Over the past three and a half years, the young, hairy Japanese psychedelic outfit Kikagaku Moyo has quietly amassed a devout cult following via legendary performances across the United States, UK, Europe, and Australia. Not to mention a steady drip of outstanding and brain-bending releases, including Kikagaku Moyo, Mammatus Clouds, and Forest of Lost Children. The first few came on Greek, British and American labels, and since on the band’s own imprint, Guruguru Brain, supported by a legion of “old psych head” fans in faraway places like Serbia and Israel that regularly buy out the label’s vinyl pressings within weeks. Kikagaku Moyo’s self-released 2016 LP, House in the Tall Grass, was one of the most lucid highlights of last year, even if it was more or less unsung. This publication did call it a “flawless and captivating record.” That is not at all an overstatement.
The group now has an excellent new EP, Stone Garden, out tomorrow. It was recorded over two days last year in Prague. The sessions were cut up and spliced together to make five tracks, which proceed from beginning to end with an undulating sense of urgency. “Backlash” and “Trilobites” make frenetic, experimental movements, while “Nobakitani” refines the sprawling meditations of Mammatus Clouds into an elegant and leisurely 8-minute daydream. Both “In A Coil” and “Floating Leaf” harness a murky, propulsive groove, as if “Green Sugar” from House in A Tall Grass was poured into a flooded creek bed atop Mt. Fuji and left to run down the mountain. During our recent conversation at Chatei Hatou in Shibuya, drummer Go Kurosawa mentioned that he wanted to draw on the band’s earliest experiences, when they “only had energy.” Stone Garden is certainly energetic. It’s also invigorating; a descriptor that you look for in psychedelic music. Especially when you need a bite of something to keep the trip flowing in the right direction.
Stream Stone Garden below and read on to learn more about the genesis of Kikagaku Moyo, their struggles developing as an up-and-coming live act in Japan, and the other bands on their label, Guruguru Brain, that are poised for a similar breakout. words / j steele
Aquarium Drunkard: How did y’all start?
Kikagaku Moyo: I met Tomo, the guitarist. He was living in the US studying film. He got back and we met up and said, “Ok. Let’s [start a] band.” Two people. I wanted to play drums, but I had never played before. Tomo played guitar, he said. But he couldn’t really play. [Laughs] So we used an old studio almost every night, from midnight until the morning. Our friend was working there, so we could use it for free. We would play a loop and try to jam. And soon after we saw, “Oh, we cannot do anything.” We were only a two piece so what could we do? Either garage, like garage rock, or psychedelic, which can be kind of stupid.
And then we tried to find people. But we wanted to find people who didn’t have experience. And like, don’t know how to play, but just want to play music together. We put many signs everywhere and went to college and made a psychedelic poster and gave it to people. Tomo actually got in trouble at college because he put it everywhere. “You cannot do that. What’s this psychedelic poster everywhere?!” [Laughs] And then we found our bassist one day. He was recording vending machine sounds with a recorder for his drone project. We talked to him, “What are you doing? Let’s play music.” “Oh, okay.” The other guitarist. He was working in the same college that Tomo went to. He looked really weird. Huge beard. Long hair. Rolling cigarette…”Do you play?” “Yeah, yea, yeah.” “Do you want to play in a band?” “Yeah, okay.” We didn’t know anything. Then my brother plays sitar. He was in India and came back. So all of us played music and that’s how we started.
Gig wise it’s difficult because we have totally different system. We have to pay to play. Usually $300 for a 30-35 minute set. We did that a few times. “This is not going anywhere.” So we decided to go abroad. We did an Australian tour for two weeks and then it started happening. We got offers from a label and we played Austin Psych Fest / Levitation in 2014.
AD: And the first two records were released on a British label?
Kikagaku Moyo: The first one was released on a Greek label. We put it on Bandcamp. They discovered it and said, “Okay, we’ll release it.” “Greek?.” [Laughs] We sent it to some label and they said our sound is too faint.
