Our beloved music venues are enjoying a rare wash of Japanese instrumental art rock at the moment, with Boris and now MONO gracing our shores.
That strange place where shoegaze meets contemporary classical music is the sonic space MONO call home, and with over a decade on the radar and a load of releases, MONO have somehow managed to take their unique sound beyond the confines of a niche market and onto the playlists of many a rock lover. Somehow, their visually pristine and melodically challenging approach to music has enabled them to be as comfortable performing in a dive bar as they are in an art gallery.
Lead guitarist Takaakira Goto is in a café enjoying a short break between rehearsals for their upcoming tour while he answers some questions for Brag. From the outside, when the audience reads about a band, it always seems like the band has enjoyed overnight success with a steady journey to greater and greater things, but that isn’t always true. Anyone’s life looks concise on paper. It has been said that a good artistic career is built from a thousand tiny achievements, and that is exactly the journey MONO has enjoyed.
“There was a time when touring internationally and surviving on only music was just a dream,” Goto says. “So we are very grateful to still be together and making music now.For any band or artist, I think we should appreciate the entire career, not just the peak, but also the struggle and the steady rise.”
Change and evolution, however, are the two things that sustain a band once they have obtained a level of success. “I think we’ve learned and grown as human beings with each album,” he says. “With every experiment, we learn something new about the music we’re trying to share. The main change is that our vision is clearer now, and we’ve met many wonderful people who support our journey. This has enabled us to create more, tour more, and release more. We have learned how to follow our joy.”
Given the free-flowing and emotionally charged nature of MONO’s music, it’s difficult to imagine them tediously working on a part and struggling through the pragmatic side of music making. “We try to allow the process to be more intuitive and instinctive, and minimise the practical elements of song writing,” he says. “I think we know in our gut if something isn’t working, so we don’t dwell on it and just move on. As for recording, we try to be as prepared as possible, mainly because we record overseas and are on a strict time constraint. We also try to sustain the energy of our live show during recording as much as possible. Usually it will be the first or second take that we’ll use for the record, so this makes the process more enjoyable and smooth.”
With MONO creating such a unique style of music, they have faced the double-edged sword of their own creation. Yes, they do something fairly unique and while they’re not the only ones out there doing it, they’re certainly not just another rock band.
“When we first started playing overseas, things like social media weren’t as prevalent so we found all of our fans by word of mouth,” he says. “Looking back, it’s incredible to think that our music travelled this way. In that sense, we’re very thankful that our music has been so openly received by those who feel a connection to it. It is challenging for musicians and artists who have chosen a non-conventional path, but the support we receive from our audiences makes it all worth it.
“I think music – amongst many other art forms – is a bridge that allows people to connect. We’re all in a room sharing the energy of a song, and in that space we remember that all humans derive from the same source,” Goto says. “Narratives and concepts may contribute to a record, but I believe music has a sort of transcendence that can be felt, but not explained. Music transcends cultural definitions.”
BY KRISSI WEISS