Zach “Shigeto” Saginaw is a proud Japanese by way of Michigan. Although he’s quick to admit that the most Japanese thing about him is his blood, the music artist is nevertheless strongly rooted to his Eastern side of the family tree.
“My father is a Russian Jew from Detroit. My mother is Japanese and from Oakland, but my Japanese side comes from Hiroshima originally,” he explains. “I feel very separate from my Japanese culture, which is maybe why I base a lot of my music on it?”
Digging through Zach’s discography reveals an apparent fascination with heritage, and a strong sense of family ties. “I was raised to put family first and that you can always count on them. I’m very lucky that it holds true for me,” he shares. “My whole family has been very supportive of my music.” Right from the beginning, it was Zach’s father who surrounded him with music, literally piles upon piles of old Motown and jazz records, which led him to pick up his first instrument—the drums—at the age of three.
Zach’s musical interests were further nourished within the tightly knit music scene of Ann Arbor and Detroit, where “everyone making electronic music at an early age,” he recalls. “Absolutely amazing growing up in Michigan. I was constantly surrounded by so much talent and creativity. Being so close to Detroit, there was an abundance of great concerts to go to on the regular.
“I was also pretty involved with the jazz scene growing up. My fondest memories were playing in a quartet with Vincent York, a local alto player. He was a musical father to me. “But I was always the guy watching—the drummer they wanted to sample, record break beats—always part of the scene, but never really.”
This all changed when, after three years of studying jazz in New York and another three years in London, Zach developed chronic tendonitis in both his forearms. The years of constantly working with his hands—if not playing the drums, Zach was busy with his day job as a cheese monger—had taken its toll, and it came to a point where he couldn’t even pick up a toothbrush.
It was at this time that Zach started dabbling in electronic music. Coaxed into trying this new musical format by yet another family member, this time his brother, Zach initially checked out Reason 2.5 as a way to cope with being unable to play the drums. It wasn’t long, however, before he became obsessed with his new ability to create his own beats. “Being a drummer, I never got used to fully sharing my musical ideas—I was always adding to someone else’s. The learning curve was huge since I had never done anything like it. I learned hands-on, like a caveman playing with futuristic instruments,” remembers Zach. “The first tracks I made were mainly hip-hop beats and strange IDM inspired stuff. It felt great.”
Upon moving to Brooklyn, where he’s been based for about two years now, Zach took on the recording name “Shigeto”, a handle heavily laden with meaning for the music artist. Not only is it his middle name, it is also great grandfather’s name and literally translates to “grow bigger”.
True enough, Zach’s tracks are aural giants—with rich textures of rhythms and beats, built from a background in hip-hop, layered with shades of dubstep, IDM, jazz, and glitch techno, and infused with recordings of his own personal life, from family dinners to the poignant spoken words of grandmother telling about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Believing that sound comes first when starting a track or an album, Zach explains that “the ‘sounds’ are like your paint or palette. They set the vibe of a song even before the first note for me. “I like recording my own sounds. When I hear them later, I have a visual of where it came from. I like that for some reason,” he muses. “I have no idea how to describe my ‘trademark sound’—I don’t even think I have one really. Who knows? I think that if anything sets me apart, it’s my drumming and live set. Honestly, I feel like my production has so many places to go but my strength is in taking people for a journey in a live setting. I tend to get into the zone and I like sharing my excitement with the crowd. I tend to hear, ‘You were enjoying that,’ a lot. [Laughs]”
His latest release Lineage even features a picture of his family’s house in Hiroshima from 1916, as well as a portrait of his great-grandfather, the earlier “Shigeto”, in one of the internment camps into the album artwork. With a distinct feel for history and an ear for hearing what he wants before he even creates it, Zach—one of the newer recording artists of Ghostly International, releasing his first EP with them in spring 2010—on the way to creating his own personal legacy.
I’ve had many jobs: Street promo for a record label, real estate agent… my main job over the last eight ears or so was being a professional cheese monger. I worked at many different artisan cheese shops in my time. [Laughs]
WORDS BY KATRINA TAN.