album was really rock-steady. It was like he wasn't at all suited to improvisation or anything freaky. So it sounds like I'm just totally freaking out over this really solid drum base.<

But even if you're freaking out, there's still proper riffs, the song structure is rock hard. It feels like the total rock `n' roll package.
But surely that's because riffs are the foundation of it all. If you don't have them then there's no differentiation between the different parts. Just totally going for and freaking out all the time doesn't work, does it? Plus, we enjoy playing the riffs in and of themselves. I totally dig riffs and rhythm guitar - they're one of my favourite things about guitar playing. The riffs in black music, that funky rhythm guitar - that's cool. People get at us about always playing the same one pattern songs, but our attitude from the beginning was that as long as it's cool it doesn't matter what you play. Of course, we tried all sorts of different songs, but in the end we kept coming back to that one pattern.

What else did you try?
Playing stuff slower. All I was ever thinking about was just blazing ahead as fast as possible - so that didn't work for me.

The 3rd album, "Dispersion" , sounds like you were trying something different.
Yeah, we tried playing slower on that album. That's one example of the stuff we tried.

You're even playing arpeggios.
I tried playing that kind of thing, but in the end I realized that I wasn't that suited to it. Probably because I started off playing differently from everyone else. Even if I try to play normal rock guitar, it always ends up sounding different - even my solos. Everyone usually prepares their solos to a certain extent, they basically know what phrases they're going to play. I'm not like that at all. Of course I play something close to chords, but I never know what phrases I'll play. It's not something you should be thinking about. You see these guys who work in guitar shops looking all smug as they play someone else's phrases, and they never think it's strange. I've tried to duplicate my own phrases some times, but it didn't work out too well.

Phrases that you'd played before?
Someone asked me to play something that I'd played before, so I tried but it didn't come out right. They're just things that come out there and then. We're a live band, so that's what's most interesting about us, isn't it?

Tell us a bit about the track on Tokyo Flashback 2 that features Haino.
We'd played together several times before that. That night we were playing on the same bill at Crocodile - and as it was a special event we thought we'd play together. We came up with the song on the spot, using an old riff. It's a pretty easy riff, so Haino just came up with some vocals to go over the top of it.

Is he totally improvising the words?
Yeah. We asked him to do it because we knew that he's capable of coming up with stuff like that off the top of his head. And then he makes us go for it even more too. It was a great night. Sometimes we really need that kind of tension to feed off. Once you know the songs, then that kind of tension begins to disappear. Sometimes we're disappointed in the way we play, but it's really hard to do anything about it when you're playing. Some people come to hear certain songs, and some people come to hear something new and weird happening. If push comes to shove, we'd rather cater to the latter kind of people.

After the Flashback 2 track comes the 3rd album.
Before the third album came out we had another change in the lineup. Ujiie left the band temporarily. He left kind of suddenly and we had to ask Yoshida (Tatsuya) to join. He was pretty busy at the time, so he only played live with us once. Then Shimura (Katsuji) came in to take his place. He's in White Heaven now. There's been a lot of changes in the drummer. High Rise needs a physically strong drummer, so it's pretty hard on them. Most normal drummers couldn't handle playing with us. That said, it's not like the bass and guitar have an easy time either!

Was Ujiie's leaving the reason why you stopped playing for a time around then?
Yeah, basically. Everything was sort of uncertain. I don't worry about stuff like that anyway. If we play, we play, if we don't we don't. Besides, Nanjo was busy with another one of his bands. Can't remember what I was doing. Then, just when someone asked us to play a gig, Ujiie decided to rejoin the band.

And then you cut the third album?
We recorded that album differently from the way we'd done the previous two. Of course, it was recorded in analogue, but what we did was to mike all the instruments and then also record over the PA. And we recorded it all onto a multi-track recorder. What we were aiming for was to make it sound as live as possible. I'm pleased with the actual sound on that record. It's got a real blurry live feel to it.

