Mike Watt Loves Japanese Math Rockers Lite and So Do We
We met up with Lite at their Tokyo rehearsal space to talk bowel malfunctions, Mike Watt's special sauce, and tips for eating curried rice.
Despite their ludicrously tight and impossibly technical musicianship, Tokyo band Lite walk a fine line between autistic guitar-noodle perfectionism and genuine organic "holy shit that's cool" exhibitionist thrills. In other words, they're an instrumental math rock band, but they're actually fun to both watch and listen to. And to chat to, as we found out during an interview with guitarists Nobuyuki Takeda and Kosovo Kusumoto, bassist Jun Izawa and drummer Akinori Yamamoto. We joined Lite at their Tokyo rehearsal studio to talk bowel malfunctions, world tours, and Mike Watt's special sauce.
Noisey: What's the worst thing that's ever happened to Lite on stage?
Izawa: Tell him about the toilet incident.
Kusumoto: Oh yeah. On tour in America one time I got a stomach ache in the middle of the show and had to run off stage to the toilet. I'd eaten something dodgy, like this huge spaghetti.
Izawa: It took you five or six minutes to take a shit. I think this was in San Diego.
Kusumoto: They just had to banter for five or six minutes without me.
Izawa: We jammed actually.
What did the audience do?
Izawa: They just thought it was one of our songs. They probably just thought that's the kind of music Japanese bands make.
Or perhaps they thought all Japanese bands take a toilet break in the middle of their set.
Izawa: Ha! Yes, like an interval.
Lite's songs are pretty technical and you guys play really tight. Is it tough to write and rehearse those songs?
Kusumoto: It's tough.
Takeda: There are times when we just can't pull it off. And there are times when we have an idea, but can only work it through halfway. We'll get it to 80% of what we want it to be but that last 20% seems a long way off. [Laughs]
Izawa: It's no laughing matter!
What do you do in those situations?
Takeda: In those cases we put it to sleep for a bit. Walk away from it, work on another song, then come back to it and try again.
Your new album, Installation, came out in June. The track "Bond" [above] has this super cool guitar loop. On stage you loop that live through a pedal, right?
Takeda: Yes, I play it once and then loop it. Sometimes I don't quite nail it.
Yamamoto: When he messes up the rhythm goes kinda weird. But that actually gives it more of a live feel, so it's cool.
The video for "Bond" is cool too. Did it take long to make? It has lots of really precise edits.
Takeda: It took a whole day.
Kusumoto: We had to do a million takes and play in all these different positions.
Izawa: The next day I had to go to hospital because I'd busted my hip.
Does making videos have anything in common with making songs?
Izawa: We don't think about the videos in a lot of detail. We think about the general atmosphere we're after and then leave it to the director to come up with the details.
Kusumoto: While you're making a video you have no idea how it's going to turn out. It's only after you see the finished video and see that they made something you hadn't imagined. That's great.
Installation also has songs like "Between Us"and "Starry Night"that are more chilled and sparse. You recorded those in the States. What were you smoking when you wrote those songs?
Izawa: We weren't smoking anything!
Kusumoto: We just had a couple of beers!
Izawa: You can't ask a question like that in Japan, haha!
OK, so what should we smoke when we listen to it?
Izawa: I can't recommend smoking anything other than cigarettes. [Laughs]
Recording in the States must feel more laidback than in Japan though right?
Takeda: It's rougher, but in a good way. They'll try anything.
Izawa: The sound that comes out is different too I think. They have exactly the same amps and things, but somehow you get a drier sound in the States.
Kusumoto: Studios in Japan are built with great precision, but maybe too much.
You first started touring in the States after you released a split single with Funanori, a band that features Kaori Tsuchida from The Go! Team and Mike Watt from The Minutemen/The Stooges/The Missingmen. That guy can really talk...
Takeda: He's a teacher. And he's a legend.
Izawa: And he's surrounded by yet more legends. One day he said that Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth had emailed him to say he was coming to our New York show. And then on the day of the show Thurston emailed again to say sorry he'd overslept and missed it. And another time Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers called to say hi.
What lessons did you learn from Mike?
Takeda: He taught us so much more than I can even recall. He's been playing music for, what, 30 years, and done countless tours, and he has friends all over America, and they all support him. I realized it's important to always carry on. He has the aura of a true legend that I don't think I'll ever be able to attain.
Did you try the homemade tabasco sauce he carries everywhere with him?
Izawa: I tried it! He eats it with everything, even miso soup. I couldn't eat that. He put it on all the food he ate in Japan. Even sashimi.
Takeda: Recently he hasn't had it though. He used to always carry it with him, in a special holster. Now when he comes to Japan he seems to really enjoy the food.
Izawa: When he comes to Japan he refuses to use anything other than chopsticks. Even eating curry-rice—Japanese people would use a spoon—but he insists on chopsticks.
Takeda: He made such a mess with that.
When's your next US tour?
Takeda: We'll probably be going sometime in autumn 2014.
Izawa: Mike invited us to tour again with this Italian avant-garde band he's involved with Il Sogno Del Marinaio. I can't pronounce their name.
Does playing all those shows overseas affect the way you play together in Japan?
Izawa: Yes. When we play overseas we often have technical trouble or things like that, so it's given us the confidence that we can pull off a show anywhere, even if we run into problems. We can tackle any challenge. We're more durable now.
As an instrumental band, do you have a message you want to get across? How do you do that without lyrics?
Takeda: We don't have vocals, but we don't think of ourselves as a band without vocals. The guitar phrases pick up some of that slack, and the drums stand out in certain places, things like that. The things I have to say do not require a singer.
Kusumoto: Rather than having something to say, I want to make the listener feel moved. Rather than moving them with beautiful lyrics or an interesting story, we do it with a tight performance and our sound. I want people to be like, "No way! How do they do that?!"
Do you think you'll ever try putting vocals in a song?
Takeda: I think about it. But I haven't been able to do it.
Kusumoto: Plus who would sing them anyway?
What about a collaboration? Who would you have sing for you?
Izawa: Thom Yorke! Bjork!
Oh, that's easy then. So, what's the one thing you hope our readers in the US take away from this article?
Izawa: Please eat curry rice with a spoon! Then you can never go wrong.
Listen to Lite's latest album, Installation, here.
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