If you’ve had your ear to just about any indie adjacent scene in music the last few years, you’re almost sure to have heard the name Patrick Shiroishi. In fact, at this point, the Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist already has nearly twenty solo records in their roster already, to say nothing of his notable collaborations with iconic acts like Xiu Xiu, Chelsea Wolfe, The Armed, and many more.
In January, Shiroishi released an album of ambient field recordings for UK’s Touch Records, titled Evergreen. The record was named after the cemetery which the album’s sound beds were gathered from, but the theme, and of course Evergreen itself, go far deeper than a wistful reference.
“…I have been diving into my family history and processing that through music. Last year, I took a couple of trips to Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, where several generations of Shiroishis are buried and a place often visited when growing up. Sitting there with my Zoom recorder on, at what seemed like the peak of the violence towards Asian Americans, I felt at peace being close to them… the foundations of this album are from those recordings.”
The above is a quote taken from the Evergreen liner notes from Bandcamp, which opens up by detailing his admiration for Touch Records, but quickly reveals itself as an important detail once Patrick describes the setting. As difficult as it might seem to comprehend, it was roughly two years ago that due to reckless unchecked propaganda, debased United States citizens hurled senseless, violent acts towards the Asian community. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time.
In his recent NPR profile piece (which you should definitely read here at some point here), Patrick details visiting the Japanese American National Museum in 8th grade. Upon questioning his grandmother about the camps utilized during World War II, he recognized the difficulty it caused her to relive the memories, learning later that she had met his grandfather in one of the United States’ most notorious re-location sites – Tule Lake.
Distilling this level of emotion into music takes passion often aspired to, but rarely achieved – simply put, it requires a lot of energy to sustain, mentally or otherwise. Even just capturing a simple emotion effectively can take a person months… dare we say years, sometimes. Luckily, it seems Patrick has what it takes, whether he’s raining down relentless, reed-splintering leads or conjuring brassy, meditative sound baths. As Patrick continues to master enunciating every ounce of emotion he can muster, his vocabulary continues to expand, and we are all the richer for it.
Patrick was kind enough to answer a few of our questions recently, and we are so honored to present them to you here. From inspiration and recording to space jazz and the horrors of Executive Order 9066, we get into just about all of it. And more.
FB: So first off, we couldn’t help but realize the last couple of years has been insanely prolific when it comes to releases. Is being prolific an important goal for you, or do you see it as something that is more of a passive result of exploration, passion, etc?
Patrick: it wasn’t an important goal, but it was a way for me to “tour,” if that makes sense. until last fall i had a full time job which was fantastic as far as giving me financial support. however only having two weeks of vacation a year made going on the road was very difficult and infrequent. half of that time would be spent with family and the other would be doing a short tour on the west coast or visiting New York…it took me until last October to finally visit Chicago! with this being the case, i looked at releasing with different labels from all over as a way to gain a new listener or two in Poland or Ireland or New York since i couldn’t venture out to play.
i’m also insanely privileged to be able to create music with so many talented, gifted humans. i’m incredibly lucky that musicians across so many genres have reached out to me so to create together and i don’t take it for granted. each collaboration, whether it be a song or a full body of work is an opportunity for me to explore their world and expand my own playing, figuring out how to fit in and create a voice together, it’s one of the most exciting parts of music. i’m working on a couple of collaborations right now, some new (duo with Lia Kohl, a trio with Yuki Yama and Victor Kinjo) and some old (duo with Chris Williams, writing new music with Oort Smog, Fuubutsushi, and the reemergence of Upsilon Acrux) and i am truly excited about all of them.
FB: How do you decide on locations for field recordings? Has a place ever unexpectedly felt like ‘the right place’ to record? Or perhaps even ‘the wrong place?’
Patrick: most of the time it’s been chance. i am always listening to what is around me, whether it be in the city or in the country side on tour. i have a trusty zoom recorder but to be honest, i’ve gotten some great sounds just using my phone as well. these random sounds go into a folder on my computer that i pull from when composing. i’ve definitely been too slow at capturing some sounds and it’s always a bummer to let that slip away, but that’s also what makes some of these other field recordings a beautiful thing.
on the other hand, there are recordings that are super intentional and become “beds” for entire compositions. for example, Evergreen has two field recordings that run through the entire record that make up each of the two sides, one captured during the day and the other at night. i did have to go back several times as even though it was the “right place” to record, it wasn’t the right time. my wife and i are going to Japan next month and i already have some spots in mind to take my zoom recorder to capture some sounds…hopefully the timing will be right and i can get some sounds i have in mind to use for these next couple of records. fingers crossed!
FB: Speaking of, Evergreen is a serene and truly healing piece of work for people looking to absorb and reconnect with their ancestry, a task all too overlooked these days. Was matching the music to the theme challenging, or was it an intuitive experience?
