Raw and Abrasive: Moja’s Nonconformist Sound, Interview

A Conversation with Masumi Sakurai and Haru Higuchi.

Moja is a Japanese extreme rock duo formed in 2007, consisting of Masumi Sakurai on drums and Haru Higuchi on bass and vocals. Known for their intense performances, they have played at major festivals including SXSW in Texas and FOCUS Wales. Masumi’s powerful drumming and Haru’s heavy basslines and raw vocals create an electrifying experience that often leads to energetic mosh pits. Despite challenges in the male-dominated music scene, Masumi’s education at Berklee College of Music in Boston marked a significant milestone as she was one of the few female drummers from Japan. After their previous band, Gorilla, dissolved in 2005, they formed Moja and have since become one of Japan’s notable musical exports, performing internationally and sharing stages with various local bands. Their approach to music is characterized by a focus on sound over lyrics, as demonstrated in their album “Super Ultra Gold 79.” Their innovative release strategy includes providing music in mp3 and vinyl formats, skipping the traditional CD to adapt to changing consumer habits.

Moja’s Bandcamp

How did you each first become interested in music, and what drew you to your respective instruments?

Masumi: I think I first became interested in music probably because of my mother. She always listened to music, such as when she was driving. So, for me, a life with music became the norm. I was simply drawn to the coolness of the drums as an instrument.

Haru: I first became interested in music when I had the chance to play with my friends in middle school. I started playing bass guitar because I lost a game of rock-paper-scissors when choosing instruments with my friends.

Can you describe the moment when you decided to form Moja?

The birth of the band Moja was very simple. Haru and Masumi’s band disbanded after the vocalist and guitarist left.

Can you describe the atmosphere of the Tokyo underground music scene when you first started? What are some memorable moments from your early gigs in Tokyo?

When we first started in the early 2000s, many bands were influenced by the overseas indie scene. There were unique events where these bands connected, creating a very vibrant underground music scene unique to Tokyo. We wanted to feel the audience’s energy more intimately at those events. In pursuit of that, we were setting up drums and amps in the middle of the audience and performing floor live shows.

What was the inspiration behind your unique sound that combines bass and drums?

With fewer instruments, we feel that the space for sound is infinite and free. We were inspired by the desire to break free from conventional forms and structures while still creating freedom within the constraints of musical instruments.

Moja, © Nico M interview
Moja, © Nico M

What was the experience of playing at SXSW like for you?

When we first performed at SXSW, there was a major earthquake in Japan. This left us with very mixed feelings during our performance. However, we received genuinely positive reactions to our music afterward, which led to invitations to many events. Still, our hearts ached for the friends affected by the earthquake, and it didn’t become a joyful memory.

What was it like touring the UK and South Korea? Any standout experiences?

What surprised me on our first UK tour was that the live sound had more bass compared to Japan.That was the case in both small and large venues.This experience is still reflected in the Moja sound now

Can you talk about the creative process behind your album “Super Ultra Gold 79”?

This is our second album. We released it independently, only on vinyl. With no restrictions, we were free to create the artwork, choose the recording studio, recording methods, and remixes, all based on our own choices.

What are your favorite pieces of equipment that you use during live performances?

Masumi’s kick drum is powerful, but to enhance it further, we add a trigger to the kick to boost the bass. The bass guitar I use in Moja is very durable, and I’ve taken it on tours around the world.It has never broken and sounds great.
It is very important that it doesn’t break !!

Moja, © Nico M interview 2
Moja, © Nico M

How do you balance your strong personalities while working together so closely?

We don’t think about balancing them. And we clash with each other’s freedom.

How do you feel about the current state of the Japanese music industry?

I believe Japan has historically been a closed-off island nation. Therefore, I believe its music and culture have become intriguing. As a result, I think Japan’s music industry is unique, with many unique bands and idol groups. However, there may be few Japanese actively seeking out these bands and music. Additionally, with CD sales not increasing and low income from music, I feel it’s challenging to make a living solely from music. This might not be a situation unique to Japan, but one that is spreading worldwide.

However, I still love playing music with someone else. It’s a wonderful act that liberates our emotions. I believe that this act resonates with people and becomes a driving force for positive change in the world.

What’s your next project?

Our next project involves recording a new song and releasing an EP. And we’re considering tours in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Moja, © Kazuhiko Tanaka
Moja, © Kazuhiko Tanaka

Photos courtesy of Moja, Featured image © Nico M

Last Updated on May 31, 2024 by retrofuturista

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