When it comes down to actually turning your sound into a record, are you and Nanjo pretty much in agreement about how it should sound?
We have differences of opinion. Nanjo sometimes says that we should go back to the sound of the first record - some of our older fans want us to play that way again, but as I see it the times have changed and the power of our performances has changed as well. Since the second album my guitar sound is recorded just the way it comes out of the amps. I've worked hard to get that sound, so I don't think that there is any need to play around with it afterwards. Another thing you have to be aware of when recording something is changes in the way people listen to the sound, and changes in the type of playback equipment people are going to be listening to it on. For example, the sound on the first album is perfect for people who have 20cm woofers and big stereo systems - because that was what people had back then. So there are these changes in the way the listeners actually hear the sounds, and now you have smaller component systems and more people tend to listen by themselves on headphones. So you have got to take that kind of thing into account when you're recording. People who are listening on CD Walkmans or MD players are only hearing the sounds themselves, there's none of the outside interference and air sounds you get with other types of playback. So separation becomes even more important.

That became really apparent on "Disallow," didn't it?
Yeah, that was recorded digitally which is why it sounds different. You can really hear the difference between digital and analogue. When you record in analogue, it's a lot easier to balance out all the sounds, and make it sound live. But the digital makes it sound totally different from the live.

All the engineering and production work on that album was by the band, wasn't it?
Yeah, Nanjo has all the gear so we used that. I checked all the levels too myself, and fixed a lot of stuff that way.

So Nanjo engineered it?
Yeah - because it's his gear. But it's still pretty true to my methods. I produced the second and third albums, so I get touchy if anyone criticizes them. It's like they're criticizing me. Nanjo produced the first album by himself.

It sounds like you've tried to highlight the vocals this time.
Umm. The songs have a special atmosphere to them. But I never know what people are going to like anyway.

Does Nanjo write all the lyrics, not just on this album?
Yeah. I don't have any complaints about that, and I don't really mind what he does. It's funny, but we just sort of evolved into a rock band. I don't know how to put it . . . . . maybe his vocals are necessary for me to be able to play my full role in the band. Or you could say that we're like a full-course dinner - there's a dessert, and a main course, and a starter, and all those courses have their own separate existences. (Laughs) You can fill yourself up on just a main course, but you've got to have a dessert to make the whole thing work.

(Laughs) On "Disallow" it sounds like you've got back to having riffs as the basis of the sound.
That's High Rise's style and we have no intention of changing it. Either that or blazing full-speed ahead.

The last track, "Grab", sounds a bit different from anything you've done before.
Yeah. There were a lot of arguments for and against that track. I wanted to have it on the album. I wanted to show people that we can do this too, or remind them that this is where we started from.

Are you totally improvising on that track?
Yeah. So I think it's close to what we used to do.

Do you think that the fact Pill was the drummer there was important?
That's true. Ujiie doesn't play that kind of thing. I guess we were aware of that dynamic. I'd like to do something like that with Pill again.

Your last gig (February `96) was amazing.
We wanted it to be even better.

You weren't happy with it?
No, we had equipment problems and so on. That sort of spoilt my impression. I couldn't believe it, that it would choose that moment to blow up. Right in the middle of my solo. But it was fun to fix it too. (Laughs) The pedal just gave up the ghost. I must have changed that switch more than ten times already. I buy a new one every time it breaks. I've got so many spares. I'll have to go over everything more thoroughly next time. I've made my own adjustments to my pedals - it's interesting to tinker around with them.

I might have guessed that you'd be into electrics.
I can usually put things back together again. I guess I do have a feel for it. I used to make radio kits. That's probably where my interest came from. It was good learning practice for understanding sound. Even now I fiddle around with electrical testers. I really get into the electrical supplies shops any time I go to Akihabara, more so than the computer shops[22]. They're all clustered down below the tracks - I love it in there. But there's some things that you can't get any more. So I have to build up my own supply. Sometimes things just blow up without any warning. I don't think that any of my favourite transistors are still being made.

So you do all that yourself?
Yeah. I probably spend more time at home checking the electronics than actually playing. I'm always running around with a soldering iron in one hand. I take a lot of pains over that aspect of it. Because I know that the way I use the equipment is likely to break it. Though there are some things that no matter how much you tinker with them you just can't get to work again. No one looks upon effects pedals as being as important as I do. Mainly because no one uses them to their full capacity. Everyone just uses one aspect of what the pedal can do and leaves it at that.

Can you imagine a performance now where you wouldn't use any pedals?
My guitar sound isn't really that far away from the plain, unaltered sound of the guitar. Even with the fuzz I use it on the lowest setting.

