Barber Shop Conversations: Shigeto Talks


I meet Shigeto during his sound check at Oval Space, in Bethnal Green. He seems pretty confident with his drums and happy about the sound. To have a last check, he plays a bouncy trap tune, gets off stage and starts dancing and jumping in the empty main room of the venue. Yes, he seems pretty happy about the sound. I will learn later that the track in question is a new project he is working on with a young rapper from Detroit.

We are trying to find the Barber Shop, where he previously booked an appointment. Thankfully the wait wasn't long, just the time it takes to smoke a quick cigarette. 

You recently released an EP in 2015 with Ghostly International, you’ve been working a lot with them since your early releases. How did you guys form a relationship?

Well, I was making music under Shigeto for a label called Mute Gadget, which was run by a guy named Jacob Alexander, who is actually Heathered Pearls, who is playing tonight. Jacob was running this small digital label, first based in Michigan and then moved to New York. At that time Mute Gadget was like an incubator for Ghostly artists. It was this kind of unspoken agreement where Ghostly could kind of ‘cherry pick’ what they wanted from that roster. So while I was working for Mute Gadget every once in a while i'd get an interesting email from Ghostly and kept in touch with them for a while. This lasted for years. Then Sam from Ghostly heard about my first LP that I was finishing at the time. He wanted me to send it over to him. I did and he came back at me with an alternative tracklist as they wanted to put it out on their label. So the entire thing lasted for years, of just being friends, going to shows, communicating. I think Ghostly is mainly based on real relationships and I like that. I was happy that after years of communication that they wanted to put me out, as for me it meant joining a team of people I respected, a kind of family.

You attended Jazz school but you dropped out after three semesters. I like to imagine you probably had a love/hate relationship with one of your teachers which ended in a fight like in the film Whiplash? 

I mean, it was more that I was self taught my whole life before I went to university. There was a lot of listening, ear training and communication, but little technical teaching. My mentor was a Sax player, so I wasn’t being taught by a drummer, but instead I was being shown the old school ropes and traditions of music. It put everything into a box and made it right or wrong, black and white. Music had always been my escape, it was my therapy and it was my way to dismiss everything I didn't like about the world you know. When it became academic it became the cause of my stress: it was making myself and probably many other students question themselves as artists or musicians. Music is a form of therapy, its feeds your soul, it makes you happy and when you are questioning yourself, or studying for a test, it’s doesn't have the same energy. There are a million reasons why I didn't want to stay. It wasn't a love and hate relationship, I mean I learnt a lot, I met a lot of great musicians, I studied under great teachers. I don’t regret going, but it wasn't for me.

So you didn't end up fighting with your teacher like in the film?

No, no, no… that movie is a bunch of rubbish.

You didn't like it? I thought it wasn't that bad…

Yeah, maybe from a film perspective, but from a jazz student perspective it’s a bunch of bullshit.  

Before starting to produce independently, you performed in different bands? The live aspect of music is very important to you. What do you think are the differences between performing solo and performing with a band?

There is a huge difference. I honestly miss performing with other people. I'd definitely be in some sort of band and taking it out on the road if it were logistically possible. But it’s not right now. I gained a lot from performing on my own, whether it was the confidence or the freedom to make spontaneous changes in the moment or the fact that I am the only person that has to agree or disagree with myself. It gives you a lot of freedom and space to go to different places musically. But at the same time you are limited. Because when you play with other people, those moments of spontaneity become more magical, as they are coming from multiple minds and you can’t really create that on your own. I come from a live performance background, part of me misses that for the playing side of it but also the crowd, you know like playing Jazz my whole life, the audience would sit down and they would be silent. Like you could hear a pen drop in the room, after you'd  play they would clap, they would show you that they were into it. It was just a more traditional sense of performance. Whereas now, it’s in a nightclub: people are loud, people are doing drugs. Half the people are there for the performance, half of people are there just to get laid or whatever. So it’s like a totally different world. I like things about both worlds, but I do miss the kind of respect and tension that the artist would receive in a more traditional setting. I do miss that.

