BLACK CURRANT MAG
DAMO SUZUKI AND Tomoyuki Katsurada
It’s not every day that you get to meet your hero. But last Tuesday, on a typical rainy winter day, we drove all the way to Cologne and back to witness the inspiring meet up between 70s legend and former CAN member Damo Suzuki and Tomoyuki Katsurada (Tomo), guitarist and vocalist in Kikagaku Moyo and co-founder of record label Guru Guru Brain.
Both musicians have quite a lot in common, Sharing their Japanse heritage and love for music, which even began in a similar fashion by playing their music on the streets of Tokyo and Munich before they started to fill up concert rooms with their bands. While Damo met Holga and Yaki in the 70s, Kikagaku Moyo started in the summer of 2012 when Go Kurosawa and Tomo were forced to play on the street, due to complaints from the neighbors in their Tokyo apartment complex. Later they met Kotsu Guy while he was recording vending machines for his own noise project and guitarist Daoud Popal at the university Tomo was studying at the time. Go’s brother Ryu was added too to form their psychedelic rock tribe.
The day started with Damo taking us on a walk in the biggest park of Cologne, that happened to be right behind his apartment. We followed him up his favorite route, or let’s say we followed up right behind Damo and Tomo, who soon sunk into a deep conversation about their music (they might have been gossiping about us in between, we will never now, since they were speaking in Japanese). What we did know is that the talk was quite engaging, and they only stopped when we arrived at the petting zoo in the middle of the park to watch some really cool goats run around. Back home in Damo’s living room, with our noses still cold from the outside air, with a cup of tea in the hand, we finally managed to mingle ourselves into their heart-to-heart to ask some questions.
Damo, looking at your work and life as a whole, the power of improvisation seems to be of great importance.
“The power of improvisation is not important even, but it’s just natural to me. I am living this way just so I don’t need to have any particular plan. I just take it as things are coming.”
Was living like that always a conscious decision?
“I never try to be something particular. Many people don’t believe in anything else but a traditional life. But it’s your own life and you can do with it whatever you want. I’ve been making this music to prove that.”
How do you stay untouched by influences like that?
“I don’t like to get any kind of information in any way. I don’t need tv or things like that. I want to experience everything myself, not through the eyes of others, that is the real truth that I can say. That is why I like talking to people about their own experiences. Not about them reading a book or a newspaper. That has nothing to do with your own life. It’s my way of getting information about this world. I also approach making music like this, with a totally untouched mind.”
Would you say you are somewhat afraid that other people will influence your thinking?
“Not at all. I actually like to open people’s minds to learn how to think for yourself and start at nothing. To see that a lot of information is forced to you while you don’t need it to shape your own opinion. Find yourself before you find others, and then let them add things, but never change you. This is the energy I want to share with my audience as well.
One of the things I tell others is to not think or believe in too many ‘-isms’. They are all illusions, not real things. So also made up information. Morals and trends, they will change and go away. It might sound strange, but that is why I am reading the bible. Because it’s the basis of tradition and it explains human beings.”
When you play together with other people, you call them ‘sound carriers’, you don’t prepare your set. It is total improvisation. So you don’t even look up who you are playing with until you are on stage?
“No I don’t. I don’t try to get any information about them, to stay as pure as possible.”
So how was it to meet Tomo beforehand today? You are playing with him in about ten days.
“It’s lovely, but just because he is a nice guy, not because I have an opinion about his music yet. To be honest, I don’t care what kind of music he plays. But to know he is a good person is nice information to start with. We exchanged our life stories and I know we have chemistry now. But sometimes I don’t have this personal chemistry, and then I prefer not to know anything even more. It’s a more honest start on stage. I also like it because it’s kind of and adventure, I need adventures.”
Tomo, has Damo’s music been an influence in yours?
Tomo, smiling: “I would say that we are very, very influenced by Damo, so that might be helping the chemistry too.”
