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MONO: ‘India Will Probably Be Our 57th Country’

The Japanese instrumental rock veterans’ guitarist Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto talks about changes, coming to Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal and their upcoming album

Anurag Tagat Sep 14, 2018

MONO will make their India debut at Ziro Festival of Music, Arunachal Pradesh later this month. Photo: Muto

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Ahead of their India debut at the Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh, Tokyo-based post-rock pioneers MONO are well aware of the journey to the valley that hosts the four-day gathering. Guitarist Taakakira Goto aka Taka says over email, “In order to play this one show, we’re travelling for six days. It’ll be a trip which involves two flights and countless hours of driving.” He adds with a laugh, “We want to travel in India that badly.”

Taka responds to questions with an emotional intensity that perhaps reflects their whirlwind cinematic music ”“ about their grueling tour schedules (they head out to Europe right after their Ziro appearance), changing members (their drummer Yasunori Takada left the band after 18 years citing personal reasons) and writing their 10th album. The guitarist says, “Tours can be tough physically, but you can really fulfil your every day. There’s nothing more we hope for than sharing something special through music, with a wide range of people from all over the world every night.”

In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Taka talks about 20 years of MONO in 2019, their upcoming single “After You Comes the Flood” and more. Excerpts:

What have you heard about India ahead of your show here?

India has been one of the most places we’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. We’ve received several offers before but due to our schedules or some sort of problems, we couldn’t make it into a reality. We’re really looking forward to finally being able to play in India. We ourselves are not religious people, but Japan has been living closely with Buddhism since the early days, so because of these reasons as well, we’ve always wanted to share something and connect with the people of India through music. We’re very excited about this.

Ziro Festival of Music takes place in a valley in the North East of India. Has MONO played in a lot of far away places, like valleys, forests and mountains?

After our Indian show, we’ll be travelling straight to England to do our 3 week European tour. The tour involves UK, Spain, France, Greece, Russia and many more. Our times in life is limited, so we want to experience many things, see them with our own eyes and feel them, and get some inspirations and share something important with the people in the world.

Listen to “Are You There?”

It’s a very interesting development to see MONO here. Because in July, your fellow tour mates Alcest were in India and then in January, The Ocean are coming back. I wanted to ask, what is it like becoming their friends and being on their label and also touring together with these bands?

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They’re our friends. Every time we see them tour India, we always thought we’d love to go too. It’d be fun if we could do a tour together in India.

Starting off in post-rock and instrumental rock, what kind of challenges did you encounter early on? How did you deal with it over nearly 20 years? 

When we started MONO, the term Post-Rock didn’t even exist. Not only that, it was especially hard for us to play in Japan. This is why we started to tour in America. We were not worried though, because we believed our music was not just sound, but an art that can portray things that you can’t simply express with words.

MONO means “one”. We chose this name to be the “one” that surpasses languages, countries, cultures and races because we believed music has no borders. After 20 years now, what we’ve been doing is getting shared throughout the world like this and we feel really happy about it.

You had your own solo project release with Behind the Shadow Drops. Did it in any way influence writing new MONO material for your upcoming 10th album? 

For Behind the Shadow Drops, I wanted to compose freely without using the formation of a band. I used vintage synthesizers, made many things into samples and created beats, and more. MONO’s new album has a lot of new elements like that as well. Even though it has been unintentional, these new elements naturally harmonized in MONO’s music and I managed to create a completely new worldview. I’m really excited about it. The new album is scheduled to be released at the beginning of next year so please look forward to it.

What are the main moods or themes explored on the new one?

Last year, due to various troubles, we spent one of the toughest times as a band ever since our formation. We really ended up in the dark and could not see what was ahead anymore, like our drummer changed and many more happened. But we told ourselves the phrase “the darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn”, and solved one problem at a time with the members.

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The new album’s music portrays these circumstances and feelings. The only way we can remove our heart’s worries and anger, and retrieve our peace is through music. We feel that we managed to complete a fiercely strong, intense and beautiful album.

You have a new song coming out just before the Ziro performance in India – “After You, Comes the Flood” – what can you tell me about this song and the video? Will it be on the new album or is it a stand-alone single?

“After You Comes The Flood” is our new single from the new album. It’s one of our heaviest and beautiful songs. The song is like a scream with your emotions overflowing like a flood. We’ll release the single as a short film, which we collaborated with a Paris, France-originating film director Julien Levy.

Additionally, what will your setlist include at Ziro? is India the 57th country you will play in? 

This will indeed probably be our 57th country. In India, we plan to play a setlist that best describes what we want to express now, with both our old and new songs. Really looking forward to it.

MONO live at the Liquidroom in Tokyo. Photo: Yoko Hiramatsu

It has been almost a year since Yasunori left the band due to personal reasons – what was it like moving on from this? Especially at a time when the band seemed ready to write new material?

Many things tend to happen in life. We were not afraid or scared. We believed what happened in front of us had meanings and kept moving forward. There is no need to regret or think about what’s been lost. We always drew our future and believed in ourselves. As a result, we managed to meet a wonderful drummer called Dahm (Majuri Cipolla). Now, we can express even more wonderful music with a very fresh feeling. Every day is fulfilling.

2019 will mark 20 years for MONO. What is the most fulfilling part of it? And also, what is still a difficult/challenging part of it?

Time really flies. Next thing you know, it’s been 20 years. Next year, after the new album is released, we plan to do a worldwide tour and special 20 year anniversary shows. We, right now, really feel towards everything that we’re spending the most wonderful time. Really looking forward to it all.

MONO headlines Ziro Festival of Music, held between September 27th and 30th in Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh. Event details here.

Watch MONO perform “Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn” 

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