The storied Japanese noise-rock outfit Boredoms isn't a band in the conventional sense. It's a revolving-membership collective that initiates and plays music, and it's generally spoken of in reverential whispers more often reserved for matters of pressing religious or spiritual import. Boredoms started up in the mid-'80s, under the stewardship of lead singer/yowler Yamatsuka Eye (who frequently changes his name), and over the past few years, they've built up to increasingly vast extremes of sound and spectacle. A special concert last summer involved 77 drummers playing in a park beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, with a crowd of thousands craning to get a look at the band as the sun went down. A more recent tour included shows played in the round, with a central stage to prop up the band, as Eye banged on a singular seven-necked guitar contraption called the "Sevena." The A.V. Club talked with Eye and his Boredoms bandmate Yoshimi during a tour stop in New York.
[A note on the translation: Most answers, except where marked with specific names, are syntheses of comments by Eye and Yoshimi together. While Eye spoke more than Yoshimi, the questions were asked in English, both bandmates spoke, and then we got a single translation when they were done. Special thanks to translator Hisham Akira Bharoocha for his help.]
The A.V. Club: When you aren't on tour or recording—when you're at home alone, on your own terms—how often do you play music?
Boredoms: There are all kinds of instruments at the house, and we basically like playing around with all kinds of different things. We live in the countryside, so we get inspired by the sounds we hear in the neighborhood, like the sounds of frogs, or there's a sheep across the way that we can hear. Sounds from nature are inspiring for us.
Boredoms: Many frogs, like an orchestra. They're big. Right before there's a rainstorm, all the frogs go crazy. [Eye raises his arms and makes a series of loud, intense sounds.] It sounds like Napalm Death, an onslaught of a drone of frog sounds. Usually what happens is, there are all these… In the fields of rice patties, there's a leader frog in each one. The leader will start making the sound, then all of them will start making their noises. It starts to build up, and once it builds, it becomes a rhythm. Then it all stops, and the next field will start with their leader, and all of them start to make their sounds together. It's this weird sequence that happens.
AVC: Is that how Boredoms work as a band?
Boredoms: We're really interested in sounds where all these separate things start happening and then start to make a harmony together. Maybe it's not exactly like frogs, but it's related in that all these things come together and create one sort of wavelength.
AVC: You've been playing music for a long time now. Have you changed in terms of what you hope to get out of it, or are trying to do with it—or the way you think about making music?
Eye: I get really embarrassed when I think about myself as a musician, because I don't really feel like a musician. We always want to be a part of the creative arts in some way. Say, for example, the feeling you get touching a guitar or creating a sound from something—in the beginning, we always wanted to have that feeling of inspiration when you first create a sound, so that's what we're still trying to do. That feeling is always there. Also, I can't read music, and we're not traditionally trained, so we can't play in a traditional way. I can hit the guitar with a stick and get that feeling. It's sort of more about the feeling of enjoying playing instruments in that way. It's about getting into that frequency of enjoying the feeling of playing.
AVC: What's your strongest memory from the big 77BOADRUM concert last summer?
Boredoms: The second all 77 drum-sets made one hit together—that is inside our system still. Everybody just got chills when that first hit happened, and it seemed like it changed our inner rhythm or something got locked in, and it wasn't about thinking about it. It was an indescribable feeling that sort of shifted like that from a deeper place. Not necessarily about the sound, but possibly about everybody's heartbeat coming into play and creating that sound together. It's more about the connection of the sounds of people's hearts. Even the audience probably held their breath for a second when they first felt it, so there's some kind of connection there.
AVC: What surprised you about that show?
Boredoms: We thought it wouldn't come together as well as it did. We thought it would be more chaotic in terms of the playing. We were amazed about the fact that everybody concentrated when their parts came together, when their parts were supposed to become chaotic. We couldn't believe it went so well.
AVC: Will you play a show of that size again soon?
Boredoms: We definitely want to, but it's not often that you get to do something like that.
AVC: When Boredoms play, it's wild but intricate in parts. How much of your sets are improvised or structured from the start?
Boredoms: Most of the pieces we play are compositions. Within a structure, there are parts based on one rhythm somebody plays, but you can play something similar to that and you can still work with it as part of the structure. Pretty much the whole thing is a rhythm piece. The beginning part of the set where [Eye] is playing the sensors, that part is a composition. The rhythms are all set.
AVC: Some of your shows have opened with Eye holding a couple of glowing orbs that trigger electronic sounds when he waves them in the air. What are those?
Eye: Within the sphere, there's a piece of wood, and depending on the speed of the sensor and the latitude and longitude, the sound changes, as it's connected to a computer program. That's how it works. When they're perfectly parallel, there's no sound. When you tilt it a little bit, it starts to create a sound. There's an X-axis where the sounds starts to change, where the paths cross. Vertical movement changes the sound, as well.
AVC: Did you find those, or create them?
Eye: Kazuhiro Jo is the person who made the actual hardware. He's a guy from Tokyo University who was creating these sensors for people in old people's homes, or for people who can't use their bodies. So if they wanted to express something like, say, "I'm hungry," a muscle moves and that creates a sound so people know what they need. They don't use the same actual balls, but the technology is related to it. We connected and worked together to connect the sensors.
Translator: I can't tell exactly how the sensors work, but it seems like it's the mathematics of how the sensors work with this program, and they designed it together. Taeji Sawai is the guy who helped design the program. Eye and these other two guys have a group called "aeo." This is a musical group as well. They're going to perform in Mexico.
AVC: There's a strong sense of ceremony and ritual in your music. Did you grow up with ceremonial music in any way?
Boredoms: It's not really necessarily as strong as a ceremonial thing, but culturally, there are these "bone festivals" in the summer, when it's time to take a break. The ghosts come back and you go to the graves and make a prayer. The festival is sort of the walk of the spirits, to enjoy times together, but then it also sends them back to their spirit world. There's a tower where people play drums and you dance around it. We would go see these things growing up, so in a way, those do influence us. If anybody is standing in the center playing drums, it creates a feeling that relates to ceremony—it makes you move.