Published on May 24th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron1
Playlist | Interview | Junzo Suzuki
Meet Junzo Suzuki. Shaggy-haired, tobacco-stained fixture of Tokyo’s music scene, vocalist/guitarist for psychedelic outfit Miminokoto, formerly guitarist for now-defunct noise-rock heavyweights Overhang Party, trip-improvisation collective Astral Traveling Unity, and one half of 20 Guilders with Acid Mother Tabata Mitsuru.
He’s also author of a diverse catalog of solo music and, it should be noted for the purposes of this feature, a vinyl-collecting addict beyond hope of redemption.
Suzuki joined the long-running three-piece Miminokoto in 2006, a band that’s always occupied a unique space on the rock-music continuum.
Effects-drenched guitar blues, playful sketches of twisted pop, and lo-fi folk ballads sit together with extended atmospheric jams, often in the space of a single album. The only thing typical about Miminokoto, like similar acts that formed around the same time, is that its members now form part of the trunk of a musical tree that thrives underground, invisible at least to the corporate eye, the limbs of one band extending and intertwining with those of others, new shoots growing where others die or fall away.
Original Miminokoto guitarist Masami Kawaguchi now plays with one-time Les Rallizes Denudes bassist Doronco in Los Doroncos, as well as in Keiji Haino’s new super-group The Hardy Rocks. Haino has jammed with Suishou No Fune, and Miminokoto’s current bassist Takuya Nishimura was once a member. Nishimura’s own contribution to music is significant — just to scrape the surface, he’s played in Mukai Chie’s Che-Shizu, Tori Kudo’s Maher Sharal Hash Baz, and is still a core member of TZITZIKI, again with Tori Kudo.
The jungle of music is dense, the connections confusing. But from the shadows, bizarre, primitive, and beautiful things bloom.
The Acid Mothers Temple connection appears again in 20 Guilders, a guitar collaboration helmed by Suzuki and Mitsuru Tabata, with the group release albums semi-annually since 2007 and gigging whenever the members’ respective schedules allow.
Initially, BNU asked Suzuki if he might curate a playlist of lesser-known Japanese folk albums selected from his impressive LP collection for us to enjoy. We ended up being treated not only to a showcase of incredible songs, but also to an insight into his own work, and a glimpse of what the Japanese underground rock scene looks like from his perspective.
“Collecting records has been my life’s main purpose, and it has totally destroyed my life.”
But first: just how many records does Junzo Suzuki own?
“I haven’t counted my LPs or CDs recently,” he laughs. “I started collecting LPs seriously during my college days. It’s been like my life’s main purpose, and it has totally destroyed my life.
“And of course, of course I got into listening on an iPod, but I’m aware that it’s kind of bullshit, and listening to music in that way is not good for my mental health. It’s true: the sound of an LP on a good turntable and speaker system is nothing more than everything!
“Recently, though, I am consumed with movies and reading novels. But I like to play LPs alone late at night, around midnight and in the early hours of the morning. I’ve got perhaps 5,000 LPs. Maybe 2,500 CDs, and tons of ‘files’,” he says, inflecting the word with slight distaste.
How does buying records destroy a life?
“Collecting vinyl means spending too much money! I gave up many things to support this bad habit. Plus, I listen to records and my brain gets more and more strange! I guess I chose the expression ‘destroyed my life’ as a kind of homage to the title of John Fahey’s book How Bluegrass Music Destroyed my life.”
On the subject of lost minds, Suzuki was hard to pin down over the months leading up to the publication of this feature, with the release of a new solo record Shark Infested Custard on Nod & Smile Records, US, securing dates for a European tour to support it, recording a new Miminokoto album, as well as a week-long sojourn to Sapporo to lay down tracks for the new 20 Guilders LP, and all of it happening at once. I ask how the reception has been for Shark Infested Custard.
“Well, it just came out this May,” he says. “I’ve not heard much of a reaction yet in terms of reviews, but some listeners have said that this is my ‘top-shelf’ record! I’ll be touring around Europe and the UK this June, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and the UK.”
So when did Suzuki first stray down the rabbit-hole of playing and listening to non-mainstream music?
“I started my music career just as a vocalist with a traditional blues tribute band. I played like an old, classic Chicago blues style from the sixties, like Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, that kind of thing.
