Published on April 1st, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Munehiro Narita | Psyche De Loid
“I’m not interested in J-pop,” says former High Rise and current Green Flames guitarist Munehiro Narita. “And I don’t know Ween. But I just looked at them on YouTube. I like it.”
Narita is responding to my attempts to wrap my brain around his recent collaborative album Psyche De Loid. According to Spanish label Guerssen (who is releasing the vinyl this month), it’s the first time anyone has featured Vocaloid—a “female android” voice-synthesizing technology normally used in commercial pop music—on a full-on psychedelic guitar-rock album.
And if that wasn’t different enough, Psyche De Loid comprises exclusively of covers from the ’60s and ’70s—Hendrix, Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Stooges, MC5, Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge—all the classics. The results are surprisingly great … hearing the little robot voice chirp sweetly, “Kick out the jams, motherfuck!” keeps getting funnier.
Narita is a hugely respected figure in Japanese music, both for his volcanic acid-fuzz style and for his role in shaping a sound that continues to have a profound influence on musicians from all over the world. His friend Hideo Ikeezumi established P.S.F Records to share High Rise’s music (P.S.F. stands for “Psychedelic Speed Freak”, the name of the High Rise album).
Ikeezumi’s policy of “only releasing what I like” is responsible for the gift of Keiji Haino, Fushitsusha, Kan Mikami, White Heaven, and a slew of other mind-blowing art, from noise rock to free-jazz to electronic to psychedelic folk.
So if it wasn’t a desire to combine Japanese pop with psych rock, then how did the idea for Psyche De Loid come about?
“The owner of U-Rythmix Records, Tsukasa Takahashi, asked P.S.F. Records owner Hideo Ikeezumi to recommend a guitarist who could play some psychedelic songs with a Vocaloid voice,” says Narita. “U-Rythmix had already released some collaboration albums. So Hideo asked me. At first, I was surprised by the offer. But it’s interesting for me to try different things in my career.”
Did Narita play all the instruments? How was it recorded?
“I played guitar and bass, and Nenryo Denchi programmed the other instruments. He’s a desktop music programmer. In Japan, established professionals like him are called ‘Vocaloid producers’. I recorded the guitar and bass in my bedroom and plugged in directly to a Zoom MRS-1608 HD multi-track recorder. I didn’t have a bass, so I hired one from a customer of Modern Music [a Tokyo record shop run by Ikeezumi].”
Psyche De Loid stays faithful to the original versions, but pleasingly, Narita is given plenty of room to unleash his trademark wah-wah solos. And where the technical aspect of his playing was formerly masked under a wall of skull-splitting noise, a more restrained mix gives you a chance to appreciate his skill.
In the beginning with High Rise, I was interested in how to make strange sounds. Now I’m trying to mix noisy and groovy sounds
“In the beginning with High Rise, I was interested in how to make strange sounds. Now I’m trying to mix noisy and groovy sounds. I learned that from old funk music. I have been avoiding any influence from the other Japanese musicians.”
With so many otherwise great records ruined by loudness compression—you need only listen to Iggy’s re-master of Raw Power, which John McBain of Monster Magnet characterized as being “fucking unlistenable”—to see what I mean, Narita’s handling of the mix is refreshing. Despite being a digital recording, the effort to retain the spaciousness and depth of the original analog recordings is apparent.
“I actually mixed these tracks on PC with the free Audacity software. I don’t have ProTools. My favorite old music has a very narrow range, so I tried to highlight the low mid-range. I don’t like high tones.”
How did Narita choose which songs to cover? Why these ones in particular?
“I chose many songs from the ’60s to suit a girl’s voice. Takahashi picked some, too. He added Blue Cheer and MC5.”
Guessing at crossover potential, I half-jokingly suggest that Psyche De Loid could be a gateway to classic rock for kids more into Perfume than Pink Floyd. Has Narita given the record a test run?
“Yes, I have a daughter. Unfortunately, she isn’t interested in my music. But I heard my friend’s kids like this album.”
The contrast of traditional and modern breathes new life into these well-loved classics. The unlikely pairing of a psych rock god and a production wizard has paid off: these guys are having huge fun, and Psyche De Loid is huge fun to listen to.
But I wonder — in light of the news that an AI computer has written a novel indistinguishable from one produced by a professional author — will hit music in the future be composed by robots?
“They say that AI is a substitute for humans,” Narita says. “But music contains ‘magic’ that only humans can create. I tried to make this record a mixture of digital and analog content. If AI tried to learn my guitar style, it would be confused!”
Vinyl copies of Psyche De Loid are available for pre-order on the Guerssen imprint New Records for an April 10 release.