You are half Japanese, you seem very proud of your roots. What is your relationship with the other side of the world, do you go often to Japan?

I love Japan I want to go more often. I have gone twice as Shigeto on tour and I’ve been three times before with family. But my roots in Japan are very distant, my mother was born in the US and my grandmother grew up in the US. The whole Lineage album was dedicated to that side of my family.  I do have this strong disconnection with Japan, its almost like a dishonourable feeling of like I am not American nor Japanese and that I don’t fit in. That was when I was younger, now its become a goal of mine to got to Japan and to stay for a significant amount of time and maybe put music to one side for a little bit: to do some soul searching and maybe learn how to speak Japanese.

As you have Japanese roots and live in a culture so different from the one in which you exist at the moment, I was wondering, what do you think about American politics at present?

Uh it’s fucked.

From our point of view, from a European point of view, we are actually asking ourselves, really? Donald Trump?

It’s a fucking joke.

It totally looks like it. Personally, when I saw the first news of Trump running for president, months ago, I thought it was some kind of Internet troll…

We all did! We all thought it was going away. But he is still fucking here. And it’s fucking horrible. And honestly, you have a lot of people in this country, but there are a lot of ignorant, stupid people. That dude, just being as far along as he is, is a perfect example of how fucking ignorant people are. And it’s sad, the only thing he needs to do is to be as racist as possible and then all these dumb people just think he is like a god or something and it’s fucking horrible.

As we sit waiting for Zach to have his hair cut next a man sitting beside us listens to our entire conversation. When we begin to talk about Trump I can see him mumbling and shuffling. He can barely keep his mouth shut. Suddenly he erupts:

“I wonder how anybody didn't kill him when he was in Scotland…”

Shigeto, turns around to look at him and adds: 

"I wish somebody did."

What's new? Can we expect a new album in 2016?

Yeah, I am working on an EP. Hopefully it will see the light in 2016. But if not, definitely 2017. I am working on a Jazz project, with some guys out of New York: an amazing trumpet player named Dave Douglas, a drummer named Marc Giuliana and a bass player named Jonathan Maron. It’s called High Risk and it will be some kind of Fusion Jazz which I am producing electronics in. And then I have been doing a lot of music with a young rapper out of Detroit named ZelooperZ. That’s the stuff I was playing during the soundcheck. He is part of Bruiser Brigade, a Danny Brown affiliate, very young, and talented. We don’t know when that is gonna come out, but we have the tracks. I have been working on stuff with him for the last year or so. Its called Z Ghetto Boys.

So are you thinking you might make beats for other rappers?

Its like what I was saying before about Ghostly: I like to have relationships, so I would probably just stick to Z. It depends on who asks. You can't say no to certain people.

Of course you travel a lot due to your job, is there a place you have been yet and you wish to go?

Oh Africa! And South America?

You've never been to South America? By the sound of your music I would have expected you to have definitely been there?

I have been pretty much everywhere, except there. I am heavily influenced by African, Afro Cubana and Brazilian rhythms and I would love to go.

Is there an artist you particularly like, or someone you are listening to at the moment?

At the moment, to be honest I am really into ZelooperZ, the rapper. He's got a new album coming out. And also I am getting a lot into older Detroit stuff, that I wasn't super conscious about earlier. I really like this guy called Scott Grooves, he produces incredible house music and a young techno/house producer named Jay Daniel. In terms of current releases, let’s see…fuck man I don’t know, there are so many. 

So what shall we expect from your live set tonight and in coming months?

A lot of diversity I guess. Playing a lot of music from the new EP. I have been incorporating a lot more ambient songs into the live set. I'm trying to just be more diverse, but carry energy and make it a live show rather than just going up there and pressing play. People can expect just a lot of different stuff, hopefully a little bit of everything, you know.

Shigeto is live at Opium Rooms the 5th of March. Follow Shigeto on Facebook HERE.