“Some years later, I got into the music of The Velvet Underground, Soft Machine, early Pink Floyd, and John Fahey in a very serious way, then I started to play solo electric-guitar gigs just with vocals. That’s like the origin of my non-mainstream music career. That was almost 20 years ago. But I still love blues music more than anything.”
Where does Suzuki buy his records mostly? An when did this terrible affliction start?
“In my younger days, I lived in Shimo-Kitazawa for around 15 years. Disk Union Shimo-Kitazawa was my neighborhood; just 10 minutes walk from my flat. So I used to visit there every day. And also some great shops existed around my flat, places like Vinyl Story, a second-hand record shop for really rare vinyl, and Rock Cafe Stories, a bar that only plays vinyl records.
“Makoto Kawabata and the Acid Mothers family are all like elder brothers…”
“These two places were kind of my teacher or inspiration for collecting. I ended up working at Rock Cafe Stories for about three or four years.
“In recent times I’ve toured Europe and the US every year, and I’ve bought too many LPs on tour at random. And, of course, I use the internet to search for records I’ve wanted for a long time.”
One common thread that exists in Suzuki’s work, particularly in Miminokoto, Overhang Party, and 20 Guilders, is an element of psychedelia. Does Suzuki agree that influence ties all of this music together, or is it something else?
“There’s a certain influence that works between Miminokoto and 20 Guilders, playing guitar in Overhang Party, and playing solo. It’s very fun for me when I play in ‘the band’!” he laughs. “This influence focuses on a so-called ‘psychedelic rock’ approach. I’m big fan of classic-era rock music and being able to sing in ‘proper song’ form.
“With playing in a band, it’s different, as sometimes it provides rules to work within; it’s like a language. It’s a very special thing for me. So I try to play, try a more abstract, free approach when I’m playing by myself alone. Playing in a band and playing by myself influences each other, and both are very important.”
What Japanese musicians inspire Suzuki most? Do the people he plays with have an influence, or does he prefer to direct the flow of ideas?
“Japanese folk and so-called folk in western culture are a totally different thing.”
“I have always respected and was hugely inspired by members of Miminokoto and 20 Guilders, as well as Ikuro Takahashi (Kousokuya, LSD-March, Chi To Shizuku, ex-Fushitsusha) and Richard Horner, who have both been contributing to my solo projects for about 10 years. They are great musicians! They have had an influence on my own style, and I think I have had an influence on them too.
“And I can’t forget Makoto Kawabata and the Acid Mothers family. They are all like elder brothers or some kind of teachers, they taught me many things and opened my eyes to the world.
“And in terms of directing the flow of music or feeding off other people’s ideas, it’s both. But Hiroshi Na [Niplets/Port Cuss, ex-Datetenryuu, Zunou Keisatsu, Les Rallizes Denudes] and Jutok Kaneko [Kousokuya] are my life-long inspirations.”
Tough question time: some people, especially those outside Japan, can find it difficult to know where to start when discovering a catalog as deep and varied as Junzo Suzuki’s. What would be five good records to check out first?
“Oh, man. I couldn’t choose… but I think my newest one is the Best One,” he says with a grin. “But if I was forced to choose… Of my solo work, Shark Infested Custard [Nod & Smile/Plunk’s Plan, 2016], Eight-Sided Infinity (Plunk’s Plan, 2012), and Ode To A Blue Ghost [Utech, 2011]. For Miminokoto, Otomejima No Otome [Blackest Rainbow/Plunk’s Plan, 2015], and for 20 Guilders, 20 GUILDERS (Gyuune Cassette, 2010).”
Above: Title track from Eight-Sided Infinity (2012) featuring Ikuro Takahashi on drums [Kousokuya, Chi To Shizuku, LSD-March, ex-Fushitsusha].
Okay, so let’s get down to it: how did Suzuki select the songs for this playlist? What, in the end, was the criteria he went with?
“Well, at first you asked me to choose some Japanese folk albums. But Japanese folk and so-called folk in western culture are a totally different thing. So I thought a lot about this difference, and decided to focus more on the ‘song and voice’ rather than the style of music.”
What does “song and voice” mean? Like the “soul” of the music?
He pauses to think.
