The Man Behind Mono – Interview with Taka Goto
This interview with Mono‘s leader Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto was actually conducted quite some time ago, back in last December at the Budapest stop of their joint tour with the French band Alcest. Mono was promoting its latest album, Requiem For Hell at that time, so we mostly talked about that, but also touched upon their previous double album, Taka’s influences and inspirations, life, death, hope, the power of music, visual arts and also, Taka’s then newly announced solo project. The first album of this new side-project called Behind The Shadow Drops has been released recently and he will start his solo tour soon (check the dates here!), so it’s high time to finally publish this interview. So, read on and get to know the man behind Mono a bit better.
Touring and being on the road all the time is a very hard & exhausting lifestyle, still, you’ve been doing it almost non-stop for the last over 15 year. How do you feel about touring after all these years? Is it more of a joy or a burden for you?
Yeah, it’s been about 150 shows every year for 15 years! And honestly, while my mind haven’t changed anything, the body is getting older, you know? Sometimes it is not easy, but on the stage, at front of the fans, we do not care about anything, they make us feel that anything is possible, so that is why we can still continue! And we have to remember that when we were young we were like “Oh, we wanna play in many countries! And play as many shows as possible!”, so we made a decision about this, we choose this life for ourselves. So, we are very happy this way.
How did this hook up with Alcest for this current tour?
We have known each other for about five years and we got an offer from the Alcest guys, that they want to tour with us, but we could not do it for a while. But this year, both bands had a new album out, so, it was great timing and we decided to tour together at last. And it works really well, it’s a good contrast. They are a good band and amazing people.
Your music is often very soundtrack-like and I know you did some actual soundtracks, but have you ever thought about teaming up with a director and making an actual movie based around Mono’s music?
I have a dream actually. Do you know Alejandro González Iñárritu? He directed Babel, 21 Grams, The Revenant and so on… I really wanna do the soundtrack for his movie, it would be amazing!
You said that reading The Divine Comedy after writing the songs for your latest album was what helped you to put all the pieces together like a jigsaw. But what was your original concept when you started to work on Requiem For Hell?
Oh, it is pretty funny actually. You know we had that double album before that (Rays of Darkness and The Last Dawn, release simultaneously in 2014) and the process of composing that was hell. I did not have any inspiration and it was very hard. So it made me think about the next album and I thought that for this album, I do not want to think about what we want to do or about anything else, I just wanted be guided by the emotions. With no gimmicks, a more organic sound and showing the chemistry with us working more like a rock band. These were the main points, but when I was composing the songs, I did not have any specific idea, I was just going on with the melodies without knowing what’s going on. I did not care about anything. We did not have a deadline or anything like that, so that helped as well.
So, it was more instinctive?
Yes. And as you said, one day after I finished composing the songs, I ran into The Divine Comedy and it is about the saving of the soul and I was very inspired. But before that, there wasn’t anything else.
While on the Rays of Darkness / The Last Dawn albums you clearly separated the dark and light side, now, with the new album, you are back to the more typical Mono way of balancing between darkness and light, sometimes swinging to one direction, then to the another. Am I right about this? And was this an intentional direction?
Well, yes, the double album was about the dark side and the light side and compared to that, this album is more about life and death, but still, it is kind of similar. I always imagine that it is like walking in a tunnel in total darkness, but even though it is dark, we still feel that we have to keep on walking, we have to reach the front. And after we walked without any sign of brightness, we finally see a little hole, a little light and we think that “Oh, this might be our destination!” And my songwriting is always like that, it is all darkness, but we keep going. It is like life itself, you know.
So, is it about finding your way in life…?
Yes, something like that. Sometimes I wonder about how, when you become sick, very sick, you must think about how important health is. But otherwise, you never think about that. So, I think that sometimes darkness, sickness, some bad thing or negative energy is necessary to realize how important some things are. So, I always want to tell about hope, but for that, I have to tell about darkness as well or otherwise people cannot see the difference.
Again, back to The Last Dawn. You said that writing those songs was like a therapy for you, after a very bad period…
Yes, I always say that album is like a Buddhist album. I am not a religious guy though. I have a very close friend who got a mental illness and he went to hospital. And he refused friends, family, everyone and he was totally engulfed by darkness. He only recognized me. And I went to the hospital to visit him and said “Hey, do you recognize me? What are you doing?” And at the time I was reading a book about Buddha and at the end I could actually help.
And do you think that your music can also serve as a kind of therapy for some of your listeners?
Yes, we actually get a bunch of email like that from all around the world. Even from people who almost committed suicide, but said that they were finally saved by our music. I am very thankful for this, especially as I always write songs to save my mind and to save my soul.
How does it feel to have such an influence and emotional effect on your listeners?
It is unbelievable. Sometimes I think that music is a gift from god, and sometimes it can be stronger than anything. It is just music, but still, people can feel it, it makes them more brave, make them face the next day. I love this. It is like a spiritual medicine.
You recently announced that you started a new solo project and will have the first album out in 2017. What can we expect from that?
It will be more electronic. Mono is more organic, but here I tried to create a new kind of music. You will see!
Your solo album from 2015 (Classical Punk and Echoes Under The Beauty) and your earlier Left project was somewhat similar to Mono, but still, they had a very different vibe and sound.
