Boris: Exploring Identity with Massive Sonic Chameleon Smile

“It’s important to be consciously proactive in your relationship with sound –– to approach it with a positive, interested attitude,” he says. Your consciousness and your relationships alter the way you perceive sound, and similarly, when you experience a new sound, you experience a new state of consciousness.”

The result of this relationship: Boris latest album, Smile (Southern Lord), is a massive sonic chameleon suffused with layers of fuzz-guitar blitzkriegs that dexterously marries stoner metal and shoegaze with drone and even new-wave undertones. Produced by Hiroshi Ishihara, Smile also features guest appearances by Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley and Michio Kurihara. Boasting an upbeat though jaw-crushing heavy ambiance, its source material can be traced back to Japanese metal and punk bands such as Anthem and Zelda.

Beneath its veneer is an embrace of ’80s mainstream Japanese rock, which Takeshi describes as cookie-cutter remakes of American rock popular at the same time. “There wasn’t a lot of originality during that time,” he says, adding, “we’re bringing our own original sound, which came out of all that ’80s remade, cheesy, fake music.”

Takeshi and Atsuo credit Smile‘s unrepentantly buoyant spirit as a homage to that time period, a combative measure against lethargy, and a cathartic process following the recording of Pink and the rigors of extensive touring. “I think it was life after Pink,” Atsuo explains. “We were abusing our senses with constant recordings and tours. Smile documents the course of our growing boredom with music and, at the same time, our sense of the potential for expression in the near future.”

Takeshi echoes and elaborates on the reactionary relationship between the two albums. “After Pink, we were just like, ‘Okay, fuck trying to make something that’s really cool; let’s just relax a bit and make something fake and cheesy and just have fun.’ I think that’s the sound that you’re hearing in Smile,” he says. “We’re approaching both of those concepts, the fakeness and the cheesiness, with very positive thoughts in mind in that we live in a day and age where there’s a lot of fakeness in our lives that actually has more value than what’s ‘real’. Part of maybe looking at what our identity is as Japanese is digging into what fakeness is.”

Listening to Takeshi talk about exploring his identity as a Japanese person brings to mind the fact that Boris has found a much more receptive audience in the United States than in their homeland. When asked, both he and Atsuo credit Boris’ palpable ambiguity with confounding their fellow countrymen. “If it’s not easily understandable, it’s hard for Japanese people to have a strong reaction to it,” explains Atsuo.

Takeshi agrees, adding, “Japanese people generally are raised in environments that have less stimuli, and maybe, to Japanese audiences, Boris’ music is too stimulating. Being raised in a convenient world where things are easily accessible, there’s no opportunity to get your mind out of a certain mindset. So when confronted with Boris’ music, it’s more difficult to take that as your own, while maybe for American audiences, because there’s such a variety of stimuli, it really strikes a chord. One of the strengths of American audiences is this ability to sort of incorporate, to just embrace and try, and that has inspired us.” Atsuo adds, “Americans are more open-minded towards new experiences. There’s a much more open environment in America to trying new things.”

“Really, how we want people to listen to our music is through the live experience,” says Takeshi. “It’s a group effect; I almost want to say like a mob effect. It’s an experience and it’s like the pinnacle that everyone ends up at together. We’re coming to you, so we want you to come to us.” Atsuo takes the idea a step further, explaining that Smile cannot be considered final until it is shared in a live environment of mutual audience feedback.

“We’re going to go out on tour, meet people in the audience, and hear their reactions to the songs, and through this process really ‘complete’ the album and give it meaning. I mean, I don’t think we’ll ever really ‘complete’ the album, but I’m looking forward to experiencing the mood that the songs set, and picking up on the more intangible, abstract feelings that the songs inspire.”

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