(In June of this year the Japanese doom band Church of Misery released their latest album through Rise Above Records in a career that began almost 30 years ago. What you’ll find below is Comrade Aleks‘ extensive interview of the band’s founder and still the Church maestro, Tatsu Mikami.)
Being formed back in 1995 Church of Misery remains one of most important Japanese doom metal bands. Twenty-one musicians have passed through the band, and only its founder and ideologist Tatsu Mikami stays in his position of music and lyrics writer as well as bass player.
Church of Misery is known for its tendency to hard rocking and damn heavy doom metal as well as its reputation as a band with songs dedicated to serial killers and maniacs. Their new album Born Under a Mad Sign isn’t an exception, as its songs tell stories of such sick bastards as John Allen Muhammed, Fritz Harmann, Randy Kraft, and so on. It’s the integral part of Church of Misery‘s image, and we were lucky to learn more about Tatsu’s motivation and the new material.
(This interview was originally published in the September issue of the Spanish magazine This Is Metal.)
Hi Tatsu! How are you doing? What’s going on in Church of Misery now?
I am fine! We are so excited now. Our new album Born Under a Mad Sign is coming out next week!
Born Under a Mad Sign will be officially released on the 30th of June, but you performed thirteen shows in Europe during a May tour already. How effectively does the new material work during gigs?
We played 5 songs from the new album. Half of the show setlist was new songs. They seemed to like the new songs. After the show, a lot of the audience said, “The new song is the best!”.
Which songs from your earlier albums do people demand the most on your gigs? Do you have your “Hopkins Witchfinder General”?
“Killfornia” and “I, Motherfucker”. The audience always enjoys and rampages with these two songs.
That was your first tour for almost three years. What are your overall impressions from it? How much have things changed after the pandemic? And do you have fun in traveling and playing your stuff for doom maniacs?
Three years was a long time because I couldn’t stand life without a tour. The tour for the first time in 3 years was nothing different from before! Lots of audiences, stage dives, crowd surfing. Everything was as before. Every venue had a lot of people in the audience and we were able to enjoy playing.
Long trips by car, beer in various places, communication with people, everything is fun!
Good to hear that you enjoy it after so many years in the band! Is there anything that can spoil your impressions from a gig or the venue where you play?
There are sometimes. So was this tour. For example, live in Oslo, Norway. A customer in front of me left several glasses of beer on stage. On the last song he drunkenly spilled a beer. My pedals were soaking wet. After that, the audience asked for an encore, but I refused in anger. Please do not put drinks on the stage!
You’ll have another European tour in August. Why did you choose to return there once more three months later? And do you have some dates in the US for the rest of 2023?
No particular reason. We just followed the offer of our booking agency. There are no plans to tour the US later this year. I think it will be next year. Maybe…
Your previous album And Then There Were None… was released seven years ago. What did the band do during this seven years long break? What slowed you down besides the pandemic?
When the album was released in 2016, the new members were decided and we were working hard on rehearsals. From 2017 to March 2020, we did 2〜3 tours every year. Two members quit after the pandemic. One for health reasons and the other because of the pandemic and was laid off from work and unable to live financially. The reason why the movement stopped is that the members withdrew. It’s a regular occurrence at Church of Misery, ha,ha,ha…
The most part of the And Then There Were None… album was recorded in the US, so how did you work over the new material this time? Did you record some part at home or did you do it at the studio?
I came back from the US tour in March 2020. Then it became a pandemic. Shortly after that, the company ( I had a part time job) went bankrupt and I became unemployed. I didn’t get a job for two years after that. For two years, I stayed at home and wrote music. I wrote so many songs! 2 albums worth of new Church songs, 1 album worth of new Sonic Flower songs, 1 new album worth of Skull Pit songs, 1 album worth of songs for a solo album, and many songs for other projects. For two years, I’ve been writing songs from morning until midnight!
As for recording, of course we recorded in the studio. For rock bands like us, recording live in the studio is good. Of course some of the guitars were added later.
Do you mean that most of the album was recorded on the first take? How often did you record albums live at the studio before?
Backing tracks are always the same. One take, two takes, three at most. Of course, we’ll add a few more guitars later.
Scott Carlson left the band in 2017, and Hiroyuki Takano took his place. Did you manage to record some Born Under a Mad Sign songs with him before Kazuhiro Asaeda took his place?
First of all, Scott Carlson was a recording-only member. All my members left before I made that album. So I called out to a reliable and talented person and produced an album. Both Dave from ‘Bloodfarmers’ and Eric from ‘Earthride’ were recording-only members too. Regarding Hiroyuki Takano, actually we spent two months recording his vocals, but his vocals were so bad that we never finished a single song. And the day after one recording, I got an email from him. “I can’t record good vocal that you expect. I will quit band” Unbelievable! It was the first time for a person to run away in the middle of recording. Some of his vocal tracks remain, but they have all been deleted.
Kazuhiro Asaeda was Church of Misery’s singer back in 1995, so that’s something! How did it happen that you recruited him again?
I reconciled with him again in 2014, and since then we’ve been drinking a lot like we used to. After that, we made an album with the help of Sonic Flower‘s revival. On the first day of vocal recording for Church‘s new album, I was depressed because Takano‘s vocals were so bad. I immediately contacted Kazuhiro Asaeda and told him. “Maybe the vocal track is going to be useless, so please help me with the vocals at that time.” We spent two months recording for Takano‘s vocals, but as expected, the vocal track was terrible. After that, Kazuhiro Asaeda participated, and as you can hear, the result was really wonderful.