AD: Growing up you weren’t playing?
Kikagaku Moyo: Not so much. I was playing piano. Classical piano. Also horns and brass instruments in a school band. Tomo was playing cello. But not really in the band.
AD: The way y’all started is such a brilliant mental image. I don’t know any bands that started like that.
Kikagaku Moyo: Psychedelic is not about playing good. It’s more about collective. Everybody has totally different background. We listen to different kinds of music. We wondered how we could mix it.
AD: As a band were you thinking “We’d like to integrate traditional music into what we’re doing?” Or was that just natural because of your brother?
Kikagaku Moyo: It was natural. My brother didn’t really listen to current music. He studied traditional Indian sitar. So it was kind of difficult to figure out how we can put it together. But somehow we did.
AD A lot of your music, especially the earlier stuff, is very meditative. Was that because of a lack of ability or was . . .
Kikagaku Moyo: Lack of ability. [Laughs] All bands in Japan are so good technically. When we were playing, we were so sloppy. So we said, ”Let’s cover up.” “How?” “We can play drone and be really meditative.” So people think we do something, like a theme. [Everyone laughs]
We bought two smoke machines. So many smoke machines so they couldn’t see us. [Laughs] Ridiculous. And a few times the fire alarm goes off. Firefighters came in with police and then shut it down. They were so mad at us. [Laughs]
AD So it didn’t have anything to do with a religious approach . . .
Kikagaku Moyo: Not religious. But, first we didn’t know how to write music. “How?” No chord progressions. We didn’t know anything. So we tried to take idea from no musical experience. We went camping and would go to the mountains and stay there for a few days. Have good time. And then “How we can turn this experience into music?” Then we couldn’t do much. And okay this is kind of the feeling that we shared. We also brought instruments to the mountains that we played and recorded to try to make it into a song. That’s how we started in our space when we didn’t know how to write music.
AD The band name, my friend was saying, means mathematical patterns.
Kikagaku Moyo: Geometric.
AD Geometric patterns. Which is funny, because you think of these bands that can play math rock and that’s not what y’all are doing at all.
Kikagaku Moyo: [Laughs] Yea. Cause we were playing jam all the time at night. That’s the only time we could play long hours because you have to pay so much money in day time. As I said, a friend was working in a studio so we could go only the night, from midnight to 7am. [Laughs] So we were super tired. Working and then going to the studio. Jam. We cannot do so much stuff…just playing one note. [Laughs] Then make it really dark. And then we start feeling sleepy but you know like when you see noise show, whoever plays music in the last seems like “I am most musician.” [Laugh] Whoever quit first and looked around is losing. You have to be the last one who is making noise. It was like that. So even when you were so tired, you still play. And I started seeing visuals. Cause it’s dark and you cannot see. So everyone is closing their eyes. And I’m seeing all the patterns in my eye. So I shared the experience and it was like “Okay let’s make Geometric Patterns the band’s name.”
AD So it’s a psychedelic experience from sleep deprivation.
Kikagaku Moyo: [Laughs] Yea.
AD Growing up, were there any band’s that y’all were listening to that influence what you’re doing?
Kikagaku Moyo: From Japan?
AD Either Japanese or international.
Kikagaku Moyo: We tried to talk, “What have you been listening to?” We could never share anything. So only after we started playing, after one year, we started sharing. Because Daoud was listening to hip/hop. I was listening to crazy different stuff. Tomo likes power pop. Guy likes black metal. So, sometimes two of us share one music. Then we try to, “Hey Listen,” and then Daoud is like “Oh, no, I don’t like it.” But, Can, some Krautrock bands. They like it, but not so much. It’s difficult.
AD That’s cool because it comes from a really pure place. It’s not contrived. In the beginning it seems like it was an almost utilitarian approach to music. You’re doing what you can.
Tyler Broeren, Manager: You’re probably the only one who listened to psych.
Go: Yea. Everybody else is different. Not so much. [Laughs.]
