Sitting at his living room table deftly removing pieces from a Jenga tower as he simultaneously solves his fifth sudoku square of the day, Mono founder Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto greets me warmly into his home, never once stopping what he’s doing.
Having formed over ten years ago, over that time Mono have proven themselves to be one of the most forward thinking and progressive bands working in music today. Their most recent album, Hymn To The Immortal Wind is by no means an exception to this, with Taka writing the score for a 24 piece orchestra.
“When I wrote the score, it was really complicated and I was not sure how it would sound live with the real orchestra,” he explains quietly as he leaves the table and motions for me to follow him into the next room. “But we were so happy when we started recording in the studio because everything synchronized just as we’d imagined and the emotion of the live players was beautiful.”
Picking up some darts Taka proceeds to explain where the idea to use an orchestra originated.. “I love classical music so I had wanted to work with an orchestra for a long time,” Taka tells me throwing a bullseye first try, before squeezing two more in next to it. “ However, it’s still important to us that we can still make the same music just as a quartet, which is why I arranged the songs so that we could play them by ourselves on tour as well.”
You’d assume that having to wrap your head around so many instruments would mean the band had to suffer through unending coffee-fuelled recording sessions, staying up till all hours fine tuning the reverb on the piccolos and making sure the French horn doesn’t sound too pompous. You’d be wrong.
“Actually our recording sessions go by really quickly with Steve. Normally we start recording at noon and finish around 10 pm. We prefer to have a few fresh takes instead of dragging it on. So we really just need a couple sessions to record all of our songs. We spent 12 days to make Hymn, including the orchestra sessions and mixing,” he explains casually removing the darts, repeating his triple perfect score and moving into the next room. “I don’t think we drank that much coffee,” he adds as I enter the room to find him working on two computers at once.
The Steve to which Taka is referring to is Steve Albini, a living legend who not only recorded and produced Nirvana’s In Utero, The Dirty Three’s Ocean Songs and Pixies’ Surfer Rosa (no to mention countless others) but also founded and fronted underground post-punk legends Shellac. Albini has been working with the band since their third album Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered And The Sun Shined, and according to Taka is the real reason why the band manages to churn out orchestral recordings so quickly.
“Before we met Steve, we didn’t feel as comfortable during recording sessions because there were not many people who understood the sound we wanted to create,” Taka recounts as pages of equations fly over both screens at an alarming speed.
“Our relationship has definitely grown stronger over the years – it’s usually minimal discussion and we get right down to business – and Steve really understands our music and how we want to portray it in recordings. He allows us the freedom we need and then does his part so well, it’s wonderful teamwork.”
With Albini and the band both sharing a deep love of and loyalty to analogue recording, the fact that Hymn’s score called for a 24 piece orchestra didn’t at all dissuade them from recording live to tape.
“It’s really important to us that our recordings mirror our live sound as much as possible. This is why we are always playing together during recording sessions, as if it were our live show.”
At this point the equations stop and Taka moves over to a strange looking metal oblong in the corner, pressing a big red button with Japanese characters on it and dropping a handful of what look like metal shavings into a slot on top. “Even though I think digital sound is beautiful for many bands,” he continues, speaking a little louder so as to be heard over the violent bubbling sound emanating from the oblong, “I just feel it does not suit our sound very well.
“I really love the organic sounds of old film scores or Led Zeppelin because they are less polished. I suppose it adds some sort of timeless and realistic quality about it. Somehow I feel like digital sounds make the emotion in our songs weaker and too different from our live show. When we all play together during recording, I can feel the energy of the other members and feel that we are creating something as a band. I love this moment.”
As he finishes his statement, the bubbling sounds stops and there is a loud pop, sort of like the sound of pulling your legs out of mud, and Taka moves back over to oblong, leaving the game of Tetris he just started on pause. He puts his hand into a small whole on the side and pulls out a gold nugget.
Shit, what can’t he do.
Mono’s Hymn To The Immortal Wind is out now on Valve Records through MGM and keep your eyes peeled for a tour later this year, their show a few years back at Manning was biblical.