Published on November 16th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Sundays & Cybele
Emerging from the Tokyo underground to beam an intoxicating blend of psychedelic rock and folk into the wider world, Sundays & Cybele is at the peak of its creative game — the band’s latest record Heaven on New York’s Beyond Beyond is Beyond crowning a deep catalog of music that’s now easily available to fans outside Japan.
Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kazuo Tsubouchi formed the band in 2004 while studying at university in Hokkaido and released one album before moving operations to Tokyo some time later.
Sundays & Cybele’s sound encompasses lo-fi acoustic folk to the soaring long-form psychedelia that defines Sundays & Cybele II and Gypsy House, and clearly owes something to Takeshi Mizutani’s wild genius.
Longhaired and habitually clad in dark clothes and sunglasses, Tsubouchi also shares the mysterious Les Rallize Denudes guitarist’s passion for European art—an influence that comes through in the music.
The artificial skyline, the cloudless sky, the factory chimneys vomiting smoke, I felt like I was in a Giorgio de Chirico painting. I knew I had to live in a place like this.
Naturally, there are other flavors present as well, from folk in the vein of Linda Perhacs to the driving grooves of The Velvet Underground and early Pink Floyd.
Tsubouchi has a rare gift for composing melodies, and he aims them through a cinematic lens—sometimes an intimate close-up and at others a wide-angle panorama of layered guitar and billows of organ.
Reinvigorated with new drummer Shotaro Aoki behind the kit, the band is already preparing to enter the studio to lay down its next release—one Tsubouchi hopes to have available for a planned UK tour sometime next year.
BNU asked Tsubouchi to guide us through the Sundays & Cybele backstory, and to explain how his music has evolved over the last decade.
BNU: You grew up in Hokkaido. Do you think the natural environment influenced or inspired your music? What was your childhood like?
There was always Mozart and Beethoven at home and the music was constantly in my head
I was a defiant kid, speaking like a grownup. As a teenager, I didn’t think too deeply about the future or what I wanted to be. I got so bored and wanted to move anywhere else.
I was about 17 the first time I left Hokkaido. I flew to Kawasaki to visit my older brother who lived there via Haneda Airport. I was so excited to be staying in what I expected to be a big city, but on the walk from the station to the hotel, maybe a distance of 200 meters, I didn’t meet a single person. The artificial skyline, the cloudless sky, the factory chimneys vomiting smoke, I felt like I was in a Giorgio de Chirico painting. I knew I had to live in a place like this.
I was born in a small coastal fishing town. It was always blowing a gale. There were no tall trees and you could see for miles. I liked watching the ocean on my way to school. I never swam. I just loved looking at it by myself.
People that live in fishing villages have fear of and gratitude for the sea. It brings the blessing of a harvest, but it’s dangerous. Once I got in big trouble for whistling in a fisherman’s house, I didn’t know the superstition that whistling at night calls a storm.
chaos is the dual nature of good and evil
I actually think that the sea obeys its own chaotic laws, and that chaos is the dual nature of good and evil, and that has had an affect on my music.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up? How and why did you get a band together?
I used to listen to heaps of classical music because I was learning piano. There was always Mozart and Beethoven at home and the music was constantly in my head—I used to click my teeth to the rhythm at elementary school. I guess I must have seemed like a weirdo.
I did many different kinds of jobs before deciding to enter university, and I started writing songs and thinking about forming a band. There was a band circle at the university and I could hear people playing in their practice space, so one day I went in and saw a guy sitting there with drumsticks. I said to him, “Do you want to form a band with me?”
So we played for a while together and recorded our first album right after coming to Tokyo as well. We actually just recorded some stuff with him again.
It’s true that I wanted to do a band like Rallizes. They were the only band I thought could do what they do, but at the same time I wanted to play like them.
Why did you choose to name your band after the French movie? Does film inspire you to want to write music?
After forming the band, we had to play at the university festival and needed a name. The reason we named the band after a movie like My Bloody Valentine did was that it was just a hassle to think about it. We were also considering calling ourselves “Z”, zει in Greek, meaning he’s alive.
The magical story and cinematography and the pagan motif we thought suited us, so I decided on the name Sundays & Cybele. I also had the nickname Cybele since starting university and even after coming to Tokyo. If I had chosen the name “Z”, the music would have been completely different, I think.
My grandfather died at 31 and I began to feel afraid I would die at 31 as well.
Thanks to the name, a friend of the band told me a lot about the Greek god Cybele and her origins as Κυβέλη, the goddess of nature and harvest, and also of death and rebirth. I thought that idea was the same as the direction of my music.
My favorite scene in the movie is when a girl gives Pierre her name from inside a matchbox.
I also had a kind of episode with my name. I nearly died right after childbirth, but my parents thought it best that I should have a name. So they named me after my late grandfather, and I revived. My grandfather died at 31 and I began to feel afraid I would die at 31 as well. So after I’d safely passed that age, I felt like I could start my own life.
You mentioned earlier about Les Rallize Denudes. Your music is really reminiscent of Takeshi Mizutani’s style, especially the acoustic folk of your first album in 2007 [recently released on Bandcamp] and in the loud feedback and vocal echo on later records. Did you emulate Mizutani intentionally?
