After reading at least ten interviews with Japanese psych-rock band Kikagaku Moyo and conducting one myself, I am still terribly curious about this quintet. There are simply too many puzzles to be solved and fun facts to be discovered.
Had I the opportunity, I would sit with this band for a week straight just to chat, and most of the conversation wouldn’t even be related to the music. I mean, we seldom really get to know what kind of life musicians are living behind all those live performances, album covers and band interviews, especially for indie musicians, do we?
So here I come to show at least a fraction of how Daoud Popal, the guitarist of Kikagaku Moyo, sees the world. From post-war literature to national ideologies, Popal seems to composedly observe and analyze what’s around him, then forms an independent opinion. Might I say, he’s very perspicacious for a twenty-something psychedelic head.
Throwing back to the beginning of the band, even before Popal joined, most Kikagaku Moyo fans will know about the vending machine encounter between founding members Go Kurosawa (drums/vocals) and Tomo Katsurada (guitar/vocals), and Kotsu Guy (bass) who was recording noises for a project.
The pair invited Guy home to share his recordings. Guy, described by Popal as “being oblivious to his surroundings” and who “saw the two (members) as no different than other things around him,” somehow agreed. That’s where everything officially started.
Today, Popal still holds a high respect for his bandmate, “He has some very sophisticated hobbies, that guy.”
One thing that Kikagaku enthusiasts should have sensed – these dudes compose like poets. Each of the band’s songs is a story and all members have different versions. They make up their stories and, sitting in a circle, concepts are formed, music is written.
I asked Popal to tell me one of these stories, one that goes along with the song “Zo no Senaka” on their debut album - it is a story of traveling the world on the back of an elephant, an enormous one at that.
The rider is indivisible from the elephant and feels the enormity of his presence. Where he rides is very high. The plants that extend their roots to the earth are no longer reflected in his eyes. The birds in the sky are his new companions. Since one step of the elephant is very big, there is no need to head for a specific destination. The rider needs only turn his eyes to where he wants to go and he shall arrive. Naturally, the elephant may crush creatures crawling on the earth but the rider does not notice these things anymore, as the scale of his presence is larger than ever.
Popal added, “This is the elephant I have in my mind, and other members have their own elephants. When playing live, the audience can be seen as an imaginary elephant, too. Six enormous elephants wander across the venue that holds countless intentions and prospects. How fascinating.”
Such wild imagination equipped with music creates eternal ecstasy. Popal understands how this works very well, just as American writer Henry Miller did with his novels. The guitarist is greatly inspired by Miller, saying the writer showed him the tie between artwork and life.
“Reading his novel is like watching a play that does not start or end. The same applies to music for me. Regardless of whether I play musical instruments or not, music is always there. The conversation with the instruments simply flows, without a start or an ending.”
Popal said touring with the band in America made him think of another writer, Jack Kerouac, one of the Beat Generation, who himself was heavily influenced by Miller.
During the Kikagaku tour, the band would run across the vast continent non-stop, just like the characters in Kerouac’s Beat classic, On the Road. The laid-back, sometimes decadent vibe of the Beat Generation has a continuing impact on American psychedelic culture, and in a way, Popal has been shaped by it, too.
But Popal saw through the reality that although the heroes in these novels could be moderately anti-authoritarian, their behavior seemed to be driven by simple machismo rather than their own thoughts.
“Listen to your favorite music. Buy whatever stuff you want. Have sex with the girls you want. This generation got the kind of freedom people never had before. Say farewell to the conservative culture and worship pop culture – this lifestyle may have looked posh at that time, but it is not the kind of freedom I am looking for.”
I asked Popal what he thought of Ryu Murakami, who is seen as one of the most important postmodernist writers in Japan. Popal has only read his early works, but he suggested that Murakami’s portrait of the “free youth” could very well be an extension of the young generation characterized by Shintaro Ishihara in his novel, Season of the Sun back in the 1950s. In Popal’s opinion though, it’s another Murakami, Haruki, whose work demonstrates a greater similarity with that of the Beat Generation.
“Haruki Murakami is fully aware of the fact that it’s easier to pursue material freedom rather than mental freedom in an economically developed country. His works are somewhat sentimental, and in that sentiment he elaborates that freedom is not to be gained for once, but more of the constant process of pursuing freedom.”
Popal told me he thought a lot about the different scenarios in which the capitalist economy in America could collapse on the van to Milwaukee.
It was shortly after the band finished a show in Beijing, that they rode the famous high-speed train across China before immediately embarking on a U.S. tour, starting in Chicago.
“It was as if the view we saw in China connected with what we saw in America,” he pondered. “Two countries with nearly opposite political views and cultures feel the same urge to hang their national flags in different sizes here and there.”
As two of the world’s biggest economies, it’s not surprising that the U.S. and China have a lot in common but Popal couldn’t see either of the two as his utopia.
According to Popal, capitalism and communism, while seeming to differ drastically at first glance, are de facto twins if one thinks of how they preach "working for greed to develop society" or advocate "working for the country to develop society."
“Working can be a means of self-fulfillment, but is it not distorted for society to force people who are not willing to work, to work too? The proverb, ‘He who does not work shall not eat’ is frequently quoted in developed countries. Is that really true? To me it’s just another propaganda of the state power and capitalists to keep exploiting workers. He who does not work shall eat as well.”
As for the upcoming Kikagaku tour, I asked Popal how it feels to work with people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds as the band tours extensively across continents. He said he couldn’t tell most of the time.
“When people work together, backgrounds and nationalities become unimportant. Smiles are always nice. Some people have serious looking eyes. Some look scary. Some come with intriguing stories.”
“There is one rule that is universal,” Popal summarized, “guys with long hair, though they may speak a different language, are always the easiest to be friends with.”