And the album proves that Kazuhiro was a perfect choice! Didn’t you think to ask some of your other ex-members to rejoin the band once more?
I did not. Absolutely not. A lot of the members were dissatisfied with the band, they passed on and quit. Even if they want to come back, I refuse.
What was Church of Misery’s most effective and productive line-up? Were there times when you felt yourself comfortable to play with other guys?
That’s a tough question. I always think the present is the best.
Toshiaki Umemura joined you in 2023, and he played drums in Eternal Elysium back in the earlier ’00s. How often did your paths cross with that band?
Eternal Elysium is a Japanese Doom band with a longer history than Church of Misery. I know Yukito Okazaki, the leader and guitarist/vocalist, from the band I was in before Church. I think the first time we met was in 1992 or 1993. After forming the Church of Misery, we often played together.
They also had a lot of member changes like us. Toshiaki Umemura was the bassist at the time. I believe it was ’98 or ’99. He then went to the United States and got a green card to get a job. Also he formed the band “Auma” in Oakland. When he came back to Japan in 2021, I invited him to Sonic Flower – my other project. After that, I made an album of Sonic Flower titled Me and my bellbottom blues and released it in 2022.
During that time, Church‘s drummer left the band for health reasons. So I asked him to help me to play drums for the Church‘s new album. He’s playing the drums on this tour, but he’s just a support member, not a real member.
Another long-running Japanese doom / heavy metal band is Ningen-Isu. Did you ever perform shows with them?
I don’t take that band seriously. I don’t like. In their early years, they often appeared on amateur music contest programs on television. They were strangely dressed like clowns. I know you are doing this to attract customers. I believe there are more important things than music. It’s an attitude towards music. Their attitude did not seem serious to me. I don’t like them in Doom’s range. I don’t like speaking out against them, so I will stop.
Randy Kraft, the protagonist of the “Freeway Madness Boogie” song, is still alive. Did you ever search for contacts with some of Church of Misery’s heroes?
I don’t consider them heroes. Please do not misunderstand. I take their existence as the subject of the song. Their upbringing is the most interesting. The process of turning from an innocent childhood to a killer. That’s the part I’m interested in.
As I understand, most of these serial killers were victims of violence in their childhood or had mental disorders of some kind. Which of these guys surprised you the most with his way of turning “from a normal guy to a killer”?
Maybe Henry Lee Lucas. His mother was more abnormal than him. Her mother was a prostitute and showed young Henry having sex with a client. Her mother bought Henry the mule he wanted. Her mother shot and killed Henry’s mule. Her mother used to dress Henry up to school. The prostitute’s mother laughed and shot the leg of a customer she didn’t like. Wouldn’t it be crazy if this happened to you often?
“Come and Get Me Sucker” is dedicated to the infamous American cult leader David Koresh. You didn’t touch religious topics often — actually I don’t remember if you did it before… So which role does religion play in the lives of your protagonists? You read a lot about this, so I think that you could find some connections…
I don’t want to bring religious issues into my music. Prior to David Koresh, I’d written some cult-themed songs. “Reverend” about Jim Jones & People’s Temple, “Suicide Journey” about the “Heaven’s Gate Cult”. The interesting thing is why do so many people end up being bullied by one crazy leader? And why should they choose death for their leader? I am fascinated by the documentation of the process.
Japanese culture has its own connection with bizarre acts of violence. Even local horror cinema is quite specific. Didn’t you think to add some local authenticity in your songs? Did you think to write a song about Shirō Ishii?
Shiro Ishii’s story about Unit 731 is interesting. I’ve read a few books and it’s hard to believe. It was like the story of the Nazis’ Dr. Josef Mengele. Besides serial killers, I am also interested in war atrocities and terrorists. But I don’t want to tie politics to music, so I don’t write that song.
Do you know the story of AUM? A cult group that sprayed sarin in the subway in 1995. A few years ago I wrote a song about them. It’s titled “Subway Poison Gas Attck”, but it’s just recorded as a personal demo and hasn’t been released yet. I hope to be able to announce it in the near future.
Can you imagine that the next Church of Misery album will not touch serial killer theme? Don’t you feel that it turned out to be a trademark which you can’t get rid of?
I have almost finished writing the songs for the next album. Of course, the songs are all about serial killers/ mass murderers. I also think that’s the band’s trademark. I get critical emails from time to time. They say: “Your band sounds great. Why do you keep singing about killers? I don’t like it. I hate it! It’s disgusting to me.” I don’t care at all about this. Because I am free to sing what I am interested in.
I remember that you mentioned such e-mails back in 2013 when we did the previous interview. It’s even strange that such comments keep on coming… However… You have four more albums written but not recorded. How do you plan to organize the new recording sessions in 2023, taking into account your touring schedule?
Our new album will be released this week. The new songs are already finished but I haven’t thought about preparing for the next album in 2023 at all. Born under a mad sign took 7 months to make, so now I want to take a break. The new album is the best result, so in order to surpass it, more work is required to refine the songs.
Thank you for the interview Tatsu. Any last words for our readers?
Thank you for taking the time to interview, Aleks! The new album is the best ever. I think everyone will be satisfied. Come see us live and enjoy! STAY DOOM!]]]]]]]]]]