The drummer and vocalist for the Japanese psychedelic band (rough translation: “geometric patterns”) is a modest person with an attitude towards music making that runs counter to the Japanese obsession with technique and “correct” playing. No matter—he’s getting the job done and then some.
Aside from Kikagaku Moyo’s virtuosic sitar player, Ryu Kurosawa (drummer Go Kurosawa’s younger brother), the musicians in the band are all fairly new to their instruments and had almost no experience playing in bands before this project. Pushing against what Go describes as overly restrictive ideas in Japan about proper playing technique, Kikagaku Moyo have leaned into concepts like minimalism and tend to philosophically align themselves with the DIY attitude of the first wave of punk rock.
Speaking to Go just after he and the band came off a wildly successful world tour in support of their self-released album Masana Temples, we found the drummer disarmingly humble about his style and approach to the instrument. Despite his insistence of his technical limitations, his playing on record is strong, clear, and funky. We spoke to him by phone from his current home in Amsterdam. Curious listeners should start with the songs “Fluffy Kosmisch” and “Nana” from their latest album.
MD: Tell us about your introduction to drumming.
Go: I used to play bass and guitar, but I started drums when I started this band. When you don’t have any experience in Japan, people don’t want to play with you, so I had to start my own band. In Japan most drummers play in a certain style, and the function of the drummer is really limited.
MD: What do you mean?
Go: Everyone is so good technically—everyone plays double strokes and plays really lightly. No one beats the shit out of the drums. They are more like rhythm keepers, precise. And for me that’s not so interesting. I wanted to play with people who were not that good but trying really hard.
MD: The Boredoms [Japanese experimental band] used to tell me that there weren’t many drummers in Japan who hit the drums hard. I was surprised.
Go: Yeah. Drummers in Japan tend to keep up with technical concerns. They watch all the YouTube videos and focus on that side. I’m not sure why. I just thought, I can really only hit the drum. I thought maybe without having different pedals like a guitarist or a bassist, I can already be myself on the drums, and there’s a direct physical connection. I never practice drums. I just play with people and watch people playing. I cannot really use my hands. I use my arms. [laughs]
MD: YoshimiO from Boredoms told me she never practices unless she’s with a band.
Go: I love her. The techie side is good for the Japanese market, but the more open playing is good for other markets.
MD: Do you have a sense as to why that is?
Go: For Japanese people, our first encounter with music is through school. We read sheet music, we learn to play, and it’s kind of like classical training. People teach you how to hold the drumstick properly, hit the right sweet spot, and if you miss it, it’s no good. But I’ve seen plenty of bands who don’t play properly but are still good.
MD: In the U.S. underground music community, we have a big fascination with Japan and Japanese bands.
Go: Our kind of music doesn’t really exist in Japan. Folky, sloppy, psychedelic, hippie-style like the legends Acid Mothers Temple. The bands Boris, Acid Mothers, and Mono paved the way for us. If they hadn’t toured, leaving Japan would not have crossed our mind.
MD: When you started playing drums, you wanted to form a band.
Go: Yes, a free, anyone-can-join kind of commune band. Like bands in the ’70s—Amon Düül, Scandinavian bands. That kind of psychedelic music sounded like, We can do it! One chord, minimal—it just seemed not that hard but cool.
Tools of the Trade
Kurosawa plays a Gretsch Broadkaster kit with a 13″ tom, 14″ and 16″ floor toms, and a 20″ bass drum. His snare is a Sonor 6.5×14 Vintage Natural model.
His cymbals include 14″ Pearl Wild 600 hi-hats, a 16″ vintage A Zildjian crash, a 16″ Dream Bliss crash, and a 22″ vintage A Zildjian ride. He uses Vic Firth AJ5 and 7AN sticks and Pearl hardware.
MD: Maybe it’s deceptive, though. It’s hard to play that style well, but you do. Can you talk a little bit more about your drumming style and your philosophy of playing?
Go: I don’t try to impress people. I don’t like a drummer who does that: “Look at me!” I try to forget myself.
MD: What kind of qualities does that philosophy contribute to the band?
Go: I think that other band members are not afraid to make mistakes. Because it’s not really a mistake if you play a “wrong” note. You can develop a lot from the sound and develop the song from those notes. With drumming you can make rhythm by playing anything. You can make any kind of sound, and that’s not wrong.
MD: I understand you’re still recording songs in one or two takes in the studio. Can you describe what a great live performance would be for you?
Go: I think if the audience can feel that the musicians are going to different dimensions or different states of mind, that’s one thing. Another thing is keeping things simple and also primitive; showing a human, primitive, wild side. I like that. That’s a good drummer.
By John Colpitts, Photos by Paul La Raia