An Interview with Yatagarasu
Although detrimental at times, technology has changed the human experience forever. It has infected life in ways unimaginable a century ago. That said, humans trying to infect technology with their humainty was inevitable.
Based in Huntsville, Texas, the enigmatic Yatagarasu blurs the line between programmed, electronic music and DIY punk's fierce independence. Yatagarasu recently swung by the No Funeral Compound for a visit and was kind enough to chat for a spell. Yatagarasu is an inspiring, iconoclastic artist worthy of your valuable time.
Come see Yatagarasu live, with Realicide, Hexcrusher and more, on Sunday April 5, 2009 at the Crazywood Gallery on Sam Houston Ave. in Huntsville. The show is $4 and starts at 8 p.m. Stay tuned at the end of the interview for Yatagarasu's 2008 album Lobster Mage.
No Funeral: Where do you find the meeting place between the pre-programmed video games sounds and the 12 notes in the musical alphabet? It’s almost like musical alchemy. Are you more melody-driven or rhythm-driven?
Chris Yatagarasu: I program all the video-game-style sounds myself (using software called Famitracker, or midiNES), so I’m able to get pretty much any note or sound I need. Usually I come up with a riff on my 8bit (SID 6581) keyboard, program an NES part and then write a drum machine part around it; so all the sounds are being reproduced off of the hardware each time the song is played.
I’ve done sample-based music with some other projects, though I’m not nearly as good at it as say, Xrin Arms or Vankmen. Sometimes, in Yatagarasu, I use the NES’s built-in sampling for bass lines. That “musical alchemy” thing definitely comes into play here. There’s only five pitches you can shift a sample to within the NES’s internal hardware. Often you have to resample in a different pitch for each note you want, or write a song around the five pitches the NES will give you!
No Funeral: What sort of rig did you use to record Lobster Mage? What are you using to play live?
Chris Yatagarasu: I used a Commodore 64 synth for the basslines, and a Nintendo with midiNES for everything else but the drums. Everything went into distortion pedals, and drums were provided by two Jomox drum units. I ran all that into a mixer, and then sent a mono output into my computer and recorded the music as a single track.
I pretty much just transplanted that entire setup to every show I played this year. Now I am working on reducing my setup to something I can fit into a small box. I need to find a creative box.
No Funeral: What role did video games play in the development of the band?
Chris Yatagarasu: I have this fascination with the old NES and Commodore programmers. The idea of creating something people want to spend time with using only 32 kb of memory, it fills me with awe and joy. That’s what I want to do - to make something interesting out of very little. In this case, it’s a stack of obsolete, consumer electronics. Trash to some, but refashioned to do something new. Also I still get totally inspired by game music – namely that by Tim Folin, Martin Galway, Ramiro Vaco, Genesis games and Konami NES stuff.
Also I am a proponent of games for their own sake. I think they provide an imaginative counterpoint to an often difficult life. As long as you keep them in moderation I don’t think they are negative or wasteful. I actually waste a lot of time playing games, though.
No Funeral: The song “Plasma Train” sounds like it is influenced by grindcore. How has grind and other atypical subgenres shaped Yatagarasu?
Chris Yatagarasu: Ha, yeah, a few years ago I got really into noisecore/blastcore bands like Senseless Apocalypse, ASHIAIP, early AC and Final Exit. I was totally obsessed with it for awhile and started a grind project called Crovac. Some of that transferred over to Yatagarasu, but I wanted more to do messed-up song structures over raw speed for Yatagarasu. Naked City was my main inspiration in this respect. Also the guitar/drum counter rhythms Assuck does effected how I write parts.
No Funeral: What are the challenges of being a progressive electronic artist in a place like Huntsville? What are the unseen advantages? Does being here feed or impede your creative process?
Chris Yatagarasu: It’s tricky to get shows in Huntsville. The bar owners generally won’t take a chance with music that isn’t rock. It’s really silly to me.
