If this sounds up your alley, then it’s time to get to know this Japanese-born producer and artist. We had a chance to sit down with the man himself and chat about his music, his home, and adjusting to living in the US.
And you’re based in Seattle (or you’ll happen to be passing through), don’t miss out on his upcoming show at Kremwerk on July 28.
Why the capital R in ‘starRo’?
My real name is Shinya and in Japanese that means ‘straight arrow.’ I picked two letters from ‘straight’ and three letters from ‘arrow,’ but I felt like it needed a little twist, so I made the second ‘r’ a capital letter. [laughs] That’s it.
Growing up in Yokohama, Japan, what kinds of music did you listen to and what was the music scene like?
My dad is a jazz pianist, so I grew up listening to jazz. And not just records, but my dad’s playing. So it’s just been this sound my whole life — like hearing my mom cooking or something. As I got older, I got more into R&B and soul music, as well as rock and some pop.
What was your first show ever like?
I guess technically my first show was when I was in elementary school. I actually had a band back then already, so we played in front of a bunch of kids.
As starRo, one of the very first shows I remember was at the pizza joint. My manager Cameron was there already. It was a really shitty show. I think we played to ten people. It was good though, it’s something I’ll always remember as where I came from. It makes me appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had now.
Do you remember the first song you ever produced? What was that like and looking back on it what do you think of the song now?
As starRo, the first song I ever produced with melody and lyrics was a part of a white label through Soulection about three years ago. It featured vocals from female singer Kristina Alcordo. That was technically starRo’s first song that featured a singer.
It’s funny, Kristina actually just recently dropped her first album and that gave me a chance to revisit the song. I kinda like it. It was a timeless vibe and it doesn’t seem to get old. As an artist, I always try to make my art timeless, so that was a very cool starting point for my sound.
Biggest difference between the Japanese and American music and art culture?
There are so many things I could talk about. I think, especially in the music industry in the States, there’s an indie scene, a mainstream scene, and a middle ground. That middle ground is huge. You can almost stay indie, but financially make a living just like artists in the mainstream scene.
Whereas in Japan and much of Asia, there’s no real middle ground. You either have to stay indie with a nine to five job, or you have to go very mainstream where you lose a little bit of your street credit. [laughs] For me, I like to think my music sits somewhere in the middle ground. I think I’m lucky to be able to make music in the States, where it allows me to pursue music full time.
How did you adapt to the lifestyle in LA?
I grew up in Yokohama and Tokyo. There was music everywhere, even when you’re walking down the street. In LA, you’re mostly driving, or staying in your house, or spending time in the studio, where it’s silent. You don’t passively get inspiration. You have to know where to go for your inspiration.
Right now, I like it. I don’t want my music to be dictated by what I passively hear. I don’t want my music to sound like someone else’s. It’s cool to stay out of passively being influenced. My music is coming from my soul.
Do you have any emerging artists from Japan you’re listening to right now?
One of my favorite artists right now is actually Wednesday Campanella. They’re actually a group of three people, [including a] girl who is kind of like a rapper, but is very unique with a crossover sound. Their music will be well received by American and European audiences as well.
What was life like before you decided to pursue music full time?
I had a nine to five job at a tech company as a project manager. It had nothing to do with music. There was no creativity at all. It was a bit difficult. Most musicians, even if they have a nine to five, they do something creative. For me, during the daytime, I didn’t have any creative vibes.
I really appreciated the opportunity that me not having to worry about making money off music did for me as an artist. It was just a totally different life.
It helped me with stuff that wasn’t creative. Usually, I’m great at being punctual. At the end of the day, whether you’re in music, tech, or working at the supermarket, it’s all about your relationships. About your team. You have to communicate and learn to appreciate all the people that work with you.
What’s it been like working with the Soulection family?
It’s been very interesting. Technically, Soulection is more of a collective. There’s a lot of producers coming from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, just different all around. It’s very inspiring and I learn a lot from them. It influences the music that I make.
Any unreleased collaborations we should know about?
Yes… Well, I’m working on an EP. I’m excited.
In past interviews, you’ve mentioned you once almost gave up on music. What’s your take on the industry right now and the new generation of artists that are coming up?
Depends on how you look at it. I think we’re living in a very interesting time in the music industry. I see people like Chance The Rapper winning Grammys from the SoundCloud community without ever being signed to a huge label. There’s all these people acknowledging the SoundCloud scene and that they have to change the way they think.
There’s great opportunity for up-and-coming artists to do cool things. It’s trial and error. There is no equation to be successful, and that’s what makes me very excited. I think there’s a bright time ahead.
Speaking of the Grammys… Earlier this year, you became a Grammy-nominated artist. How did it feel when you found out about the nomination and what’s it like to be at the Grammys?
So, I didn’t really know the song that was nominated was even submitted. I found out one morning when I checked my phone because one of my friends tweeted at me. I had to look at multiple websites to even confirm the news. I couldn’t believe it.
Finally, a few weeks later, The Recording Academy sent me an official letter, which made it real. I never really had a feeling about it. It was weird, even going to the ceremony because there were tons of people I looked up to there. It was a very surreal experience. I would like to come back and enjoy it more because I was so nervous as it was my first time.
What are your plans for 2017? Tour?
My entire life is about touring. I want to keep traveling. I have a residency in Tokyo, so I get to go there every two months. I’m starting another residency in Seoul, South Korea. So Asia is seeing a lot of me. I am going to tour in North America and Europe in the later part of this year. I also want to move to a live set. I really want to bring my band and make it a live experience.
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