Melt Banana symbolize everything that is good and right with the world. No Wave, Noise, Death Metal, free jazz, abandon, fits, and bleeding ears all delivered with the most beautiful orchestrated urgency. Quite simply, I lose any critical faculties and resort to declarations of love and maniacal giggling. I had the recent privilege of both seeing them live and being granted an audience with vocalist/mastermind Yasuko O.
However, two things went wrong. First, I lost my list of questions (perhaps I tore them up into confetti to throw in the air during the encore of “Surfin’ USA”; perhaps I lost it while negotiating through a crowd of wide-eyed indie boy devotees with Yasuko), and second, I ran headfirst into the language barrier. Nevertheless, I “winged it,” and Yasuko O. demonstrated an astounding command of English for someone who has only been to America for rock n’ roll tours.
Melt Banana should be a familiar name as darlings of the Japanese/American noise rock axis and for doing time on Skin Graft Records. Now they are completely on their own, and have delivered Charlie, their most alien and accomplished record yet. I think they have managed to transcend the boundaries of the Japanoise scene and are creating completely new sound compressions. Michael Patton loves them, why can’t you?
How do you think the show went tonight?
Pretty good. Very good crowd and we ourselves enjoyed playing tonight. So.
How has Florida been treating you?
We are having fun. Like, before we get here, everybody in other states were saying that this was a very dangerous state. So, we were like OK, now Florida, you know? But so far no danger for us, and people are very nice. We are having fun.
Have you done any tourist diversions, like Disney or anything?
[Laughs] No, no, no. We don’t have any days off, so we haven’t even gone to the beach.
Have people been following you from show to show?
Yeah, in Florida some people came from Jacksonville to Gainesville because they are close together. And also, in Chicago, there was a guy who came to six of our shows, following us. But he was a very nice guy, and we appreciate it.
Are you enjoying the tour on the whole now?
Yes. So far we are doing very well on this tour. We haven’t had any days off, but we are all doing great. Yeah!
How much longer do you have?
One month more to go. Yeah.
You have a new album out now. Do you want to talk about that for a bit?
Yeah, Charlie. Charlie is our third album, and compared with the last two albums, it is kind of different. We think that it is very good. It’s still noisy and fast, but much more enjoyable.
Are you consciously trying to do more pop, or melody?
Yeah!! Yeah, actually, I think so! When I recorded first album, I just wanted to show the people about how I sing, my style of singing. Not thinking about melody, I would just concentrate on my vocals. And with Charlie, maybe I became kind of greedy [laughs]. I wanted to do some more stuff. And also we played with many different kinds of bands, especially we played with Mr. Bungle. We were influenced by them because we saw them play every night, about 25 times on tour. I really enjoyed the vocal style of Mike Patton. So my vocal style became wider, I think. And also, about guitar, he (Agata) wanted to try different things in many styles.
So is this the record you are happiest with?
Yeah. I think so.
And now you have started your own label as well?
Yes. The name is A-Zap.
Is it hard trying to coordinate all of the label business between Japan and America, since you run it all yourself now?
No, we have a manager and he is taking care of things in the United States. And in Japan, we ourselves take care of things. So far it is working very well.
I have been told that you worked with John Zorn recently on a record that should be released soon…
We recorded a live album with John Zorn. It will be out on Tzadik, maybe next year (1999) or something.
What was it like working with him? I have heard he’s obsessed with Japanese culture…
Oh, John is a very nice guy. He can speak Japanese very well, so we felt very comfortable working with him. We went to his apartment and it’s like a library of records and books and videos. (laughs)
Melt Banana was on Skin Graft for awhile, were there any bands on that label that you got on with well?
We toured with U.S. Maple a couple of times. So we are good friends with them.
Could you tell me a bit about the songwriting process?
About songwriting, I or Agata (guitar) brings a basic idea and then the whole band goes into the studio to build up the song. So mainly, basic idea and then everyone inputs. With lyric writing, I do it all by myself.
Are there any bands or performers that you consider important influences?
Hmmm. Yeah. When I started the band my biggest influence was… Do you know the compilation No New York? Yeah. When I listened to this compilation, I was really, really surprised, because it’s kind of old stuff, but it sounded very new and very fresh. So I kind of wanted to do something, I felt, so I started the band. That compilation was an important influence. And also I listen to much rap music.
Really? Could you name some acts you enjoy?
Yeah, like Public Enemy or Cypress Hill. I like Cypress Hill very much. Or Gravediggaz. And some old stuff like, oh, I forgot the name…
I ask everyone this, live vs. studio?
Before we were thinking that we are a live band, maybe because the live show is the only way we can show the people our music. But after we produce two albums, like, third album is very… Before, we made a song just thinking about the live show, but now with Charlie we just think about how to make the sound by recording. We are having to be both types now.
You did the Dead Kennedy’s cover tonight?
Have you been doing that the whole tour?
Sometimes. Not all shows.
Are you going to make any videos for this record?
Yeah, we are thinking about it. We are thinking about making two videos before we go back to Japan.
Can you provide a capsule history for the uninitiated?
First I started the band. It was kind of a punk band, but after awhile it broke down and I needed to reform the band. I gathered the members and we became Melt Banana. It was 1993, I think April 1st. We all met at the same school.
How many American tours have you done?
Four. We have actually been here five times, but the first time we just came over to record the first album, so it was not like a tour. We just played a few shows in Chicago and San Francisco. And the second time we toured with U.S. Maple, from Chicago to Austin, Texas. And we did a West Coast tour with Red Krayola. After that, we toured with Mr. Bungle, in 1995. In 1996, we toured by ourselves, and now this time.
Have you heard any good records lately?
Ummmm. I haven’t listened to it, but I have heard that Cypress Hill has a new album coming out soon, maybe in October. I am looking forward to it.
Do you have any big plans following the tour?
Yeah, next year we hope to tour in United States again and Europe and maybe Australia.
I can’t remember the last of the questions I wanted to ask. Do you want to close this up with anything?
We think Charlie is a very good album, so just check it out. [laughs]