Patrick: although it took a full month to write and record the music, it was a pretty intuitive experience. early on i did decide on making the record two distinct sides and that helped give shape to what the music was going to be. i started writing each composition in order of their appearance on the album imagining how it would sound against the field recording. i had a picture of some of my family members on my desk as i was writing the music as well to keep me focused in case i added anything that didn’t fit the larger picture of the album.
this was the first time i had a deadline as far as when the music was due. i typically write and record solo music whenever i am inspired or need to get something off of my chest. however, Touch reached out to me and asked if i could present them with an album in time for their 40th anniversary write up on bandcamp, a total honor as i love the label. i still had my full time job and so i would wake up, drink some coffee and work on it, go to my day job, come home and eat some dinner and then work on it with a whiskey into the night. the tiny details really made me utilize the full month before i turned it into Touch.
this was also the first time i had someone suggest changes as i made the music. typically i write and record, then mix and master and submit a final record to a label to put out, but for this album i worked closely with Mike Harding, sending him versions of the pieces and getting some suggestions. i was a little nervous with the idea of this, especially on music that is very close to my heart, but in the end i’m really glad it happened this way and think it benefited the music.
FB: You and Dylan Fujioka also released a record together in February on the 81st anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced removal of persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers, most specifically Japanese Americans. What do you think is the most important (or some of the most important) thing for people know about it today?
Patrick: to me, the most important thing for people to know about it is that it fucking happened and for it to not be forgotten. especially with things moving so quickly in the age of the internet, things pop up and quickly disappear onto the next thing. i’m not saying that this is more important than other things happening in the here and now, but the government placed migrant children from Mexico a couple years back in the EXACT same place a Japanese American concentration camp used to be…that pisses me off on so many levels. and for fucks sake let all those children go home.
As a multi-instrumentalist, do you compose on paper with a program and transpose ideas to different modalities, or do musical ideas come to you more often ‘as an instrument,’ ie a sax piece, or synth piece?
i’ve never really composed on paper until this year. i decided i wanted to write a four movement saxophone quartet several years ago and although Hidemi was written in real time just to pre-recorded parts i did, a goal was for this to be performed and executed by a group. that was extremely hard and i was put outside of my comfort zone, plus there was a definite learning curve with learning how to use a notation program. i just completed work on it and think it will sound good, we will see. it does give me some motivation to write more this way…
most of when i write is on an instrument and with bandmates in the room. in Corima, In the Womb, Oort Smog and Upsilon, we are all working on music together and figuring out parts in real time. i prefer it as you really internalize the music as you write together instead of working off of a page and forcing it to memory…that might be due to my shitty memory saying that’s the wrong way to go, but oh well.
FB: Last year, you released an album called The Invention of the Saxophone with Cassoieopia Sturm – are you familiar with the bizarre circumstances that actually led to the invention of the saxophone?
Patrick: damn i dont…please enlighten me!!
FB: Really! Well, to sum it all up, allegedly, Adolphe Sax, whose father was an instrument maker for Belgian kings, prototyped a clarinet and flute completely out of ivory. After this, he was inspired to create a military instrument for the French after his family moved there, and one of these became the sax.
But what’s crazy is the buildup: as he solidified these theories throughout the years into his teens, he was basically cursed with insane accidents… he drank a bowl of sulfuric acid thinking it was just bad milk.
His dad accidentally poisoned his several times when applying varnish to furniture in which poor Adolphe slept.
Apparently he also swallowed needles… accidentally? Multiple times.
He also fell out of a third story window, and this was after he was blown across the street by an exploding gunpowder accident.
Oh, and a tile slid off of a roof, hit him in the head, and knocked him out cold before he fell into a river and almost drowned. And then he invented the goddamn saxophone. Now you know!
Patrick: wow that is fucking insane. i cant believe he survived all of those, let alone one of them?! God bless Adolphe!
FB: Do you still jam with anyone from Corima?
Patrick: we haven’t played together for sometime now, but we do have an album that is almost ready to be mixed. i think it’s our magnum opus…when it’s ready to come out it’ll come out.
FB: Did you and Mark Kimbrell start working together as Oort Smog or Upsilon Acrux?
Patrick: i met Mark when Paul put this version of Upsilon Acrux together. they actually started as a double guitar double drum quartet and i would go see them, it took me about 4 times watching them to figure out what exactly they were executing and i loved that. about a year later, Paul asked me to join the band…he actually asked me on April 1st and for a couple hours i was in my head thinking, shit…is this a joke?? thankfully it was real and i rounded out the quintet. Sun Squared Dialect is some of the most complex and intricate pieces of music i have ever been a part of and i still love that album.
a couple years after i joined, i asked Mark if he would be into starting a duo together. i had one with Dylan already and it only made sense to make one with Mark. i wanted the two duos to be different stylistically, since i was playing acoustic with Dylan most of the time i figured i would go electric with Mark and run my sax through pedals and out of an amp. it took me a while to get a pedal board situated but here we are. i believe we are at over a decade as a band and we only have two records out. we work very slow, but i think our music wouldn’t be what it is if we went quickly. we are pretty close at finishing the songs we have in mind for the third record, hopefully we will record that before this year ends.