It’s true I was conscious of it, though for personal reasons I felt like I needed to heal myself through the creation of that kind of roughness. Another factor was that because of my equipment at the time, I couldn’t find any other way than that aesthetic that would be worthy of appreciation.
Perhaps for me that style was suitable for healing something in my soul. Recently I recorded an album with an acoustic style. It was like a restoration of some matters between ex-members of the band. I hope to release it soon.
With each album you’ve released (maybe with the exception of the largely acoustic Tsubouchi) the sound has gotten bigger and more layered. Was that a result of gaining more experience in the studio?
Exactly. Recently I’ve become able to capture a more satisfactory fuzz guitar sound, but at the same time I feel a limit. It takes years to do everything from recording to mixing by myself, and the time goes so fast. So I started to think it’s not productive, and I’ve quit editing songs rather than playing guitar or creating songs.
The idea for the bassline came to me while I was working, so I pretended to go to the toilet about five times to record it
When you’re writing, what generally comes first with you? Do you play guitar and find a melody, or do you play piano, or sing?
Because I have a job outside of music, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking of melodies and writing songs in my head without using instruments. I record a memo of it and when I come back home I check it with a guitar. Sometimes the song is already completed before I pick up an instrument.
When I wrote Time Mirror on the album Heaven, the idea for the bassline came to me while I was working, so I pretended to go to the toilet about five times in 30 minutes to record it on a notetaker and get it finished.
I’m always struggling with loneliness and disappointment, but the way I deal with it has changed slightly, I think.
I used to just think about personal matters, but recently I can’t turn away from the current situation in the world any more.
I probably express it in such a way because I’ve been in a minority since I was born, I didn’t have a lot of sympathetic friends that understood, and I couldn’t really understand or tune in with the majority, so I’ve felt kind of suppressed. As a result, I’ve been driven by rebelliousness inside me to express the way I feel.
You’ve released records on a few different labels locally and internationally, but your early work was mostly issued on cassette, and more recently you’ve issued more on CD and vinyl and started offering digital downloads. Was the early decision to record “lo-fi” and issue your work on tape intentional or just a result of not having a large budget?
Actually, my first record was released as a CD, though it was very lo-fi. It was a consequence of my equipment rather than any intention I had. All my gear was at my house and it was too hard to carry out, so I recorded it there. I recorded acoustic guitar and vocals at the same time with a cheap mic. I just did what I could do and didn’t worry about what I couldn’t do.
I think the results were good.
You guys recently got back from a tour of Australia, including a visit to Byron Bay… my hometown. How did you find the tour? Which show do you think went the best?
Basically the sound of Heaven is similar to the sound we had when I first formed the band.
You’re from Byron, excellent. I didn’t gig there, though it was very relaxing place.
Guruguru Brain offered us a tour and we went over with Li-Yang of Scattered Purgatory. Li-Yang kindly booked everything actually. Of the two shows we did in Melbourne, it’s hard to say which was better. We were able to relax and play.
Australia is a wealthy country. A lot of young people are interested in culture and art. It’s great. But on the other hand, everything was really expensive.
Can you tell us a bit about how you approached recording your latest album, Heaven? It seems maybe the loudest, a bit more aggressive sounding than your previous work. Where did you record?
We got a new drummer a couple of months before recording Heaven. He originally wasn’t a drummer, but our staff. He plays a simple style that makes you want to play along.
Basically the sound of Heaven is similar to the sound we had when I first formed the band. Actually, it was good to record old songs with the new arrangement.
Yeah, I was wondering about why you re-recorded Futari No Kuroi Monogatari from II with different lyrics and named it Night Predator…
I wasn’t satisfied with the lyrics of Futari No Kuroi Monogatari. The riffs had been completed since around 2005, but we thought it was perfect timing to re-record it because we upgraded our equipment and could record a louder sound. Also the playing style of our new drummer suited this song.
The release of Heaven has brought us confidence and motivation.
About the lyrics, I felt like the previous version was affected and romantic, and it was necessary to add some depth to the words to play it live. I liked the feeling of the phrase “night predator” so I rewrote the lyrics from there.
And the riffs in Empty Seas from the album Heaven are partly the same as Angel [from Gypsy House], but originally they were totally different songs. I wasn’t satisfied with the lyrics to Angel so I combined Empty Seas and Angel and that’s how this version of Empty Seas took on its form.
Angel is a very old song, so there are about six different versions depending on the period. I like to change the arrangement of songs like that.
So with Heaven out now on vinyl, what’s coming up for the band? What direction do you think you might head in the future musically? Do you think it will be possible to tour more internationally?
After the tour, I started to think that it’s better to separate songs for overseas and domestic listeners. Foreign listeners seem to prefer heavy psychedelic stuff, but it’s not really the case in Japan.
I think a softer way of expression resonates more with Japanese people currently.
I used to worry about how to integrate those two aspects, but as a result I’ve reached the conclusion to separate them both, and today I’ve just finished mastering two albums on the basis of this idea.
But for the next album I’m now planning to start recording in December, I’m intending to take another direction. Like Waiting for You or Time Mirror, I’ll take a Pink Floyd-style approach to finishing the album. I’m really into it at the moment.
I have plans to go to the UK next year, and I’m really hoping I can tour abroad with this new record. I’d also like to go to Taiwan and Hong Kong. But I’ll tour wherever an audience is.