Tyler: But when we first met he gave a whole bunch of cool Japanese psych. Strawberry Path.
Go: Fried Egg. Blues Creation.
Tyler: Flower Travellin’ Band, of course.
AD: Strawberry Path?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea. It’s like 70s heavy psych prog. A lot of guitar solos. When I started listening. I started listening to western music from the past. I didn’t know Japan had that kind of music. And then I started listening to 90s J-Pop. “That’s really shitty,” I thought. Not for me. Then, when I was around 20, I started listening. “Oh, actually Japan has some cool stuff.” From the 70s but it’s totally gone.
AD: Hard to find?
Kikagaku Moyo: Really hard to find. But those bands are more well known in the western countries. Like Flower Travellin’ Band, most people know them if you like rock n roll.
AD: I don’t really know them. The main bands I know are Acid Mothers Temple and the Boredoms.
Kikagaku Moyo: Boredoms started in the late 80s. As a noise band. And 80s in Japan was like noise war. It was whoever could do something more crazy. They are from Osaka. Osaka has more extreme music. Tokyo is a little bit posh. So there were so many crazy bands like Hanatarashi before Boredoms. They would throw shit into the audience. Came in Bulldozer to the venue and destroyed it. Broke a barrel and threw it. Hitting whoever’s crazy. Making fire. [Laughs] Peeing. Vomit. That kind of intense. It started Japanese experimental / noise.
AD: Now y’all are running your own label? Is that difficult in Japan? Do you get any government money?
Kikagaku Moyo: No. Funded by us. It’s called Guruguru Brain. Actually, we started after we played a few shows in Tokyo. Usually, the venue tells you, “Oh you want to have your event here? You want to book your own show?” Because here they don’t have promoter. They don’t have that kind of system. It’s not existent. Only major artists. So usually bands organize. But we have to pay $1,500 to do an event on the weekend. Even in a small 100 person capacity. And we were like, “Fuck that.” So we tried to find anywhere. Any bar or venue that we could play for free. So we called more than 50 venues all over Tokyo and found a spot. It’s like “live bar.” It was small with shitty equipment, but we could play for free. So we started putting on psychedelic shows every month and tried to have this scene.
Even like normal local bands around here, even weekdays, you have to pay 2000 yen. Plus one drink. 2500. It’s expensive. And one drink is 600, 700. So many people in Tokyo, in Japan, who never been to any gig. “I never been to show for entire my life.” Because it’s so expensive. So it’s underground.
So I wanted to change. I wanted it to be more accessible. But in order to do it we had to change the whole system of venue, because venue owns all the backline and sound engineer. That’s why they can charge. Since they are charging to the band, they don’t care about promoting, cause they can get money from the band. So the people only who show up are the band’s friend. 3 people. [Laughs] Most of them are playing in the bands. And just like 3 or 4 friends of the band. Or girlfriends. So pathetic.
We started booking 500 yen in maybe like 60 people capacity. And we made a nice poster and then we discovered many bands in Japan. So then we said, “Okay let’s do a label.” So we did a compilation. A free compilation. And then we got many donations from US and Europe. Even though it was free many people donated $10, $20 to Bandcamp. So we thought, “Okay this actually has potential.”
Many people in the US actually want to know what the music scene is like in Japan, or Asia, but they don’t know. They know Boris, Mono, Acid Mothers, but that’s it. So we wanted to help to push Asian bands to the Western market. That’s how we started.
AD: How many bands besides your own records have you released?
Kikagaku Moyo: We have thirteen or fourteen releases, but as a band maybe six or seven. We release bands all over Japan. We released a Korean band. Taiwanese — two Taiwanese bands. Indonesian. Pakistan. We released some Thai. Vietnamese.
AD: Mostly psych?
Kikagaku Moyo: Not really. Little bit psychedelic. But drone, experimental, folk, or doom, space rock. Electronic. Not so much based on genre. We focus on the region. Most of the customers are in America and Europe.
