“I feel like this: I’ve only been out of high school for not even a year yet, and within these months of time I’ve become so much closer to the 12-year-old version of myself than I am to the 15-year-old version of myself and that’s something I’m super thankful for,” said Grand Rapids based musician Mishigami. Mishigami’s musical influences diverge far beyond musicians themselves; instead, his sound has been molded by the variance in culture he has been exposed to throughout the span of his life thus far. Just Sunday, April 10, he performed at The Loft in Lansing, Michigan alongside musician SHIGETO, whose music Mishigami said his dad introduced him to. In addition to his immediate cultural influence, he takes musical initiative from the more minutely pleasing sounds life has to offer, examples being children talking, furniture creaking, and the sound of birds squawking, then incorporates them into his music.
What are all of the live instruments you use to make your music? How and when did you learn how to play them?
I feel like everything in this room has been an instrument at some point. This one is my favorite: it’s called a kalimba. My grandma got it in 1967 and I use it a lot, for sure. It is definitely what has inspired me to use a lot of hand percussion in general; lots of shakers and things you can play with mallets too. And so much of my music is field recordings that I take on my phone. I have the basic voice memos app that comes with the my phone, and I have everything recorded from a heron squawking, to a squeaky chair, to my friend Melissa laughing, to a VCR machine, street construction, dishes, little kids talking at work; all of those things become either the rhythm of the song or the texture of the song as part of its ambiance. Sometimes if I have a cool enough recording I can turn it into an instrument that I can play on my keyboard.
Where did you find your sound from? How did it develop? It reminds me of an earth tone, if that makes sense.
I think I was 15 years old and my dad showed me this dude named SHIGETO, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is dope: you can make electronic music without electronic sounds.’ So I started making some beats and messing around, in which Tape C was the result. Then I think I tweeted on of my songs at Matt, who runs the record label Young Heavy Souls. He was like, ‘Hey, this sounds pretty cool; let’s make a single.’ So we did. There was no intention behind it; it was just shit I was doing. So with those initial beats I was making, I was definitely trying to emulate and draw inspiration from other artists that I really liked, but in a different way.
I know you’ve done a bunch of shows in downtown grand rapids, and you’ve done some in Detroit too. Does your music correlate with the music here, and Detroit, and the other places you’ve played, or does it contrast?
I get a way better response in Detroit than I do here. Every once in a while there’s someone in Grand Rapids who really enjoys my music but for the most part, I get more involvement from crowds in Detroit because it’s a place where electronic music has been happening for so long. There’s no claim to fame here. There’s no deeply rooted culture of electronic music here, so it’s not something that people are as receptive to or as exposed to, and especially when the folk scene is so big here. Everything here is about the white person with their guitar, which is so whack because you can only go to so many of those shows before you’re sick of it. It all sounds the same after a while. I think it might also be that people don’t want to do something new. Grand Rapids is really fun when you find the people or the venue that are into what you’re doing, but overall, I have a way better chance of getting good reception from literally anyone in Detroit. I’ve seen people I would have never thought be into my type of beat.
How did you being a part of the record label Young Heavy Souls happen? Are you with them because you have a similar sound, or did they just like your sound and you complimented each other?
Twitter. I think Matt was into the music I was making. This sounds like subtle bragging, but I think Matt just has a really good ear for things he likes and is very willing to support the people he thinks are doing things that are cool. So it’s like a huge honor to have him invest so much confidence in me. For him to put out my music on Soundcloud is very low risk, but for him to be investing money in me and making my music come to life, helping me do vinyl, helping me to do cassettes, and getting really nice art work printed for me: that is a level of confidence that he has in me that I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone have in me before. I don’t even think I’m that confident in my work, you know what I mean? So it’s like this third party who helps give me so much of that confidence.
What are you trying to contribute to today’s music with your personal voice?
Just to have my own bedroom is a privilege, which is maybe less appreciated sometimes. And I feel like I’m so aware of all the privileges that I’ve had or as aware as I can be. I think just recognizing the privileges I’ve had of exposure to other cultures, having parents who did the Peace Corp, and my grandma being the best musician I know—my grandma plays the piano and has perfect pitch, and she can listen to anything and play it; there’s no boundaries for her—that’s just fucking inspiring. I think me trying to be as aware of all of the influences that I’ve had growing up is what has allowed me to have such a diversified sound to my music, if that makes sense. My dad listens to some crazy shit. If he hadn’t shown me SHIGETO, I wouldn’t be listening to all the artists from Ghostly International record label that I listen to. Now it’s my favorite record label. All of this stuff is just a product of the people around me who have so much taste and exposure to culture. It’s them letting me have a little taste of it. I think I just tried to take in as much as possible and amplify it and put it back out. Because every voice is its own intrinsic thing, every output will be intrinsically different. So hopefully that comes through well enough in my music.
Because you engage in a ton of different art mediums, what importance do you place on that and how does it influence your overall creativity?
I feel like when I was a kid, I made so much visual art. I drew and painted and made 3-D art all the time. I used to make claymation videos a lot. But in high school there’s so much pressure to fit in that I dropped all of that. It wasn’t that I dropped it because I needed to fit in: I dropped it because no one else was doing it or people weren’t doing it to such extremes that I wanted it to be. So I’d have moments of creativity maybe, but never to the level of realization that I would like. I feel like this: I’ve only been out of high school for not even a year yet, and within these months of time I’ve become so much closer to the 12-year-old version of myself than I am to the 15-year-old version of myself and that’s something I’m super thankful for.
I was leading backpacking trips this summer, and being outside so much and being alone in nature gave me time to reflect. But at the end of the summer I was tired of reflecting even though I loved the space so much and I loved the people so much. I somehow wanted to be there and creating music or creating art or creating whatever. So I’m really jealous of everyone who is able to stay so true to themselves and evolve so naturally through high school, which is something I see in my friend Gabriel. But it wasn’t like that for me. So I feel like I have catching up to do and that may be something that motivates me.
How would you personally describe your concept of art and how has it impacted your life? What does it mean to you?
I’m gonna look to my man Yasiin Bey here, aka Mos Def: he said, ‘Art doesn’t imitate life. Art is the expression of life.’ That’s some of the realest shit I’ve ever heard. Basically, I think art is anything you can personally assign meaning to outside of the context that is intended. For example, if you knew that there were four hours of recordings of you and me talking on my phone and that was something you valued, all you would need to do is put the recordings on a pedestal and you could look at it and get it; it would be meaningful to me. You know what I mean? Although it probably wouldn’t be meaningful to anyone else, so I feel like art is taking those objects of significance or times of significance and finding a way that the visual or auditory or– I feel likes smell based art doesn’t get explored enough. Smell is the thing that triggers the most memories and so I think more artists should do more things with smells. It could be an instance where you just walk into a room and smell something and it triggers a memory. Or the experience could be where you go through the art experience and then you’re forced to have memories, then at the end there’s a smell and you’re triggered to think about those memories and that’s the art. It could be anything.