【face-to-face / interview】MERRY
Formed in 2001, MERRY is a five-piece unconventional Rock N Roll band which blends different music-styles, ranging from punk-rock to blues & jazz. The band has a special interest in the Avant-Garde of the interwar period and has therefore a trenchant social and political edge to its art, which is fairly uncommon from the Japanese. These unusual characteristics have been further enhanced with the release of its latest studio-album, NOnsenSe MARKeT, which shows, like the following interview, a well-balanced dose of anger, wit and humour !
For those who aren’t acquainted with the band yet, I would describe MERRY as a Rock N Roll band. Its spirit is undeniably punk ! The music blends so many different genres ranging from pop music, heavy metal, to blues & jazz. You guys embrace risk-taking with lyrics as they often deal with taboo topics. The result is fresh and, like I said, Rock N Roll.
Gara : I agree with your description, on all points. The band’s musical influences are wide-ranged, our music consequently reflects this diversity. I write all the lyrics of the songs. The topics often deal with what we have to fight for. I mean, they express our indignation at the world. The lyrical writing is the medium by which I express all the things that I find appalling, all those negative thoughts I have cumulated through years. I think the essence of the lyrical content breathes a punk spirit into the band, like you pointed out.
Your latest studio-album is named 「NOnsenSe MARkeT」 and was released on Christmas Eve 2014. Though, it was made available almost a year ago, what can you say about it that you haven’t told yet ?
Gara : The album was made in a Japanese recording studio, like every other disc we released. The creation process was very long, some tracks required two months of investment to complete. The album as a whole has been recorded over a period of six months. We changed the band’s approach of music for this piece of work. Prior to「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, everyone would express his ideas as they came, the tracks would then evolve pretty much randomly until complete satisfaction was achieved. For「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, the composition of the music has been developed after the writing of the lyrics. I first wrote all of the lyrical content, the other members then brought their own personal touches to create the final atmosphere of the album.
What are the typical steps of creation ?
Gara : If I had to profile a standard pattern of the music-making, I would divide it in three main steps. First of all, we define a theme. Each of us develops his own ideas according to the chosen theme, either at home or in the recording studio. As a second step, we exchange ideas, views and opinions through e-mail correspondence, we listen to the demos back and forth. The tracks evolve gradually. To give you a better picture of how it works, our e-mails sound like : « If you play the guitar that way, then the bass line should sound like this ». Little by little, the songs take shape, they developed until the recording-process, the final step.
What are the 3 songs you would advise someone who never heard the album ?
Gara : First, I would choose「Chiyoda-sen Democracy」, which is for me the major track of the album. Through the song, I express my dissatisfactions of Japan in a frostily and straightforward way. It’s like a primal scream with the following meaning : « What the fuck is going on ?! Let’s change the country ! Damn, what are we waiting for before we make evolving changes ?! » (laughs). I don’t talk about those sickening things explicitely, I rather insert messages here and there, and use images. For exemple, Chiyoda is a metro line of Tokyo. It represents the center of the city since it connects different important places together where political decisions are taken. The National Assembly, the Japanese Government and ministries are located there. There’s a high level of cynisism in the song because in the end, I realize that I’ve let myself get caught up in the system. I sometimes react mechanically to role expectations. Without saying that I’m an actor of this institution, I realize that even the people I hate the most may somehow influence me. This song is actually sad.
Secondly, I would choose「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, which happens to be the name of the album. The title is conformed to the image of the band. Like you said earlier, the lyrics provide MERRY with a punk spirit, there’s also a blues & jazz atmosphere. These perspectives are mixed together with the experiences of a Japanese man. In short, it produces something totally unique with no boundaries. If MERRY were a market, you could find everything in there. People would probably think : « What a nonsense ! What the hell is this ? All those frivolous and pointless things, all those expensive and cheap things ? » and so on. They would surely think of many other things (laughs).
Thirdly, I would advise「Tokyo 」, a personal choice. I wasn’t born there, I moved to the city with a head full of dreams. I started getting myself involved in small music-bands with wishes and hopes of « changing the world » in mind. The song deals with all these obsessional dreams which we want to make come true, no matter what it may cost. It’s a long journey strewn with obstacles, difficulties and challenges. I draw a parallel between Tokyo and the dreams I wanted to make come true through my moving to the city. Between joy and disillusion, the song raises the following question « Why have I gone to and stayed in Tokyo ? »
The concept of 「NOnsenSe MARkeT」 is a criticism of modern societies. The title is stylized with N, O, S, M, A, R, T in capital meaning “No Art, No Smart”. Can you tell us more about the message behind the title ?
