"It's good to be back for a couple of weeks, actually. It was getting kind of hectic."

From a coffee shop in his native Detroit, Zach Saginaw is reflecting upon the relentless travelling that's currently dictating his way of life. "I've spent most of the past two months in Europe, off and on, but I've got a little bit of time at home now to gear up for the release."

The release in question is that of Saginaw's third-full length under the name Shigeto, entitled No Better Time Than Now. Since signing with Michigan's pioneering electronic label, Ghostly International, he's quietly honed his craft both in the studio and onstage. The synthetic sounds that dominate his thus-far modest catalogue, though, a world away from the kind of music he was first introduced to.

"I've been playing since I was a kid. Growing up, I was mainly playing a lot of jazz and hip hop stuff. I didn't actually get into production until around 2006, kind of by accident. I was living in London, working in the food industry, This is pretty random, but I was selling and maturing British cheese at this place called Neal's Yard Dairy, and through a combination of that work and all the drumming I'd been doing, I developed this really crazy tendonitis in my arms. I couldn't do anything for about six months; couldn't work, couldn't play music. My brother was visiting me and just noticed I was in this kind of slump, this depression, and he gave me a copy of Reason 2.0 and said it'd be good for me to mess with. I just got sucked into it."

"It was amazing for me as a drummer to be able to create stuff on my own, without depending on other musicians, so it just kind of opened up this whole other world. I started doing it all the time as a hobby, but when I moved back to Ann Arbor, some friends of mine who were involved with the scene there were involved with Moodgadget, kind of a subsidiary of Ghostly. They heard some of my stuff and wanted to put it out, and once I realised I could take production more seriously, I just went in super hard at it."

Even if his direct involvement in the electronic scene was limited for a long time, Shigeto had always paid it heed. "I've definitely always been listening to it; I grew up taking a lot of influence by the early Warped catalogue, and the first Ghostly roster. I think a lot of people my age were very much into artists like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada - that was kind of our first taste of experimental electronic music. Then again, on the other side of things I was listening to a lot of nineties hip-hop, a lot of Detroit stuff, a lot of jazz. All my friends were into electronic stuff and some were producing beats for local MCs and things like that, but I was never involved because I was always just the drummer. I mean, the nearest I got to serious involvement was maybe saying, 'hey, could you sample one of my drum parts?' and they would and I'd feel all cool because I got to be a part of it," he laughs.

"It was almost like a fear of mine to get into that world, and I was super stubborn about it. I was a total jazz head, and I didn't even have an email address until something like 2003. In the end, I came to realise how much opportunity there was to learn so much, and with jazz, I kind of felt like I didn't have much to offer. I'm a decent drummer, but I felt there was nothing changing in jazz that was going to bring the genre to another level, and when I started to become more a part of the electronic scene, I felt I was becoming part of the growth of an actual movement."

The name 'Shigeto' was adopted as a nod to Saginaw's Japanese ancestry - it's his middle name, and was his grandfather's - but he insists he's taken no direct cues from the country's music. "There hasn't been much influence musically, but it's there in a lot of other ways," says Shigeto. "I see music as kind of the vessel through which I deal with personal issues. For instance, my last LP, Lineage, was kind of a dedication to my Japanese history and what my grandparents went though. Music helps me get out certain emotions that I want to convey to certain people. It definitely influences how I release music, but I don't know if it influences the music itself. it's a purely emotional thing."

Hailing from the label's base of Ann Arbor and having been influenced by its early releases, a deal with Ghostly International was something of a dream ticket for Shigeto, and you wonder if his connections to the scene played a part in securing the contract. "Kind of," he admits. "It's definitely a family oriented thing. Jacob Alexander, who recommended me to the label, is a guy I grew up with in Ann Arbor; we went to the same high school, and I used to go to his weekly electronic night called Atmosphere that he used to have going on. I'd also frequent Encore Records, where I got to know Tadd Mullinix - also known as Dabrye, or James T. Cotton. I was surrounded by these guys. I obviously like to think that they work with me because they like what I do, but there was a local connection for sure. That was the great thing about it; it was more like joining an old family, and it was much more meaningful than just signing to any old label."

No Better Time Than Now is the most assured Shigeto effort yet, owing in no small part to his return to his sonic comfort zone - live instrumentation. "I think a lot of artists, including myself, are in a constant struggle, trying to figure out what our voice is, what our strengths are and what kind of outside influences we should be letting in. I think I'm finally at a point where I know what I like to do and I'm more comfortable expressing it. I think the small following that I have understands what I'm trying to do, so I was just trying to make the most honest music I could, and that involved reverting back to recording live audio and playing live instruments, and just getting away from meticulous programming, because my forte is obviously playing live, because of my jazz background."

