Tuesday 9 August 2022

An Interview With Yuko Morino from BlackLab

Japanese Doomsters BlackLab have made a great impression on me with their last two acclaimed albums (Under The Strawberry Moon and Abyss) within the underground scene. Their heavy blend of Doom/Stoner Metal that is fueled by Punk Rock, Psych Rock and Sludge Rock vibes.

BlackLab which is made up of members Yuko Morino (Guitar/Vocals) and Chio Shirarishi (Drums) are one of the most refreshing bands to come from the Japanese Doom Metal Scene.

The band are about to release their excellent third album In A Bizarre Dream on August 19th 2022 via New Heavy Sounds. 

I caught up with Yuko to discuss the formation of the band, evolution of their sound and making of their new album.

Read on for a great interview.

Hi there. How’s it going? Thanks for doing the interview.

I am the one who should thank you. I'm Yuko the singer/guitarist of BlackLab. We're so excited to be able to release our third album to the world.

For folks not in the know, can you advise how the band came together where it is today?

BlackLab was formed in 2012. When I first formed this band it was a three-piece band. One or two years after, the bassist left the band. But, instead of looking for a new bassist, I chose to play the both sounds of guitar and bass by myself. In this way, the band became a duo. We have been active in Osaka all the time. No records were released when it was a three-piece band.

How would you describe your music in your own words?

That question always makes me wonder. Umm, how about this? Rock music with hardcore punk, psych, occult rock, and stoner rock thrown into one pot, simmered in doom metal bouillon, and spiced with grunge.

We’re here to talk about your stunning new album In A Bizarre Dream. What can people expect for this album?

Our previous albums had a lot of raw, indie/lo-fi flavour. It can be said that this has succeeded in making a strong impression on people. I'm sure the next album will be a step up from that realm. This is mainly reflected in sound quality. Overall, this album is packed with the music we want to express right now, our current maximum performance skills, and our current maximum recording technology.

What is the new album all about and why did you call the album In A Bizarre Dream?

This album includes tracks in a wide variety of genres such as fast-paced hardcore punk and desert rock, heavy metalcore, mid-tempo doom metal, and abstract, lyrical alternative rock. However, there is a sense of unity in the atmosphere that covers all of them. Regarding album title "In A Bizarre Dream", like the previous work "Abyss", I saw the draft of the cover art and was inspired by it to come up with the title. It seemed to me that the seated old man in the center of the cover art of this album was having a strange dream. And I thought the word "bizarre" was more appropriate than "strange" for the effect added to the image. We love this title.

This is quite a different album compared to your previous albums. With perhaps being more Punk Rock and Experimental on this album. Was that the plan to write and record something different to your debut release?

The previous two albums contained gloomy and extremely long songs. I think this was the right choice for our musical expression at each point in time.

However, when planning the production of this album, I thought I'd increase the number of songs a little more and balance the whole to express the breadth of our music that is not limited to doom/stoner rock. I'm sure this attempt went well.

What were the recording sessions like for the new album? Was this a hard album to write and record for?

We and our label talked about seeking more sophistication in creating this album. We had to make a recording that would make it happen. Before going to recording, as a preparation, we had a thorough discussion with our recording engineer Jun, about the direction and method. And, we've never done pre-production recording before, but this time we did. This was very helpful. Due to these, the recording went smoothly.

The album was originally planned to be released before Desertfest in May 2022. According to that schedule, we had to finish the recording at the end of 2021. So I couldn't devote so much time to writing songs. But, COVID restrictions gave me time to create. (The Japanese restaurant I work for was forced to close for a total of three months during the COVID pandemic.)

And, we usually put no restrictions on the expression of music for the purpose of establishing it as an album. It's not difficult for me to write more and more songs if I can immerse myself in it. I want to thank to that we have been able to overcome some difficulties with the label that lets us act freely and the unity of our team.

Did you do anything different when recording album compared to your debut?

In recording this album, we focused on recording sound materials more clearly. In our previous works, I brought the guitar amp cabinet to the recording booth and recorded it like a live show, but this time, as many other bands, we put the guitar amp cabinet in a separate room from the recording booth. However, there is no change in the method of playing each instrument at the same time.

In addition to this, we tried improvisation recording for the first time, on a short instrumental track. Drummer Chia played the new unique percussion instrument called Steel Tongue Drum -Sazanami- on this track. The sound of that is also included in the interlude part of "Crows, Sparrows and Cats".

Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) appears on this album with the track Crows, Sparrows and Cats. How did that collaboration come about. As I would never imagined that type of collaboration would work. Though it's a brilliant and magically diverse track.

Paul Cox from New Heavy Sounds made us the proposal for this collaboration. He used to run the Too Pure label in the 90's. As you know, Too Pure is an independent label that has released records such as Stereolab and P.J. Harvey. So he has a relationship with Laetitia. When I first heard the proposal, I was surprised by that crazy plan. But on the other hand I was very stoked to it. 

Paul played our two previous albums to Laetitia and got approval for the collaboration. I was surprised that she agreed to sing. What an amazing thing. After that, I immediately started writing the song for the collaboration. I like Stereolab enough to make it part of my band's name, so I had no hesitation in incorporating the Krautrock elements of Stereolab into my own song. The melody and lyrics came to mind easily, and I finished writing the song in two or three days. I am proud that this is really a collaboration.

What was working with Laetitia Sadier like.

