Being a band that lasts more than maybe ten years is pretty uncommon. I mean, there are a few out there, but generally speaking, a band maybe “has its time” and then after that, they go into a decline – maybe go on a break for a while and then eventually do THE INEVITABLE part ways (unless, of course, you are Fugazi, in which case I just know you will come back again… one day).
This isn’t and hasn’t been the case for Acid Mothers Temple, but then part of their appeal is that they are constantly evolving, changing and growing as a band… if you can call them that. The band, who formed in 1995, work as more of a collective than as a traditional band. Its core member, guitarist Makoto Kawabata, had a chat with Heatwave, ahead of their Autumn London show to give us the low down – in very psychedelic terms – of their working process as a band and what to expect from the latest tour.
With a career spanning two decades, it’s hard to dismiss Acid Mothers Temple, and equally as hard to categorise them. The fluid nature of Acid Mothers Temple is one of the things that allow them to continually surprise their fans. They are always coming out with genre-spanning music that is new as well as exciting. Their sound and line up is not constant, it is not definite and it is never boring. Listening to their records, you can feel the chemistry and electricity of the performance, just as you would at their live shows. Kawabata explains, however, that there is a difference in feel for him and the band, “Live shows and studio works are completely different things to me. Also, even the band name ‘Acid Mothers Temple’ – we have some different groups with different concepts and so the groups have different line-ups.” These different line-ups have taken on various identities over the years – Acid Mothers GuruGuru, Acid Mothers Gong and Acid Mothers GuruGuru Gong to name a few. All different but equally important to the growth of the band.
This need for changing identity is something that Kawabata and his crew encourages – the opportunity for each member to bring something new and different to the dynamic. Essentially a psychedelic band, the electronic, drones and even heavy metal tones come into play because of the various members. “Changing line-up is [part of Acid Mother Temple’s] course and also it’s destiny,” explains Kawabata, “I have no choice… But it means really ‘teamwork’, doesn’t it?” It’s an interesting idea for a band that is so clearly led by one man’s vision to be described as a team. It might be this wish of Kawabata’s to work collaboratively that ensures the continued success and endurance of Acid Mothers Temple.
I remember seeing Acid Mothers Temple years ago and being struck by how tight they played – they new each twist and turn in the sound, they all knew when the other was ready to burst into a new aspect of the music. This ability is something I feel like I have only otherwise really seen with bands that had played together for years. Acid Mothers flip this idea on its head by showing that a close-knit, tight group isn’t always necessary when everyone is bringing something unique to the table. When asked how important this collaboration is, and whether there is a bigger idea behind the process of having an ever-changing line-up, Kawabata evades the question. Instead, he responds in much (much!) broader terms, saying, “I believe all music come[s] from each small cosmos. Especially, I try to be just like a good radio tuner for receive and play it for people.” It’s sometimes hard to decipher exactly what Kawabata is trying to say. Everything seems to have a higher and deeper meaning. Everything seems harder for him to pinpoint and define than the average person, and I am unsure if this is due to a possible language barrier, or just because this is exactly how he views the world – on a massive scale full of musical possibility and promise. Everything has a deeper meaning because he wants it to have, and he allows it to have.
Endless musical possibility and performance spontaneity is something Kawabata has clearly latched onto. In terms of their live shows, Kawabata suggests that the tour has been named after their new album Benzaiten (“Benzaiten is a Japanese goddess, also it is Saraswati in India”, you know – FYI) and those in attendance shouldn’t come expecting anything in particular, “We don’t know what will happen in each night.” This freedom of expectation is actually reassuring for a more ‘mature’ band with more potential than their new wave psych counterparts to get boring. Kawabata expounds, “We’re playing more improv parts than our past tours. Let’s rock!” As I say – very reassuring.
Kawabata shows no signs of slowing down, or at least certainly hasn’t planned to not plan to slow down. When I asked if he had any advice to share for up and coming, less experienced bands, his parting words were simply, but notably inspirational: “Try to better play than last night, try to make better album than last album, try to not disappoint [your] audience ever [and] try to play the best as much as possible.” For a collaboration that is constantly adapting to changing line-ups, that advice just seems far too simple coming from such a complex, musical optimist.
By Frieda Strachan