An interview with Anchorsong.
By Louise Ungless
Anchorsong (aka Masaaki Yoshida) is a producer and composer whirling up a storm here in the UK. Originally from Tokyo and now based in London, he has become a sought after artist within the city’s underground music scene, with his spellbinding shows and with his first album Chapters recently released on Tru Thoughts. I met with the producer in London’s Angel area, to discuss his latest LP and the reasons behind his relocation to Europe in 2007.
Musicians from all over the world move to London to kickstart their careers, but with a thriving music scene in a bustling city like Tokyo, I asked Masaaki why he felt the need to leave. “I wanted to make a living just with my music,” says the producer, “so I decided to live in Europe, especially London”. He spoke of how it is much more possible to be a full-time musician here, as well as several additional factors. In July 2007, a music fan in Greece saw a YouTube video of Anchorsong playing live. A flight to Japan for a glimpse of the artist out of the question, Masaaki was instead invited to Athens. “I had no reason to say no, so basically, I said yes immediately!” Masaaki then started to think about what to do after this gig in Athens, deciding whether to go back to Tokyo or move to London for something entirely different. “London was closer to Athens,” jokes Masaaki, “but I’ve always been interested in the music scene in the UK… Something’s always happening.”
I asked Masaaki about the differences between the underground music scene here in London and that of Tokyo. “The biggest difference I think is trend. In London, there is always some particular trend in terms of electronic music” explains the producer, “such as drum n bass in the early 90s…now it’s probably dubstep, post dubstep, grime…” In Tokyo however, there are no trends. “Musicians make whatever they like and don’t expect to make a big hit.” Delving deeper, Anchorsong laments the difficulty for unique acts back home to make a living from their music. “The industry in Japan doesn’t support musicians like us.” He believes that there is one benefit from this, though; “I think that it helps musicians to be more creative.” With musicians in Tokyo eschewing popular trends, such artistic freedom could appeal to many. However, Masaaki happily states that he prefers the London music scene, with these trends adding an element of excitement.
Surely a musician in London’s underground scene must allow themselves to be pigeonholed, in order for some degree of success? Not Anchorsong. “In terms of my music, it doesn’t fit in anywhere. When I was living in Tokyo it was the same. I sometimes shared the stage with bands, sometimes with DJs. I hardly played with house musicians, mainly rock or hip-hop. It’s the same in London.” Masaaki’s interest in various kinds of music allows him to take the positives from such abstract lineups and his music naturally takes on numerous influences. This, in itself, perpetuates the difficulty of placing his music into a category. And yet, the producer is becoming more successful by the year. Perhaps it’s such varied output that allows his music to be highly appreciated across multiple musical trends in London.
Anchorsong’s success is also down to his recent debut album Chapters, where the producer feels he has moved his music forward. With releases under his belt stretching back to 2007, his fans might say that an actual full-length record is somewhat overdue. Masaaki acknowledges the delay, but believes timing is key. “The reason why I kept releasing EPs is because I thought I wasn’t ready to release an album, because I wanted to make an album that was instrumental. My favourite albums always have a natural flow from the beginning until the end, like reading a book. So I wanted to make an album like that.” Eventually finding his groove, Chapters was released toward the end of November. “Each track has a different style,” he explains, “but when you listen to it from beginning to end, you feel like you have finished one short journey. It’s a collection of short chapters.”
That is certainly not to say the creative process was without challenges. “I had to find a way to make a variety of tracks, but make them consistent in some way.” Masaaki found a way around this with a stripped-down, elemental ethic. “When people say minimal, maybe they think of something like techno. The way I think of minimal is more like something that really shows the guitar riff, you know, like Led Zeppelin used to do it, or Jimi Hendrix. That was the kind of minimal I was thinking.” The focus for this consistency was on the beats and bass lines. “I make both of them really minimal, usually just one bar, no longer than two bars. If I stick to that idea, no matter how different every track sounds, I thought it would give some kind of consistency because it’s somewhat related.” This is a new concept for Anchorsong, but for this artist, concept itself is the defining factor that separates EPs from LPs.
With a variety of musical interests, I couldn’t hep but enquire as to which artists Masaaki would most like to collaborate with on stage. The list certainly reflects his wide musical influences. “A lot of dead musicians actually”, particularly reflecting on J Dilla and Jimi Hendrix, “and a lot of rappers”, throwing out purist delights like Ghostface Killah, MF Doom and Q-Tip. He also names a variety of singers, including indie-rock favourites Feist, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, “And maybe Björk,” he laughs. The Icelandic songstress clearly holds a place close to Masaaki’s heart; ‘Anchor Song’ itself is a song from her seminal 1993 release Debut. Almost contradictory to the instrumental concept behind his album, it seems evident the producer favours the idea of working with vocalists than with instrumentalists or producers, though his list of dream collaborators is for performance, rather than recording.
Identifying career highlights is a no-brainer for the artist. Alongside the electric album launch for Chapters at London’s Cargo, the opportunity to join an admired musician of his on stage is still fresh in the memory. In 2010 at the Queen of Hoxton venue, Anchorsong performed an impromptu five-minute duet with Prefuse 73. “I’ve been a big fan of his music for a decade and been to his shows many times,” says Masaaki. On that night, Anchorsong was billed as a support act, but Prefuse 73 invited Masaaki on stage and asked him to play the piano to his beats. It was a moment that he will never forget.
Asked if he prefers composing or performing, Masaaki asserts that “performance is the most important concept for Anchorsong. Having witnessed Anchorsong live on multiple occasions, it is clear that the producer genuinely enjoys being on stage. Often joining Masaaki on stage is a string quartet that adds an entirely new and vast dimension to both sound and performance. I asked the producer what inspired him to incorporate the quartet into his performance. “I was always interested in working with strings, because I was a big fan of Sigur Rós, who always have a string quartet on stage” he answered. He then explained how strings fit well with his music and integrate seamlessly with the impressive live show. “One of the concepts of my music is that I use quite a few soundable instruments. Basically, I take turns with the instruments. For example, the first 30 seconds are the main drums, the next 20 seconds is the bass, then the piano. Other instruments have to stay in the background and the strings can do that really well.”
Masaaki’s next aim is to spread his music all over the world. He explains that living in UK is more efficient to do this than in Tokyo and is busy promoting Chapters. “It’s slowly spreading,” he nods. “In Japan, two months is the main promotional period for an album. In Europe, it takes time to let people know about the album.” Masaaki is enjoying the process of supporting the album and is currently performing across Europe. Returning to Japan for live dates in April this year, is he tempted to settle there again one day? “I really enjoy living in London,” he says. Rest assured, Anchorsong will be with us for quite a while, but don’t be complacent about catching one of his live shows. If the buzz continues to grow, soon, it may not matter where he is based.
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For more information on Anchorsong, visit the website here.