As soon as the song was written, we recorded a demo of it and sent it to her. We had planned to add her vocals to it after we had finally recorded the backing track. But she unexpectedly sent me a vocal track that matched the demo. Because of this, we had to record a backing track to match that vocal track. The tempo of the demo track was not constant, so wrote I the clicks on her vocals and then we played to the clicks. Surprisingly, this seems to have had a positive effect on us to concentrate on the performance. Anyway, when I first heard the vocals that she sent, I was moved by the power of her expression.

Your previous two albums impressed a lot of people within the Doom/ Stoner Rock underground scene. Did the response to that album surprise you both?

I think that's largely due to the work of New Heavy Sounds. We couldn't spread our music to the world just by ourselves. We are very grateful that New Heavy Sounds found us. Many people say that our music will be favored by overseas listeners. But we were surprised that the response from overseas fans was better than we had imagined.

New Heavy Sounds are releasing your new album again. It's great BlackLab are continuing that relationship once more. How did you become involved with that great label?

The beginning of this wonderful relationship was that we posted a link to bandcamp of our first self released album "Under The Strawberry Moon" on several doom / stoner metal communities of Facebook. Paul from New Heavy Sounds saw it and got interested and contacted us. He asked if he could play our song on his radio show Artrocker Radio. Of course we found no reason to refuse it. New Heavy Sounds then proposed a plan to release the remix album "Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0". This was the beginning to our great journey to the world.

Who writes all the lyrics for BlackLab. Is this a group effort or down to certain individuals?

The lyrics of all songs are written by me. As many other bands, we share the role of each. Writing English lyrics is a bit hard to me because I'm not very good at English. But I enjoy that. Google translation is my lifeline ha ha.

Who and what influenced your lyrics for the new album?

I usually write the vocal melody after the backing track is complete, and finally the lyrics. I wrote the songs for this album in the same way. It's not often that someone or something in particular influences my lyrics. My usual method is to derive the lyrics from images and scenes that come to mind from the written backtrack. Sometimes it's a scene from a movie or manga I've seen in the past, or it's my own past experience. For example, when I wrote the lyrics for "Monochrome Rainbow", I remembered the feeling I had when I passed out in the past (by concussion or something), and exaggerated my imagination from there.

The album cover is superb. Who designed the artwork and how much input did you have into the final design?

Thanks. However to be honest, I’m not sure if this album cover can make a good impression on people. Because it has a bit of a weird feel to it. But I think that attractive things usually have a bit of a weird vibe to them. This is, Ged the owner of New Heavy Sounds edited a photo taken by our sound engineer Jun. The basis of the idea is what I imagined.

Will you be touring and promoting the new album in the coming months at home or abroad?

We're going to have one album launch gig in September over here Osaka. And after that, two in October and two in November in Tokyo, Osaka and Gifu. There are no plans for overseas tours at the moment. I hope we could go on tour, around next year.

How did you get involved with music. Was it a particular album, group or artist that made you want to write and play your own music?

I started playing electric guitars when I was twenties. That's pretty late compared to a lot of musicians, isn't it? At the invitation of a work colleague, I started a copy band with her and her friends. We were playing songs from the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Beatles, Japanese indie bands, etc. At that time I was in charge of vocals in the band. Later the guitarist left the band and I became a guitarist. I continued that band for several years as a hobby. 

A few years later, I formed a hardcore punk band with Chia and a bassist, and started band activities in earnest. I started writing songs in that band. That's when I was in my late twenties. I have known Chia for a very long time. When I was writing songs for that band, I was influenced a lot by Helmet, Faith No More, Soundgarden, etc. I still love these 90's iconic bands.

What is the current state of the Japanese Underground Rock/Metal scene. Do you have perform gigs on a regular basis and do you have a local scene that your actively involved with?

We only have regular gigs in Osaka, but there are bands with deep connections in Tokyo, Kyoto, Gifu and Shikoku, Kyushu region etc. They are mainly doom/stoner rock bands, but their genres are wide-ranging such as hardcore punk, new school metal, noise music, etc. They often invite us to play with them at their local gigs.

Both of players and listeners of Japanese underground Rock/Metal scene are aging. This may be true for other countries as well, though. Until the 90's, rock and metal were youth culture, but now it became to the middle-ages who were young people at the time stuff. 

However, among the children whose parents are such Rock/Metal people, it seems that there are a few young people who are attracted to Rock/Metal because of their influence. Around me, there are fans and players in their 20s who really love metal music. We sometimes perform with them at live shows, so I think it would be nice if we could stimulate each other. Also, I feel that the Japanese Rock/Metal scene has become polarized into overground and underground, and that has gone from popular culture to more subculture in Japan. 

But I think there is also the positive side of showbiz-like Rock/Metal music being weeded out and the underground scene being better formed. I think that the underground scene will be more active over here due to these things.

Thanks for doing this interview. Before you go, do you have anything to say to your fans currently out there?

Thanks for listening to me. Please forgive me if there're parts that are difficult to understand due to my imperfect English.

We want thank to folks who has supported us since our debut, folks who liked us seeing us for first time at Desertfest, and everyone who picks up this album and listens. 

Please play this as loud as possible. Let's have a bizarre dream with us!

Words by Steve Howe and Yuko Morino

Thanks to Simon at For The Lost PR for arranging this interview and thanks to Yuko for doing this great interview.

In A Bizarre Dream will be available to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl via New Heavy Sounds from August 19th 2022.


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