I like this saying by Beethoven that, “Music is a gift from God that allows you to talk freely more than languages.”
To the right person, MONO is the post-rock band to end all post-rock bands. We’re 8 years removed from its masterpiece, Hymn to the Immortal Wind (perhaps the only post-rock album as good as Lift Yr Skinny Fists), but MONO still hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear despite nearing 20 years together. Last year’s Requiem for Hell may have lacked the orchestral punch of their crown jewel, but it’s a brilliant addition to the band’s catalogue. Currently, MONO is about to embark on a short tour with slowcore giants Low, a pairing that seems like a beautiful match made in heaven. I got the chance to talk with de-facto frontman Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto about his creative process, his influences and how this particular tour came together.
What does the creative process for each song look like? Who typically takes the lead?
I write all the songs by myself. I create demos, share them with the members, then try them out at our studio. The arrangement or melodies themselves don’t end up changing much, but as far as the perfect sounds go, I leave the interpretation to the members. We’ve been together for a long time, like a family, so they all understand the meaning of each song that I write and perform them perfectly with the right emotions without me saying a word.
Do you come into the process of making an album with a particular theme/vision in mind, or do you let your instincts guide you?
I don’t really have a specific way that I follow, but as I finish writing each song they start to connect with each other and eventually turn into like a film. That seems to be the common process.
Do you feel limited by making wordless music?
I like this saying by Beethoven that, “Music is a gift from God that allows you to talk freely more than languages.” That to me is music and is the reason we remain an instrumental band.
What is your approach to making emotionally resonant music without using lyrics as a guide?
People’s lives are like a repetition of questions and answers. I like creating a dramatic story with my songs, like the fear and worries of the question, “What will I become?” I mix the emotions of prayer against those feelings: hope, relief, salvation, anger, denial and affirmation.
What artists have influenced your creative processes the most?
Of course there are a lot of great artists who give me a lot of influences, but if I go back to the basics, Beethoven for compositions, and My Bloody Valentine for sounds, I think.
What current artists do you find yourselves drawn to?
I listen to a lot of artists who write film soundtracks, such as Nils Frahm, Mark Isham, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter, Ben Frost, Alexandre Desplat, etc. I really like watching movies. When I watch them, I think about how I would have written the songs and be surprised by how they have written it. That’s stimulating.
How do you learn to challenge yourselves after nearly 20 years as a band?
When I write songs, I know what I echo in my present self, and what stopped echoing. I also know that I can’t just do something new for the sake of it because I believe what comes out of me is from deep inside of me. Between things that should change and will not change, I challenge myself to express something that I couldn’t before, every time I write a new album.
What can you tell us about how this current tour with Low came together?
I’ve been a huge fan of Low since their debut album in 1994. Their songs are simple but very original, beautiful and spiritual. I myself was saved by their music many times. I’ve been listening to them since the day we formed MONO, throughout our American and European tour. They’ve always always been there for me as important music. Earlier this year, when I had a meeting with the band members and our staff, I suggested, “Would we be able to tour with Low?” A few weeks later, we got a response saying, “Let’s do it.” I was really surprised, like I thought it was a joke for a second. It’s a dream come true. I feel truly honored to be able to tour with them. I’m really looking forward to it from the bottom of my heart.
What is the most hard-won lesson you’ve learned about touring since MONO formed?
We’ve been touring almost half of the year throughout the world since we formed the band. I started to feel some things are just a little rougher now, physically, compared to 18 years ago. So in order to make each show perfect, I started to make sure I’m in the best condition, physically and mentally, just in time for the show every day. Another thing is that we play the same set list for over 30 shows, so during the tour, whenever I have a free time, I read books and watch movies and try to distance myself from music so the songs won’t tire me. I’m just trying to give my heart a little space. There’s nothing uglier than just playing for the sake of it, with no emotions.
What does the future look like for MONO? Are you currently working on any new music?
I’m currently writing songs at my Tokyo studio between tours. Composing is my greatest joy, but at the same time it can be my biggest worry. But I feel that everything is going forward steadily. I’m thinking about recording our new album in the spring of next year.