Gara : Yes exactly, the message is indeed : « No Art, No Smart ». As for me, music helps transmit this kind of messages we just discussed. Messages linked to societal issues. It’s also a way to stimulate people to take control of their lives, to make them aware of certain problems and encourage them to stop being the victims of the society. I think that bringing up these issues is crucial. The criticism of the modern world is undeniably a taboo subject in Japan. But it’s pretty much a duty for me to express it, especially for being in a rock band. Art has always been a means of free expression.
These serious topics have been treated with humour in the PV’s. Both videos, 「NOnsenSe MARkeT」 and 「Chiyoda-sen Democracy」, are a satire of the Japanese society. At the end of 「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, terrorists turn into policemen. Would that mean that we are hopeless ?
Gara : Yamaguchi Yasuyuki directed both music-videos,「NOnsenSe MARkeT」 and 「Chiyoda-sen Democracy」. These two PVs stage the message the songs, and more generally the album, convey. But we decided to add into the equation a bit of humour through a childlish and grotesque perspective. As for「Chiyoda-sen Democracy」, I smile insistently thoughout the video. It was a thought-out decision which contrasts with the lyrics. Showing a complete opposite attitude makes the message of the song more interesting, it makes us question ourselves even more. As for「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, your analysis is accurate. At the beginning of the video, we are terrorists, we are marginalized people who want to change the world because we think it’s completely nonsensical. But at the end, greed drivens us to the wheels of the system. To illustrate this idea, we first play the role of terrorists then the one of policemen. It’s an extreme transformation, yes indeed (laughs) ! But it means that greed, symbolized by the bank check you can see in the video, causes the ruin of the world. The world is decaying because of money (stops abruptly). In France, it’s also frowned upon to raise the middle finger, right (gives the finger) ?
It is (laughs). It’s a universal gesture and much probably one of the most insulting. But it must be perceived as being more offensive in Japan. France remains a country of revolutionaries.
Gara : Originally, I meant to express my feeling towards the state of the world by raising the middle finger but in the end, I gave up the idea. With the other members of the band, we discussed the matter and wondered if the gesture wouldn’t make us cross the line. In Japan, the burden of the « Nenkô Jôretsu » (the principle of seniority) is very strong. Linked to the notion of a lifetime job, it benefits the old to the detriment of the young. In short, the respect for the seniors is very much important here, so raising the middle finger in front of symbols of Japan would have been disrespectful towards the ederly… The youngest aren’t sufficiently considered, in a way. How is it in France ?
To a certain extend, it’s quite similar. But I think the notion of respect as a whole is stronger in Japan, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I left France for Japan (laughs).
Gara : And the young Japanese are getting more and more interested in going overseas. Even though I criticize Japan, I want to stay here. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love my country despite its imperfections. People who leave everything behind to go overseas and start a new life from scratch really impress me. I would never be able to take that step, even if I spoke other languages.
To get back to「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, did you ever have nonsensical consumption habits ?
Gara : I did, before (laughs). I don’t have any now. A while ago, I couldn’t help buying guitars. For no reason because I didn’t use them. One day, when coming back home, I realized that being a singer and not a guitarist, this habit made no sense at all. I have one guitar left which is placed in a case and it won’t be moved from there. Looking back, I also bought an accordion, though I don’t know how to play it. I don’t know why I bought it actually, most probably for decoration purposes.
You may be French (laughs). There are songs, like「Hide and Seek」,「Fukurou」or「Unreachable Voice」, that deal with very personal emotions (love, hopelessness, disapointment). What does writing about these deep feelings do for you ? Is it different from writing about society topics ?
Gara : My musical background takes its origin from melodic music genres, and melodic music is often connected to sad themes such as melancholy, devotion, loss, or nostalgia. Back then, I used to listen to folk music and retro songs. When we first started making music with MERRY, we built our universe from these foundations. Both lyrical themes, personal and political, are important for me and present in my heart. The choice to write about either one or the other depends on my mood, my current state of mind and the music style we want to lead the track towards. If I want to pour out my wrath, I’ll choose to do it through political topics, in a dry and strong sound, like a scream, in order to free myself from all this shit. The world is really rotten, don’t you think so ?
I do. But there are beautiful things too. And your latest single,「Happy Life」, as the name suggests, shows a positive side of the band, which is quite unusual.
