Tori Kudo

"As much as it is going to go away from rock, it becomes the rock."
Interview by Asher Penn 
Portrait by Reiko Kudo 

The first time I heard Maher Shalal Hash Baz I immediately liked them: A Japanese styling of indie pop that combined the best of K-Records songwriting with the improvisational noise of groups like Smegma or No Neck Blues Band—as if the Velvet Underground were chopped and screwed live by an orchestra of naivist musicians. Maher Shalal Hash Baz was found in 1987 by Tori Kudo, a veteran of the japanese experimental underground affiliated with groups like Les Denudes Rallizees, Keiji Haino and PSF records. Alongside his wife Reiko and friend Hiroo Nakazaki—the group’s only regular players in a constantly fluctuating ensemble—Maher Shalal Hash Baz has released 18 albums to date including  “Souvenir De Mauve,” “Blues Du Jour” and “Gok.” My favorite Maher album is “Return To Rock Mass”, an 83 song box set from 1996—the band’s name printed in Hebrew on the cover, and it starts with the song “Unknown Happiness.”

Where were you born and when?
Unfortunately my town is not worth referring to. When such questions are carried out an appeal against the dullness of a local city should come, then should be added "therefore, I began rap."
What was your first introduction to music?
At the hope of my mother who was not allowed to learn music during World War II,  I went to the YAMAHA music room from when I was 2 and a half years old. I learned the YAMAHA organ. I do not like YAMAHA as a company, though.
Do you have any professional musical training?
I was learning Jazz piano from a Bud Powell style pianist when I was early teens.
What instruments do you play?
The recorder, etc.
Do you have a favorite instrument?
The bassoon.

LAZYWAYS, Yoyogi, 1987

What is your relationship to traditional Japanese Music?
I had tried to join Ondeko-za, which was famous for its physical training method for keeping drumming tradition in sadogashima-island when I was 14 years old. Also I liked to collect local traditional songs.
What did you first think when you heard American Music?
My parents said I was singing The Platters ”You’ll Never Know” when I was 2 years old.
What kind of music did you like to listen to as a teenager?
Classical music.
Did you go to college?
I studied design and ceramics in London.
How did you get into pottery?
I succeeded to my father's kiln. It is my living.
What kind of pottery do you make?
I just extract clay from a stratum, then make a vessel.
Have you ever made art?
I had made a shape of rectangular parallel piped by hundreds of pressed cans of Coke , when I was 16 years old. It was my first modern art.
Did you continue to make art after that?
I made tea bowls of flour, that were fired at 180 degrees, glazed by sugar and lemon, then sent them to a ceramic art exhibition.
How did you get into underground experimental music?
E.E.U.(Evolutional Ensemble Unity) was the first free jazz band I had seen. They came over to my town when I was 13 years  old. Then I started improvising.
What was your first band?
It is called "The 8beats" We played ”8beat” at such venue of kimono exhibition and spot sale, and at such beer garden.I composed a commercial song for the kimono company.
What other bands have you played in?
They can not be enumerated because I have joined too many bands.

Please Mr. Glory, 1996

Do you write poetry?
My poetry book was published in 2011. It was written at the period of before and after the nuclear accident in Fukushima.
What do you like to read?
I liked T.S. Eliot and Tristan Tzara.
Have you ever been politically active?
I was supporting some members of a terrorist group who were under the sentence of death in prison.
When did you become a Jehova’s Witness?
When I was 29 years old after 6 years fighting to stop smoking.
Are you still religous?
Only God knows.I have a place that is between so-called religion and so-called world.
Do you like religous music?
I think Alan Vega has piety.
How did you meet your wife, Reiko?
We met at Les Rallizes Dénudés gig in Fussa, a town with U.S.base.
Where did the name “Maher Shalal Hash Baz” come from?
It is the name of a tank.
How was Maher different from your previous musical projects?
Maher was my first band in various meanings.
Was there something you wanted Maher to sound like?
The sound of underground water.
How did you find and assemble the musicians in Maher Shalal Hash Baz?
I am always passive but the band is like open house.
What kind of work do you have to do with the players to get them to play you want?
I show them a proper posture before playing. It is like a dance company.
What is the largest orchestra you’ve ever worked with?
It was 50ish.

Still from Unknown Happiness, 2008

How is the way you play with a other musicians different from a “normal” band?
I consider not only the distance between me and the other musicians, but also the distance between other musicians and the world. So the audience get into seeing the distance between me and the world.
Do you do other things with your band-mates other than play music?
"So let's drink some wine and have a good time."
How has Maher Shalal Hash Baz evolved since you started it?
It has not evolved, but devolved.
Is Maher Shalal Hash Baz Rock & Roll?
As much as it is going to go away from rock, it becomes the rock.
Sometimes your songs are in Japanese and other times in English. Why do you sing certain songs in different languages?
English songs are mainly made by a cut-up of the scripture, while Japanese songs are the words from a private place decided.
You have also given albums french names and done your album illustrations in Hebrew. What is your relationship to all these different languages?
Hebrew is similar to Japanese. I learned French a little in school. It is not for communication with native speakers.
Do you like Klezmer music?
I had been encouraged by Curt Sachs' study of  "genus" of ancient Jewish music. One have to use his/her own genus instead of using deliberate cliche.
How many songs have you written?
Thousands.
What inspires you to write a song?
An interest to a truth.
Do you like playing certain songs regularly?
Yes, it is like Johnny Thunders' Pipeline.
Do you have a favorite song of your own to play?
Unknown Happiness.
Why do you like that song so much?
It is the first song I made for Maher. Each time I play the solo part of it, I can measure my present position between me and the world.

中天 (Midheaven)

Do you ever get writers block?
I have not been making music compulsorily.
What kind of music do you like to listen to today?
I hardly listen to music usually.
Do you play music every day?
I do not play music for me usually.
You have a lot of pictures of cat's on your blog. Why do you like cat's so much?
Because they are cute and cheeky that had been abandoned.
What is your cat's name?
Jun-chan and  Rei-chan.
What is your favorite food?
The air contains honey.

From Sex Magazine #4 Summer 2013
Labelled Music