Sound Design: Shigeto

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE & CHRIS GERARD

shigetointerview

You’re from Ann Arbor, spent time in NYC, but you now reside in Detroit. How has moving shaped your career? How did each city influence you? 
That’s a lot of questions in one—where do I start? I feel lucky to be from Ann Arbor. I feel lucky to have grown up in a place that was safe and sheltered but also had culture and room for the arts. Ann Arbor provided a place to grow and inspiration for me as a kid. Most of my friends were artistic in some way, whether it was playing an instrument, rapping, graffiti, dance, etc. It felt good to be around all of it and we drove each other to create constantly.

I always knew I wanted to live in New York City. I ended up moving there when I was 18 to attend the jazz program at The New School. Wow. New York was basically a wake up call. I dropped out after three semesters and slowly watched my involvement in the jazz scene get smaller and smaller. It showed me that the path I thought I had always wanted was no longe,r and I needed to figure out the next move. 

I ended up moving to London, England, and I stayed for over 3 years. I know you didn’t ask about London but it’s a crucial part in the answer of this question so bear with me. This part of my life is where I (in my opinion) grew the fuck up. I started working a good job, eating better, taking better care of my body (not that much), and along with all that, found electronic music. 

London was a foreign country and allowed me to be unknown and free to grow without being judged. It also gave me confidence to be surviving somewhere so far away. 

After I had returned to the States, I decided to move back to NYC for round two. I had been talking with Ghostly—the label I work with—and knew that if I moved to the source, I could build a relationship with them. Not too long after the move, I accomplished just that and started focusing on my music full time. It got to the point where I was making a living but realized I couldn’t build anything bigger there, so I wanted to make the move out of that city. Home was calling me and Detroit felt like it made sense. I’ve always had ties to Detroit but never lived here. My father grew up in Detroit, though, and my brother has been living here for years along with a lot of old, close friends. It felt like the perfect place to start building and seeing where we all could go. 

Ann Arbor was an amazing life incubator for me. New York and London tested me, helped me find myself away from home and made me set goals. Detroit is the newest chapter, back home, and ready to build and learn. 

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Detroit is changing rapidly. How do you interpret that evolution? How have you seen it impact the culture here?
It most definitely is. I see the good and I see the bad. I’m inspired by a lot of the goings on in the city. The studio and musician community center that Assemble is making in the old church by Roosevelt Park is amazing, along with countless other things. Of course, gentrification is a double-edged sword. Let’s just say there are always some people doing things for the wrong reasons and Detroit is a place where those people can take advantage of that. It’s a hard thing for me sometimes because I don’t want to feel that I’m a part of this “new” Detroit in a bad way. I think a lot of people are helping this city. I also think a lot of people aren’t aware of just how hard it is for the people who have been here. I can see the impact of that resentment: cars being keyed and windows broken; angry messages in graffiti. But I think every city goes through this and Detroit seems to be getting hit ultra hard by it. The fact is, a lot of the new and great things going on here aren’t for everybody. They can’t be because they are expensive while a lot of people are struggling. When you have people who are struggling alongside people who have a lot, it creates tension. In my mind, amidst all the tension, I’m going to milk all the positive inspiration from Detroit and try to be the best person I can.  

When you’re home, is it a time-off as Shigeto or do you use the opportunity to continue working? 
It’s incredibly hard. It’s a new focus of mine to find the right balance for all these things. Touring all the time drains me and then adjusting to being home and giving my energy to others, as well as finding time to work, is a difficult task. Seriously been considering taking a break from music but then I always get drawn back to it out of love, of course. Maybe meditation or something... Ha! I’ll figure it out eventually. It’s kind of the struggle we love, anyway, isn’t it?

Your albums seem autobiographical and intimate. I remember when Ann Arbor Part 3 & 4 came out, I was completely swept away by how romantic it was. Then with Detroit Part 1, you really capture a heavier and deeper mood and sound. How do you articulate people, cities, times, and memories in your music? 
I don’t really. I tend to name my tracks after I make them. Usually based on whatever it makes me feel. The tracks themselves just come as they do. It’s always nice when a track name or album theme really works with the music. That’s the goal, I guess. 

Does your jazz background inform any of your current work as Shigeto? 
There’s always room to grow. Everything I’ve ever learned is there in some way and hopefully will continue changing forever. 

And besides the drums, what other instruments do you commonly use in your production?
I tend to use a lot of percussive instruments: mainly keyboard-based things such as synths, xylophone, kalimba, etc. Piano, I guess, would be my second instrument. 

You recently were in Chicago performing in a group with Dave Douglas in a project called High Risk. What’s it like working with a group versus your solo career? 
Yes, love playing with these guys. It’s Dave Douglas on trumpet, Jonathan Maron on electric bass, Mark Guilliana on drums, and myself on the electronic component. It was amazing playing with other musicians again — especially such gifted ones. The element of improvisation was exciting and scary, for sure, but felt good to be back in that world, not knowing what was going to happen and coming away with some great moments. 

If you weren’t making a living producing music, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d love to run a small venue with good tapas and drinks. Maybe with a cafe and a small record selection. Always been a fantasy of mine. 

Besides music, have you pursued any other interests or hobbies?
I used to be pretty deep in the food scene, especially when I was living in London. I was selling and maturing artisan cheese, and making a bit of it. I really loved it but at the end of the day, it was more work than a passion of mine. 

Do you have any contemporary inspirations? What are you currently listening to? Any local shows that have really resonated?
To be honest, I’m really inspired by my own brother at the moment. He’s got his hands in a lot of different creative outlets right now and he’s been showing me from afar that you don’t have to be afraid to dive into something completely new and just go full speed ahead. As far as local artists, I’m really hype to see what’s in store for the Bruiser Brigade’s ZelooperZ. Good homie of mine, super talented and has it coming for him, in my opinion. Hopefully we’ll see a mixtape something soon. 

You’ve accomplished a lot and have toured endlessly this past year. Is there something that you haven’t gotten to work on yet that you’d like to tackle in the near future?
Aww, shucks. Yes, there is. I’d love to get the live band out on the road for a couple of shows, but it’s so much easier said than done. One of these days, when the timing is right. 

Shigeto sketching for Grand Circus Magazine II

Shigeto sketching for Grand Circus Magazine II