Come to think of it, you're right.
The unaltered sound of a guitar is nice, but I don't take it as far as saying that that's the only sound I'll use. Because you're using electrical amplification you've already gone beyond that unaltered sound. You get a lot of novice guitarists talking about how they don't use any effects, straight into the amp - but so what? It might be OK if you have phenomenal technique, but it's not going to do some crap beginner any good at all.

You seem to have done almost everything.
I've tried most things. But that doesn't matter. What I'm doing now is different from all of that. I'm even open to using fuzz, everything really. In the end what it comes down to is that the guitar is a sound that's made electronically. To me it feels different when you starting turning it into digital though. We're still really developing digital sound. I also think that there is a need to be exacting when you're choosing equipment as well. You do need that kind of knowledge now to get the sound that you want. Well, I guess that for me at least, there's no real need for fuzz. But the sound of those fuzz pedals . . . . . I bought a heap of them but in the end there was only one that had a sound I liked.

How many effects pedals do you own?
I've got several wah-wahs at home. Maybe seven, from various companies. Then I've maybe got five or six fuzz pedals.

Wow. That many?
I've tried using all of them, but I've eventually settled on the ones I use now.

There's hardly anyone who plays like that any more.
Yeah. Recently I think more people have started using wah-wah, haven't they? But I have no idea at all why they choose to use it they way they do. Guys at instrument shops are always telling me to use it that way too. I wasn't up for it so I sat down and came up with my own way. (Laughs) If everyone follows the instruction book then they all end up sounding the same. There's probably even somewhere that tells you how to move your foot! Fuck off, I'll work it out for myself. There's also a sense where I've blended several different kinds of technique. But there's also things that I just can't do - sometimes because of the equipment. There are ranges where it distorts and ranges where it won't.

So you're not just putting some feedback on top of wah-wah?
No, that's not it. I'm not just using distortion either.

There are times when the feedback and the fuzz just lock together into this amazingly weird sound.
Yeah. If I just wanted to get some feedback then I set everything up differently. But when you do that the sound always turns out thin, there's no body to it. I hate that - I suppose it's something that bugs every guitarist. In a way it's unavoidable when you use as many pedals as I do because their tones are all different. But everyone has these kinds of problems.

Do you have any set pedal settings that you use?
Recently I pre-fix them to a certain extent. But if I forget to switch them on at the right moment then I just say fuck it, and do without. I've been trying to find a setting that'll generally work for most things that I want to do. Any setting. If you totally fix the setting for each song then it's like fixing the phrases you're going to play. I like to leave it up to the moment. I don't go around exchanging pedal settings with other guitarists. I reckon that what I'm doing is too different to what everyone else is doing anyway.

Even when you're totally freaking out colliding into walls and the amps, looking like you're about to fall over, your fingers and your feet seem to be very controlled.
I just let my body go - I'm not thinking about playing something one way or another. My hands are just moving of their own accord. But of course I'm more careful with the pedals. If I don't move around that much then I don't feel like jumping on all the pedals. My left foot is generally rooted to the ground, but my right leg is all over the place. Pretty much like I'm dancing!

On stage you go totally crazy, but the audience just sit there totally still, clutching their DAT mikes.
Sometimes it feels like a wake. (Laughs) Even when we've finished playing, there's never much reaction from the audience.

So you wouldn't mind if everyone started moshing like at some alternative grunge gig?
It'd be better than them just sitting there.

So is there a difference between the way Japanese and foreign audiences appreciate music?
People who've been to gigs abroad tell me that there's a difference. But there's also a tendency for foreigners to look upon all Japanese as being the same. Though of course I have no idea at all how they hear High Rise. We were interviewed by an American fanzine and they were coming from the Mudhoney thing. Still we do occasionally get approached by other places.

You've never been abroad as a band, have you?
No we haven't. I really want to go but it would be complicated in terms of equipment. I'll ask Nanjo about how things went with his Musica Transonic tour of Europe. A lot of other bands have done their groundwork and gone abroad, so I feel that we should be doing the same. But I'd have to quit my job if I wanted to go on a long tour. I reckon me and Mikawa are the only ones doing this kind of work[23].

If you were to go over to the States and play for about six months, stuff could really start happening for the band.
That would be interesting to try - to try living there for a while. I think the other members would be up for it. I may be getting on in years but I'm still up for doing that kind of thing. Nanjo seems to have various contacts abroad and there was a lot of interest in our music, especially the early analogue LPs.

