Finding out that you have been nominated for a Grammy on Twitter is one thing, but when you did not even realize one of your songs was submitted for consideration, that is a surprise Shinya Mizoguchi — known by his stage name, starRo — still cannot fathom.
“Even now, it’s kind of unbelievable,” says Mizoguchi, who lives in Los Angeles. “It just, like, came out so quick … I didn’t even know a category for remixes exists, and I didn’t know my remix was submitted, so it just basically came out of nowhere.”
He was still in bed when he got the news, and obviously Mizoguchi had to tell someone, but his wife did not exactly give him the high-five the career-making moment deserved.
“She was still sleeping. I told her about it and she was like ‘yeah,’ and went back to sleep,” he says.
Finding time for a video call while stuck in Los Angeles’ infamous traffic snarls, Mizoguchi feels like the interviews and television appearance requests he has since received have swept him up in a wave, perhaps one only a Grammy nomination could generate.
“To be honest, even now I still don’t know how to process it. I don’t know what this Grammy thing really means to me, or what kind of impact it will give to me. It is just crazy,” he says.
Perhaps fittingly, the shake-up the nomination has given Mizoguchi’s life is symbolic of the work he did to get there, taking a piece of airy, spectral, nearly instrument-free music sung by a 25-person chorus and remixing it into a bleep and beat-laden track far removed, but faithful, to its source.
The song — “Heavy Star Movin’ “ — was first performed by an ensemble called the Star Lake Chorus, and Mizoguchi, a producer born in Tokyo but now based in California, was approached by their record label to give it his twist.
“This is absolutely the first time I have remixed a choral group, but I also think it is the first time that I remixed something that does not have a beat or some structure. That’s what I actually liked about it,” he says.
“Producers who do a lot of remixes, it is sometimes kind of like (muscle) memory, getting too used to the structure of the song. So this is the verse, this is the chorus. … But (the song) does not have any of these, so you have freedom, but you also have no idea where to start.”
“I know a couple of people got the offer and tried to remix (it), but they gave up. That kind of put me in a (situation where I thought), ‘Man, I’ve gotta kill this.’ ”
And clearly, kill it he did, as the song was announced Dec. 7 as one of six up for the best remixed recording Grammy, an honor that came just months after starRo released his first album, “Monday.”
But despite the increased interest his possible win at the February award ceremony has generated at home, it is unlikely to make Mizoguchi a household name in Japan, something he is more than fine with after living outside the country for more than a decade.
In fact, Mizoguchi takes some pride from knowing he has been able to make his mark, independent of any Japanese factor.
“I always am feeling that just because I am a producer from Japan, I don’t necessarily have to embrace or incorporate the Japanese factor,” he explains. “Just because I am Japanese I don’t have to put any shakuhachi or J-pop, soundscape in.
“I just want to make music that I want to listen to, and at the same time if there is any Japanese influence that people will feel, I wouldn’t deny it because I obviously grew up in Japan.
“Even though I am not intentionally incorporating it, there is definitely some kind of influence that some people would hear.”
Now, Mizoguchi has the opportunity to flip that script and influence a Japanese music scene that he fled because he felt he had no medium to get his work heard outside of his group of peers.
“When I left, which was late 2000, even though there was Myspace, there was no Soundcloud, it didn’t exist. The music community was still mostly in the real world. Not on the internet.
“When I was in Japan I would make some music, songs and that, I just didn’t know where to put it out. It seemed like I needed to know someone that connected to a big label.”
Now, when he returns home as starRo, an established name, particularly in the increasingly popular L.A. beat scene, Mizoguchi is someone that Japanese artists can aspire to emulate.
But despite his star rising, Mizoguchi thinks there is only so far he can go in a Japanese music scene that he describes as “isolated.” And that is why he left his homeland.
“My kind of music is not mainstream, that’s also the problem with Japan,” he says. “There’s only two types of music: mainstream music which is taking up 90 percent of the market, and there’s 10 percent that is underground music.
“Before getting nominated for a Grammy, my music would not be big enough to reach to the mainstream crowd. … I get to play (big Japanese clubs now), but even three years ago I would never have seen that happen.”
Asked if the self-taught musician who a decade ago left behind his career as a project manager in a Japanese technology company would have ever foreseen himself becoming Grammy-nominated, and even maybe a celebrity, Mizoguchi can only scoff.
“I just want to focus on music of course, I don’t want to be a Japanese geinojin, like celebrity,” he says
“With this Grammy thing, maybe it will change and I don’t know whether that is something that I want. … But I’m about to find out.”
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