Damo: ‘’I gave him 50 euros to say that…’’
Tomo: ‘’When I was 17 I played in a punk-band, and I was listening to bands like Black Flag. But my older sister was already in university and she played me Sing Swan Song by CAN. I thought It sounded so familiar to Japanese, but it isn’t… That was because of Damo’s voice. I was intrigued for sure, I found it interesting but I couldn’t understand yet what they were trying to do. I few years later, when I started to go to Uni myself and listened to more different kinds of music, I heard CAN again. And I instantly remembered that first time I heard Sing Swan Song in my sister’s car. But this time it was so different. I was hugely impressed. I can’t get it out of my mind since.”
Damo: ‘’Now it’s a 100 euros…’’
Tomo: “When I found out the singer was Japanese, I was even more impressed. It gave me so much hope. When you are from Japan, a lot of people just want to be like western musicians. It is because Japanese musicians see a lot of western media on tv and want to play there too, in America or Europe. I grew up like that too. But there’s a big language barrier and also they are scared. Because these worlds are very different. Before, my big examples where always, for example, from the UK. When I play a festival with Kikagaku Moyo now, mostly, we are still the only Asian band. Even when they call it a world music festival.”
Damo, did you have the same feeling growing up?
“I never had the same feeling of wanting to be American that much. Or even wanted to move for that kind of career per se. But when I was young, everybody was listening to The Beatles. Then the Rolling Stones… So also no Asian musicians. I really didn’t like all of them. But I did wanted to have something. And that something was The Kinks for a while. I even had a The Kinks fanclub once in Japan. I don’t like them anymore though, that was just temporary.”
So how did you get to play music outside Japan?
“It was 1970 and I was working at the countryside of Ireland to make money and find experiences. I loved the people and the attitude there, and had actually planned on moving back to Japan to become a politician and show the people how to live more like in Ireland. Honest and natural, with some drinking on the side. But that didn’t happen because then I went to Munich before and I got a job there. Which was fine for three months, but I quickly became bored with the daily routine. One evening, as I did sometimes, I was busking outside a cafe, when I met Holgar and Jaki from CAN. They liked what I was doing and asked me to sing with them that same night. The only question I asked was ‘what kind of music?’ and Holgar said ‘something else’. ‘Ok,’ I said, ‘let’s go play something else’. I stayed with them for three years, until 1973. After that I did not make any music for 11 years, but I did stay in Germany, I liked it here.’’
Why did you stop playing music?
“In 1973 I started to study the bible. And all I read in there was so different from what the rest of the bands believed in. They were reading books by Aleister Crowley, an occultist and ‘ceremonial magician.’ It was too far apart from me. I still read the bible almost every day. Mainly the old testament. There’s a lot of truth in there, I think it’s the most interesting book you can get to understand people and society. I would say I am very spiritual, but I don’t go to church. Church is the opposite from the bible, what they are doing there has nothing to do with it. People are manipulated into following others instead of being themselves there. When I found people that were not like that, and I felt up for it, I just started playing again. I never left for the music.”
You got a lot of people inspired by just being yourself. How does it feel to have inspired, for example, Mark E. Smith from The Fall to write the song ‘I am Damo Suzuki’ about you?
“I was a bit surprised at first, since, as I told you before, I don’t read news or music magazines. One of my bandmates at that time read a music magazine out loud about it, but I just said that it might be someone with the same name. It took me quite a while to find out that it was actually about me. That was when Mark invited me to play with him as a guest. We clicked instantly and that night we spoke for hours.
It’s not weird that he is using my name because Mark E. Smith IS Damo Suzuki. He said himself ‘I’ve been Damo Suzuki, for more than one thousand times’. Being Damo Suzuki is a state of mind. But I would never say that about myself… He didn’t write about me as a person, he wrote about a mindset.”
Grauzone Festival is always searching for the connection between music and art, and why the crossover is so interesting. What is your opinion about that?
“I think art and music is best seen together. I never understand why that is not done more often like Grauzone is doing it. If it was up to me, I would even put it all in one space. It will be like having different people with different characters in one room, but in a visual and musical shape. There’s a reason that a lot of artists are drawn to do multiple art forms, like both music and painting or drawing. Life itself is like this. So it’s the best way to display and feel all the arts as well.”
21:15 – 22:30 — Grote zaal
PAARD, The Hague