In Conversation: Bo Ningen

Smashing guitars, killing people, it's all the same…
Bo Ningen by Cat Stevens

Next month, London-based Japanese four-piece Bo Ningen will bring their face-melting, bonkers blend of punk, psych-rock, violent shoegaze and metal to Sonisphere festival, at Knebworth. It promises to be Quite Something.

Following the release of their colossal-sounding third album, the aptly titled ‘III’, we caught up with bassist/frontman Taigen Kawabe and guitarist Yuki Tsujii to talk about metal, riffs, breaking boundaries and injuring yourself onstage.

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Bo Ningen, ‘DaDaDa’, from ‘III’

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You said you never sit down and consciously decide on the sound of the album or a track. Did anything change for this album in the way you approached it?

Taigen: Yes. For the first and second album we had time to play shows [in the lead-up to recording]. The songs were written to be live, then we’d discuss how they could be reconstructed for the album. This time we made the songs especially for the album rather than for live performance. We didn’t have time to play any shows so it’s a new challenge to just make songs for the album, then decide how to play them live.

Yuki: We had a long chat about how songs should be. A new approach, but still heavy.

Taigen: We’ve kept that since our second album, but we added new layers this time. Each song has different colours and layers. As an album we brought new musical and production ideas. It’s brighter and catchier, but people can recognise it’s still Bo Ningen.

Did you have any ideas written prior to going into the studio?

Taigen: We composed before went to the studio in a rehearsal studio for a week, 10 hours a day. That means we can focus on recording good takes and on production in the studio.

You’ve often talked about breaking boundaries with your music – what do you mean by that?

Taigen: The process of making music is how we get inspired rather than copying the riff. The band Can still sound good 20 years later, and we’re inspired by the way they compose. We don’t like sticking to one genre, one music scene or one audience, which is hard but as we mentioned about Black Sabbath and Can, both approached a mainstream and underground audience. They did it in the 1970s and ’80s, but no-one’s done that after 2000 I’d say. In 2014 we have more genres and more industry, more small branches and music scenes, so it’s more difficult to do that – but that’s what we have to achieve. We want as many people as possible to listen to our music. We want to experiment but we have to make it acceptable for people. So many people who only listen to underground music think once you go to the major level you can’t go back, and once you become huge you can’t play in small venues anymore because the way you perform is different.

How do you keep things so fresh and exciting? How do you make sure you don’t repeat old ground?

Taigen: It’s all just feelings really. When we listen to what we’ve done or when we play we can tell if the song is boring. If the song is boring, we feel boring. [Take Babymetal for example (mental 14-year old Japanese dance / metal threesome and internet sensation)], they are so extreme to me. They’re 14-year old girls singing metal. It’s like, what the f*ck? I used to hate all that from Japan when I was there, but now I see it’s so extreme and so f*cked up and I totally understand why people in UK and US like it. You can find so many different ideas that make it extreme, not just loudness and length. In the same way, we can always find something new. We don’t want to be restricted.

You sing one track, ‘CC’, on the new album in English. Why did you choose to do that? Would you do a whole album in English, or would that be taking too much away from what makes you Bo Ningen?

Taigen: At the moment I don’t want to do [a whole album in English], and even on ‘CC’ it’s only English on the chorus. For me, singing in English is like using a different instrument, a new challenge, a new layer. It changes the reason, lyrics and melody. Japanese is my main instrument, using English is like using my second instrument. At least now I don’t want to use my second instrument for a whole album.

Next month you’ll appear at Sonisphere festival in the UK – how do you feel you fit on metal bills?

Taigen: I think we’ll fit well. We’ve shared a bill with those kind of bands, but this is first time it’s just literally metal bands, and it kind of makes sense to me in a way. It’s challenging, but we’re looking forward to the feedback. The audience might like us, they might refuse us.

Yuki: We’re not a proper metal band but we’ve got riffs, man.

You get asked a lot about the heavy psychedelic influence in your music and what it means to you, but not so much metal, when there’s so much heaviness in your music. Do you listen to a lot of metal? 

Taigen: Not really, but Black Sabbath have had an influence. Somehow, although Black Sabbath were the beginning of metal, we talk about metal in 2014 and so many people don’t mention them. But people listen to Bo Ningen and mention Black Sabbath and ask are we metal as we’re loud and heavy. So in a way we do have similarity to Black Sabbath, or Motörhead. I remember when I was younger, only metal fans listened to Black Sabbath. But now everyone listens to it because it’s catchy and simple. I like the idea of the simple riff.

Yuki: Or even [a similarity to] Iron Maiden, I mean that’s not metal, its punk to me.

Some of your live shows are pretty mental. Aren’t you ever scared you’ll hurt yourself, or do you lose that fear onstage?

Yuki: We have hurt ourselves. At Offset Festival in 2009 I got four or five stitches in my head and a really badly bruised chest. I was crowd surfing and fell to the floor where there was lots of broken glass. I banged my head and didn’t realise until after the gig. Everyone was asking me to go to hospital but I was really drunk and didn’t want to go, but it wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was horrible. There’s a video actually. That’s the period we were most violent – kicking each other. I hit a post and passed out for like three seconds then started breaking stuff. Even when we’re 50 or 60 we’ll still jump around.   

Taigen: So many people think that smashing a guitar is extreme, but really it’s the same as killing people right? My bass guitar is missing so many parts and it’s been injured many times, but it’s still alive.

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Bo Ningen, ‘Slider’, from ‘III’

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Words: Dannii Leivers
Photo (this page): Cat Stevens

‘III’ is out now on Stolen Recordings and can be listened to below via Deezer. Find Bo Ningen online here. The band plays this summer’s Sonisphere Festival – details and tickets here

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