On the plus side, Huntsville is out of the way enough to where you can just focus on practicing without a lot of distractions. Also, I’ve found that even though people into this stuff are few and far between, they tend to be more down-to-earth and likely to care about what you’re doing in a profound way.
No Funeral: Yatagarasu will be touring the East Coast during April and May. Is this your first trip back East? Are you looking forward to any cities or venues?
Chris Yatagarasu: I played in Georgia and North Carolina a few years ago. I’ve never been to the Midwest or New England, though, so I’m pretty excited/nervous.
I am definitely looking forward to seeing a lot of my friends in Atlanta and my brother Adam in Athens. Asheville, North Carolina should be really rad. I’m playing a house show with Daniel Francis Doyle and some local NC friends.
No Funeral: Will any other bands be touring with you? Yatagarasu will be playing several house shows. Are the DIY punks down with the electro-madness?
Chris Yatagarasu: I want to do a show with some electronic hardcore bands like Realicide and Xrin Arms and some more “traditional” hardcore bands. I wasn’t able to set up a show like that in Texas this tour, but I still want to someday.
I played one show this winter in Oklahoma with this young hardcore band called HRG. I think my stuff was something new for the people there, but we all had a good time. It seems to me that many punks think electronic music is a gimmick or scam. However, when they give it a chance and see what I’m about and that I’m not riding a trend or trying to hustle them, some kinship emerges.
On this tour I am meeting up with Realicide, Ultimate Optimist, Bubblegum Octopus and Radio Shock at various points for some tour friendship action. All these are comprised of good dudes who are doing truly unique electronic stuff.
No Funeral: Where are your releases available? Any label interest? What’s the best way for people to get the records and check out the band?
Chris Yatagarasu: Right now, the Lobster Mage album is available from Stickfigure Distro or from me via the myspace. I have a new album coming out next month on Stickfigure’s sublabel Earth Shaking Rhythms. That will be available on my tour, or on the Stickfigure site. I’m also putting out a collection of older stuff on my own Sketchlife label.
If anyone is interested in Yatagarasu, they should hit me up, I like to keep up with people who are into it.
No Funeral: With some ill-defined record producers, who coast on reputation (Lil Jon, Clinton Sparks, Timbaland, etc…), modern technology in their hands is akin to giving a spinning wheel to a mule; to paraphrase Lyle Langley. What is your process of creating music in this medium, as opposed to simply manipulating software?
Chris Yatagarasu: I think there are people doing creative things with a lot of different hardware and software. I want to point out that Timbaland is a chump particularly for ripping off a European chiptune guy for one of his Nelly Furtado hits! Unbelievable!
Even sub par music – if you do it with synths or sequencers - is interesting to me. Software is so ubiquitous that seeing some weird box making music is like a breath of fresh air. I am trying to find a medium between ease of use and distance from a computer. Right now I sequence on my comp and then offload the product to sequencers and microchips to manipulate live with distortion and skipping.
No Funeral: Lyrically, what topics are covered my Yatagarasu? Does the band employ any certain aesthetics or motifs?
Chris Yatagarasu: Lobster Mage ended up being about predestination, ruined friendships/love interests, and generally how pointless life feels. But I think that working hard on things you care about makes life worth living, and I hope that is expressed in the music and that it offsets the lyrics. This idea was more overt in an EP I did with another project, Hexcrusher. The new Yatagarasu stuff I’m working on is kind of dork-power. Like, saying that social anxiety and a love of abstract stuff doesn’t invalidate you as a person. Not giving in to the idea that you only have one option in life: work at something you hate and medicate to kill the pain. Or the idea that moderation is the only answer to this problem, b/c it’s not. I think the real answer is EXCESS in productive stuff that you love.
No Funeral: Is there anything else you want to tell the people?
Chris Yatagarasu: Hit me up if you are into this stuff, or are interested in NES or game music. If you are in Huntsville and doing outsider art or music, don’t get discouraged. There will always be at least one person out there who is interested in checking out your stuff (me).
Yatagarasu - Lobster Mage
11 months ago