Published on October 31st, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Masaki Batoh | The “Nine Suns, One Morning” Interview
Masaki Batoh refers to The Silence’s third album Nine Suns, One Morning as “our creature”, as if it’s a living thing with flesh and blood and personality.
After living with these songs for a couple of weeks, the description’s proven accurate. Experiencing this music isn’t a two-dimensional interaction, but rather a feeling of being drawn into ever-shifting moods that unconsciously become your own. Its sense of physicality is like the difference between gliding over a river’s surface, and swimming in it.
“For the first time in my life, I feel it’s fun to play music.”
Nine Suns, One Morning can be cerebral with synaptic flashes of jazz rhythm and mercurial prog-rock structures. The sound is visceral, deep-bellied woodwind, fistfuls of guitar, and billowing organ that swoops between channels in homage to the days when “STEREO” was written large on every record sleeve.
We find The Silence in a place where the formidable talents of one member serve to highlight aspects of another, but Batoh’s vocals are the conceptual glue.
Outside the band, he’s outspoken about the dangers of nuclear energy (and, obviously, weaponry), and critical of nationalistic sentiment that continues to divide world cultures. While present in the lyrics, this political aspect isn’t heavy-handed, and the overall atmosphere is one of playfulness.
It’s the sound of a band having huge fun.
“In this group, for the first time in my life, I feel it’s fun to play music,” Batoh says. “I am very happy and lucky to be in this band. Various encounters with my friends lead to me to this activity. I cannot thank them enough.”
Nine Suns, One Morning bookends a period of almost urgent creativity for The Silence, with three full-length albums delivered to Drag City Records in less than two years.
Where the debut self-titled album seemed a rush of collective excitement at expressing a newfound energy, Nine Suns feels more like old friends caught up on lost time, who are laying down a blueprint for the future.
“Simple pop universality as you listen casually is important…”
“The first album was supposed to be my solo release,” Batoh agrees, “But since the members were so great, I had to release it as The Silence. With the first release, the creation of the songs was solely by me.
“This album is the monument for all of us, as we created a groove and mystery as a groove.”
Accordingly, these nine songs emerged from later sessions.
“They were done early this year. Lyrics and songs just come to me naturally… I don’t prepare myself for creation. Recording was completed in three or four days.”
Nine Suns, One Morning reveals a band that’s gelled, of individual talents aimed in the same direction, but with the journey and not some predictable destination in mind. Where the first album was laid down almost as a live performance—no overdubs, no edits, no do-overs—that freewheeling vibe has given way to a more “composed” feel.
“Glad you noticed that… simple pop universality as you listen casually is important, but we create a simple framework filled with difficult elements, such as the lyrics, which provides metaphor, symbolism, and relief.
“Listeners who realize all of the complex interactions between the lyrics and music may get chills. Alchemy happens when each listener connect their inner self with our music.”
So getting these more complex ideas down must have required a lot of rehearsal, a lot of takes? Was the method of recording to 24-track tape retained?
“Yes, we used exactly the same 24-track studio MTR,” Batoh says. “We approached with the same methodology. Not everything was done at once as a live recording, but we minimized overdubbing. Numerous takes were recorded and we rehearsed a lot.
“I am proud of all the members and their great patience,” he says.
In previous interviews, Batoh has spoken of a desire to recapture the sonic depth and fullness that’s so often missing from digital recording, to aim for music as like it sounded to him as a kid spinning records by Nick Drake, Pearls Before Swine, and The Jacks.
“The major difference between The Silence and Ghost is that we eliminated all the gimmicks done by digital recording tools and recorded everything analog, how the band plays and as the sound is, trusting our sound as-is.
“Ghost’s first two releases were done with analog 8-track and 16-track MTR, but this time we proceeded with an even more solid expression with greater spirit than was done back in ’80s.”
“The creature born is based on such friction between us in the beginning…”
Batoh and keyboardist Kazuo Ogino have made a potent team since the days of Ghost, and that intuition has carried through into The Silence, with Ogino arranging Batoh’s sketches, and the band further developing their own parts.
How does it feel, though, to have an original idea transformed into something else entirely?
“I enjoy process of destruction while I create, so I welcome everyone’s suggestions.
“Fundamentally, my style differs from Ogino’s artistic and rational music structure, but the creature born is based on such friction between us in the beginning, and it’s painted and layered by the other members.