FB: Do you have any particularly meaningful influences when it comes to composition?
Patrick: it depends on what i’m listening to when i’m writing or if i’m preparing something for an upcoming tour. i’ve been fortunate enough to open for some heroes in more or less different genres, for example Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sumac. although they live in a similar world, the approach is different and i wanted to appeal to their audience as much as i could while still being myself. i had a good amount of time prior to the shows so i wrote two different sets, the later still needing to be recorded. i lived in their records while writing the music, which was easy since i have been fans of both for almost as long as they have existed.
FB: How do you decide whether you’re going to compliment a piece melodically as opposed to the more outside the box approach?
Patrick: what’s more important to me is what is going to serve that piece of music the best. of course this is subjective and if the band telling me to add something and gives me specific instructions i won’t stray from that, but if i have full control then that would be my course of action.
FB: How would you describe the aesthetic of Nakata? My first impression was jazz for abandoned, malfunctioning space ships – it was almost scary!
Patrick: i love that description, i’ll be sure to tell Paco that!! Nakata holds a special place in my heart as it was my first attempt at playing free jazz. i think we eventually got to abandoned malfunctioning space ship vibes when Paco started using electric piano/rhodes and synth, but at first it was just acoustic piano and saxophone in my living room. a friend was housing her piano at my house and so we played with that, but once she took it back Paco went to playing electric and i started using multiple horns instead of just alto. we had a good four years with that piano though and we were able to more fully develop our duo, and another year after that we finally released Bokanovsky’s Process.
FB: The visually informed improv concept behind the Sphurule Trio is really interesting – any chance we’ll see more of that in the future?
Patrick: totally! i’ve been playing more graphic score type music the past several years and just finished my first couple of graphic scores made with my old Japanese calligraphy brushes that i found at my parent’s house. they will be included in the saxophone quartet piece that i mentioned earlier…
FB: You also just released a harsh as hell noise record on Superpang with Mike Lugo – are there any other more extreme mediums you’re interested in trying?
Patrick: i’ve been lucky enough to explore several different genres with the saxophone. i didn’t necessarily set out to make the record that we made together, but it kind of just became that. that’s the beauty of collaboration though, i know i wouldn’t have done a bunch of things i’ve done if it wasn’t for making music with different people and i am so very grateful. everything that i do in collaboration eventually makes it’s way into my solo practice and records, whether it be different techniques from the horn to incorporating field recordings to heavy sounds via effect pedals. i just want to be able to sound like myself, whether playing solo or guesting on a record.
FB: You are just about to finish up a tour with Emma Ruth Rundle – what’s next for Patrick Shiroishi?
Patrick: yes and what a beautiful time that was!! i didn’t have any time to write any material prior to tour to incorporate into my set, but hearing Emma perform everday truly inspired me and i wrote two pieces on the road…something that has never happened before. a couple of days after we finished up that tour, i went out on tour playing with Wild Up where we performed several pieces composed by Julius Eastman. that was also a very beautiful and intense experience that i learned a lot from. i’ll be premiering the saxophone quartet piece i composed with them very soon which i’m very excited about. after that i’ll be going to Japan to vacation a little, but playing two shows with two heroes of mine: Yoshida Tatsuya and the other with Keiji Haino… pinch me!!
as far as recorded music, i will be releasing a couple records in the near future, one with Jason Nazary and Wendy Eisenberg, and another with Chaz Prymek and Thom Nguyen, plus a bunch of other collaborations in the process. my next solo offering will also be released in the fall on American Dreams Records titled I was too young to hear silence with a new collection of Tangled being released simultaneously as well. this record is a lot different than Evergreen and Hidemi, just free improvised solo saxophone recorded in a super reverberant space…i hope the listener will take their time with it when it comes out.
We hope so too! Massive thanks again to Patrick for being gracious enough to take the time to work with us on this piece, especially with so much going on! Be sure to check out his myriad of releases here, and if you think we need a boost, you can buy us a coffee sometime here. But that’s not important! What’s important is you – and coming up, just for you, we’ve got a ton of cool stuff from Finte, Mark Corey / Damon Che, and Sons of Venus, not to mention a couple guitar nerd interviews we think a lot of you will enjoy. Oh, and yeah, it’s probably time we get to work on that East Coast comp, huh? We’ll get to that as well. Thanks for reading!