Since forming in 2000, the Japanese band Mono has played in Louisville many times and has built a large, devoted audience here. The members travel constantly and have a close connection with their fans, a tough accomplishment since they operate independently of corporate or major record labels.
They also own and operate Human Highway Records in Tokyo, one of Japan’s truly “indie” labels.
Mono’s live shows are impossible to describe and pretty legendary for such a young band. Imagine an instrumental classical composition played with guitars, first tender and beautiful, then make it the loudest, most evil thing you’ve ever heard. Their last album, You Are There, could inspire even the most cynical heart to blistering empathy.
I caught up with guitarist/composer Takaakira Goto (“Taka”) to talk about Mono’s upcoming U.S. tour and the politics of running a record label. He was cool enough to do the phone interview at 1 a.m. Japanese time. (Thanks to Reiko Kudo for the translation.)
LEO: Mono’s music falls into several styles and categories. Does it seem audiences are more patient and more understanding nowadays?
Taka: We feel really fortunate. We’re really happy to see audiences in the indie scene be open to music that’s not “labeled.” It’s been seven years since we started playing together, and every time we come to the United States, we feel more accepted. It’s really amazing to see people listening so … intensely … to instrumental rock music (influenced by classical!). We’re happy to see that reaction.
LEO: Bands I admire trust the audience, trust them to experience something different at a show. They offer something more private — that’s not just for entertainment. It’s just — music that asks the audience to travel with the band, asks the audience to bring more of themselves to it, and build something emotional out of the experience.
Taka: Yeah. That’s the reason why Mono has been touring for a long time. The basic motivation is the audience always gives a lot of energy back to us, and that helps the band write new songs, and then that returns to the audience again. That good kind of chain reaction is really wonderful, and it’s something you can’t find anywhere else. There have been many encounters with the audiences, and without any major support or big promotions, we’ve built up a foundation to share the music. This kind of musical experience — that’s something really special to us. That brings the band back to touring — why the band exists and keeps playing.
LEO: Human Highway is unique for a Japanese label. It’s inspiring to see it growing.
Taka: Thank you. Human Highway is still a very small label, and understanding that, its purpose is to bring people I’ve met in the past (on tour or with other musical experiences) to Japan. It’s like a small family, and the friendship and the musicianship is growing, showing that kind of great relationship to the audience by bringing these bands to Japan and doing some shows. That’s really inspired the fans, and the fans become part of the family as well. The circle of family is getting bigger that way, so it’s a really great feeling. The bands that come to Japan return to the states and hopefully feel they experienced something special.
Human Highway is not able to bring them to a nice hotel with all the accommodations. If they come to Japan, they have to stay at my apartment! But that’s the establishing of the great relationship and musicianship: becoming a family. It’s something I want to keep on doing.