Gara : It’s true, you’re right. Even though the track is in line with「NOnsenSe MARkeT」, I wanted to express the positive side of myself through the subject of happiness. It represents my way of conveying the idea that there’s not only bad things in this world. I think happiness is everywhere, you just have to open your eyes wider to see a bigger picture of the world, only then you’ll realize it. The simple act of turning on the TV and see all those dark images continiously displayed on screen, lets you get a sense of proportion and helps you keep your own life out of negativity. Just being able to eat, to drink, to entertain yourself by watching popular TV shows, to go out as you want to, and all those things, is a chance which isn’t available for everyone. You also must be aware of the importance of the close people around you, you have to cherish the ones you love. The music video of the song shows it. It stages a fight between two clans. People enjoy themselves, though it’s a confrontation. The game is then over and people sympathize and shake hands. The end connotes the idea of happiness found through simple things and shared moments. Using tomatos raised ethic problems. Some of us didn’t like the idea. But you have to let go sometimes. The director of the video is Hiroyuki Kondou.
The video shows a match opposing a group of men, MERRY, against a group of female which makes me think of the last two concerts you gave this week : a women-only and a men-only gigs. Why do you give these single-sex concerts and how do they differ to one another ?
Gara : There are always way more women than men at our shows and because we want to have a balanced presence of men and women, we play for both sexes seperatly. Men tend to feel very much intimidated by the large preponderance of women, they feel quite unconfortable regarding their numerical inferiority. It’s easy to feel that way in those moments, in Japan at least. We schedule single-sex concerts to let men have the opportunity to have fun freely. Women-only and men-only are very different audiences. Before the show, girls tend to scream our names, I always hear : « Gara, Gara ». Boys do scream, but they never mention our names. In the live-house, the biggest difference is the smell, which is highly much more enjoyable when we play for a female audience (laughs). When it comes to a male audience, it does stink like hell. That being said, we like the vibe of the men-only shows, the energy is very motivating. I can compare it with a face-to-face duel, which we shouldn’t lose. These two types of configuration are interesting, really. And for sure, we want to achieve our goal of developing a wider audience. We would like to play in front of an increasing number of people every time.
In a couple of days, you will host a two-day festival, “NOnsenSe MARkeT 3F –Lamb Fest–”. On the 7th, MERRY is listed twice in the line-up : once as MERRY, your normal typeset, and once as メリー, your former typeset.
Gara : The concert that will take place on November, 7th will be special for MERRY because 14 years ago to the day, we gave our very first show in front of an audience. It occured on November, 7th 2001. We plan to play old and new tracks on both days, the 5th and the 7th but the version of the band, written in katakana, will be more focussed on the older days of MERRY, visually and musically. Our goal with the festival is to show what the band has created in 15 years and also to transmit the message that the band hasn’t changed, we’re still the same !
The first time MERRY tourned Europe happened 9 years ago. Can people expect you to come back ? Will you add a floor in your market tour for the French and the European ?
Gara : It’s not expected to happen. I don’t feel like MERRY is much-awaited and wanted in Europe. But if I’m mistaken, which I hope, make yourselves heard. If Europeans want to see us, we need to hear about it. Voice yourselves, let us know ! The first time we came to Europe, it was during the boom of j-rock and visual-kei. It happened 9 years ago and I don’t quite remember that trip. In France, I didn’t do anything special because I got home-sick very quickly. I went to see the Eiffel Tower but other than that, I stayed at the hotel the whole time. I brought a camera with me but I didn’t even move it from my suitcase. The home-sick feeling I got could perhaps be explained by the fact that it was the very time I was overseas. As for the food, I remember a large amount of soup, so huge that I didn’t know if it was supposed to be drunk, and a massive piece of steak, so thick that I didn’t know how to eat it. I ended up eating it, of course (laughs). Concerning the live-shows, I remember the differences between the Japanese and the French. When we play violent and intense tracks, the Japanese move a lot, quite synchronously, whereas the French remain rather calm and they enjoy the show in pretty much isolation. On the contrary, when we play slow tracks, the Japanese remain very calm while the French keep on moving, they throw their arms from side to side, up in the air and they scream during guitar’s solos. I found it fascinating yet very confusing. But I am always happy to think that they liked our songs. We don’t care how they enjoy it as long as they have a good time. Before coming to France, I never thought that people outside Japan heard about us and liked listening to our music. I still and will always feel touched by this.
I think MERRY is still much anticipated in France.
EDIT (11/06) : Your voices have been heard. The band is currently planning a European tour.
2006年“～Many Merry Days #2 -PEEP SHOW-～ (追加公演)”以来、約10年ぶりとなるヨーロッパでのライブが決定しました。
— MERRY＠0512恵比寿ザ・ガーデンホール (@merry_official) November 5, 2015