Published on December 29th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview | Supersize me
Recently opening for Athens, Georgia band of Montreal (part of the Elephant 6 collective with Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples In Stereo, and Olivier Tremor Control), and attracting listeners from all over the world despite a pretty low-key public profile, Kyoto’s Supersize me seem set to bring their dreamlike soundscapes to a wider audience.
The band is working on a follow-up to the hallucinatory album Slouching Towards Bethlehem, issued through Indienative last winter, and is building on acclaim won for their debut full-length Immanence released back in 2014.
Supersize me’s musical and aesthetic preoccupation with religious iconography—most obviously in the album-title reference to William Yeats’s poem The Second Coming—and the hushed, reverential atmosphere of their music, is connected to band leader Shinsuke’s interest in world religion, philosophy, and art.
“I was also interested in the narrative mode and stream of consciousness when I formed the band,” he tells BNU. “I guess that they directly influenced our music and lyrics.”
Supersize me’s layered pieces share a similarity with contemporary outfits such as Grouper or AI Lover, yet their melodic drone seems weightless, filled with light, akin to the work of minimalist composers in that they create structured spaces where the listener’s imagination can stretch out and fully occupy.
This is the sound of us going back to our original ‘imagined scenery’
Spiritual atmosphere permeates their sound: musky incense and the muted clack of Rosary beads are present as if you’re listening in some quiet candlelit cathedral, yet coming from Kyoto, I wonder if this ambience might owe more to the proximity to eastern religious ritual as it does the Judeo-Christian tradition, despite the latter being more obvious in the band’s presentation.
“We’ve been strongly interested in religious behavior, and also a kind of imagined scenery, from the very beginning. This has gradually converged with our musical concept. By focusing on the idea of ‘existence’, both intrinsic and external to us at the same time, we’ve been creating sound to reflect these ideas. For us, this is the sound of us going back to our original ‘imagined scenery.’”
What is meant by the term “imagined scenery”, exactly?
“We use that phrase to describe visions or images which show up in our mind when listening to music deeply,” Shinsuke explains.
“It’s a mixture of individual and collective memory, dreams, that kind of thing. The use of the words “原初的な心象風景” [literally, ‘original imagined scenery’] is a reflection of on our belief in the existence of some kind of ‘collective unconsciousness.’”
Supersize me gathered around songwriter Shinsuke and sound-engineering friend Hinose (though the band is keen to preserve some element of mystery in terms of their specific lineup and background).
Referencing a show posted on YouTube showing a younger version of Supersize me performing at Kyoto University, and sounding more like My Bloody Valentine than the restrained ambience of their later CDs, I ask if the group met and formed at university, and why there is such a marked difference in approach live and in the studio.
We think of our recordings and playing live as totally different things
“Supersize me was formed in 2012 as a recording project. We’d been looking around for the right members to create the sound image we had in mind for the songs, and making music at the same time.
“The members for our live performances were settled after about a year after we formed, and then we started playing live. The live video at Kyoto University that you watched was shot around that time.”
But the rougher textures, the loud volume, the echoing effects and feedback, these all point to noise rock and shoegaze influences, whereas this aspect is only suggested on the recordings… why is that?
“We think of our recordings and playing live as totally different things, and that difference is coming from the difference in listening posture. But they are the same from the point of view that it’s out our intention to envelop the audience in sound.
“We’ve been aiming to inspire each individual member of the audience to imagine scenery, or to stimulate nerves directly.
“Although, on the other hand, also try to perceive the atmosphere and the structure of the venue, and try to create sounds that paint over it when playing live.”
As the spiritual heart of Japan, I wonder if the presence of the ancient in quiet corners of Kyoto city in some way influenced Supersize me’s music… Does that sense of time, the great age of so many things encountered in everyday life, become something you get used to?
“We do feel that Kyoto natives have a stronger tendency to go back to historical and religious roots than people who live in other parts of Japan,” Shinsuke agrees. “We aren’t strongly conscious of it, usually, in an everyday sense, but probably there are a lot of times when that kind of atmosphere suddenly rushes upon us, urging us to go back to revisit ancient philosophies and works of art.”
In terms of how the band has evolved, the most obvious difference between Immanence and Slouching Towards Bethlehem is in their sonic character. The concept of carefully layered sounds is familiar, but it seems more clearly expressed on the last album.
There is an unfocused blurriness to Immanence, yet Slouching Towards Bethlehem seems more confident, or more smoothly arranged. Were there any differences in the band’s approach to recording?
“On Slouching Towards Bethlehem, we focused more on delivering the layers of harmony, and the sound of harmonic overtones, more clearly. We kept the sustain of guitars for longer, made the frequency range wider, and deeply studied what we could do to realize and express the layers that are implicated in the sound.
“Our recording process is not so conventional, like separating each section of the band according to ‘rhythm’ or ‘backing’, and organizing things that way, but recording the main idea in the track first and then depositing layers on top of it,” explains Shinsuke.
“We spend most of the time editing the material we’ve recorded.
“To create layers of sound that evoke a subtly gloomy feeling, we needed to give variety to each of the tracks we lay down when creating a song.”
We are most inspired by the music of William Basinski…
Since forming, the band gained unexpected support from UK label FatCat, as well as being featured on respected indie label Virgin Babylon Records’ fifth anniversary compilation disc. I ask Shinsuke about the FatCat connection, and if building a profile overseas was something the band hopes to pursue.
“The staff at FatCat contacted us through the Soundcloud ‘demo site’ section when we uploaded Mother onto it. Then we started exchanging messages. After that, they picked our song as a ‘Weekly Demo’, and we got a big response from that.
“We haven’t released anything on a label from abroad yet, though a lot of listeners from overseas have purchased our tracks through Bandcamp.
“We do hope to get distribution via an overseas label at some point in the future.”
So what bands have served as an inspiration for the music you, and who would Supersize me like to play with if given the chance to tour overseas?
“They’re not bands, but we are most inspired by the music of William Basinski. He was one of the reasons, or had the most direct influence on, our starting the Supersize Me project. We are basically in awe of his soundscapes.
“Among William Basinski’s works, The Disintegration is the biggest inspiration for our works. Christian hymns molded our style of songwriting and sound.
“Among players and artists, [The Velvet Underground’s] Sterling Morrison’s inventive tones and playing on both guitar and bass have had a direct influence on us.
“If we’re talking dreams, I’d like to play together with Ian William Craig, Sean McCann, and Jason Lescalleet.”
How about locally, is there a scene you fit into or bands that you play regularly with?
“We’re not conscious of belonging any particular scene, though we have thankfully been able to play in some venues pretty regularly. We’ve played together with various performers at these places and have frequently been inspired by them.”
So what do fans of Supersize me have to look forward to in 2017?
“We’re working on some new recordings. And we’re planning to hold a self-produced event at UrBANGUILD in Kiyamachi, Kyoto.
“Stay tuned for more details about that by the end of January.”
— Story by Beige Baron. Translation by Yoshi.