How do you define the style of music that we like at TDOA? We’d like to think that we’re not easily pigeon-holed, floating from one genre to the next. As Shigeto, Zach Saginaw’s electronic music seamlessly flows hints of jazz, funk and ambient beauty. Referencing DJ Krush, he creates layers of mood and beauty that reward with every listen. His full-length debut, Full Circle is released this week on Ghostly International and is sure to end up on the top ten lists of many critics. Interviewed by Ravin , he talks about his connection with my hometown of Detroit and the method behind his beautiful madness.
TDOA: You’re from Ann Arbor, MI. I lived in nearby Detroit for a while, and Todd, who runs TDOA, grew up there. I’m curious to know your perception of the city
and what you’ve drawn from its rich musical heritage. Also, on a grander scale, how has the “culture” of Michigan as a whole influenced your work? Is there such
a thing in your mind?
ZS: Whether it was listening to my dad’s Motown records, going to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit or spending years growing and playing with all the amazing local talent, Michigan is probably my biggest cultural and musical influence.
My father is from Detroit and raised me on it. It was all about Buddy’s Pizza, Vernors ginger ale, Motown and coney island dogs. Then I started to show my father about Detroit techno, Jay Dilla and Ghostly… the list goes on. Mad love for Michigan. It’s culture and it’s music. Has it influenced me? In every way. When I heard Fantastic Vol. 1 and Dabrye 1/3, it made me wanna start producing. Changed me forever.
TDOA You grew up playing drums from a young age. How does playing a live kit inform the musical sensibilities behind an electronic entity such as Shigeto?
ZS: Having my drums present gives me a wider pallet. I feel I can express myself better on a kit rather than a computer. It’s my comfort zone. Also, I’d like to think that playing drums for years helped in getting the “feel” in my tracks the way I wanted them, faster since I had an internal sense of what I wanted. Make sense? I feel any musical knowledge will do nothing but help your production in the end.
TDOA: You’re a jazz man. You studied it for a combined six years in NYC and London… TDOA generally doesn’t cover straight-up jazz, so perhaps you could suggest some of your fav jazz artists for us alt/indie/shoegaze lovers? Also, similar to the previous question, what has your knowledge of jazz brought to the Shigeto equation?
ZS: Two of my favorite albums:
John Coltrane “A Love Supreme”
Bill Evans “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”
Someone to look out for now:
Robert Glassper (doing a great job at the whole jazz/hip hop combo thing)
As far as how I incorporate jazz into my own music, I bring along a guitar player to a lot of my live shows. I like feeding off others when I play and it brings out more improvisational possibilities. Also I been told my sense of “melody” is pretty “jazzy”. Aaahhhh, I hate that word.
TDOA: What I really love about your work is the delicate use of “found sound”. That might not be an accurate descriptor, but I really enjoy how beneath the surface of your songs, there seems to be samples of different environments, both natural and man-made, woven into rhythmic fabric. Is this what we’re hearing? And do you craft these sounds to a specific end? Or is it more ecstatic experimentation?
ZS: Yes, this is what you’re hearing. It’s defiantly a mix of crafted sounds and experimentation. Sometimes I’ll work on a specific sound for hours. Sometimes what I recorded will sound perfect and fit with whatever I’m trying to pair it with at random. That’s my favorite.
TDOA: What’s your set-up? Is it mostly digital? Or do you use some analog equipment? And if someone were interested in creating the type of music you make, where would you recommend they start? (Okay, fine, if I want to create the kind of music you make…)
ZS: Hahaha. My set up is VERY simple. I use a little Tascam digital recorder for all my samples and Reason 4.0. That’s it. I’ve just recently gotten Record so I’ll be incorporating much more live stuff and synths etc., but everything you’ve heard so far is coming out of Reason.
TDOA: Shigeto is your middle name. It comes from the Japanese branch of your family tree, and was your grandfather’s name. Why did you adopt it as your musical
identity and what is it about this part of your family heritage fascinates you most? Have you been to Japan?
ZS: I chose Shigeto because it’s what i’ve always used, for anything. When i was 15, baking out cars in parking lots, free styling over our own beats, I was Shigeto. It was a nickname for me in high school and yes, it was important to have my heritage in my music. Both sides of my family fascinate me. The Japanese side is easier to link to my music, I feel and yes, I have been to Japan twice. I hope to go back soon.
TDOA: A lot of electronic artists actively choose to forgo injecting any personal identity or narrative into their music. Daft Punk would be the most obvious example. They almost revel in non-identity as an artistic statement. You, on the other hand, fearlessly pursue the opposite. I feel like your music is a quest for identity, to understand who you are and where you come from, with themes of confusion, memory and discovery surfacing at times. How do you feel about artists separating their personal identity from their music? Is this a positive or negative thing?
ZS: I personally feel an artist should do what they feel is right for them. It’s hard for me to be one persona on stage and another off. It’s easier for me to just let people know who i am. I feel that if I’m excepted for that, than it’s true and pure. To each their own.
TDOA: My favorite track of yours is “Grandma’s Words/Rise Out of The Stone”. It pretty much blew my mind the first time I heard that phatty bass line kick in halfway through the song. However, on subsequent listens, I’ve become drawn to the sample at the beginning of the piece, where your grandmother talks about where she was when Pearl Harbor was bombed. What’s the context of this sample?
ZS: My grandmother was being interviewed by a family friend for a school project. She was basically talking about her experiences during WWII over the course of a couple hours. When I heard about this, I was like, “Give those samples up now!!!”. It meant a lot to me to have her voice on the album.
TDOA: If I assume correctly, your grandmother was the victim of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Considering this injustice, and that fact that you currently reside in Brooklyn, NY, what’s your take on the whole WTC Mosque controversy? Orchestrated or not, I can’t help but the see the parallels between Japanese-American fear in the 1940s and current Islamophobia that pervades in some circles…
ZS: When people are afraid they want something to blame. when you have something to blame you feel like you have a chance to fight against what your’e afraid of. That is bull shit, but it’s how it is. What’s happening right now is based on this concept. I just hope that what happened to the Japanese-Americans during WWII doesn’t ever happen again to anyone in the USA. You know it’s not mentioned in a single history book in the public schools here?
TDOA: You have a full length LP planned for release in the near future. What can you tell us about it? Also, any live sets planned in the near future?
ZS: My full length “FULL CIRLCE” drops on November 9th on Ghostly International. Very excited. It represents the end of the beginning. Hahaha. Getting out of the darkness of the past two EP’s and focusing more on the future, collaborating and a more “live” sound. I’m currently writing this in the back of a massive van on tour with School of Seven Bells. ( I play drums for them as well ) I’ll be tied up with this until the end of October but after that I’ll get back to the Shigeto shows.
To order the new album, visit: http://ghostly.com/releases/full-circle