Here I was given the great opportunity to interview Masaki Batoh. I became aware of some of Batoh’s work in the mid-1990’s when a relationship between Batoh’s band Ghost was begun with the Drag City record label (I have had a long and satisfying relationship with Drag City dating back to the early 1990’s). When Ghost first came to the USA to tour, my brother Paul was hired to travel with them as a sound engineer. My friend David Pajo and I decided to follow the band for a few shows, and asked Ghost if they would mind if we recorded their sets. One of my favorite memories of any live music performances was Ghost’s show in Vacaville, CA, in a small space in the back of a standard strip-mall musical instrument store. Ghost had visited Haight-Ashbury that afternoon, and the set was wild and celebratory; it felt to me like we were in another dimension, in another time, on another planet.
This interview was conducted via email, as my Japanese is nonexistent and Batoh’s English is halting. Even written, Batoh’s English is not always ‘smooth’ and so what you will read below has been edited and polished by me with Batoh’s explicit permission. Here and there you will still find artifacts of our language barrier. Forgive and enjoy! – Will Oldham
Will Oldham: These questions, unfortunately, are not all simple. But they are what I want to ask you. It is easy to remember when we met, as I think that Princess Diana died while we (David Pajo and I) were traveling in tandem with Ghost. That makes it about 17 years ago. Is that possible? That’s not the question. The question is (and this is meant to contextualize our exchange here): what was your impression of Pajo and me at the time? I feel like I remember some misgivings on Ghost’s part about our request that we record a few of your shows…
Masaki Batoh: Hi, long time no see. Thank you so much …17 years!? I can’t believe it… Time passes so. Well, regarding the story of that trip, I remember your proposal to tape our performances. I must make it clear first that we didn’t feel bad about the idea of our shows being recorded, but were just wondering why you were interested in us, since our music was totally rough and broken. Actually we were afraid to confirm what we’ve done after the show; it was so rare to tape our performance before then. We were late-arrived hippies (from the early 80’s) unable to measure ourselves.
You impressed me as a modest person from the first. I remember the music you played during that trip was much different to your current style. But your voice was beautiful, same as now. David seemed to be a very talented musician. And we were impressed by his warm personality. Your brother Paul was quiet and cute. We really loved all the great American buddies on the road!
Will Oldham: This is not a simple question. Please feel free to go into detail or to answer simply and broadly. How have the calamitous events at Fukushima after the earthquake/tsunami in 2011 infiltrated your musical life, if at all? (note: for this question, Batoh took an extra 24-36 hours to respond)
Masaki Batoh: First of all, I would like to thank you for being the first one to respond to the devastating earth quake in japan back in 2011 by sending courage spritually along with sizable donations. We will always remember your (act of )true compassion.
We continue to suffer from the problems – there are still 20 thousand people taking refuge in temporary housing, including people who were evacuated from their homes due to nuclear radiation. Another significant issue is the new government who took political control after the earthquake. They began to promote the resuming, and expanding, the nuclear power plant operations.
However, I believe we can hope to recover. People are becoming aware of politics and watching the politicians and we continue to do what is right for the country, for nature, the people, and the earth.
I had become more aware of myself after these both natural – and human-created disasters. It increased my desire to create and communicate. I had to communicate my frustration, my sadness, my anger, my fear…and my soul…all to the world by means of music. Music was my only means to communicate to the world with any degree of fluency and experience.
Back then, I had no desire to promote (my activity as a leader of) the band Ghost. Ghost had stopped creating after a concert in Berlin back in 2009 and I was not able to even create any musical sound from my guitar, nor any melody from my throat. Luckily, I discovered a device which was under development back then, called a “Brain Pulse Machine”. This device had been developed as a self-training product for people with developmental disabilities such as ADHD, ADD, LD or Asperger’s. This device provides stable brain waves so that the user can carry on normal life without panic and with peace of mind. I won’t go into too much detail about the device, however I thought I could use this device as an improvisational tool using subjects’ brain waves to create music. The resulting work became a tribute album for victims of the earthquake, called Brain Pulse Music, and led me to participate in a tour intended to raise awareness about the danger of nuclear power. The tour took place in the United States, Canada, and Europe. (Drag City eventually sold Brain Pulse Machines; that limited run is sold out).
After the earthquake, I was fortunate to get to know some new people. I started to wonder, “What if I can create music with a fresh approach, a new form?” Originally I thought about creating my own 4th solo album, and began to work towards that end. But since the musicians who were contributing to the recording were so marvelous, we agreed (decided) to form a new band, The Silence. Ghost completed (closed its history with ) 9 albums in their 30 yrs of creation. Soon after the announcement of the dissolution of Ghost, it took only one month to complete the songs which became the first album of The Silence. Last November we started the recording of the second album; it was completed in February. Now we are on our third album…which scares the hell out of Drag City!