When you hear the phrase ‘dark witch doom’, it’s hard to shake off thoughts of Hammer Horror clichés and the kind of retro-flared, post-hippy rock that took Coven as a starting point and never really bothered to take it anywhere else – thankfully, BlackLab take that label and drag it right into the Stygian mire where it belongs.
Originally formed in Osaka as a three-piece, they soon settled on the line-up of Yuko Morino and Dr Chia Shiraishi as the ideal vessel to transport their sound, a colossally loud mix of Sabbathian doom, sludge and noisy punk-tinged insanity. Following on from the success of Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0, a re-recording of early demo tracks made for London’s New Heavy Sounds, they have quickly set about delivering the aptly-titled Abyss in time for a UK tour that, as with so much lately, will have to wait. Still, we have Abyss to vibe to in the meantime so The Sleeping Shaman decided to catch up with the devilish duo, find out where they’re coming from and where they’re yet to take us.
Thank you so much for giving us your time and for delivering such a killer album. It’s a real pleasure to listen to, and it’s also one of the loudest-sounding records I’ve heard in a long time. What was your goal going into the writing and recording of Abyss?
Hi, We are Yuko (guitars/vocals) and Chia (drums ). We’re glad to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re very happy to hear from you such impressions about our new album.
Yuko: To be honest, I didn’t set any specific goals when creating the new album. Going on tour to the UK, which included DesertFest was our biggest goal, for me anyway. To coincide with the tour and festival, it was necessary to release an awesome album that exceeded our previous work. I wrote and formed songs at an unprecedented rate (usually I tend to work at my own pace). Our goal to tour in the UK has now been carried over to next year, though. By the way, this is my first experience is releasing a second album in a band.
Chia: We really did our best to go to DesertFest. This is the first time I had made so many songs in such a short period of time. I’ve played in several bands and released CDs, but BlackLab is the first to release a second album. I think we had a good experience creating this album though.
Could you tell us a little bit about the band’s history? How did you both meet and how would you describe your dynamic?
Yuko: In the 90s, there was a community formed by several bands around me. At that time I was not in a band, and Chia was in another band. Then I came up with the idea of forming a band with myself, Chia and another friend. Like this, ‘I can play guitars! You can play drums and you can play bass guitars!’ That band was a female trio hardcore band called Depth. Depth worked for several years and has released a CD, but has since ceased activity. After that I belonged to another band but wanted to form my own. Then I invited Chia, who had been away from band activities for a long time, to join. That was the three-piece BlackLab. Then the bassist left and we decided to work with just the two of us.
Chia: As Yuko said, the formation of Depth was a very fateful encounter. After leaving Depth, Yuko and I played in different bands but were not in contact. After that, I had a child and stayed away from music. I didn’t expect to play in the band again. At that time, I was invited to play a concert with Depth only once. I met Yuko after a long absence and decided to form a band again. Without the Depth resurrection concert, I would not be in BlackLab.
How much evolution has there been between the material on Under The Strawberry Moon and what you’re creating now?
Yuko: There was no change in the recording method from Under The Strawberry Moon. However, the guitar sound, and the microphone used have changed slightly. And with mixing and mastering on UTSM, I left that to the engineers in London, but this time our new album heavily incorporates our opinions on this part of the process. Vocals are rawer and drum sounds are more clearly defined. And most notably, the guitar sounds are getting more mad. Since the previous album was supposed to be released only in Japan, I didn’t value English pronunciation. This time I tried to improve it a little. But I’m not sure how successful it is. I hope it is.
Chia: In this album, you can hear my voice just a little. Please try to find somewhere.
Coming from Osaka, there is an impressive pedigree when it comes to noise and punk but it’s pretty quiet on the doom front, with Corrupted being the notable exception. How much of a part has the Osaka music scene played in your development?
Yuko: There is also a doom scene in Osaka, but I think there are more doom bands devoted to sludge and hardcore than metallic ones, or heavy psych bands like Hibushibire and Acid Mother Temple. I think we go well with any of those categories. This has the effect of broadening the connection between our scenes and enriching our activities.
Chia: I agree. As Yuko says, I hope BlackLab can connect with bands in various scenes.
You were originally a three-piece but remain a duo. Do you ever miss the days of having an extra member, and does being a 2-piece limit your sound or does it actually open it up?
Yuko: After the bassist left, I tried to play both of a bass amp and a guitar amp by myself with using an octave pedal. That attempt was a very successful and enjoyable experience and I was convinced that this would work that way. As a result, I didn’t consider bringing in bassists. There’s almost no disadvantages of playing in a duo. Dare I say, I feel it when playing guitar solos on a higher scale, but since there’re not many, I almost don’t feel any disadvantages. Also, when playing a guitar solo, I’m working to play the low open strings at the same time. The benefit in terms of sound is that I can create the bass tone by myself. That is important to me.
Chia: There is no problem with sound when making drum patterns. From a spiritual perspective, Yuko and I have a long-term relationship and understand each other’s preferences well. I’m shy and it takes time to build new relationships … Besides, various things are decided quickly by two people, and the footwork can be kept light, so I am very comfortable in the current conditions.
Mostly directed to Yuko but what is your gear set-up at the moment? There is such a huge breadth of sound on the album but how much of that is down to equipment and how much is technique?