What about the more recent stuff? Is that selling?
Seems to be. Only problem is that the yen has been so strong recently that the records have to be priced too expensively. The only real way around that would be to put out some records abroad. I think there are some people interested in doing that. Then fans abroad could get hold of them much more easily. There've been a few offers, but Nanjo deals with that side of things so I don't really know.

Someone told me that you'd been to the States and that you played with the Dead Kennedys.
Wasn't me.

It wasn't you who went to Jello's place and . . . . .
That was Ujiie, a long time ago. He gave Jello one of our videos, and then there was a letter from him later. Seemed that he got pretty into it. I've never listened to the Dead Kennedys properly, so I don't know if that's anything to get excited about.

Have you played with any other foreign bands apart from Mudhoney?
No. Is there anyone worthy to share the stage with us? I don't listen to much stuff so I don't know. Even for the Mudhoney gig we'd never heard their music - they asked us to play, so we only heard their stuff then. I'd never even heard of Sub Pop. I'd heard of Nirvana because they were popular. But I've never listened to a Pearl Jam record. You think I'd like them?

So you don't know anything about the current American rock scene?
Nothing at all. I don't think I've listened to a single new record in the last ten years. I don't even feel like I should. What we're doing is the most important. Doesn't matter what other people are doing.

Do you go to see any gigs, recently?
Not very often. Oh yeah - I went to see Wayne Kramer. That was the last gig I was at. I was a big fan of the MC5 up until then, I'd buy all their records. For some reason I stopped after that gig. (Laughs) I felt that I'd finally reached a conclusion regarding their music. I also went to see Big Brother.

Big Brother and the Holding Company!
Yeah. Two years ago. They weren't very good at all, but it was a great gig. It moved me.

So what kind of music do you listen to at home? Do you even have time?
I hardly have any time. Just on the train on the way to work. I listen to my CD Walkman. I think Faust was the last thing I listened to.

(Laughs) That's what you listen to on the way to work?
I buy Faust and Silver Apples and stuff like that just to listen to as I'm commuting. I don't know - what does everyone else listen on their Walkmen? I like Faust 4. I've stopped listening to Guru Guru though. If I were them I'd have given up by now.

Yeah. Did they have a great impact the first time you heard them?
Yeah. Back when I was still in high school.

There's a definite blues base to their sound. I've stopped listening to a lot of krautrock stuff too. What about progressive stuff. Do you listen to much of that?
No, I've no special liking for it. But what do you mean by prog? Gong? I only listen to their first album, "Magic Brother". That's the only one I own. Pink Floyd? I listen to their first as well. I guess you could say that I just don't like prog.

What about more out-there things? Do you listen to noise?
I don't really understand noise - that's my position on it. The sound that I get out of my amps when I have them up full has a lot of noise in it and it's distorted to fuck. . . . . But as far as I'm concerned it's just one more kind of sound. I guess that I must hear it differently from people who listen to noise. I don't see any reason why you should just separate out those sounds and listen to them.

Do you listen to any Japanese musicians?
Umm. I haven't been to any gigs for a long time. And anytime we play with other bands, there's no one who really makes me sit up and listen. This is going back a while, but I was really shocked the first time I saw Kosokuya's Kaneko play. I was just totally taken aback by his, what's the best way to put it . . . . . his originality, I suppose.

His playing isn't as over-the-top now.
Yeah, I suppose you're right.

But he's got a unique sense of phrasing.
His phrasing is very different from other people's. There's no young guitarists that I can think of who have something that unique. Everyone just seems to be copying some so-called first-rank player. And I have no absolutely no interest in Clapton etc.

There was a time when every guitarist in Japan seemed to be influenced by either Clapton or Jeff Beck.
Yeah. Or else they just copied a blues structure. There's no one who's really serious about what they're doing. From that point of view, it really comes down to whether a player has originality or not. That's the most important thing. And that's not something that can be imitated, probably.

Is there any young guitarist who you've especially got your eye on?
I don't listen to enough to have a real idea. But none of the bands we've played with left a strong impression on me. There's no one who's made me shout, "yes, that's it!", and no one who's surprised me. It's a shame in a way. I get a weird sense of tension when I see someone really good play. I haven't had that feeling for a number of years now. Yeah, it's a pity.