We didn’t have distribution until recently. Before it was just mail order. We’d make like 500 press and they sold out really quick.
AD: Yea, a lot of your records, all the listings on Discogs are in these weird European countries.
Kikagaku Moyo: [Laughs] Yea. Greece. Italy.
AD: Eastern European countries.
Kikagaku Moyo: Serbia. Israel. Some people try to order 5 or 6 and then try to sell in Discogs.
AD: When you were putting that quantity out was that because that was as much as you could afford or was that intentional to create a limited supply?
Kikagaku Moyo: We wanted them to be sold out. Also we didn’t have funding. It gets really expensive because the plant is in Europe and has to ship here. And then ship back. So it didn’t really make sense until we had a distributor, so we could just send from the plant to American distributor. But we still do mail order.
AD: Do you work other jobs besides the label?
Kikagaku Moyo: I do only label and band. But Tomo, other people, 2 of us have freelance jobs doing translation and art direction. Those jobs you can work on tour, on the road. So Daoud always has computer. Guy works in a rehearsal studio.
AD: What’s the studio scene? Are there a lot of studios?
Kikagaku Moyo: A lot. Maybe in Shibuya there’s 20. They’re pretty cool because they all have full backline and you just pay by the hour. They even have a P.A. and you can record in them if you want. Borrow guitar, bass, pedal, mic. Whatever you need.
AD: My wife told me she had a student that went to see y’all three times on the last US tour. Was it that enthusiastic of a response from a lot of folks?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea. There are some maniac people. Greece was crazy. Many old record collector people came…[Laughs]. UK we have an older crowd. Old psych heads. US has a younger audience. US is rock n roll country. That’s what I’ve realized. I didn’t know when I was living there, but once you go to Europe and then come to US, you see the rock n roll vibe.
AD: What’s the response like from the crowd in Japan?
Kikagaku Moyo: So we didn’t play for almost two years. We played with Moon Duo two years ago but that was it. And then we just kept going overseas. We just did a Japan tour and we were really nervous because we didn’t know if people would show up or come. It turned out really good. Tokyo show we had 300 people. Everyone was excited and we played a long jam.
Still, no one knows about us and our record is not really available here. In Shimokitazawa there is Jet Set records. It’s funny, we contacted them and they didn’t respond. But then I looked on their website and they import our records from the US.
Now we want to play more, but we don’t want to play too much. If you look globally, like Tokyo, London, LA, New York — big cities. We play London two times a year, so we don’t have to play Tokyo 7 times just because we are based here.
AD: What venue do you play in Tokyo?
Kikagaku Moyo: Shibuya O-NEST. It’s kind of close. It’s a two story building. Upstairs is a bar area with a restaurant and they have DJs. Downstairs is a venue.
AD: Who are some of the local bands that you are into?
Kikagaku Moyo: We live with this band called Minami Deutsch. It means South Germany. It’s a krautrock band. The first record they only do a motorik, Neu beat. They toured in Europe one time last year. And they are doing another one. You can check them out.
AD: Are they on your label?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea, we put them out and also they released a CD on a European label.
AD: Is their record sold out too?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea, but we are reissuing it.
AD: Anyone else?
Kikagaku Moyo: Dhidalah. They are on Guruguru too and are more of a heavy, doomy, space rock. Twenty minutes. One track. We released a ten inch. Just two tracks a side.
AD: You’re touring in May? Any new music or anything?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea, we are releasing an EP. That’s coming out end of April before the US tour. Last year we had two days in Prague that we could use a studio. So we just went and jammed for two days. We didn’t really listen to it. We just gave the whole track to one of our friend who is producing / mixing. “Okay just use these two days to make all the segments.” He took different tracks and made one track. It’s experimental, but heavier. I wanted to do–you know when you start the band you only have energy. You don’t care. You don’t know. That’s the energy we wanted to recreate with this EP. So, I think it sounds more raw.
AD: More geometric patterns?
Kikagaku Moyo: Yea.