A conversation with Keiji Haino on his early years and Watashi Dake?
Interview conducted on January 29, 2017 in Kawagoe by Takeshi Goda. English translation and notes by Alan Cummings.
H = Keiji Haino G = Takeshi Goda
G: How did you first come to perform at Kichijōji Minor? 
H: At the time I was crashing at the house of this friend of mine, another musician, in Fussa. I have this memory that Takafumi Satō called me up out of the blue. I hadn’t heard about Minor until he called. I don’t remember if he asked me to come and play there and then, but that was how we first got in touch and I started to go and play there. I think the first time may have been the at the memorial concert for Kaoru Abe. Anyway, I played at Minor first and then later I started playing at Raoya.
G: How did you come to form Fushitsusha? H: There were lots of musicians living in Fussa at the time, so I got to know lots of them. One of the people I met was (Shūhei) Takashima. He ended up coming to see me play solo at Minor and out of the blue he said that I should let him play drums. Like he was the only possible drummer for me. So I thought OK, if you’re that sure of it, go ahead. G: Were you already planning on putting a group together? H: I wanted to form a group, yes. I think I was already playing in the duo with Shiraishi by then. G: So the first version of Fushitsusha was a duo with Shiraishi? H: That’s right. He played synth. G: And when did you start using Fushitsusha as the name for the group?
H: I can’t remember if I decided to retrospectively call it Fushitsusha or if I decided that was what I would call my next group. I really can’t remember.
G: There was that manifesto that talked about the beginning of Fushitsusha that you wrote in Amalgam, the bulletin that Satō published at Minor. So you must have already had the name then.
H: It’s unclear if there were any members in the group when I wrote that.
G: It would have been around the same time that you were playing with Shiraishi. That was the time when you were referring to yourself as “watashi yo”.
H: Show me?
G: How did you move from “watashi yo” to the album title Watashi Dake? That decision to add “yo” to “watashi”, to my mind that signals that you weren’t using it as a simple personal pronoun. Is there a link between that and Watashi Dake?
H: They’re not exactly the same. I was using “watashi yo” from the time of Amanogawa(1973), as a kind of penname. In reality, the full name was much longer – “Gods’ Orchestra White Watashi Yo”. I wanted to draw a distinction between the kind of particles that people usually use (after personal pronouns) in Japanese – wa, ga, mo, ni . That was why I decided to use yo. At that the time I think that I used to say to people that “watashi yo” would be doing whatever. That’s exactly how I used it in that text (the manifesto).
G: Was there something conscious behind “watashi yo” becoming just Watashi?
H: No one got it. People would keep saying “what?” I wouldn’t say “watashi ga”, I’d say “watashi yo ga” and they’d look at me weirdly.
G: Just to clarify: so you’d been playing solo for a long time, then you had that break when you stopped playing shows, and you were studying breathing and rhythm and jazz. And it was then that you used “watashi yo”? Then when you started to play live again (at Minor), you stopped needing it?
H: No, I still used it at the start, when I was playing at Minor.
G: But once you had started Fushitsusha, it started getting tedious, or might it be better to say that the idea of watashi wa watashi (I am I) began to sprout in your mind?
H: That’s right.
G: In that sense, when you had been using yo then you dropped it, your choice of Watashi Dake? as a title and the decision to add a question mark feels very meaningful. Anyway, going back, so you started playing with Fushitsusha, and you were also playing solo?
H: Fushitsusha starts around ’77. But for me, internally, it began before that but there were no members. When I played solo, there was nothing to say it was Fushitsusha, but for me inside it was, even if I was playing solo. So the first version of Fushitsusha was me solo. Fushitsusha the word is not plural, it’s not like Fushitsushas.
G: Yes, it’s singular.
H: But at the same time I never want to hear anyone saying “The Fushitsusha”.
G: So, Satō closes Minor and starts Pinakotheca Records. After Minor shut, I’ve heard that everyone was looking for somewhere new to perform. How were you feeling then?
H: One thing I’d say is that people now, including you, they draw up a kind of plan whenever they plan to do something. I want to do this, or I want to do that. But, you know, wanting to do this or wanting to do that really means that there’s nothing you want to do. Really wanting to do something is a power that cannot be stopped, it isn’t limited by whether there is a place to play. That’s how I felt then and how I still feel. That means that if I had received no offers after Minor closed, I might no longer be playing music in front of people. I’m confident that my love of music wouldn’t have changed, so I might just have been listening to records and collecting them. I never had an urgency about performing. If I wasn’t getting invited to perform, it wouldn’t get me down. It was nothing new – no one invited Lost Aaraaff to play either. But kids now, if they don’t get invited to play regularly they start to get anxious, I think. “Oh? No one wants to hear me play?” The wavelength of that process is really short for them. Listen to me, acting all hardcore, so uncool. But for me not getting asked to play was just normal. That’s how I felt.
G: Your state of mind didn’t depend at all on having somewhere to play?
H: In one sense it’s universal. But then I got asked to play at Gyatei . And back then, if someone asked, I never turned them down. If I went and had a fight with the owner, that’s the only time I could say no. So it was just like, “Come and play”, “OK”. I was living near Minor, and it wasn’t that far to Gyatei. So I went and I played.
G: So you had already moved to Kichijōji by then?
H: I was living in Kichijōji around the time that Minor was winding down. What year did it shut?
G: It existed from 1978 to October 1980, so just three years.
H: When I was playing in the duo with Shiraishi I wasn’t living in Kichijōji yet. So I must have moved there shortly after Fushitsusha came together.
G: Did you move to Kichijōji because of Minor?
H: No. I had to move for other reasons and by chance I ended up living there.
G: And it turned out there was Minor, then there was Gyatei.
H: But there was no Parco yet. (laughs)
G: But there were some record stores too, right?
H: A few. Not that many.
G: There was Georgia and Ongakusha and Meruridō, and… Georgia was run by Gotō from Pass Records.
H: Meruridō was daunting to go into at first. It specialized in American rock. In ’78 and ’79 I wasn’t listening to much blues or black music yet, but Meruridō was in the neighborhood so I could go by every day. But at first the clerks had this kind of attitude, like “who the fuck are you? Beat it”. Then they started to carry sixties psych reissues, and they were importing them themselves so it was the cheapest place to buy them. From the prices they were charging, they must have had a really low margin. So there was Meruridō, then there was Disk Inn on the second floor. I used to visit those two stores. Disk Inn carried new releases.
G: They had the whole floor, right?
H: Right, they had so much stock. I bought releases by new bands there. I was listening to 80s new wave but not the plinky-plonky stuff, more psychedelic renaissance like The Only Ones, groups like that. Then one day I decided to listen to black music, so I wen