By Vincent PollardWith his latest mini-album, Shigeto (aka Zach Saginaw) attempts to redraw the lines of connection back to his family origins in Japan and simultaneously to his musical roots as a jazz-obsessed drummer growing up in Detroit. Jazzier and more drum-centred than previous work, Lineage is rich with live instrumentation, including organ, percussion and sporadically even subtle use of his voice, creating a warmer, more organic sound. Despite the different styles explored, from hip-hop to funk and folk, the jazz influence and carefully restrained sound palette hold it together as a fully cohesive album throughout its 29-minute lifespan. "Huron River Drive" starts off with a lonely Rhodes, opening up into a sweetly soulful number layered with handclaps and some delicate cymbal and bell work, demonstrating Saginaw's skills as a percussionist. The backbone of "A Child's Mind" is an understated, yet thrilling, hip-hop beat played on a kit drum, whereas "Field Trip" has more of an IDM vibe. A deeply personal project, the intimacy is apparent. With its hypnotic loops and acoustic percussion, this great downtempo record, at times, calls to mind a looser, dreamier Teebs, with the melodic sense of early Four Tet.
On Lineage, it sounds like your jazz background is represented more than in previous work. Was there a conscious move in that direction? Yeah, I'd definitely say that's the case. I'm still kind of figuring out how I want to fully express my jazz background and with [previous album] Full Circle, I didn't really have the means to do it. I didn't have any mics and I didn't have a piano with me. I was working just with a lot of samples and home-style recording equipment, and then over the last two years I recently bought a Rhodes, kalimba, harp, Moog and many other percussive instruments. [I'm] trying to focus on building my studio, focusing on acoustic instruments or just hardware, rather than buying new MIDI pads. I just wanted to start actually having real instruments.
I heard you are going to be collaborating with Ghostly label-mate Dabyre. How did this come about? I was friends with him even before I started producing. I was a local jazz musician in Ann Arbour and a good MC friend of mine, Kadence, started working with Tadd [aka Dabrye] on Two/Three and I loved Dabrye's stuff and he was like, "Yeah, I'm working with him now. You should come over and hang out." We'd hang out a fair amount and talk about music and play some videogames, but there were no expectations of ever doing music together, especially before I was producing. Throughout the years, we've always kept in touch and maybe six months ago, Tadd did an interview and one of the questions was, "We heard that you might be working with Shigeto." Maybe it was just the whole Michigan-Ghostly connect thing, but that wasn't the case. I called him and said, "I don't know where this came from, but I just want to let you know it didn't come from me" and he was like, "Oh, man, no worries, but it's a good idea" [laughs]. So the last time I was home I went over to his studio and I laid down a bunch of drum breaks, just me playing some live drums. We ended up making a track. Hopefully we'll be able to make some more stuff, but as of right now, we have one track and I like it [laughs].
This new method you've got, whereby it's more organic and there's more instrumentation, is that going to affect how you perform these tracks live? As of right now, it hasn't because I've been playing so much that I don't really have much time to reinvent it, but it definitely is going to. I play a lot more live drums in the sets with the new stuff. Some of the older boom bap hip-hop tracks aren't really helped by playing live drums; they stand out better on their own. But some of the more jazzy, IDM, kind of up-tempo tracks it really helps to have the drums. I think the ultimate goal is going to be to score these tracks and have a couple of guys with me to perform them because if I want it to be actually live, it's almost impossible for me to do it by myself, unless I'm just triggering sequencers or samples and stuff. The live set will change a lot, but right now it's my same method. I have an MPD in Ableton, a drum kit and a little synth with a delay pedal. It will just take a bit of time, I think.
The concept for this record is very personal, with the artwork featuring photos of your ancestral home. It's my great-grandfather's house and it's Shigeto's house because I was named after my great-grandfather. Basically the inner-concept of the album is that it's deeply personal. Growing up, I'm half-Japanese and half-Caucasian and I always felt too Japanese to be American growing up with the kids at school, you know, who were like, "Hey, Chinaboy!" or whatever. But when I would go to Japan, I was considered too white to be considered one of them and it was kind of weird. Also, my grandmother, grandfather and my great-grandparents were put into the internment camps during WWII, on the West Coast, after Pearl Harbour. So basically I have this big disconnection from my Japanese side of the family. My first EP, SemiCircle, had a lot of tracks featuring my grandmother on it and then this album, being Lineage, has pictures of my great-grandfather's house and on the back of it there's an actual picture of him. This is my personal way of cosmically saying to them, "You're very important to me. Your history is very important to me. I care about this a lot." It's kind of just a personal thing to make me feel okay in life [laughs]. It's kind of like my own ode to my family, but in the bigger picture it focuses on how important it is for all of us to know where we come from and how much it determines who you are, what you do and what you can do.
As well as the concept of family lineage, you're also exploring your musical lineage on this record and one becomes a metaphor for the other. That is exactly it [laughs]! I feel like we're forgetting in music these days where we came from. At least a lot of younger, aspiring artists are. I don't want to get all pop political here, but young fans who, for example, love Flying Lotus don't know who Dabrye is or they just found out who J. Dilla was through Flying Lotus and they have a really strict, close-minded, ignorant view of where this music comes from. Like, this whole dubstep craze in the U.S. and how it became this mutated version of what it was at first, until it almost had nothing to do with what it originally was. It's about that; it's about getting back to where we come from. So, for me, I come from playing live and I come from playing jazz and so it's kind of my effort to make the past relevant. That's what I really liked about the Thundercat album on Brainfeeder. You have these young kids freaking out over his album and that's great and they think it's the newest, craziest form of music and what it's doing in turn is making these kids love fusion. Now they can go and listen to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever and Weather Report and all these great musicians from our history they would have never given a shit about. Let's not forget that music is so much more than Ableton and warping your tracks so they can be mixed perfectly and who can have the craziest wobble bass line. I just want to get back to live instrumentation, but really combining it. I don't think live music is the answer; it has to be both. You can only take jazz so far. You're never going to do anything that Coltrane didn't do on the tenor sax, but if you add a Kaoss Pad or some sort of tape delay to it, you're in the future now, so let's combine 'em [laughs].