I was lucky enough to see Masaaki Yoshida, better known by his stage name Anchorsong, at a gig in Luxembourg, (my hometown) back in August. A friend of mine mentioned his album had been one of BBC Radio 6’s albums of the year in 2016, and, ever the pretentious music snob, I cheerfully agreed to go with him. And thank god I did. His live set had me boogie-ing unabashedly, and when he mentioned after the gig that he would be performing in Glasgow with a string quartet, I made sure to keep tabs on it. Playing at the Glad Café on the 10th of November, I ventured down South in the wind and rain for an interview with him before his set. The atmosphere was relaxed, Masaaki was very open and friendly, the musicians who were touring with him were fabulous, and the food at the Glad Café was hella tasty. The set itself went down incredibly well, with the Glaswegian crowd giving everything it’s known for: enthusiasm, energy, and a healthy dose of eccentricity.
Did you always see yourself working in music?
To be honest, I never thought I would be a musician, and there was nothing particular to my background that would push me towards it. However music always played a large role in my life and I listened to a variety of genres when I was younger, J-Pop at 14 or 15 and then American Rock like Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. Since I lived in a small village in Japan, I had to get a ferry over to Osaka to see musicians I wanted, and would have to stay the night there.
I eventually started playing in a band – mostly covers in the early days – and formed a new band at University in Tokyo, where we produced our own music… mostly cheesy rap and rock. We split up after 4 years, and my next project was Anchorsong.
When I moved to London in 2007, I still wasn’t sure music would end up being my main career. But I was curious, I enjoyed producing, and carried on until I was picked up by a label. To be honest it just kind of happened.
Did your past relationship with music – dabbling in different genres and different kinds of music production – lay the foundations for how you create music now? Where do you go when you want to learn/find more music?
The fact that music played a large role in my life definitely influenced my relationship with melodies, and I integrate elements from my past into my present work. Technically speaking, I might have African or Indian components in my music, but the initial spark itself emanates from within.
In terms of music trends, I don’t really follow them closely. I try to make sure I have a general understanding as to where it’s going, and I follow some music blogs, like Smithsonian Folkways.
In terms of creative influences, I’m always trying to explore music from countries I’ve never been to, like the Middle East. I’m always trying to move forward, to educate myself. For example, right now I’m trying to familiarise myself with Chinese music, but I still feel very much like a stranger in that environment.
You’re known for playing live sets when many DJs have reverted to using laptops. Why is this? And what are your thoughts on how technology has impacted music production?
When our and dissolved, it was heart breaking for me. I went solo partly to avoid that pain again really. However since then, making music to me means having your hands on an instrument. Now, even though my music genre has shifted, the performance is still the main foundation upon which I build – I produce music according to how it would perform. For me, the more restrictive the hardware, the more creative it forces me to be, because I need to think outside the box.
It is easier to make music now, and it’s great that it’s available to so many people, but it can be to the detriment of originality and uniqueness. In terms of how I make my own music, less really is more. I also think it’s definitely getting harder to stand out. Since producing and recording became significantly easier – you could make quality sound from your bedroom, if you wanted to, and I benefitted from this because it’s what I did, and still do – it means the industry, as well as different sounds, are more accessible; but so are the pressures of competitiveness. If your music is really good though, then it’ll get noticed.
Nonetheless, you’re currently performing with a string quartet. Why? Would you consider extending it to more instruments?
I’ve been collaborating with strings for a while now, the first time being back in Japan. In a string quartet, 4 separate instruments can come together to form one coherent one and then disassemble again. It’s kind of like my music, an ensemble built of smaller parts, so the two are very compatible. Strings can be incredibly versatile, and move from the foreground to the background, weaving in and out between the sounds, and this is how my music works. People have suggested working with an orchestra, but to be honest, I’m really happy to keep it intimate.
Is producing work a solitary experience for you? How do you work around social and commercial expectations? Do you have any expectations in terms of an audience?
In terms of my work, I tend to keep everything to myself until it’s finished. My record label won’t see a single track until I’m completely done. I’m constantly producing music, without a particular goal. Sometimes I naturally find my way to a new concept, or I discover that there was a red thread running through a set the whole time. Sometimes the original songs are included into the final record, sometimes they’re just part of the early process.
I try not to pay attention to my feelings about a particular track and I don’t hope to appeal to certain audience. It’s unhealthy to think too much about the track is doing and how people like it. If I can I’ll leave that to someone else, and focus on creating something new. I’ll know whether people like it at the gig, at the latest.
In terms of gigs, I’m happy to play for the people who want to dance as much as for those who want to sit back and just enjoy the music. The music itself tends to appeal to both types, so whether they’re more subdued and attentive, or more active and invigorating, I take pleasure in the atmosphere.
Where do you see yourself going in the future? Has being in music as a career changed your relationship towards it?
My ultimate goal perhaps is to bring influences together from all over into a truly global piece, a universal work where you can’t tell where it’s from, whether Chinese, Balkan, or Indian (etc). But on the whole I’m happy to continue as Anchorsong, although I’m open to making soundtracks, or music for other people.
My relationship to music hasn’t changed that much. I was almost more focused on being a listener than a musician, and I kept that attitude. I try not to make music all day so I maintain a curiosity towards music, a distance that keeps the relationship from going stagnant. Enjoying my performances is essential to me: when you’re physically involved in playing your music, it ensures that every show is a little different. You’re more free and flexible and there is a thrill in that.
You can find Anchorsong’s latest release, Cohesion, at most major streaming sites – it’s highly recommended listening.