So there's no one who's appeared recently who's excited you?
Umm, that's right. No one inside or outside of Japan. Maybe it's just because I'm getting old though. There's no one who scares me enough to do some hard practicing. There used to be times like that. I got that sense of tension when I saw the video of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock[24]. That's the best. I didn't get that kind of feeling when I saw Wayne Kramer play. Too bad. I think I've probably gotten more blase as the years have gone by. There's no one who I can honestly praise to the skies. There's a lot of people who I should probably mention, but to be honest with you, there's none of them who are all the way there. But there's also a sense that I'm sitting back and waiting for some youngster to impress me. I guess my likes and dislikes are old-fashioned now so there'll never be anyone who'll impress me. We're looking at a new generation with the eyes of an older generation. Younger people obviously see and hear the new music differently. It's sad in a way, isn't it? We're older now and we'll never get the same sense of shock that we had back in our teens.

Talking about thrills and excitement, there seems to be a biking influence on your sound.
I guess that I'm a speed freak at heart. I used to think that I wanted to go as fast as humanly possible. But I came close to death a few times and that cooled me down. I don't like speed as much now.

There's a sense of speed from your guitar, maybe a sense of acceleration would be the best way to put it. Especially when you switch from riffing into a solo.
Yeah. To me if feels like the light has suddenly turned to green and I put my foot down. Like my stomach gets left somewhere behind me. I love that feeling. It's like you've left your brain aside and just gone ape-shit. The music flies on ahead. And on stage when I've got some huge amps turned up I can feel all kinds of stuff, not just the sound of the guitar - noise and feedback and the wind from the speakers. That's pretty close to the thrill I get from riding a bike. There's a lot of rock musicians who are into bikes but must of them won't bring it into their music. I think I'm just honest and let it all come out in my sound.

Japan just doesn't have that whole outlaw biker culture, does it? Compared to the States. That whole genre of music associated with bikers. I don't know that much about it though.
The American thing is all Harley-based. That means that the rhythm is slightly different. Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf are all biker music bands. The drumming in Blue Cheer is exactly the same rhythm as an idling Harley. That low rumble. That's the sound of a V-twin. You slow that down and it's exactly the same as Blue Cheer. The High Rise sound is more like a higher-pitched engine. Like the sound of some kid who's remodeled the mufflers on his scooter. That sound was strongest at the beginning. I mean, we've credited the guitar as "motorcycle fuzz tone"!

Yeah, right beside your name.
Nanjo wrote that. People got really into it. But I had the same impression. That was the kind of sound that would appear in my head while I was playing.

Like the world seen from a speeding bike? Those kinds of feelings?
And the sound of the bike. Whenever I'd be playing I would hear sounds in my head like I was on a bike. That's where it's coming from. My sound comes from motorbikes, and then from living in Tokyo where you have all this constant background noise. The underground, the rightists' sound trucks[25]. (laughs) The High Rise sound comes from all of those things melded together. I've stopped riding bikes now, but I want to do it again.

If you started riding again your sound might change then.
It might do. It'd be a bit different. A bit faster maybe.

Faster? But High Rise isn't just speed, is it? There's something else there, something I can't express.
Just in terms of speed there're a million bands faster than us - hardcore bands and so on. Our sound is totally different from theirs, where everything is in balance. High Rise feels more like seeing a traffic accident happen right in front of you. (Laughs) Or someone topping themselves in front of you. That's the kind of feeling we're going for. Metal and hardcore bands feel more like riding a rollercoaster at a funfair, that's their world. There's no sense of the now or reality, maybe.

If you're going to the trouble of making music then you've got to give something to the people who hear it, or else it's meaningless. There's got to be a shock they get from the music. Something that makes them want to get violent. Or go crazy. That's the best kind of music, isn't it.

Finally I'd like to ask you about your future plans. You got some dates coming up?
Yeah. We haven't played live for a long time . . . . . I don't know if I'll be physically capable.

What would be your ideal pace for gigs?
It'd be good if we could play once every three months. We need that amount of rest time to get our bodies back to normal. And to keep the music fresh. If we play gigs on consecutive days then we end up playing on autopilot. Plus there's not enough places for us to play. I don't think that we'll radically increase the number of times we play. That's the just the kind of band High Rise is. (Laughs)

If High Rise took an extended break, would you play solo or with other bands?
If I wanted to play, then solo would be the easiest. If someone gives me an opportunity and I don't have to think too much about it then I'll do pretty much anything. When we play as High Rise we need a whole van's worth of gear - I'd like to be able to play without all that much equipment.

