Photo thanks to Resource Graphics. Melt-Banana’s new album Fetch is their first in six years, which is a long time, and feels even longer when you consider that their songs are so damn short. Clocking in at 32 minutes, you could have listened to Fetch 16,436 times in the six years since 2007's Bambi’s Dilemma. Which is exactly what I'm going to do over the next six, because Fetch is a total masterpiece of hardcore-punk bluster and concision, filled with guitar-terrorist Ichiro Agata’s effect-laden squall that recalls a space station under attack and frontwoman Yasuko "Yako" Onuki’s barked high-tone vocals.
The rest of the band—bassist Rika and an ever-changing cast of drummers—is gone, leaving Yako and Agata as a lean two-piece, with drum machines and bass tracks only adding to the mayhem. You can catch them on their North American tour through the rest of October and into November and probably next year in Europe/the UK. But let’s just shut up and hear from Yako and Agata, yeah?
Noisey: Welcome back! It's great to have a new Melt-Banana album. How do you feel about being back?
Yako: Thank you for welcoming us back. But by the way, were we gone somewhere?
Agata: Six years went by very fast. I even didn't notice that Bambi's release was six years ago.
What have you been doing all this time?
Agata: We were touring Europe and North America. We also went to Australia for festivals, including one at Sydney Opera House—which Lou Reed invited us to play! It was a great experience. We also went to Finland, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan after Bambi.
Yako: We also put out a 7" called “Initial T” on INIT records.
You had a sort of side band in the interim, Melt-Banana Lite. What was that about?
Agata: One day, Yako brought me a demo that had songs that used only drums, theremin and her voice. Her idea was to do something without guitars. We were going to tour with Dave Witte, who had been in Discordance Axis, and I think she wanted to feature his very fast drumming on songs without guitar and bass guitar. That's how Melt-Banana Lite started.
Yako: After the tour with Dave, we still kept doing it, sometimes with a real drummer and sometimes using a computer, and put out a Melt-Banana Lite studio live album.
When did you start working on Fetch?
Agata: I started writing demo songs from January 2011.
I read that the 11 March 2011 earthquake was one of the things that held back its production. Why is that?
Agata: I don't know why, but something changed. I couldn’t concentrate on writing and recording songs.
How did you feel about making music at that time? Like, watching the news with the rising death toll from the tsunami, feeling the aftershocks, worrying about the unfolding nuclear disaster—did music feel important to you at that time?
Agata: Of course music was important for me, because it's the only thing I can do or want to do. But once when I was watching the TV news about the earthquake, they were using very sad, tragic sounding music, and I really hated it. I can't explain why I didn't like it, but I felt very uncomfortable.
Did you feel too uncomfortable or on edge to make music for a while after that? And what was it that brought you back to "normal"?
Agata: I think it was our North American tour in the fall 2011. We toured for two months and could think about things outside of Japan. I think it was good for me.
Yako: It might be true that we felt we couldn't concentrate on music for a while, but I never feel too uncomfortable or on edge to make music. Sometimes we just need time to sort our minds out.
Talk us through a couple of songs on Fetch. Which are your favorites?
Agata: I like “Infection Defective.” It's a kind of mid-tempo song, and we didn't have a song in that tempo before.
Yako: It’s hard for me to pick just one or two, but if I had to pick a song that I don't like, I would say none.
Yako, where do you find inspiration for your lyrics after all these years of making songs? Does Tokyo life give you a lot to be pissed off about?
Yako: No, I am having fun living in Tokyo, and there aren’t so many things that piss me off. There are negative things and also positive things that I get inspiration from.
Agata, your guitar effects have always been pretty out there, but this time they're even more extreme. How do you find new sounds and new places to take it?
Agata: On this album, I used many tracks for the guitar and did not use many effects. Well, I used effects, but not so many new pedals. Instead, I played and recorded many small bits of guitar sound and looped them.
I think Fetch is your most balanced album, between being really aggressive and fast and crazy like your older stuff but also relatively accessible like the later albums. The production is really tight too, just clean and polished enough without sounding like a pop album. Was all of that deliberate?
Agata: We recorded our first and second album at Steve Albini's house. Seeing how he was working, we got influenced a lot and started to record our music by ourselves. However, it’s not easy, and we can’t do it like a pro sound engineer at a recording studio. We sometimes forget how to record or mix it well. So if you say the production ofFetch is good, we are happy to hear it.”
Was it a deliberate decision to be a two-piece now?
Agata: To tell you the truth, we were thinking about halting the band last summer, but we changed our minds when Shellac invited us for the ATP festival in the UK. At the time we had no drummer or bass player, but they told us that we could play as a two-piece.
Yako: I guess I just didn't want to stop.
The decision to carry on with a drum machine must have been easier to make, since you always have drummers appearing and disappearing anyway. Do you find drum machines easier to work with than the living, breathing kind?
Agata: We played more than 1300 shows as a four-piece and we got used to playing with real drummers. So it was not an easy decision. And many people might think that playing with a drum machine is easy, but playing with a good drummer is a lot easier.
Does it affect the energy on stage to have only two of you instead of four?
Yako: Not at all! What is important for me is not the number of people onstage, but who is onstage, and the music that we play and how we show it to people as a live band.
You’re now on the road in the US. Will you be killing any deer this time? (Bambi's Dilemma was named after a tour incident involving a deer on the road. It didn't end well for the deer.)
Agata: If you interview other bands that lost a member in a car accident or something, would you ask them who will die on their next tour? Hitting that deer was not a fun experience. But there's always a next time.
Yako: “When we hit that deer, I was really upset and sad, and I don't want to even imagine another accident.
Aside from brutally murdering a poor defenseless deer, what's the craziest thing that's happened to you on tour?
Agata: It sounds like you think we killed that deer for fun… Actually, after we hit the deer, on the same tour a guy on drugs hit our van with his car in Austin. Many police cars and horseback police came and blocked the street to catch him. We were about to start playing a show, but we had to go talk with the police first.
Tell me you'll be playing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics ceremony. It's your duty. The whole world will be watching, and I really don't want the world to think SMAP is the best Japan has to offer…
Agata:It is now our duty to completely drain you, haha.
Fetchis out now and Melt-Banana are on tour!
10.17 - Seattle, WA - Chop Suey
10.18 - Portland, OR - Dante’s
10.19 - Boise, ID - Nuerolux
10.20 - Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge
10.21 - Denver, CO - The Larimer Lounge
10.23 - Minneapolis, MN - Triple Rock Social Club
10.24 - Milwaukee, WI - The Cactus Club
10.25 - Grand Rapids, MI - The Pyramid Scheme
10.26 - Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop
10.27 - Chicago, IL - Double Door
10.28 - Pontiac, MI - The Crofoot Ballroom
10.29 - Toronto - Lee's Palace
10.30 - Buffalo, NY - The Tralf
10.31 - Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
11.01 - Brooklyn, NY - Saint Vitus
11.02 - Providence, RI - AS220
11.03 - Boston, MA - The Sinclair
11.04 - Washington DC - at Black Cat Backstage
11.05 - Chapel Hill, NC - Local 506
11.06 - Atlanta, GA - 529
11.08 - Dallas, TX - Club Dada
11.09 - Austin, TX - Fun Fun Fun Festival
11.11 - Albuquerque, NM - Launchpad
11.12 - Phoenix, AZ - Last Exit
11.13 - Los Angeles, CA - The Troubadour
11.14 - San Deigo, CA - at The Casbah
11.15 - Pomona, CA - The Glasshouse
11.16 - Oakland, CA - The Oakland Metro Operahouse