Continuing with the interview series with artists that will be featured in the forthcoming book, America Is Just A Word, this week I’m offering up snippets from an interview with Shinobu frontman Mike Moroboshi. Most of the bands that I’ve written about in the book so far, and many of the acts I’m drumming up interviews about, tend to have already cemented some level of influence/fame/cultural significance to emo as a whole. In comparison to these acts, Shinobu are still out there, putting their lives on the stage and continuously producing music, just waiting to be discovered. Shinobu are very much a living force, and in that, will be an important contribution to the America Is Just A Word narrative.
But, I digress. On with the interview:
*When did you get into music? Was there anyone in your life that pointed you in a direction musically, or did you find that you had to fend for yourself as far as finding music?
Mike: “I really began music with hearing punk for the first time on the radio in elementary school. Punk at that point was Green Day, who were getting big when I was in fourth grade, so I heard all the singles from Dookie and liked it a lot. After that it was a slow acquisition of names from seeing them listed in other albums, getting recommendations from other burgeoning punk fans, looking at people’s shirts at shows etc. I heard the Pavement song “Stereo” around sixth grade and liked it a lot, but forgot about it for years until I had a falling out with punk in high school and started to listen to Radiohead, the Weakerthans, Rocket From the Crypt, etc. So the arch was something like:
4-7th grade: stuff from the radio, friends
8th-10th grade: checking out compilations, thanks lists in albums, friends
11th-up: more or less stopped listening to punk and got really into 90s indie”
*What bands had a particular impact when you first started making music? What about when you started in Shinobu?
Mike: “When I first started making music it was all sort of skate punk bands. I started playing guitar in middle school and I didn’t like sappy pop-punk songs about girls, so the skate punk stuff was attractive to me because it was fast, had a bit of an edge, and usually involved more social or (somewhat) abstract concepts than just a girl you want to ask out or your first kiss, etc. But when Shinobu started it was mostly The Weakerthans, Hot Snakes, Beulah, Hawksley Workman, and Built to Spill. I really admired John K. Samson’s lyrics and I couldn’t think of anyone else who sounded like the Weakerthans, so we started out with them sort of as a template then evolved (I think significantly) from there. It was much more reserved at the outset, then once we did our first double tracked guitar solo it became more and more explosive and guitar/feedback oriented.”
*Were you in any other bands before Shinobu?
Mike: “Bob, Jon, Matt and I were all in a stupid amount of various bands before Shinobu, many of which had a lot of the same members. When I was a freshman in High School I started a punk band called Shooting Blanks that lasted until I became disgusted with punk. Bob had been in a jokey hip hop group with some mutual friends called the Rap$callionz, who, once me and my girlfriend at the time broke up, I started hanging out with a lot to get a breath of fresh air. From there Bob, Ruben (also of the Rap$callionz) and I started a “newer wave” band called Rage Against the Robots which started as a joke and then ended up playing a surprisingly large amount. Jon was in a skate punk band from Los Altos called Argyle that Ruben and I were friends with, and Matt was in a ska band from San Jose called Not Lenny. If you look at Phat N Phunky (which is the sort of collective that Bob started) you can see a huge list of bands that we’ve all played, or just recorded in. A lot of them only played a handful (if any) shows, and only recorded because Bob was lucky enough to have an older brother with a digital 16-track which we abused endlessly.”
*How did Shinobu start?
Mike: “Shinobu started because Argyle needed another guitarist so I filled in for a while. One day I saw Jon wearing a Death Cab for Cutie shirt (this is around the time of The Photo Album) so I knew he wasn’t exclusively into skate punk. I wanted very badly to start a band that wasn’t a joke and wasn’t punk, and so I asked Jon if he’d be into starting a more indie rock project with me. I told him that I had written more songs that I did (I had one at the time) and then went home and wrote a bunch to convince him that I was a good/real songwriter and luckily I fooled him. Bob has a preternatural ability to pick something up and become good at it quickly so I asked him if he’d be down to play bass with us–even though he’d never played before–and he did. Initially Jon’s friend Vince played guitar with us but he didn’t want to tour, so I asked Matt (who I had known since elementary school, and the days of getting into Green Day, etc) if he’d play with us and I think at that time Shinobu really came into its own.”
Shinobu – “What’s In Your Heart” (music video):