SaNTINO: Leeds-based writer, musician and producer on his EP Big Swirl

SaNTINO: Leeds-based writer, musician and producer on his EP Big Swirl

0 comments 📅24 August 2017, 12:19

“I’m just a Harajuku boy living in Leeds,” SaNTINO admits, laughing as he says this – as we both do throughout our chat – our shared interests making this more like a regular conversation than an interview. It’s entertaining talking to the up-and-coming Leeds artist, his bubbly personality and passion for Japan shining through.

He describes his music as “something Prince would have produced if he could speak Japanese and was an anime nerd”, and there isn’t a better way to explain it. Taking inspiration from Japanese musicians, culture and anime, his new eight-track EP Big Swirl is filled with infectious melodies and catchy lyrics you just can’t get enough of. It’s also been pressed on beautiful candy swirl vinyl and tells a story, with a corresponding web series being released alongside the music. MyM’s Roxy Simons discussed his influences and love for Japan.

How has your interest in Japan and speaking Japanese influenced your music?
It’s weird, I think I’m one of those people who’s just enamoured by Japan. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t just obsessed with the culture. Every time I need to do something, or I have an idea, I’ll always look at artists in Japan and what they’re doing. I think there’s a group of people that just get so inspired by the culture. I watched anime and always wanted to learn Japanese. I studied it for two years, and now I’ve got that I might as well use it, so I thought it was natural to use it in my music.

Big Swirl is a very fun album. Where did the ideas for it come from, particularly for songs like WEEB Life?
I wanted to make a song that sounded like Grimes and WEEB Life was that, though it sounds nothing like her! I wanted to be her and that’s what came out. I was listening to her music all the time and I think she’s just really cool – every song is different and there’s always something tying it along. When I listen to her music I just get put into space, and I wanted to recreate that. I think I got it, it’s completely different but it makes me feel good when I listen to it!

Is it nerdy that when we saw the title of your song Sun Moon we thought of Pokémon?
That was intentional! I’m glad someone got it because no one else has yet. I wanted to end the album on a really uplifting note. I wanted it to start off nice, bring it down a bit and then bring it back up to something really uplifting. That song captured a moment – we have a club called Hi-Fi in Leeds and I distinctly remember going there and dancing all night just drinking water, and none of my friends were there but I was still boogieing out. I’m just comfortable being on my own, doing my own thing, and I related that to everything else and the Sun Moon lyrics came out. It was a, ‘This is it, I know who I am’ kind of thing.

How did you first get into music and making your own songs?
I got into it really late, I was just a normal WEEB boy and the first Guitar Hero came out. Tool had a song on the game and when I heard their track I knew I needed to learn every instrument I could, and to play that song. That was the first moment that I really encountered music on a level where I wanted to be part of it. I got a guitar from my friend and started to teach myself how to play, and then later I found I was naturally talented with drums when I played my friend’s kit and everyone asked me how long I’d been playing! All those things led up to me becoming a musician, and then I had a second epiphany when I heard Grimes. I was in loads of bands and was gigging but just hated it, I hated working with people. And then I found her music and I saw she did everything on her own, and she made me want to start making music as a thing. It’s all thanks to Grimes!

What are some of your favourite anime?
Obviously, the classics like Dragon Ball Z, Ghost in the Shell and Akira, because I grew up on those, but right now I’m weirdly into shojo anime, and my number one anime of all time is definitely Sailor Moon. Number one of all time! Card Captor Sakura was another one. A recent one I liked is Show by Rock, it’s one of those anime that went under the radar but it’s hilarious. It’s an easy watch, there’s not much to it but it’s awesome. I also rewatched Samurai Champloo recently, that’s also awesome, and Your Lie in April as well.

What made you want to make music about anime?
I think it was really that I wanted to make music that just stuck out and was different from everything, I wanted to make something that I hadn’t heard before. I looked at who I am as a person, and pulled references from what I know. No-one was doing this weird anime synth funk music so I just shoved it all together and I think it works. A few people were doing it online, but no one took it with a charge. I feel like they were all trying to be cool about it and I was like, ‘No, it’s not cool, we’re all WEEBs, be a WEEB with me!’ I just wanted to take it and make music. I want to be the big shiny Sailor Moon WEEB of the city!

There’s quite a big online community of Japanophiles. What was their reaction to your music?
I’m getting a lot of people saying I sound like ‘insert their favourite influence here’ so for me, it’s awesome. I’m much more of an internet artist than I am a Leeds artist. I wouldn’t call myself a Leeds artist because my sound wasn’t born here, it was born from anime and the internet. The reaction has been good, the first album did well because it was super weird. Big Swirl’s a lot more normal, maybe.

With this one, I wanted to make my music accessible. In Leeds, people are feeling Girl, the first track of the album, and everyone online likes all the weird stuff, so I’m split at the moment because there’s this duality and I don’t know what to do. Do I put them together or keep it separate? I want to try and make music like Lil Yachty, he calls himself bubblegum rap and that’s awesome, so I want to make bubblegum funk. I wonder if I can make a Japanese funky sound that’s totally crazy but totally accessible, so that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m going to see if it works.

Which Japanese musicians influence you?
I love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, she, and her whole company, changed my life. I was a metal kid, like death metal, and then I found Kyary and went to J-Pop instantly. Yasutaka Nakata is another one – he’s the producer for Perfume, Capsule, Kyary and other musicians. Everything he does is the best thing ever, I have all of his song books.

Does Nakata influence the way you compose your music?
Yes, his chord work and the way he moves his bass lines playing piano. It’s a very Japanese thing, I don’t know if people copy him or if it’s Japanese music in general. Yasutaka’s harmony is key to life, it makes me so happy to listen to his music. When I figured that out from his chord books, it changed my life and I use it in all my songs. Those kinds of things push me forward. His music is really jazzy so it makes me push my chord work and music theory work a lot further. On this EP I tried to do that, in my own British way, so it’s kind of like an appropriation, but I wasn’t following his rules, I was adapting that style and trying to make it mine.

If you could work with anyone in the music business, who would it be?
First of all, Charlie XCX, she’s my queen. Everything she does is awesome. I think I wouldn’t be able to work with Kyary, she’s too awesome and I would ruin it. Charlie could write great songs and I could write the beats.

Would you like to go and tour in Japan and sing in Japanese?
I’ve never thought about that, but now you’ve said it, I would translate everything into Japanese! I would try my best to speak Japanese in between tracks too. I’m dying to play in Japan. I have applied to play in South Korea with Sound City festival, so if I get that then I’ll definitely go to Japan and play a show there. I think they’d like my music, they’d feel it.

What would you like to do in the future?
I just want to see how far I can get. I want to be on the radio as the weird guy, the guy that puts out the weirdest music that you wouldn’t expect. I wrote some rock music and I was going to surprise people with it and see what they would say. I want to be that guy – basically, I want to be Prince. He was so weird, he would just come out with the weirdest shit but it was awesome! That’s what I’m trying to build for my career, massive but weird as hell.

SaNTINO’s EP Big Swirl is available to buy from 29 September 2017. 

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