[EXCLUSIVE] Kikagaku Moyo on Fantasies, Beat Generation Literature and Capitalism

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“Though we speak different languages, guys with long hair are the easiest to be friends with.”

– Daoud Popal

After reading at least ten interviews of Kikagaku Moyo and conducting one myself, I am still terribly curious about this band. There are simply too many puzzles to be solved and fun facts to be discovered while every single question leads to a rabbit hole. Had I the opportunity, I would sit with this band for a week straight just to chat and 80% of the conversation wouldn’t even be music related.

I mean, we never could 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, could we?

Surely there’s the fact that many of these underground musicians may simply work at some kind of shop during the daytime, and paparazzi don’t chase Frankie Cosmos around like when they did with Lady Gaga. Not that we care about what color socks Frankie Cosmos is wearing today anyway. However, I’m the kind of person who’s so curious that I find it utterly fun to know what books they are reading and what they think about Instagram, the second World War, or immigration, and the answers never disappoint.

Now here I come, although regretting my now seemingly dull questions already, to show you at least a fraction of how Daoud Popal, the guitarist of Kikagaku Moyo, sees the world. From post-war literature to national ideologies, he composedly observes and analyzes what’s around, 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, I trust that most Kikagaku Moyo fans know about the vending machine encounter with Kotsu Guy (bass) recording the noises while Go Kurosawa (drums/vocals) and Tomo Katsurada (guitar/vocals) discovered him. The pair invited Guy home to share his Parson Sound recordings. Guy, described by Popal as “being oblivious to his surroundings” and “saw the two as no different than than other things around him”, somehow agreed under the act of destiny, with his backpack full of boxsets of bands he liked and samples of city noises. That’s where everything officially started.

Till 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 song is a story and all members have different versions of their own stories. They may make up their stories at the beginning of composing or sometime after. Sitting in a circle, conceptions are formed and music is written.

Photo source: Carl Osbourn

I asked Popal to tell me one of these stories and so it 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 with 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 and 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 Henry Miller does with his novels. Popal is inspired by Henry Miller greatly, saying the American writer showed him the tie between artwork and life. “Reading his novel is like watching a play that does not start nor 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 in America made him think of Jack Kerouac, who is also heavily influenced by Henry Miller. During Kikagaku’s US tour, they would run across the vast continent non-stop, just like the characters in Kerouac’s “On the Road”. The laid-back, sometimes decadent vibe of the Beat Generation still has a persistent impact on American psychedelic culture, and in a way, he’s been shaped by it too.

I asked Popal what he thought of Ryuu Murakami, who is seen as one of the most important postmodernism writers in Japan. Like me, Popal only has read his early works, but he suggested that R. Murakami’s portrait on the “free youth” could very well be an extension of the young generation characterized by Ishihara Shintaro in “the Season of the Sun” back in the 50s.

“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.”

Popal saw through the reality that although the heroes in these novels could be moderately anti-systematic, their behavior seemed to be driven by simple machoness rather than their own thoughts. “Another Murakami, Haruki Murakami is more conscious of how little we can achieve to gain a mental freedom in the modern society.”

Haruki Murakami and Ryuu Murakami are often mentioned together by critics in comparison because of their identical family names, despite that the two were not even active during the same period and have very different writing styles.

Left: Henry Miller Right: Haruki Murakami Photo source: New York Times

In Popal’s opinion, H Murakami’s work demonstrates more similarity towards 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 the show in Beijing, where they took the famous high-speed train to cross China. They then immediately started the US tour from 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 biggest economies, it’s not surprising that these two countries share a lot in common. Popal couldn’t see either of the two as his utopia.

According to Popal, Capitalism and Communism, while seem differ drastically at first glance, are de facto twins if you think of how they preach “to work for greed to develop society” or advocate “to work for the country and develop society”.

Popal continued, “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.”

Speaking of the upcoming tour, I asked him how it feels to work with people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds as Kikagaku tours extensively across the continents. He seemed to have no clue of what to say. He couldn’t tell most of the time, he said. When people work together, backgrounds and nationalities become unimportant. Smiles are always nice, he commented. Some people have serious looking eyes. Some look scary. Some come with intriguing stories. There is one rule, he summarized, that is universal. Guys with long hair, though they may speak a different language, are always the easiest to be friends with.

The band recently did a KEXP session and it was awesome. See their brilliant performance below.

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