Shigeto Living in the Moment

Shigeto Living in the Moment
Zach Saginaw, more famously known as Shigeto, had a tumultuous 2012. After a busy year of touring and a break-up with his partner of six years, he decided to leave New York and move back to his home town of Detroit, Michigan. Having grown up in the suburbs of the Motor City, the drummer/producer decided to live downtown, so he found a studio/rehearsal space and buried himself in producing a new album. The result is No Better Time Than Now, Saginaw's most personal and mature recording to date and one that best captures the live Shigeto experience. We spoke with Saginaw recently from his home in Rivertown, Detroit to talk about moving, moving on and the recording of the album.

I'm curious to how you recorded the album, because it really sounds like it was recorded alone in the early hours of the morning.
Well, you're spot on with that one [laughs]! It was more a late-night type of thing for sure and it was definitely me by myself. A long relationship of mine ended about seven months ago, and I immediately hit the studio and didn't leave for a while. So a lot of that music was made in quite the emotional zone at late hours of the night with quite a lot of alcohol, cigarettes and spliffs involved. [Laughs.] It was the first music made in the new space since I moved to Detroit, so it was a whole new environment. It's my first separate workspace, about a five-minute drive from my house in Rivertown, Detroit, so it's right by the water. Kinda warehouse-y, industrial. It's a beautiful massive loft, not necessarily made for recording, but the energy in the space is perfect and the acoustics are pretty good, too. It's the first time I've been able to have my full kit set up live, drums and everything plugged in, so it was a whole new game being able to create in this space.

You have a jazz background, and there's always been a strong jazz influence to your music as Shigeto, but on this album that influence really comes to the fore.
Yeah, I would agree. I think it might be mainly due to the recording process. Usually it's just me cutting up a bunch of audio and just sitting on the computer, and this one was just sitting and playing and recording and then going back, but a lot of the audio is one take for 16, 32 or maybe 64 bars, so it has a much more live, organic feeling to it. Much less looping and repetition. It's more like a continuous track, in a way. And because it's all me playing most of the parts, it just overall has more of a band feel, even though it's an electronic album in my opinion.

I think it's a lot to do with your use of the Rhodes, but I hear a lot of Herbie Hancock influence in this album.
Yeah, definitely. I don't know if it was necessarily conscious, but I guess that tends to be the sound I get when I play piano. I think it's mainly because most of the piano stuff I know is influenced by that time period of jazz. I think it's just inevitable that it's gonna sound like that because pretty much all the stuff I learned when I was learning piano was a lot of pentatonic scale bass stuff and just that whole period – Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage, when Herbie was playing with Freddie Hubbard and Ron Carter and Tony Williams. That's kinda my favourite period of jazz.

No Better Time Than Now is a phrase that has often been used in politically-charged contexts. You're moving back to Detroit at a time when the city is declaring itself bankrupt and you also have this track, "Detroit Part 1," on the album. Did you mean it as a call to arms for Detroit?
It sounds cliché, but I was feeling kinda stuck, and then all these changes happened in my life and this music just kinda came out. Basically, the very start of my music career as Shigeto was in tune with this relationship. I met this woman and I got signed to Moodgadget Records within the same week. So my entire life as Shigeto was always with someone else in my life, and when this thing ended, it, at first, was obviously very hard, but afterwards I got this weird calming, liberating feeling that this is first time I can fully be this artist. This is the first time I can stay at the studio as long as I want and not feel guilty, or tour for a month and not have to call back and reassure somebody of something. And so it gave me this feeling of, "Now. This is it, dude. This year is when you become you."

I just went in and made the album. I just didn't picture myself here, now. I had a whole future in my mind; I was gonna buy a house and maybe start a business with this person, and when it ended, it made me realise how much I look in the past and how much I look in the future and how rarely it is that I'm looking right in front of my eyes. I'm constantly referring to things I should have done or things I loved that happened long ago, or I'm thinking about where I wanna be, but I very rarely can be comfortable in the moment. So this year was a big wake up call in figuring out who I was and how I want to act, how I want to be and how I want to be perceived.

So it's more of a personal than political statement?
Yeah, but it can be applied politically, though. I want people to take it for how they take it. That's why I make instrumental music. It's why I don't have lyrics — because I want people to take whatever they want to, or can take, from my music and apply it their lives. "No better time than now" is one of those things that you feel you know and feel you agree with, then it's not said because it's almost so obvious and seems like this kind of cliché mantra, but then at the same time, it's so kind of true and pure that it makes sense anyway. There are many things behind it, but to be honest it is just a personal thing.

Your music has always been quite personal in terms of content.
It's kind of unavoidable. Lineage was quite personal, as was What We Held On To, and Semi Circle had a lot of personal stuff in it. I try to expose myself just enough that it creates a character for people to relate to, but not necessarily too much so I can still be me and have a private life. But Lineage was more about my history and this album is about right now. 2012 was a heavy year for me, moving from New York back to Detroit, being in Detroit properly for the first time, ending this relationship, playing 170-plus shows. It was a really, really busy packed year. It's a mental battle, this whole artist thing! [Laughs.]

Do you think that this feeling is reflected in the music?
I feel like the music itself is more honest. I feel that it's the first release that when I listen to it I know it's mine. I know there's not anything in it that I'm trying to be or any sound I'm trying to reach. Finally I'm comfortable with exactly how it sounds, although obviously there's so much more to do. When you're fully satisfied with something, what's the point? It's very much a reflection of the past year, but in a very abstract way. There are no lyrics, obviously, but it's there in the song titles, or maybe the mood you feel when you listen to it.

It's a much more emotional album than your previous work.
It is for me. I wrote the music in a certain mind state and it really did just kinda come. It doesn't always happen that way. When I listen back to it, I feel like it's very far away from what people are listening to right now and far away from what is getting hyped or what is "in," and it makes me really excited and proud and also so fucking scared at the same time. [Laughs.] But I don't care because I feel like it's honest. It has taken me forever to release something that I truly believe is my sound and I think that had a lot to do with what happened personally and me starting this new period in my life.

It definitely stands in direct contrast to the whole maximalist, ADHD, post-Brainfeeder approach, which is wearing really thin right now. There's not enough use of negative space in so much modern electronic music.
Yeah, and even if there is negative space in the music, the tracks are usually compressed so much that it obscures that space! No matter what's going on, you're gonna hear white noise or something that is blocking it. This album was the first album where I didn't compress the master track to shit. So sonically, there's literally more space. The waves have more dynamics, there's more space for the sound to lay in. So it's not just a compositional thing. Scientifically, I've purposely made this album less dense. I'm not a super-crazy producer and I'm learning constantly, but what I do know is in this time, a lot of music produced in all the different genres we mould into this thing called modern electronic music is all very compressed and has been for the last five years or so. But when I listen to older electronic albums, it's not that way. They have this sound that, to me, is more timeless and more digestible. It doesn't bump or bang as hard because it doesn't have that brick wall compression but it has this clear, mature sound and I really wanted to try that. I almost mixed this like a rock or a jazz album, rather than as beats.