Do you play any other instruments? Or do any portastudio recording?
I don't have any plans like that at the moment. I've no intention of playing the drums again. And recording means that I have to lock myself up in a room - though a lot of people are doing that now. If I'm going to do something I don't want it to be a lie. I want to play music that communicates its own truth at that particular moment in time. Recording is always a lie. I guess that I'm going against the flow of the times.

Does High Rise have any plans to record?
Not at the moment. At the moment Nanjo is going through all our old tapes and some of that might be released. We used to record all our rehearsals. There's quite a few of them where the sound is pretty good quality and we might be able to release some of that. With our old lineup. I especially like the stuff from around the time that "Tokyo Flashback 1" came out. Then we also released a couple of cassettes back then. It might be good to reissue those on CD.

I'd love to hear that. Are you ever going to reissue the first album?
I don't mind one way or the other. It's nothing to do with me. (Laughs) We didn't make too many copies of that to start of with so I suppose we should reissue it. Might piss off the collectors though. (Laughs) All 300 of them would probably get totally pissed off.

Things were obviously very different back then.
There were so few records available compared to now. There's so much more information now and you can listen to most anything you want. Compared to twenty years ago, there's so many things that have been reissued. It's normal now to be able to go to a big chain record store and be able to pick up indie releases. There's even so much of it around now that it's impossible to listen to all of it. And it's so easy to skip tracks on CD - you can really pick and choose which tracks you want to listen to under which conditions. There's so much information around that it's becoming impossible to digest it all. You go to Shibuya[26] now and you can pick up virtually any kind of music you want.

It's just as easy to find one kind of music as another. There's no more differentiation between them.
The speed of information exchange is so fast now that I even feel that people don't have the time to sit down and spend a lot of time coming up something. They just come up with one sound and that's the whole thing finished for them, "right we've done that", or "someone else has already done that." Information finds a way in, even if you don't want it. In the past, even if you were doing something roughly the same as someone else you could follow it through to the end. Now the flow of information is so rapid and there's so much of it that it's no longer possible to be original. It's like you're making music only within predefined limits.

Now people can see the end result of anything before they've even started.
Yeah. And ultimately that's destroyed the will to start something and run with it to the very end. Take effects pedals for example - in the past there's wasn't much information and there was no one who could teach you the finer points. Everyone had to experiment and find out for themselves. Now your told where you can use it and if you want to get this sound then you should be using this setting. And people don't try to go beyond that. Instead of experimenting with different sounds they just go out and buy another pedal. There are even books that tell you what settings to use to get a Jimi Hendrix sound. (Laughs bitterly) In the past people had to really experiment for themselves, and that struggle gave birth to all kinds of music. That sense of experimenting has been lost. I feel that's what's happening to music at the moment. In Japan now there's so much information flying around that it actually becomes impossible to do anything - there's no time to think. The only way you could possibly do it would be to ignore all the information around you.

That's a choice that the consumer or listener can make - not to look. But what does it mean for the performer, the person who's sending out the signals, to make music in that environment?
There isn't any meaning, probably. (Laughs) That's a sort of discrimination though. It's a difficult problem. Maybe younger people who came to see us 6 months ago will stop coming. The speed with which their interest moves from one thing to another is really fast. Maybe age has nothing to do with it, maybe it's the times. I have the feeling that most young musicians now feel that it's uncool to keep on doing just the one thing. All we can do is try to ignore those people. Though they obviously have their own reasons and goals in making music. Maybe they want to communicate through self-expression, or maybe they just want to play guitar. Then there're people who just want to make money, and the music they make will reflect that. Everything moves so fast now. Last year's music is already out of date. I'd prefer to concentrate on making something that has some universal appeal, something that isn't tied down to time. I want to steer clear of trends. I want to keep on making music on my terms.

Footnotes to the Narita interview

1. This interview was originally published in Japanese in 1996 in the PSF-published magazine, G-Modern, issue 13. The interview was conducted by Toshi Sasaki and Kuniaki Satoh, and translated by Alan Cummings.

2. Enka has been described as the country-and-western of Japan, but with more songs about fishermen than truck-drivers. Nostalgic, sentimental, and overwrought, enka is a postwar phenomenon caused to a large extent by a rural to urban population shift. A great favourite of middle-aged men in karaoke bars.

