Nisennenmondai who drops their limited EP #6 on September 2 is composed of Sayaka Himeno on drums, Yuri Zaikawa on bass, and Masako Takada on guitar. They have been composing live, instrumental music since 1999, first channeling a noise / no wave aesthetic in the vein of Sonic Youth, only later developing into their current streamlined, hypnotic, minimalist sound that could be likened to “organic live techno”.
The limited edition vinyl, features an exclusive bonus cut from their latest full-length #N/A sessions along with a very special remix by the underground legend Chris Carter, best known for Throbbing Gristle, Carter Tutti Void, and Chris & Cosey.
Watching Nisennenmondai in action, it is hard not to hold your breath in awe of the musical communication that happens between the 3 musicians as they create tightly intertwined music that grooves and grows and shapeshifts over time. In anticipation of the EP release, Tom Tom Magazine conducted an email interview with the 3 Japanese ladies. The interview was conducted in Japanese and translated by the interviewer.
by Aiko Masubuchi
AM: It’s interesting to me that when I reached out to you for an interview, you asked to be interviewed via email specifically so that you can all answer together. What is your working relationship like? What are each of your ‘roles’ in the band beyond your instruments? You have been playing together since the 90s, do you think that there is some kind of secret to how long you guys have lasted?
Sayaka: Other than being the drummer, I deal with the administrative work. The secret to lasting a long time is probably that everybody in the band is a hard worker.
Yuri: We’re likely lasting a long time because we didn’t originally gather to start a band but rather that we were drawn to each other by each of our unique personalities that extend beyond music. The band Nisennenmondai is a result of that.
Masako: I mainly compose and in regards to creating, I work with the sound editing and am also involved in the mixing. I think that our very different personalities are the secret to our longevity as a band.
AM: Sayaka – what are you thinking about when you play? Is there an image that you have in your head or thoughts that you specifically have when you play #6?
Sayaka: The image I receive is a gradual one that seeps through little by little. Other than that, I concentrate on making sure the rhythm does not slide and as I listen to the sounds around me, I try to think about the timing in which to change the rhythm.
AM: When you create music together what are the things that you agree upon together and what are the things that are left unsaid? Can you talk specifically about #6 too?
Sayaka: Usually, we begin by deciding on a rhythm on the drums and bass and then the rest is free-for-all.
Masako:#6 was created as a song to play before A’ in our live shows. We decided on the rhythm and progression together. We discussed the atmosphere and feelings we wanted to evoke and through that decided on a rhythm that fit these ideas.
AM: What attracts you to working with people to remix your work? What did you discuss with Chris Carter regarding this remix?
Sayaka: It’s so fascinating to find a remix be an entirely different thing and for there to be new discoveries through it. We actually did not talk to Chris Carter directly at all. We are huge fans of his work so when we were discussing who to ask to remix our work, with some fear of reaching out to somebody we respect so much, we felt we would be very happy to have him do it so we asked him via a record label agent. We left everything up to him… and then he made this incredibly cool remix!
AM: Tell us a little bit about Bijin records.
Sayaka: We began the record label thinking that we can do what we want by selling our own music ourselves. Generally, we release Nisennenmondai work through it as well as good music made by people around us on occasion.
AM: What is it like working as 3 Japanese women in Japan with American influences? On the flip-side, are there things from Japan that influence you?
Yuri: We of course are not influenced by one limited scene. One of our roots is definitely planted in American underground music but we are also inspired by bands from Tokyo or Osaka or bands we saw during our European tour. I feel jolted with inspiration when I come across music when I am in an open state. When all of these things are able to breathe well together and we are about to embark on a project, I constantly ask myself whether the work feels true to ourselves.
I don’t think that this problem is limited to a Japanese woman but even though I am a band person, circumstances change drastically when you give birth to a child. I am currently deeply meditating on how my new living environment will interact with music. With both music and child-rearing, I would like to enjoy what can be found beyond being released of the assumption that “it must be like this.”
Masako: We are not especially influenced by American underground music over others. Rather than as women, we as individuals have been face-to-face with music by giving form to all the influences that we have soaked in in our own ways whether those influences may be music, people, culture, the land etc. I have never felt any difficulties or special feelings as a result of working in Japan as a female group. That said, I do feel that the fact that we are women and the differences between our individual musical sensibilities have led to giving birth to good results.
Regarding influences, once I am able to listen to a finished piece with a little bit of distance, I sometimes strongly feel the unconscious Japanese influences that we possess when I hear the pauses and the grooves.
AM: When is your next tour and where can we catch you?
Sayaka: No plans as of now.
You can pre-order #6 here.