Interview: Toshi Kasai
Interview: Toshi Kasai

Interview: Toshi Kasai

Toshi Kasai Plan D

The former Big Business guitarist and regular Melvins collaborator has a long history of engineering and/or producing top-tier rock bands – the bathroom in his Sound Of Sirens Studio is decorated with platinum records honoring his contribution to albums by Foo Fighters and Tool, but when it comes to the creative process, Kasai prefers to let the artist lead the way.

Time seems to be ripe for collaborative projects involving a mind-boggling amount of artists. Case in point is Consuming Flame by Matmos slated for release this fall via Thrill Jockey.

No less impressive is Plan D, project led by Toshi Kasai (ex-Big Business / Anywhere) and solely focused on drummers. Or rather, the work of drummers like Matt Cameron and Clem Burke being interpreted by drum-triggering system he built.

He spent the last several years luring drummers into his Sound of Sirens studio, and just letting them go nuts behind the kit… Meanwhile Toshi has been behind the board, capturing the signal from each drum hit, and sending that signal to a variety of analog synthesizers. What results is some of the craziest sounding prog-like instrumental music you’re likely to ever hear.

Plan D is an ongoing project, with four different installments being released throughout 2020. The first part “SW”, features the following drummers:

Dale Crover (Melvins, Redd Kross, Nirvana, Hew Time)
Coady Willis (Big Business, Melvins, The Murder City Devils, Hew Time)
Clem Burke (Blondie, Eurythmics)
Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden)
Joe Plummer (Mister Heavenly, Cold War Kids, The Shins, Hew Time)
Paul Christensen (Qui, hepa.Titus)
Troy Zeigler (Serj Tankian, Juliette Lewis, Buckethead)

SW installment is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings and you can hear Golden Voyage off of that one.

We had a chance to talk to Toshi and ask him a couple of question about the project. Read on…and don’t forget to check our archives for more interviews with the likes of Odd Nosdam, Martin Atkins and Thor Harris.

What was the impetus behind this project?

I would say the impetus was my yearning and eagerness for more drum sessions, it has a long history. When I started engineering/producing in late 1990’s, I worked at Hook Studios, a great but mid-sized studio, the size making drum sessions very rare. Which made me crave drum recordings. Even though the majority of the projects were not drum recordings at Hook Studios during that time, we had high-end mics and mic preamps.

Hook Studios was modest but the drummers that did have the opportunity to record, kept coming back. The professionally controlled room, enthusiastic attitudes and exceptional mics made the studio a drummer’s oasis. The reputation brought some drum giants like Vinnie Colaiuta and John Robinson.

That experience left me longing to work with skilled and open-minded professionals after I became independent in 2005. In 2011 I started to search for drummers as I finally put the pieces together for my project. I started taking advantage of living in Los Angeles which has so many drum greats.

Were you inspired by projects like Probot / 77 Boardrum (Boredoms) or do you feel that this one is completely unique/one of a kind?

I didn’t get the main idea for this project from any other experimental or drum project. Around 2003, I was listening to a Melvins session DAT tape and it had sound check takes of Dale Crover’s drums. On one of the tracks, Dale played just drums, I felt like the drums were singing. This gave me the idea that I can manipulate notes and melodies by each drum hit.

Around the same time, I started getting into and collecting analog synthesizers. I have a Sequential Circuits Pro One which has step sequencers and gate/cv function. I wanted to control the sequencers by something else beside the gate signals. So one day I thought what if drum signals trigger the sequencers. I plugged the audio signal into the gate input, set a sequencer and played drum takes back. And, It worked!!!

What does it feel like working with that many people from all those completely different projects/backgrounds?

I feel fortunate that I know so many different types of drummers, and they participated in this project. Since I only use drum and synthesizer tracks, the sound selections in a way are very limited. Having totally different drummers gives each song a different vibe and dynamic.

How was the process similar to/different from the traditional band dynamics/other bands you were in?

When I write a song as a band member with others, someone or I will bring riffs, melodies, rhythm patterns and a song will be composed from there. Or we jam and start writing. But, on this project, drummers’ ideas or their improvisations start without thinking of a final destination or finished composition. The mood and style they bring inspire me to write notes. However, to write notes, I have to rely on my sequencers a bit. To come up with great melodies which fit in each drum beat or section is an intricate process and takes several times to perfect. To me, it’s like writing a book rather than a song.

Also, I have total control for the entire project, in other words I don’t need to compromise ideas with other band mates.

Any favorite moments during the recording?

Absolutely, first of all what a privilege it was to work with such superb drummers. The experience to collaborate with so many different talented people is a gift. It forged new friendships and possible future projects. I enjoyed that each drummer brought his/her own individuality to the table, which allowed me to brainstorm and think in a totally different way.

Another favorite moment was when I was recording Joe Plummer, the third person for this project, he was completely confused by the concept. When the session was finished he was completely blown away by the results. I could sense his delight and excitement. Matt Cameron also mentioned he had never heard anything like it before! These were the results I was after; To amuse, fascinate and compose an original piece of work.

I also enjoyed weaving a tapestry of networking drummers. Creating a community of names and styles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *