Quick Catch-Up: Shigeto

05.08.13 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

While many a producer looks to emulate the dust-specked jazz and warped, processed hip hop that’s made LA label Brainfeeder into something of a phenomenon, there aren’t many with the soul to deliver it like Zach Saginaw does. Saginaw's releases as Shigeto have often searched and scoured pasts both personal and cultural: with 2012’s ‘Lineage’ being the strongest example. But for his follow-up on Ghostly, Shigeto’s focus is less interested in looking back but instead about making sense of a present crossroads.  

While previous releases got to the heart of the circumstances of his personal life, a focus on live recording meant his new album ‘No Better Time Than Now’ reveals the musicianship he's honed since childhood with a tangible urgency – and is rhythmically bursting at the seams. This sounds out through the sumptuous thumb piano patterns of Detroit Part 1 and the heart cage rattle of Olivia – while the tribal counterrhythms of Ringleader ascends to unchartered heights.

Speaking to Saginaw via email, he went into detail about the personal aches and alterations that birthed his new record. It’s these emotions that are swept up in the urgency, hope and determination captured in the record’s wonderfully on-point title: ‘No Better Time Than Now’.

You’ve spoken of some recent major life changes such as turning 30, moving back to your home state of Michigan and coming out of a six-year relationship. Have those experiences translated into ‘No Better Time Than Now’?  

Shigeto: Most definitely. I had started writing the album just after moving back to Detroit last June. I had some good ideas going but nothing that stood out. I tend to wallow in the past and look to the future a little too much and was getting sidetracked. Being on the road constantly didn't help either. I felt like I was constantly being thrown between worlds and had no real footing to latch on. Towards the end of last year my partner and I split up. We had been together for 6 years and were very much a unit. This was hard for me, however it shot me into a creative zone I had never felt. From the birth of Shigeto I had been with this person. For the very first time, I was alone as this artist and had nothing to do but focus on it. The night we split I went straight to my studio and didn't leave for about a week. Two weeks later the album was done. In my state of shock, confusion and liberation I told myself "no better time than now" and it helped. This album is about life, love, beauty and the ugliness we face everyday. It's a diary in sound of the last year of my life. It's as honest as I can be and I hope people can relate to it in some way.

Something that really drives the new record along is how urgent and insistent the drum and rhythm parts are, those crazy breakdowns in Ringleader being a good example. Was there more of a focus on live instrumentation and recording here than before?

Shigeto: Yes! Making the move to the new studio gave me the chance to really dig in with the live recording. I had never had my full kit set up and ready to go before, and it opened up a whole new door. Most of the album is audio from outside sources whether it be the drums, Rhodes, Moog, etc. My comfort zone is behind an instrument and not in front of a computer so I figured, why not focus on my strengths?

"My comfort zone is behind an instrument and not in front of a computer." Shigeto

Is Detroit Part 1 intended as a companion piece alongside your four Ann Arbor tracks? Can we expect more parts for Detroit to follow, or would that be telling?

Shigeto: Knowing me, there will probably be at least two more parts to the Detroit theme. It's funny the track was originally called "Ann Arbor Part 5". When I played it for Sam Valenti (Ghostly's founder) he said "hey it's your tune but I think this might be Detroit Part 1?" I thought it was brilliant. After all, this album is about the last year of my life and Detroit was a major part of that.

Final track Silver Lining is beautiful. I’m guessing from the title there’s a message of searching out positivity in the face of adversity in there?

Shigeto: Of course! The title says it all pretty much. I wrote this one in the height of my post break-up state. Cigarettes filled my ashtray. Empty whiskey bottles filled the room (painting a picture here) and I was in the zone to say the least. I probably wrote and recorded Silver Lining in about three hours. It's one of the few tracks I've made that just "happened". I think it shows in its simplicity. It's also one of the few tracks I sing on. Still super self-conscious about it but hey, with enough reverb it sounds all right, lol. I had to make it the closer, there is a bonus track on the album but the official “end" is with Silver Lining.

"I wrote this Silver Lining in the height of my post break-up state. Cigarettes filled my ashtray. Empty whiskey bottles filled the room."

We only ever hear negatives about Detroit these days, but since moving back there from Brooklyn do you still find it just as an inspiring place to be musically?

Shigeto: Nothing inspires me more than the musicians and creatives around me at a given time. Detroit really does have a special energy about it. The isolation creates a surreal sense of freedom creatively. I feel less attached to the hype and noise when I'm here and I think other artists would agree. Detroit has had a bad rep for a long time but I think the media blows it up a little too much. It's a beautiful city with a lot of heart and history. Proud to be a part of it.

You’ve been back out on the road – anyone’s set you’ve caught recently that’s really blown your mind?

Shigeto: Most recently Bath's set at the Magic Stick in Detroit blew me away. One of the most cohesive and impressive live electronic sets I've ever seen. Also just got back from Soundwave Festival in Croatia. The Robert Glasper Experiment was incredible. He's really pushing jazz forward to new places and it's good to see people into it. It's about time the young folk starting getting more into the jazz side of things. Not to mention Glasper ALWAYS has the most killing drummers in his group. Truly inspiring musicians to watch.

Ghostly will release the 'No Better Time Than Now' LP on 20th August 2013.

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