Published on July 2nd, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Mondo | Aural Fit
Just as a painter focuses the image in their mind’s eye onto the confines of a canvas, experimental rock musicians must also work within limitations: those of technical ability, intuition, and the sonic capabilities of their instruments.
The best players, though, can paint outside the lines. They are able to transcend, turning limitation into opportunity. Their minds gnaw constantly at set patterns of thinking. Templates for music are discarded. They don’t hide in comfort zones, practising and polishing; they detest predictability, and demand a lot of themselves and of their bandmates.
Many experimental acts usually have a charismatic personality who attracts other musicians with similar ambitions to them and into loose collectives. Some stick, or don’t, some are pure fun, and others develop into permanent bands. Ideally, the relationship is symbiotic and in service of a shared vision. At other times there’s conflict and projects break apart. But the defining quality that binds it all together is a passion for music that goes even beyond obsession.
For Tokyo three-piece Aural Fit, the person keeping it tight and loose is Mondo Bohachi.
Thoughtful, unconventional, eccentric, and with a background in electrical engineering, he’s drawn to him some of the most exciting players in the Japanese underground scene over the band’s career — names like current drummer Nanbu Teruhisa, Lewis Inage, Tanabe Endo Kenichi, and George Murakami — and for Aural Fit, the result has been three outstanding “official” records and a number of self-released CDRs.
The two that perhaps most successfully navigate the tightrope between chaos and convention are II, released in 2008 on P.S.F., and Mubomuso, released in 2010 on Utech Records.
Both are monumentally heavy, thrashing beasts, all blown-out cymbals and roaring bovine guitar, bursts of frenetic, fret-melting bass and wild percussion that electrifies the torrents of sludgy tone like blazes of red lightning in a cloud.
The tension in the music comes in the shifting rhythms and meter, the shaggy off-kilter riffs: it bursts with restless energy that once experienced, is totally addictive.
Although most of the music on these albums was created “on-the-fly”, Mondo insists that what Aural Fit did previously, and does now, should not necessarily be considered “improvisation”.
“The term ‘improvisation’ doesn’t fit our style, but I guess it’s the only way to describe it, like an antonym for songwriting,” he tells BNU after finishing up at a Tokyo instrument store where he repairs rare guitars part-time. “For me, it’s more like ‘immediate composition, immediate arrangement, and immediate deletion’.”
He describes the energy at play during composition as somewhere between the pure outward radiation of a free-jazz ensemble, and how fellow Tokyo psychedelic rock band Suishou No Fune draw upon the energy of the moment, the people, and the place to guide their music. But the main priority, he says, is to keep improvisational energy within the context of a “song”.
“Around the time I formed the band, my concept was to make sound that could be interpreted as ‘rock’ for ‘noise’ music listeners, and as noise music for rock listeners. Now, I guess, it’s not so different from then.”
And is the band fans of The Stooges or High Rise?
“Stooges: I was affected. They have many conflicting entities inside. Like foolishness and intelligence, physicality and thoughtfulness, cheerfulness and darkness …”
“Teruhisa is such a unique drummer. He is always fighting against the stereotype.”
Aural Fit came to wider attention with the release of the fifth P.S.F. Records sampler Tokyo Flashback in 2005, just after the release of the band’s debut album Livestock, and at a time when the group was settling into a lineup they’d stay with for some fruitful years.
I ask why the lineup changed so soon after what must have felt like a breakthrough: inclusion on the legendary P.S.F. label compilation, and what guided the band’s evolution over the first three records.
“Tokyo Flashback Volume V was recorded by the same lineup as Livestock . Probably Behind 20, Beyond 20k is the best track we made with Lewis Inage [Bass] and Yuji Kurosaka [Drums].
“I learned a lot about CD from the frustration of recording Livestock. But when I established a technique to make the sound more convincing on the CD format, some discord arose among our members.
“I was in a band called Sun Flour before Aural Fit formed. The lineup was myself on guitar and vocals, Tanabe Endo Kenichi on bass, and Kiyasu on drums. He’s now in Fushitsusha. Sun Flour was like a prototype of Aural Fit.
“I learned a lot about CD from the frustration of recording Livestock.”
“Though I won’t go into the reasons Sun Flour broke up, I thought we could get the best sound if Tanabe Endo Kenichi could join us. Teruhisa Nanbu has been in a lot of different bands, Suishou No Fune as well.
“Teruhisa is such a unique drummer. I was really impressed by his playing style; he’s always trying to fight against the stereotype. I was convinced that we could make a mind-blowing thing with the three of us: Teruhisa, Tanabe Endo Kenichi, and I.
“Tanabe Endo Kenichi left the band for some personal reasons, but we’ve kept a good relationship since. Later, I felt we needed George Murakami’s [guitar/bass] skill, so we invited him.
“I guess in terms of the difference in sound quality between the first, second, and third albums, it was just a result of my learning about CD-DA format and that Sony and Philips formulated, and PCM analog to digital conversion. The sound itself was just a result of contribution and combination of members.”
“All the members created really amazing sound.”
At the redlined volume that Aural Fit produces, I wonder about the challenges of trying to capture the tactility of the live listening experience onto a recording format.
It quickly emerges in conversation that the technical aspect of recording is something that also informs Aural Fit’s sound: Mondo is a tinkerer. He uses a hand-made ring-modulator together with a ‘60s-vintage Japanese-made ACETONE FM-2 fuzz for his Danelectro 3021 guitar, which he often plays through a Marshall 1959 head that’s probably a decade or two older than its owner.
Nanbu’s snare drum, he says, was picked up out of the trash, and Mondo is currently working on his own [analog] guitar pedal that is of a design “totally unlike any other”.
In terms of playing and recording, “I think of the live venue itself to be an instrument,” he says. “Here in Japan, where every live house is like a rabbit warren, there’s no real space to research and experiment. I think a lot, calculating and testing ideas inside my small 10 cubic-centimeter brain, and then try to apply it in the live venue.”
As well as helping give Aural Fit its unique sound, Mondo seems to be a man in need of a large grant and an aircraft-hanger-worth of audio equipment to experiment, both to get closer to delivering a live Aural Fit experience on your headphones, and also just out of curiosity. As someone who worked on artificial satellite systems, the idea might not be as fanciful as it sounds.
“It’s almost tempting to go earn big money establishing some kind of research and development into recoding [capturing sound, microphone placement, etcetera]. I believe that science hasn’t found a way to elucidate sound yet.”
With Mondo’s open-mindedness to experimentation and DIY ethos, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Aural Fit incorporating the use of exotic instrumentation and more mellow acoustic tones — he now frequently performs on surbahar [bass sitar] with Nanbu Terahisa on djembe and George Murakami, member since 2012, on bass or guitar.
In an internet messaging exchange, he sends me a photo of a flourishing vine that’s twining around his balcony. One of his many ambitions is to build his own surbahar using a gourd he grew himself, despite, he jokes, having zero agricultural experience.
“I actually watched a video of Shri Suvir Mishra on YouTube and that eventually got me interested in playing surbahar. I would say that Aural Fit is neither psychedelic nor noise-rock nor an ethno-based music band. If you receive it as psych or noise-rock or ethnic music, it’s just because it has a similarity with those kinds of music.”
With interest in Japanese psych at an all-time high — classic albums are being reissued by labels all over the world, and a new generation of psych rock bands like Kikagaku Moyo are joining veterans on the international stage, and all are seemingly invigorated by a positive new energy — I ask if there is any chance listeners can look forward to a re-release of Aural Fit’s back catalog.
“It would be welcome and we’d be really happy if more people could access our music and sound,” says Mondo. “But we actually don’t have the rights for II or Mubomuso, so we can’t comment on whether they will ever get reissued.
“I hope so. I’d like to record a fourth album… maybe Brown Noise Unit could release it?”
While we wait to hear back from the bank about a loan, you download Mubomuso via Utech Records bandcamp, mail order II via P.S.F. Records or subscribe to the Aural Fit Facebook feed for upcoming shows and releases. Translation by Yoshi. Top image courtesy Itirou Matui.