3. Keiji Haino's original "out" unit. Vocals, sax, piano, drums. Documented on the eponymous PSF CD and on the first disk in the Soul's True Love 4CD retrospective set.

4. Free jazz writer and promoter, responsible for introducing much of the European and American free movement to Japan. For information on his role in bringing Derek Bailey and Milford Graves to Japan see Stefan Jaworzyn's interview with Bailey in Resonance Volume 4, Number 2. Aida died in his early thirties.

5. Legendary Tokyo venue on the second floor of an art gallery, about two minutes walk from Modern Music in Meidaimae. The venue was home from home for Masayuki Takayanagi in his later years, numerous avant-garde and free jazz / noise events in the eighties, and more recently to Che Shizu and Masayoshi Urabe etc. Dark and spacious with a unique atmosphere, it's currently rumoured that it may be demolished when the whole area is redeveloped. It would be a great loss.

6. Late free altoist. Tokuma have recently unearthed and released on CD three recordings from his classic `71 period.

7. The doyen of free bassists. Has been playing since the sixties, and is now best known for his astonishing work on his 5 -string effects-heavy bass. Recent recording ("UZU") with Barre Phillips on PSF.

8. Founding member of Japan's first free improvisation group, Group Ongaku, in the early sixties (documented on "Music of Group Ongaku" HEAR sound art library CD). Also founded the Taj Mahal Travellers. Associated with Fluxus etc.

9. The original Japanese punk-psych-noise group. Their only documented recording is on the PSF CD.

10. Documented on a tape on the Daiyon Kobo subsidiary of Nanjo's La Musica tape label.

11. Ultra-sonic altoist. Involved in the Minor scene from early on, played in an early incarnation of Fushitsusha etc. A worthwhile Pataphysique CD of his work exists.

12. "Surplus value dismantling works". This event continued monthly throughout 1980 and featured performances and concerts. Members of Japan Fluxus such as Yasu Konishi and Fumiaki Motome appeared. Among the musical acts were Tori Kudoh's Noise, Michio Kadotani's Rotting Telepathies, Gaseneta, Tako, the original Kosokuya, Keiji Haino etc.

13. Long-running psych band. Their only recordings are on a long-gone LP, a CD on Forced Exposure, tracks on Tokyo Flashback volumes 1 and 2, and a recent collaboration with altoist Masayoshi Urabe, The Dark Spot, on PSF.

14. Influential Japanese "jazz" guitarist, whose work with his New Directions Unit and many other solo and group incarnations remain a burning inspiration. Perhaps the best introduction to one aspect of his work can be gained through the "Call in Question" and "Live Independence" CDs on PSF.

15. Again documented on Daiyon Kobo.

16. This series of concerts (lit. "The Lust Citizens' Ten o'clock Theatre" - so named because they began at 10 o'clock after the main show had finished) organized by Tamio Shiraishi, was documented on an eponymous Pinakotheca LP. The LP featured solo tracks by Haino and Shiraishi, along with the Tori Kudo's Machine Tango, amongst others.

17. Aoyama is an upscale area in central Tokyo with a lot of expensive restaurants, boutiques etc.

18. The only surviving recordings from this era of Kosokuya have been issued on two cassettes from Daiyon Kobo.

19. Tori Kudo of Maher Shalal Hash Baz "fame". Another longtime face on the scene.

20. Both "Doll" and "Fool's Mate" are still published. "Doll" tends to focus more on punk and big-name foreign indie bands, while "Fool's Mate" concentrates on the big hair and dreadful gothic romanticism of Japan's so-called "visual shock" scene of bands like Die in Cries, Lunar Sea, Gilles de Rais and about a zillion other painted losers.

21. Currently known as Yamantaka EYE - he apparently changed his name on the advice of a Chinese shaman.

22. Akihabara is the large electrical goods wholesale area of Tokyo. Legendary for all sorts of bizarre, new gadgetry at cheap prices.

23. Narita works for a major securities company. Mikawa for a large bank. Not exactly the most typical of underground career paths...

24. Invariably abbreviated to "Jimi Hen" in Japanese rock circles.

25. The red-sun flag flying, gloss black trucks mounted with massive loudspeakers that patrol the streets of Tokyo broadcasting right-wing political polemic and old military songs at ear-shattering volume.

26. Major teen centre in Tokyo on the Yamanote loop line. Has lots of clothes, record shops etc.