Yuko: I play three amps (main amp, sub amp and bass amp) with one guitar. First, split the sound into a guitar sound and a bass sound using the octave pedal (Boss’s OC-3) and distort the bass sound with Electro Harmonix Micro Bass Synthesiser. This pedal can blend sounds two octaves below. Next, about the pedals used for the guitar sound:
Wah Wah Pedal – Morley’s Maverick
Fixed Wah – Daredevil Pedals Atomic Cock
Buffer – One Control
Fuzz – Big Muff Ram’s Head Clone
And then, branch to the main amp and sub amp with Electro Harmonix Switchblade.
The amplifiers used for this recording are Marshall JCM800 as main amp and Roland JC120 as sub amp. Both amps are the property of the recording studio.
You were to be playing at DesertFest London this month but obviously that isn’t happening due to the world being a pretty crazy, scary place right now. What are your plans for when things return to ‘normal’? Do you have any launch shows or tours lined up yet?
Yuko: That was a very disappointing event for us. We also planned a UK tour but all were cancelled due to the inability to fly. Local shows in Osaka and a doom festival in Tokyo have all been cancelled as well. Right now nothing has been decided. I hope this situation will be resolved as soon as possible. Our joy for DesertFest will carry over to next year. Our label says that they will work hard for that. Cheers to New Heavy Sounds!
On that note, what is the new ‘normal’ for you now? I understand Japan isn’t strictly on lockdown yet but have there been changes for you?
Yuko: My workplace and my husband’s workplace will be closed for one month. I’m worried about the financial situation, but I take this phenomenon positively. We use our spare time to write songs and make videos. An unexpected vacation makes us feel like students.
Chia: After COVID-19, the company I work for is working shorter hours and taking turns. There are no strict restrictions in Japan. Many companies do not take time off because the government does not immediately give compensation. I have to go to work by train and I‘m starting to feel a little stressed. But if I think positively, I can spend more time than usual and think a lot about life, and I can say that the human activity is suppressed and the earth and nature are happy.
You’re often described as ‘Dark Witch Doom’ – how accurate do you feel that is? Does witchcraft or mysticism play any part in your sound?
Yuko: The person in charge of the shop that handled our self-produced CD used the expression. I liked that so much and then I describe myself so. I think it’s a phrase that expresses the character of the songs and sounds I make well. I like horror movies and mysteries stories, so they may have influenced my creations. When I write songs, I often get inspiration from those visuals. But those stories are not important – it’s just from visual stuff. Foreign media sometimes metamorphose us as Sadako. I welcome that, because she’s a superstar in Japanese horror movies. I believe in mysterious world. But unfortunately, I have no magic or mystery experience. I enjoy them daydreaming.
Chia: The term ‘Dark Witch Doom’ might convey the atmosphere of BlackLab’s sound. I like it. I’m not a witch, but I live on a spiritual basis. I might be a ‘star seed drummer’.
It feels like there is a little bit of everything in your sound, from 70s proto-metal through to 90s doom and ‘00s sludge, but do you have a personal connection with any particular period in musical history yourselves?
Yuko: The bands that sparked my interest in rock music were Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith, etc. and Japanese metal bands in the 80s. After that, I also started to love old rock such as Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I think these form the root of my musical taste.
The band Depth, which we worked in before BlackLab, was the first band to play my own original songs. Depth was active in the ‘90s. So, the songs I write are heavily influenced by alternative rock, grunge, hardcore and new metal in the ’90s. For example, Helmet, Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More, Nirvana, Pantera, etc.
The concept at the time of forming BlackLab was ‘a female doom band like Black Sabbath’. I think this is strongly reflected in our debut album Under The Strawberry Moon.
What can people expect when we do finally get to see you live?
Yuko: We may not be able to fully reproduce the sound quality or performance of the record but I think we have the power to make the air of the moment to our characteristic one. We’ll be able to take you to our world. That’s something you can’t get by listening to CDs and records.
Chia: Feel our energy and let’s resonate with us.
And finally, in respect to your Osaka heritage, which of the two of you is the boke and which is the tsukkomi (Note: In manzai comedy, traditionally associated with Osaka, a double-act will usually consist of a straight man, or tsukkomi, and the comic relief, boke)?
Yuko: I’m surprised that Osaka is so famous. That’s a funny question and I like it. Well, our role of ‘tsukkomi’ and ‘boke’ is not fixed. Their roles change depending on the situation. But analysing our personalities, I can say I’m ‘tsukkomi’ and Chia is ‘boke’. Chia may not agree with that, though.
Chia: Wow! You know ‘Boke’ and ‘Tsukkomi’! Actually, I grew up in Hiroshima, so when I started living in Osaka, I was really surprised by the ‘Kansai style’. The average person who is not a comedian that skillfully uses ‘boke’ and ‘tsukkomi’ needs advanced techniques to talk (lol). I grew up in Hiroshima, so the feeling of ‘boke’ and ‘tsukkomi’ is inferior to those in Osaka, but am I a bit off? Goofy? If I’m in charge, it’s ‘boke’.
Thanks again for your time and if there is anything you would like to add, feel free.
Now the world seems to be in crisis since World War II. But we believe the time will come when we can see one light. When it’s over, let’s make a fuss together again. But now, ‘All we need is just a little patience’. Thanks so much. Cheers.
The new BlackLab album Abyss is set for release on the 8th May by New Heavy Sounds on vinyl, CD and digital, pre-orders are available now via the Cargo Records webstore.
Interviewed by: Dave Bowes