“My understanding of folk music is that it’s not like music made by an individual; it’s drawn from common stock. Of course, I understand that every ‘folk song’ song has an author who created it, but on the other hand, it’s everyone’s. So when you asked me to choose ‘Japanese folk’, I hung my head. Of course, we Japanese have folk music, like minyo or Okinawa sanshin songs, goze-uta, blah-blah-blah… but I think what you were hoping for was something from the post-rock era, from the late sixties to now.
“But when I think of the word ‘folk’, it contains this nuance of loneliness, it’s somehow mind-depressing… It’s very hard to communicate what I mean in English. So I chose the albums and songs that contain that certain kind of feeling, I suppose. Not necessarily the style or structure of music: the SMELL of music,” he jokes.
“And I should also thank Hideo Miki [ex-Furueru-Shita] for having a conversation with me about this, it helped me a lot when making this list.”
A Collection of Japanese Folk, Curated By Junzo Suzuki
五つの赤い風船 / New Sky Itsustu | No Akai Fusen / New Sky 
My number-one most favorite “folk group” in Japan. They were joined by Kosuke Kida (ex-Jacks). This LP is planned for re-release as a Double Album with Flight. Takashi Nishioka, the leader of this group, later formed Melting Glass-Box. And the singer Hideko Fujiwara’s solo album is also great. At over 23 minutes long, this song is highlight everything that is so great about this group.
加橋かつみ / パリ1969 | Katsumi Kahashi / Paris 1969 
After the confusion that followed quitting the crazy-famous Group Sounds outfit Tigers, Katsumi Kahashi moved to Paris and made this record. His voice on this album is beyond my description, but if I must say something, it’s how it always reminds me of Tim Buckley’s first album in 1967. Gorgeous, but very fragile.
休みの国 / 休みの国 | Yasumi No Kuni / S.T. 
Yasumi No Kuni formed in the late sixties in Tokyo, led by Toshiyuki Takahashi (a.k.a. Kaizoku), who is the stuff of legend with his work in Jacks. On this album, he is joined by all the other members of Jacks, except Yoshio Hayakawa. But sometimes Yoshio sings his songs. This album is great, but the second album FY FAN means more to me.
PYG / PYG 
Kind of a super-group of ex-Group Sounds members. I love the feeling and atmosphere of this album, like a late-sixties American garage-band vibe, what some people call “twilight garage”. It reminds me a bit of the great Rising Storm. Maybe their most famous song, Sun, Flower, Rain, was used as the theme for an episode of the vintage Ultraman TV show.
深沢七郎/ギター独奏集 / 祖母の昔語り| Fukasawa Shichiro / Solo Guitar 
My favorite novelist Fukasawa Shichiro (he’s famous for Narayama-Bushi Ko, an adaptation filmed by Keisuke Kinoshita and Shohei Imamura) is also a very talented guitarist. This is his only album, and it’s here you can discover his astonishing guitar work.
久保田麻琴 / まちぼうけ | Kubota Makoto / Machibouke 
Original Japanese hippies who are still active now. Although Kuboto Makato mainly worked with major labels throughout his career, he also has a very close relationship with Les Rallizes Denudes’ Takashi Mizutani. This album is an absolute masterpiece. The sound reminds me of The Band’s second album, or Neil Young’s Harvest. But he sang Les Rallizes Denudes’ Morning Light in a primitive American finger-picking style like John Fahey (I remember he also talked about the influence of Fahey’s Guitar to this album in a late ’90s interview. like ‘Grateful dead’s heavy trip jam like Dark Star and John Fahey’s music is kind of a Two sides of the same coin for us at that time.’)
美輪明宏 / 白呪 | Miwa Akihiro / Byakuju 
Legendary Japanese Chanson singer from 1950s, and still active. He is also the muse of famed novelist Yukio Mishima. He is not only a singer, but also a songwriter. This album is the most outstanding of the works he completed throughout his career. Reminds me of classic albums by someone like Gerard Manset.
オクノ修 / オクノ修 | Osamu Okuno / S.T. 
Some Japanese people say that Kyoto in the 1970 was like San Fransisco in the late sixties. This is great document of the times. Osamu Okuno is still active, and he now works at an old cafe in Kyoto called Rokuyo-Sha. Great song, and great lyrics. I sometimes cover the last track on this album.
