December 14th, 2009 | Interviews

christine hale

Download: Melt Banana “Blank Page Of The Blind”


(from Bambi’s Dilemma out now on A-ZAP)

Melt-Banana is the ultimate adrenaline band. This band from Tokyo sounds like what the aliens will be playing on the warship stereos when they come to eat us measly humans. They are currently touring with a show that splits Melt-Banana with their new incarnation, Melt-Banana Lite, which is still pretty fucking heavy even though they ditch their guitars. Lead singer Yasuko Onuki (Yako) sat down with Scott Schultz after a sound check in Cambridge, Mass., to discuss how to say ‘cat brains’ in Japanese, fans who make homemade Melt-Banana anime videos, the secret of Agata’s mask, and more.

Are you the loudest band in Japan?
Yasuko Onuki (vocals): Unfortunately, no. I wish we were. There are many loud bands in Japan. Many bands that are both loud and good. We are friends with a lot of them.
This can be where you give your shout-outs, so our readers in L.A. can discover cool Japanese bands.
Yasuko Onuki: Slight Slappers, Senseless Apocalypse, Fluid, Worst Taste, Corrupted are all very good bands. HG Fact is a very good Japanese label that your readers should check out.
Have any of you blown out your ears yet?
Yasuko Onuki: None of us have blown out our ears. We wear plugs.
This tour and your new live CD are being promoted as ‘Melt-Banana Lite.’ Are you guys going soft?
Yasuko Onuki: No, we aren’t going soft. Melt-Banana regular has a lot of loud guitars and is closer to hardcore. For us, coming from Japan, it is very difficult to tour with guitars and drums because we have to bring them on flights and the drums take a lot of room in the van. We wanted to originally record and tour this time without guitars and try something different. Rather than guitars and drums, we wanted to use more samplers, synthesizers, synth drum machines and vocals. It would be easier—more convenient. We thought at first we would even go without drums. In the end, we like drums and cabinets. The music itself on Melt-Banana Lite isn’t very soft at all. It’s still very loud and hard. For this tour our shows will be a little different with half of our show being Melt-Banana Lite. I’m not sure if people will like it, but it will be loud.
What do people think?
Yasuko Onuki: We have been splitting the sets in two—twenty minutes of Melt-Banana Lite and twenty minutes of Melt-Banana Regular. People seem to like it, although some people prefer old Banana. We always want to try something new—something different. On November 3, we released Melt-Banana Lite Version 0.0. It is a live CD. Now we’re thinking of going into the studio and releasing a studio Lite CD.
I read that it’s more expensive for you to tour Japan than it is for you to tour America. How is that possible?
Yasuko Onuki: In Japan, highway tolls and gas are really expensive. For example, from Tokyo to Osaka—which is only about 500 kilometers—it is at least $100 each way. So if we can’t get enough people we can’t tour small towns in Japan. We play the big cities there. We have more fans in U.S.A.
Have you learned to like American fast food?
Yasuko Onuki: When we first started touring, we had a hard time eating. In Japan, I eat more Japanese-style: rice, miso and fish. When on tour, it’s hard to eat burgers every day, but we find good Asian food. Like we’ve been eating Vietnamese food lately. Now we find the good fast food—In-N-Out, we learned. Five Guys burgers are the best on the East Coast. At first I didn’t like Mexican food, but now I do.
I remember the first time I saw you live in 2005, I saw [guitarist] Agata with his trademark mask on, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, he takes the bird flu seriously!’ What is the origin of the surgeon’s mask?
Yasuko Onuki: A while ago, when we were on tour, he had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. He put Kleenex in his nostrils to stop it, so he hid it behind a mask. Then he got comfortable with it. Back when he started wearing it, people could still smoke in clubs, and the mask filtered it. On tour now, people say swine flu.
The crowds in your shows are so wild. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen from the stage?
Yasuko Onuki: I remember one time, there was a kid and he kept doing back flips. He did them for the entire show. He found some steps, maybe six feet in the air. He would run up them and do a back flip and people would catch him and he kept doing it. I just watched it while I sang. It was funny.
You wrote a song specifically for the Adult Swim cartoon ‘Perfect Hair Forever’ a few years back. Can you spot the fans who found you through Adult Swim?
Yasuko Onuki: I’m sure there are people who come to the shows who first heard of us through the cartoon. I can’t tell from the stage which people discovered us through the cartoon. I was happy with the way the song was used though because the sound and animation fit very well. Many people make videos and cartoons to our songs now and send links to us. I think it’s neat.
My friend showed a Melt-Banana video on YouTube to his 7-year-old son that he liked a lot. It is set to your song ‘Green Eyed Devil.’ It is an anime cartoon in which you are a video game character being chased by an alien. You climb a volcano and grab a space guitar. When you play it, it destroys the alien, and you win the game. Was that one of your actual videos, or was that made by a fan?
Yasuko Onuki: Really? I’m not familiar with that one. It must have been made by a fan. It sounds cool. I’d like to see that one.
Which did you discover first—Western punk rock or Japanese punk rock?
Yasuko Onuki: When I was young, I wasn’t familiar with Japanese punk. It was there, but I wasn’t familiar with it. I knew Sex Pistols, the Damned. When I started playing in clubs in Japan, I became aware of Japanese punk bands.
You had Jello Biafra join you guys on stage in San Francisco. How did that happen?
Yasuko Onuki: We had been playing the Dead Kennedy’s song ‘Government Flu.’ Our tour manager knows Jello Biafra. He told him to come by and he just showed up. I was surprised. We asked him to sing with us and he did. Afterward we invited him to other shows, and he also joined us in Florida.
You’re actually not the only Japanese artist that I’m interviewing this month. I just sent an interview to Yoko Ono.
Yasuko Onuki: I met Yoko Ono once! I was in the studio with her son, Sean Lennon. After we were finished playing, Sean and I went to dinner, and his mother joined us at the restaurant. I remember thinking at the time that she reminded me a lot of my own mother. They both look and act the same, and of course they’re both Japanese, and they are also close to the same age. So I was thinking of her more as my friend’s mother than a rock ‘n’ roll icon.
I saw on your MySpace page that it says ‘Neko Brains.’ What does that mean?
Yasuko Onuki: Neko means ‘cat.’ It means ‘cat brains.’ Cats have small brains compared to humans, so when we’re on tour and somebody does something stupid, we call them ‘neko brain.’