Hailing from Hokkaido, Shinji Masuko, known for his band DMBQ, and more recently as member of the seminal Osaka-based collective Boredoms, has had a large hand in changing the face of Japanese music. With both bands still active, and a prolific writing career as his other main focus in life, Shinji replied to some questions Bad Sounds sent him last month.
Hey Shinji, you were born in Sapporo, Hokkaido right, but you live in Tokyo these days?
Yes, I was born in Sapporo, then moved to Tokyo and was living in that city for over 15 years. Then I moved to Osaka. I am living in Osaka for 7 years.
What was it like growing up there. Was there a healthy music/arts scene?
Yes, Sapporo is a small town, but there was a great music scene when I was a young kid then. I still believe late 90’s Sapporo music scene was incredible.
DMBQ was formed in 1988-9, but you relocated to Tokyo a few years later to really concentrate on the project. How did you get in touch with Ryuichi and Yuka?
Ryuichi was a same Jr high school kids, Yuka was playing on the other bands when she was in Sapporo. Both were born in Sapporo.
I heard that your band members were originally from Sapporo too. Did you know them before moving to Tokyo or was it just a coincidence.
Yeah, I know them before moving to Tokyo, but I didn’t think we will make a band together, haha.
Your music was influenced by a lot of psychedelic, rock music from the late 70’s. Were you also influenced by the Japanese underground bands of the 60’s like Les Rallizes Denudes?
Yes, totally yes. Japanese underground music was very very hard to get when I was kids then, so I was always looking for such kind of music! bloody hard. I still have these cassette tapes.
Live your shows are very psychedelic based but also incorporate a lot of punk elements in attitude and delivery. Were there some Japanese punk bands that you feel inspired some of your live act? Or was it more of a western influence.
Ummm… I think… its both influence. But I think most of our punk-ish attitude is from western influence.
You haven’t released a DMBQ album for over 8 years. Are there plans underway to record another one?
Yes, I already have some tracks!
Throughout history Japanese music has always been a slow burner in the Western world, except for some bands that are making waves like Boredoms, Boris, Melt Banana, Nissenenmondai. When I was in Tokyo in 2001 I was introduced to many bands I had never heard of that were fantastic such as Luminous Orange, Sugar Plant, Fushitsusha etc. Why do you think its hard for these bands to break out of Japan.
I think USA is still very far for most of musicians in Japan. Language, connections, money things, music scene, etc… everything is very different. Most of Japanese musicians has no friends in US and can’t understand English, so they can’t imagine even they are playing their music in US, or selling CDs in US.
Speaking of Boredoms. When did you start working with them and how did it come about?
7 years ago, right after I moved to Osaka. I got a phone call from Yoshimi suddenly like “Hey, you are living in Osaka now, right? So, join Boredoms if you are OK!”
Can you tell us a little about how you invented the “Sevena”. Did you and Yamantaka Eye work on it together or did you design it?
One day EYE told me why Boredoms needs guitar sound again, and then I understand.. “No, He doesn’t want a guitar!!” . So I told him “I think we need another new design of strings instrument”. Because he wanted to have all the @@@@@@@@@@
I saw Boredoms play at Øya Festival in Oslo a few years ago and distinctly remember seeing Sevena for the first time and being blown away by how amazing it sounded. I also remember seeing you changing guitar necks all the time and moving parts around. It must be a hectic job.
Haha, yeah, it was hard work. But I liked it. We were still applying a trial-and-error method at that time. Now we find more easy way to play Sevena, so my work is mostly playing my guitar.
How difficult is it to keep the “Sevena” in tune and working order while Eye repeatedly smashes on it each performance?
I’ve customized all the sevena necks and tuners, so now we are free from tuning problem!!!
It seems when Boredoms play live it can be anywhere from 3 to 100 drummers. It must be a nightmare logistically to organize everything. Are you ever going to return to the format of 3 drummers when you tour in the future?
Yes, maybe. Playing with many drummers is fun, but yes its very hard to organize. And we have to give up to make difficult/strange drums/rhythm part when we are playing with many drummers.
Actually we are playing with only 2 drummers, Yoshimi and Yo2ro when we are doing practice and recordings, so we know we can do it.
Apart from being involved with DMBQ and Boredoms you are also a journalist writing on various subjects in Japanese culture. You write in both music, pornography and subculture magazines. How did you get into this? And is this your main focus in life apart from music.
For me, music and such kind of things like subculture etc are the same things. Both are very important for me. Both gives me a lot of inspiration for making music. And I like writing/reading columns very much anyways. I like reading every kind of texts, even delivery pizza menu, washing machine manual, supermarket receipt, etc. Reading text is very fun, especially the text that wrote without writer’s intention or passion, opinion, thought, etc.
Are any of your articles translated into English? As I know there is a healthy obsession with all things Japanese in the world but there are very few Japanese writers who are read by Westerners due to the language barrier.
No, my articles are not translated into English yet. Yeah, strongly I think translate Japanese into English is very difficult. I read some translated Japanese writer’s book, but I got very different feelings when I read the same book in Japanese. Very strange.
I just finished watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and was amazing by the mans lifelong goal to become better and better at what he does, even though most people believe it to be perfect.
How much do you relate to this in musical terms. Are you forever unhappy with what you have created and want to push forward, or can you also sit down and be content with a record or show that you performed at.
Ummm… Its very complicated question. Yes, sometimes I could feel my music has some very good part especially when I am recording my things, but, at the same time, I feel my music is in the same group of the over 10,000,000 of crappy records legacy.
Hopefully I can be forever unhappy to my own creation to create more great music. However I have to discern the best of the present condition which I can do. Hopefully my future music is better than today, but I have to play music NOW because I am living in this world now.