Oh, Left! Left is more like a hobby. And the solo project that I released under my full name, I recorded that like… 12 years ago and one day I found it in a hard disk. But I did not remember and was “What is this?” But then I remembered that I wrote this and did not release it! And I just shared it with my team and the label guys from Europa, America and everyone said that “Hey, you should release this!” So, I ended up releasing it.
When you start to work on a solo project, is it because you want put Mono aside a bit and try things on your own or is it because you have musical ideas that wouldn’t fit on a Mono album?
Music is like my diary, you know? I write music every day, and one day this summer (2016) I had a little trouble with my best friend. And I wanted to tell her something and I wrote it as a song. So, for me, it is easier to say sorry, say I love you or say anything through music.
So, it is easier to show you emotion with music than with words?
Yes, definitely yes. Music is the easiest way for me!
Do any of the other members have solo projects besides Mono?
No, not yet, but next year our guitarist, Yoda might be working on a soundtrack.
Mono also has a very distinctive visual style. Can you tell us about the connection between Mono’s music and visual arts?
This time we collaborated with Mitja Kobal (website), a photographer from Vienna and I sent him the demo, The Divine Comedy and some words about the concept. I really wanted him to take photos that are… you know, The Divine Comedy is such an old, old story and still now, it is all the same, countries are in war, people are fighting each other and I wanted him to create a photo that somehow represent how people just never changed. I love to talk about art and I do not believe in what we can see, I believe in what we cannot see, what we have in our hearts, so I prefer to choose a photographer who can understand the spiritual world. We ended up taking a photo in the most crowded street in Shibuya, with many, many, many people and we had to stay still for a very, very long time. And the result is very interesting.
Do you think growing up in Japan had any influence on your music?
Not really, as I was born in a very small village in Japan, that is about 12 hours by train from Tokyo. And my small town is basically just mountains and a river, nothing else. And my older sister played the piano since I was a kid and she was always playing Beethoven. As I could not play the piano, I was always watching the beautiful skies, the beautiful river and mountain with her playing Beethoven in the background. I think that was my biggest influence. I love Beethoven so much, I even have a related tattoo, and I loved that I could understand everything. Especially on our album called For My Parents, I really wanted to show the Japanese skies. And my town as well, there is even a photo taken there inside of the booklet.
Even though you mainly tour overseas, do you have any connection with the local, Japanese music scene?
No, nothing. We actually started to tour in the United States because when we started our band nobody knew about instrumental music in Japan and nobody wanted to book us. We couldn’t play a lot in Tokyo, so we decided to play in New York and eventually started touring the States. And then Europe, and then we went to Japan. So, it was very late.
Once you said that you all played in metal bands before Mono, so did metal had a big influence in your music?
All the members love Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe and the likes so much! They were such a big hit in Japan and when the others guys started, they were all listening to so much metal, so yes, we have a huge metal influence! But I think the first metal music ever was composed by Beethoven. He was the first guy who made rock music!
In your earlier interviews you was very often asked about your early influences, like Beethoven, but are there any new bands or musicians that can still inspire you nowadays?
Hmmm… Ben Frost. From Iceland. He is awesome, my favorite now. And I love Portishead. But popular music, sometimes it is all business, it is not real. I really do not want to think about business and I think the best thing is when a band remains independent, but still, everyone knows them. I wanna make that happen.
Your music is instrumental, but can you express everything you want this way, without lyrics?
I think people can imagine what I want to express through the music. It depends on the people though, but I never had trouble with not having lyrics, for me, music is everything. I still believe that music can be a bridge. When we were in Turkey and we were smoking outside, the fans came to me saying “Hi Taka, nice to meet you, I am from Iraq!” and I was like “Oh, Iraq! Nice to meet you!” and the next one came and said “And I am from Iran.” And they became friends through Mono! It is amazing! Also, the one time with the American guy, who was a soldier during the Iraq attacks, but he had some trouble with his legs, so he had to return to the US. And he really wanted to greet us, because he was listening to Mono during the war. And he said that Mono saved him every day. And the guy from Iraq, who was also there during the attack also said, that listening to Mono meant a lot to him then.
Is there anything that you feel that you still have to achieve in your life?
This year I went to Vienna in a private trip and I went to the museum to see Gustave Klimt‘s paintings. And this was the first time I saw his works from the beginning to the last painting. And the concept, it was totally… one. And that made me think. My life is my life and Mono is Mono and we have to keep going and building that one thing in our lives. You know, like Picasso is Picasso. So, we want to continue and stay true to what we are doing.
During your countless interviews, is there any question, that you feel would be important or interesting, but nobody ever asked it? Or anything you always wanted to talk about in an interview, but never had the chance?
Hmm…. that’s a good question! *thinks for a while* Well, OK. Mozart! You know, Mozart is like… he came down from heaven in stairs to create amazing music. But Beethoven was a real guy and he built stairs to heaven himself and he is now a god. And that is why I love him so much. And we also want to build our stairs to heaven. And I hope until I die or Mono ends, we can build our stairs… better than Beethoven! *laughs*
(cover photo by Mitja Kobal, taken from Taka’s facebook page)
And as a little bonus for this special occasion, I unearthed a gallery back from 2003 when Mono played in Budapest for the very first time during the One Step More And You Die tour.