Interview – Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto of MONO

A musical composition is merely notes on a page until someone comes along with an instrument to give it a pulse. That in mind, the life a song has is only as passionate as the player themselves. Tearing each melody from the depths of their soul, Japan’s instrumental Rock band MONO have been moving audiences for nearly two decades with their music. 

With dedication and drive, they have toured the world numerous times, connecting with citizens of various nations merely through the language of music. Making special connections along their spectacular journey, MONO were welcomed back to North America in the Spring of 2017, but now prepare to write and record their tenth overall studio album with hopes of continuing on well into the future. Recently we caught up with band founder Takaakira “Taka” Goto to talk the story of MONO, their outlook on music, plans for the future, plus much more. – MONO came together back in 1999 and, since that time, has become a primary Instrumental Rock band on the scene. Releasing 9 full-length studio albums and touring the world, what has this musical odyssey been like for the band?

Taka Goto – We feel that we’re very lucky. Ever since we formed the band, we stayed away from the ugly music business and just faced the art we believed in. We’re here because of so many colleagues who we can dearly trust, like Temporary Residence for starters, they have been with us for a very long time, and of course, how could we forget about all of our fans in the world.

At the beginning, we believed the possibility was endless, but the reality was that everything was just difficult. “How can we have our record in all the record stores in the world?” “How can we tour the world?” We had no idea. None of us could speak English well, and the internet wasn’t as common then, nor was GPS. We just took a piece of the map and started touring The States. We even played in NYC’s CBGB about twice, slept in our car, and stayed in small motels often. If I think about it now, we just did what we could by relying on our youth. They all turned out to be fantastic memories though.

We always feel pure happiness from doing music. Nothing else does the same. The happiest time is when we’re devoting ourselves to our music, and the fact we can devote ourselves like that is truly the most satisfying thing on such a deep level. Of course, it is important to be able to achieve some sort of a result, but simply being able to forget time, focus and work on music is the most irreplaceable and precious thing.

Even now, we have the same “hunger” as when we were young. “This is not enough,” “we want to explore deeper” and “we want to keep on moving forward” are our most important motifs, not just for music but to live.

Arena Rock Recording Co. – That is really beautifully put. It is wonderful to see how passionate you are about the music. Often people like to put labels on something in order to understand it. Many would call Mono a Post-Rock band. Do you find this labeling limiting, and how would you personally describe the music of MONO?

Taka Goto – Personally, I never really thought about genres that much. When we started, even the word “Post-Rock” didn’t exist. We want to create a type of art that gives you a new perspective on life, like the feeling you get when you finish a great film or book, even if there are no words or scripts.

I feel that Beethoven and Aphex Twin are the same types of instrumental music as well. Their music is extremely high level and keeps on moving the listeners unconsciously and unconditionally. It’s almost like a miracle. I believe music is a special gift given to us by God. – Yes, there is something truly magical about music that cannot be explained. MONO recently released a new album in 2016, entitled Requiem For Hell. This comes 2 years after you released The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness in 2014. What was the writing and recording process for the band’s latest work?

Taka Goto – I’m currently writing the 10th album. I actually don’t listen or remember our old albums much, but I do believe I wrote everything I felt then, on each album.

One thing I can say for Requiem For Hell is that we worked with Steve Albini for the first time in a long time, and we were reminded that he is truly the world’s most understanding engineer of our music. Steve is simply a musical genius and is truly fantastic. We’re very excited to work with him again for the new album.

Temporary Residence Limited – Well, it would be great to hear some new MONO material soon! MONO’s work is often very atmospheric: there is a tension, a build, and a release in each composition. When coming together to craft these songs, what is your head-space like and do the songs play out like a movie in your head?

Taka Goto – I want to express everything from stories to feelings by just music, like movies and books. If you take a look at our albums, like films, each song works as chapters. I want to create a story by connecting all those songs.

This may come across a little arrogant, but as a composer I want to continue writing music that can save myself. I never write music for someone else or someone’s entertainment. The strange thing is, though, we receive a lot of emails and messages from our fans throughout the world saying that they were saved or found hope by listening to MONO; and by reading them, I started to think that the music that can save me can maybe also save someone else in the world. In short, we’re sharing something important that we need to live through music.

That is actually our most important “place” where we feel the happiest and proudest. We’ve been active as a band for almost 20 years now, and we continue touring the world as much as we can to this day, to directly feel that. I believe in the power of music like this, and I feel to this day that I want to continue exploring deeper and grow as a person.

Temporary Residence Limited
Temporary Residence Limited – The music of MONO truly provides a unique listening experience, one others can connect with merely by the melodies and tones. Some would say that singing gets in the way of music; others would say a song without vocals is incomplete. MONO has successfully captured the imagination of fans worldwide relying on instrumental music. When it all began, was it always the band’s intent to remain a strictly instrumental one?

Taka Goto – I think music is something that can express feelings that you can’t simply put into words. When I write music, I go deep into my heart and look for a pitch black darkness where I can’t even tell left or right and put a light in it. Whilst that is a dangerous process and I may get sucked into the madness, I think you can’t express true hope without doing so. I believe the music that came out of that darkness can be a light to bring out our dignity that can overcome countries, cultures, histories or languages. – Completely agreed! That is the beauty of music, you do not need to speak the same language as someone else to find a mutual connection and understanding; it transcends language. MONO recently returned to North America in the Spring of 2017 for a month-long tour. You have been to the region numerous times throughout the years, including way back when with Pelican. How do you find North American audience’s reaction to Mono, and does the band have a new level of comfort visiting here at this point?

Taka Goto – Upon creating MONO, I wanted to do music that didn’t exist in America or anywhere in the world. Something original and unique. Where I was born and grew up is in the countryside of Japan. Every year, the town gets covered in snow and turns into a winter wonderland; it really gives you that nostalgic feeling. That type of worldview still exists there. Straight after we formed the band we started our first movement in America, so America to me is like my second home. It’s a very stimulating and challenging country and I love it.

Temporary Residence Limited
Temporary Residence Limited – Your hometown sounds like quite a beautiful place. Coming from Japan, clearly the culture is different than that of America. That said, in your travels, what are some of the more important things you have learned from different cultures and people?

Taka Goto – We’ve so far traveled to 56 countries and made numerous friends throughout the world. We actually feel that we’re earthlings with no nationality. Nothing is more important than simply loving, helping, and respecting each other. It’s really unfortunate that the world is still in conflict and always close to starting a war. I believe art should be able to change situations like that, because of our important colleagues and fans in the world that share the same feelings. – Yes, it is really tragic the eternal conflict humanity seems to have. Art does alter situations, broaden minds, and expand understanding, so we can only hope that it will continue to heal. MONO uses a variety of different instruments in their music. This in mind, what are some of the band’s personal musical influences?

Taka Goto – I have learned a lot from many immeasurably talented musicians and composers, but if I had to choose some they would be Beethoven and My Bloody Valentine. They’re my heroes and they’re the pioneers. I mean, they created music that was completely new and never existed.

Temporary Residence Limited
Temporary Residence Limited – Different but wonderful choices! Last question, Cryptic Rock covers a broad range of music as well as movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?

Taka Goto – I truly love watching films. Horror and Sci-Fi are fantastic. I had the opportunity to write many soundtracks before but I really want to write for them. There are many soundtracks I love but Twin Peaks, The Exorcist (1973) and Interstellar (2014) soundtracks are especially wonderful.

Warner Bros.
Paramount Pictures

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