“Since I enjoy the changes, usually it ends up as something totally different, something that we never expected.”
So the members don’t always agree? Is that the reason for including two cover songs as a kind of common ground to counterbalance the diversity in the original compositions?
“We try many different things until we reach the best idea,” Batoh affirms. “Maybe that is called agreement.
“But I don’t think I ever consider any of these as ‘covers’. It just happens in a way that the expression [of our version], which was created through my filters, was not originally written by me.
“The best way to express my love for these songs is to destroy what I love, and recreate…”
“Meaning, I believe these are my originals. Of course, I like the original originals and respect them, but it is indeed my job, and also the best way [for me] to express my love for these songs is to destroy what I love, and recreate and give a new life to something completely new.”
So what is it about the chemistry in this band lineup that is so satisfying, and has playing with The Silence changed Batoh’s perspective on his existing body of work?
“I have never been satisfied in my life, not even once.”
Surprised, I ask if he means creatively unsatisfied, or if he is dissatisfied with daily life—and if, like many Japanese, he is Buddhist. How might that truck with a philosophy of finding peace in simplicity, of being content with simple things?
“I do not follow any particular religion; on the other hand, I’ve been very curious about comparative religion and mythology. But, even if I was a very religious person, I still wouldn’t be able to be content in the music I make.
“When I’m content with what I do, I will stop making music.
“It can be like scriptures, such as in the Old Testament, with multiple interpretations…”
“But you are exactly right in that Buddhists [attempt to find] contentment with small things. They’re happy with humble lives. I may be so likewise, but when it comes to creation [of music], I can never agree to it.”
Why is musical satisfaction so elusive?
“Because I must go further with every moment. Music and acupuncture treatment are the only things I feel must move forward more and more. It’s not a comprehensible concept bound by a length of time.
Batoh often sings in English, a cryptic lyricist that harnesses ambiguity arising as a consequence of singing in a second language. He by turn illuminates or makes meaning opaque in skillful poetry.
On this album, he not only delivers his vocals with greater force, but also seems to encourage listeners to consider a deeper meaning within metaphor and symbolism. Is he hoping people engage with any social commentary his words might contain?
“There are hidden messages embedded in my broken English.”
“First of all, please understand that it takes extensive knowledge and enormous creativity to completely understand my lyrics. There are hidden messages embedded in my broken English.
“So I suppose it is not easy and not for everyone. It can be like scriptures, such as in the Old Testament, with multiple interpretations.
“While some lyrics aim to address specific phenomenon, some are really meant for each listener to digest.
“In short, a listener can start a never-ending instant trip by reflecting our music on their soul with their own free will and senses. If they can do that, it will be my unending joy.”
Could the title track be based on the Chinese fable of Houyi?
“As you know, there are similarities in mythologies and folklores in Japan, China, and Korea. Similar in that the original roots of the Old Testament in the western world lie in Jordan, Egypt, or even much further east.
“So, I am not here to comment from a perspective of comparative culture; but this story is unique to Japan and is my creative fable based on anecdotes related to Shintoism and Shugendo [ascetic life].
“All is a suicide drama…”
So Nines Suns, One Morning is not a reference to the origins of yin and yang, as related in Chinese tale? The meaning is not analogous to the environment; that man’s disruption of nature [the warrior in the tale shooting the eight suns] represents our desire to control nature, and that the King’s killing of the warrior might be nature’s retaliation?
“No, not really. Nine suns are symbolic of the uncontrollable power and greatness of nature, but also symbolize state power and rule, domination, at the same time. It is a daytime illusion of the impossible Catatonia, maybe the reflection of the frustration at the impossibility of self-expression or realization in compensation.
“The warrior shot is a sacrifice, and is symbolic of self-sacrifice. All is a suicide drama, and is compensatory self-realization in the form of a fable.”
I ask Batoh if he sees an aspect of himself in linear evolution throughout his career, or are all his works completely separate?
“Everything is a spiritual ridge of mine and my friends. Continuity. Spiritual communion.”
And if one element, one motif, has tied all Batoh’s music together, how would he describe it?
Nine Suns, One Morning is available on LP with bonus 7″ single containing the two covers on the album, Louie Louie and No Expectations, on CD, and digital download via Drag City on November 11.