宮沢正一 / キリストは馬小屋で生まれた | Shoichi Miyazawa / 1st 
Shoichi Miyazawa is the leader of an underground Japanese psychedelic/post-punk band called Rabbits. This is his earliest work produced by Michiro Endo of Stalin. This album is so fragile and full of beauty. The opening track of this record is covered by a great many underground singers in Japan. Shoichi Miyazawa and Michio Kadotani’s voices are like an epitaph for my life.
山口冨士夫 / Private Cassette | Fuji Yamaguchi / Private Cassette 
Legendary guitarist Fujio Yamaguchi is very influential here in Japan. His contribution to MURA-HACHIBU and Les Rallizes Denudes is a very great inspiration for me, too. But his solo albums are also great. Over a strange and long trip, this album (produced by Chiko-Hige, original drummer of FRICTION) totally blew my mind. However, I cannot find it on YouTube, so I instead selected the song Good-Bye from his first album Himatsubushi from 1974, which was released on URC Records after he quit MURA-HACHIBU. This is also a masterpiece.
ハレルヤズ / 肉を喰らいて誓いをたてよ | Hallelujahs / Niku Wo Kuraite Chikai Wo Tateyo 
I’m not green. Shinji Shibayama, Naoki Zushi, Kenichi ‘Idiot’ Takayama.
金子寿徳 / 終わり無き廃墟 | Kaneko Jutok / Endless Ruin 
I still cannot accept the fact that he left this planet.
Niplets / 裏窓 (1997) | Niplets / Rear Window 
Hiroshi Na is a completely outstanding figure in Japanese rock history from 1970 onward, contributing to legendary groups like Datetenryu, Zuno Keisatsu [Brain Police], and Les Rallizes Denudes (his bass-playing on masterpiece ‘77 Live just totally blew my mind). And he’s still active. From the late ’80s, he has led two bands, one called Port Cuss and the other Niplets. It’s kind of a “review” [of his career or sound], but I strongly recommended listening to this album. For me, opener and title-track Uramado [Rear Window] is… Mmmm, I just don’t have any words to describe this song. For one thing, the lyrics are tough and always amaze me; sometimes I feel a kind of fear. And moreover, Hiroshi Na’s guitar on this track is my top-shelf, hands-down BEST electric-guitar solo in the whole of rock history for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Uramado on YouTube, so I attached the link of album closer and the “longest trip” track of this album, a song called Dakishimetai. Also my favorite song.
裸のラリーズ / Mizutani 
I was getting into Les Rallizes Denudes in the late 1990s, but was just a little too late. At the time it was very hard to listen to them in Japan. (La Monte Young was the same position at that time). No bootlegs, only three CDs (77LIVE, 1969, and this) and those records were over $2,000 to $3,000 to buy! We had no PCs, so I used to listen to cassettes dubbed from my friend. Now we have YouTube, and we can listen — I mean, no, we don’t listen, we’re just, uh, checking — to anything on the internet, but in my younger days, it was impossible to listen without purchasing a record or CD. I spent tons of money for stuff. Everybody knows them now, and even here, we can get their bootleg CDs through Japan’s biggest and most famous rental CD/DVD shops anytime. It’s good for us. But sometimes I remember, kind of nostalgically, about that certain feeling that comes with imagining the music by looking at the artwork, unable to listen… Anyway, Takashi Mizutani is one of the greatest guitar players in the underground scene. But to me, he’s one of the greatest SINGERS on this planet.
Junzo’s Travel Playlist
The following is a selection of songs I take with me when I go on the road to listen to on my phone.
野坂昭如 / 黒の舟唄 | Akiyuki Nosaka / Kuro No Funafuta 
長谷川きよし / 卒業 | Hasegawa Kiyoshi / Graduate 
佐井好子 / 人のいない島 | Sai Yoshiko/Hito No Inai Shima 
緑魔子 / やさしいにっぽん人 | Midori Mako / Yasashii Nippon-Jin 
安藤昇 / 黒犬 | Ando Noboru / Black Dog 
Junzo Suzuki’s latest album Shark Infested Custard (as well as other solo work) is out now on his personal bandcamp. This record as well as some of Miminokoto’s catalog, as well as selected solo work, is available via Plunk’s Plan Records’ bandcamp. For all other purchases and information, see the Junzo Suzuki website. Check here on Facebook for Europe and UK tour dates this June 2016 and get along to a show.