Interview – Sen Morimoto

Like a magpie collects shiny gems, Sen Morimoto has dipped into a treasure trove of genres and influences, fusing together jazz, hip-hop and soulful undertones on his new self-titled album. We asked him about his early experiences with music and how the record came together…

How are you doing, what’s life like in Chicago right now?

All in all I’m feeling grateful. Or at least always trying to feel grateful. Chicago’s Covid cases are spiking again, so we’re preparing for another lockdown. Today I’ll stock up on groceries and try not to leave home for a while. While as a country there’s been a brief sigh of relief after the election, Chicagoans are still protesting. The city government has made it clear that its loyalty lies with the police, and not the hundreds of thousands of protesters asking to defund the police and remove them from schools. It’s a big hill to look up at because these pleas are really only the bare minimum but the City hasn’t budged, and has instead consistently responded with violence. All that being said, everything is so uncertain these days that I remain grateful for what I have and the safety and wellbeing of my friends and family.

You’ve been playing music since you were a child, what are your early memories of hearing music at home or with family and friends?

I’ve always loved to sing, although for most of my adolescence I was too shy to try it in front of anyone so I used the saxophone. I remember singing Jackson 5 CDs straight through in the car at the top my lungs when I was really little. My siblings hated it. I did the same with the theme from That Thing You Do!. As I got older my dad’s CD collection became a treasure map of interests for me, and a kind of bible of music to study. I had obsessive phases with a lot of records, mostly stuff from the 60s and 70s. Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Neil Young, Carpenters, Kate Bush, and on and on. I taught myself piano and bass learning as many Stevie Wonder songs as I could. Super grateful for those CDs, they definitely shaped not only what I play but what I enjoy hearing in new music too.

Your latest album was released at the end of October, how long has it been in the making and how does it feel now it’s finished?

After my last record touring, my own music and others’ projects kept me pretty busy for a couple years. I would write lyrics or record voice memo ideas on the road and glue everything together whenever I was home. A lot of times when I sit down to record I’m just exploring sounds to come back to and use for a song I write separately, so it ends up feeling like I’ve been working on each record for years but it doesn’t usually start really coming together until a bit before it comes out. Some of the tracks have elements that I’ve been tweaking for years before I released the previous record even. It feels amazing to finally have it out in the world. My favorite part about releasing a body of work is how free I feel to make something completely different right after.

It’s hard to categorise your music but it feels like the soul/ jazz/ rap fusion holds lots of crossover appeal for listeners who might be less attracted to one of those elements on its own – do you get good reactions from a wide audience?

I think because the music I’m inspired by is so varied there’s something for everyone in some of my songs. But I also feel like that’s becoming more and more common in new music. We have access to so much music and art to draw inspiration from, and are exposed to so much of the same stuff online that it feels more and more like all new music is a combination of a few different genres. It’s something that I am actually pretty excited about. It’s like if all the genres that exist now are elements that have been discovered, then the only way to create new elements is to combine the ones we have. The tricky part is doing it gracefully so your music chemistry set doesn’t explode in your face.

What’s the best or worst review you’ve ever had?

The other day I was with some friends and someone put on Man Of The Woods by Justin Timberlake and said, “You ever notice you kinda sound like him”. Don’t get me wrong I love so much of his music and he’s obviously a legend but to say it while that song is playing and not like… idk Cry Me a River or ‘Pushaaaaa looooovee I’m just a Juj-juh-juh-juh-Junkie for your love…’ I was still flattered though, I’d say that was the best and the worst in one.

Tell us about the collaborations on the album, do you start these with a clear idea of the outcome or just see which direction things take?

I definitely let the song lead the way. I leave a lot of room for error and experimentation because some of the best ideas come from mistakes. With collaboration I like to maintain a similar looseness. I never ask collaborators to use their voice or instrument in a certain way, I just ask them to listen to the song a few times and try something that feels natural to them. We go back and tweak things afterwards that we mutually agree on but I try not to let myself get in the way of their expression. I think the other way of doing it where musicians become kind of instruments of your own expression can make for great art too but for me it’s about our minds kind of turning the Rubik’s cube around together.

You’ve mentioned that you had vivid dreams whilst writing the album – did these make their way into the songs?

Definitely, there’s a lot of reference to my dreams in the lyrics. Some are descriptive of the things I’ve dreamt of, like in The Things I Thought About You Started To Rhyme where the lyrics are almost all supposed to feel like a dream, or You Come Around and Nothing Isn’t Very Cool where I talk a little bit about how these dreams affect my waking experience.

Take us on a tour of your neighbourhood, what should we know about that’s not in the guide books?

There’s a Puerto Rican sandwich joint around the corner called Cafe Colao that I’m at more mornings than not. They’re cafe con leche motivates me to rise in the morning.

You’re receiving an award for the album, who gets a mention in your acceptance speech?

I’m definitely hitting the Cuba Gooding Jr. Jerry McGuire Oscar win speech “EVERYONE INVOLVED I LOVE YOU”.

And what’s next, what does 2021 hold for you?

Honestly I have no idea. I’m excited for a couple projects I’m helping put together on the production end and with my label Sooper Records here in Chicago. I want to make as much music as I can and use this time off touring to think about how I can help people more and continue learning.

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You can keep up with the latest news from Sen here. The album is available to buy digitally and in physical format on vinyl, CD and cassette on Bandcamp, through Sen’s own label Sooper Records. Watch the video for Woof below.

Interview by Siobhan
Photo via One Beat PR

17th November 2020