"I think it's a lot more organic; it's quite thought-out, but all the parts going into the composition were taken from large sessions of improvisation. In a lot of ways, it's me going back to my roots and laying it out in a more modern way - more organic, more live, more personal than before. The tracks span over a bigger range of genres and a bigger range of BPM; it's not necessarily a beat album, or a 'fill in the blanks' type thing. I was just writing tunes that came to me, and I just wanted to get them out, I guess. I will say, though, that this is the first time that I've had a piece that I feel is truly mine; as much as I want to think that I've been original, I'd listen back and think, 'oh man, I was really trying to sound a certain way there.' This album's just totally honest, and part of that worries me, but it's exciting too."

The shift to significant utilisation of live instrumentation was not only a case of Shigeto sticking with what he's good at - it also allowed for a whole other take on the record's production, as well as the mixing stage. "I think what brought it about is that I realised that if you focus on what your strengths are, then the outcome should be pretty genuine, I guess. That's not to say that you shouldn't push yourself. but there's nothing wrong with focusing on what you know you can bring to the table. There's so many personal reasons for going after the live thing, really. I had this amazing conversation with Tadd Mullinix; I was playing him some of the tracks before they were done, and he was like, 'these are great, but do you have to compress them so much?' I was thinking, 'man, that's true.' I mean so much of our scene's music is really compressed, and the masters are very loud. If you compared it to something from the early noughties, maybe, you'd find it was a lot louder."

"So, I mixed the record in a way that gave the sounds a lot more space. It's basically an electronic album mixed like a rock album, and I like that. It sounds different, but you don't necessarily know why. When you look at the waveforms, there's all kinds of peaks and valleys where, on my older songs, there would be this solid rectangle. It's not a problem to do it that way, because I'm not writing music right now that's meant for a big club; it's not just banger after banger. I really like that in the end, I made this mature decision - are we gonna fucking squash the shit out of it, or are we gonna let it breathe?" he laughs. "It was a difficult decision, because it was hard to be like, should it bang? Or should we let it speak?"

As far as songwriting is concerned, the Shigeto process is apparently a fairly linear one. "I usually start out by picking sounds that I like together, just like you'd pick a palette of paint, I guess. Then, I'll come up with a few ideas using the same sounds; one usually sticks out, and I'll go from there. I'll usually improvise over it with a given instrument, like the drums or maybe a synth patch. Once I'm in the zone, recording stuff, I'll have tons of material to choose from and I just cut and paste. I try to keep it real, try to use the longest loops I can - sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four bars - just to avoid any feeling of repetition."

Shigeto will next turn his attention to scoring a documentary, Street Fighting Man, that presents the recently-bankrupted city of Detroit in fascinatingly intimate fashion. "I'm really excited about it; I've never been involved in a project like this before," he reveals. "There's a lot of films being made on Detroit these days, and nothing against them, but I feel that very few of them depict the reality. They either sugar coat it and talk about resurgence and revitalisation without showing that stuff isn't really changing, or they go the other route and show it to be this wasteland, this uber-Hollywood, post-apocalyptic horrible place. I feel like the guy making Street Fighting Man, Andrew James, had a really interesting idea."

"You're following three African-American males from three generations - one in his twenties, one in his thirties and one in his forties or fifties. There's no script, no interviews, no narrative - just a camera following these guys every say for about a year. You see what they have to deal with, and it's a simple, real, powerful portrayal of the everyday black guy's life in Detroit. It gets pretty heavy in places, pretty dark, but I like that it's all real, with nothing trying to urge you to think a certain way - you're just seeing it. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it at first, but it just really struck a chord with me. I'll be working on it for the rest of this month - so far it sounds like me, but there's more ambience, and it's obviously a lot more cinematic."

With a host of dates across North America lined up for the rest of the year, Shigeto's appreciation of physical instruments has cost him one of the major bonuses of electronic production - the ability to write and record on the road. "Currently, I'm working on DJ sets whenever I get the chance, purely because I haven't done many of them and I'm super self-conscious about them, so whenever I can I'm trying to brush up on that. I definitely write a little bit on the road and I'm constantly starting little ideas, but seeing as things are moving in more of a live direction now, I can't properly get back into it until I'm home. But I guess that's the path I've chosen."


No Better Time Now is available now via Ghostly International