Shigeto released his mini-LP, Lineage, this week. To get the full story, we asked Shigeto to explain the connection of family to his music and working with Michael Cina on the art to translate this connection.
Describe the story you attach to your family.
My mother’s side of the family were from Hiroshima, Japan. Shortly before WWII they made a new home in California. In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 took effect. This order imprisoned 120,000 Japanese Americans due to being related to the enemy and being “potential enemies” themselves. Someone from the army came to your door. They told my family they had no choice and it was a national security matter. They could have one suitcase per family member and must be ready to leave shorty. They were all loaded into buses and not told where they were going or how long they would be there. My family ran a produce shop. They were very respected in their neighborhood. When this happened, they lost everything. The houses and shops that belonged to and were run by Japanese Americans (meaning American citizens born on U.S soil) were lost and taken by others pretty much forever. One of the few things that my family got back was their upright piano. That piano is in my family’s house in Michigan to this day.
The torment, suffering and shame inflicted on my family formed deep, thick scars. In turn, they buried a lot of their “Japanese-ness” and tried as hard as they could to be as “American” as possible. I think this was both conscious and unconscious. I never learned to speak Japanese (still a goal of mine). My mother didn’t speak Japanese to me and my grandmother probably didn’t speak it to her. I even an Aunt that I didn’t even know about because they had changed her name to a Chinese name so she could get work after the war. Nobody wanted to talk about what happened and it’s definitely rare you find it in an American history books.
With all of this in the past, I’ve always felt a disconnection with my Japanese heritage. When I was younger I felt too Japanese to be “white” and too “white” to be Japanese. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve eased into a comfortable place in my soul with all of this, but that disconnection is still there.
How has your music been a way of honoring tradition, both family and other music?
I thought about this a lot and when it’s all said and done, I think my music is my personal way of connecting with my Grandmother (the only close member of my family who was in the camps still alive) and showing her how much what she went through has effected me and how much I respect her for it. What better way to honor someone than through your art? It’s like painting a picture of someone you love or dedicating a book to them. It’s not that everything I create will always include some hidden message with my family past intertwined, but I’m always thinking about what happened under the surface. It’s motivation. Something to remind me how good I have it.
When you make music, how much of it is conscious and unconscious?
It’s definitely a pretty even mix I would say. When I’m composing, my mind is focused. I’m thinking about the structure of the song and how all the elements fit. However, to compose, I need material and to get that material I usually record myself playing for long periods of time on a very unconscious level and then edit the parts I want to use later. When I’m performing as Shigeto or playing in a session it’s definitely mostly unconscious. I think you need both.
How does Lineage connect Full Circle and what will come next, if at all?
Full Circle was a portal from my past to my present. It represented for me my history coming up as a jazz musician and being a fan of Ghostly, growing up on certain artists work and then coming round full circle and joining that family via electronics and as a solo musician. Lineage, for me, is the next step, but in a way, taking a step back as well. Bringing where I came from more to the forefront. Finding a marriage between my sound as Shigeto and my background in jazz and improvised music. Hence, Lineage. It’s still a process obviously. Lineage doesn’t represent the end all, be all for me, either. There will most definitely be a follow-up full length to Lineage. I think in many ways it will be a trilogy of sorts. The final piece. A homage if you will.
How was the experience of working with Michael Cina on this album artwork?
Mike was very focused and passionate about making something that I had a personal connection to and gave me the freedom to help create it. I really respect that. I really care about this release and he showed me that he really cares too. I would say Michael and I have a very positive and progressive relationship. When we first started working together on Full Circle, we had very different ideas. We were both so passionate and so stubborn… it was pretty funny. I think the more we have talked and worked together, though, we understand what each other needs to stay happy and inspired. With Lineage, I felt a sense of teamwork that was on a different level. Michael even introduced me to a young guitarist in NY and we are currently brewing some good stuff. Thanks, Mike!