By: Allison Lapinski
In case you missed it: Sen Morimoto has released his self-titled sophomore solo album. And by now, Chicago listeners have claimed the Kyoto-born, Massachusetts-raised, composer and multi-instrumentalist as their own. In July, many fans watched as he withdrew from the City of Chicago’s Millennium Park at Home series. It ultimately culminated in a more authentic independent live project with Tasha.
Much has happened for Sen since his solo album, Cannonball!, was released in 2018. He joined a collective of jazz musicians on Resavoir, has co-run the label Sooper, has been collaborating with Pivot Gang and other projects, and survived a pandemic all the while. His adoption into the Chicago music scene has evolved since arriving in 2014.
The album’s reception has been triumphant. Sen’s lyrics are extremely personal, yet he also allows listeners to somehow relate to the depths of his emotions. The fusion of R&B, jazz, blues, and rap creates enough space for harmony, conflict, and resolution through his use of differing production styles and instrumentals.
Following the release of the album, we spoke to Sen and learned a bit more about his creative process:
WLUW: Well, congratulations on the new album. And for all the success it’s earned so far. What’s it been like for you just releasing this during the pandemic, and have you gained any new experiences from it because of the circumstances?
Sen:. It’s like a totally different situation, and it’s all kind of new, I mean, I’ve only really put out one record before this, so it’s not like I had a ton of experience to build off of, but having just learned all of that once to put out a record, and then kind of having to start from scratch with this one, was an interesting experience. It’s mostly just been about like being creative about how to reach people, , figuring out how you can connect with someone, or even just letting people know what you’re working on at the time when you can’t go play a show or be in front of people or go to a record store or anything.
WLUW: You recently did an Audiotree session to release the album. That must’ve been kind of weird, just playing in front of an empty venue.
Sen: It’s super weird. It’s just an empty dark room. And in between songs, it’s like, what do you do? And you don’t really have the energy to feed off of, which is really interesting. But it’s funny. I wasn’t really expecting it, but we were able to feel that energy with just the friends on stage. Luckily I had a bunch of my friends with me, so it still ended up feeling almost like a show.
WLUW: Speaking of, you have quite a few features on the album. I was wondering what you think about collaborating right now and how you think it might be a good opportunity for people to just connect with one another right now?
Sen: I think it’s super important. I mean, there’s so much that changes about even how you listen to a song when you work on it with someone else, like whether or not they even end up adding sounds to it themselves. Just showing someone something you’re working on at a developmental stage, it totally shifts how you think about it. So I think it’s really important. And if it then leads to a full collaboration, there’s something really special about how that was only possible because specifically the two of you or three of you, or however many people worked on it were together. And right now, it’s a time where I feel extremely isolated sometimes. So being able to figure out how to use technology, just like having a zoom call or emailing tracks to each other or something to kind of stay connected has been really helpful.
WLUW: Is it more or less difficult just because it’s such a very personal thing that you’re sharing with people or do you find that it helps you kind of work through things?
Sen: It’s definitely difficult. I feel like it’s like a different muscle when you’re working on something alone versus working on something with somebody, because it’s like allowing yourself to get creative and working with others is like trying to not take up too much space. So it’s kind of the opposite tendency, compared to working alone. But it’s definitely been super helpful for me now just to be able to, share energies with people, to get on the same page and feel less alone about creating.
WLUW: Definitely. What about your Jupiter video? Your brother, Yuya, helped you with all the footage for it, and it turned out beautiful. What was the decision for you to include all those moments and connect it to that song specifically?
Sen: When I finished the record and we were starting to figure out doing music videos and stuff, it was right at the beginning of lock down. We had all these plans to find more expensive or at least, more established video teams and do all this stuff in an attempt to raise the bar a little bit. But then, everyone was locked down. We couldn’t really be in groups of people. So we just decided to bring it back to how we have always done things, which ended up being a blessing in disguise, for sure. Just keeping it in the family and friends, doing things that are more creative than a high budget production, you fill that void with your own creativity, with the people that you have and the resources that you have. And I always find that that stuff connects more for me personally anyways, so yeah, it was really cool to be able to reach out to my brother. He’s been making short films since we were little. He had this idea to compile all this old footage from when we were growing up along with this funny green screen, and it ended up being a sort of space journey.
WLUW: The album also reflects a lot on the senses. There’s touch with the song “Goosebumps,” taste and smell with “Taste like it Smells,” and audio with “Woof.” Are you someone who is very connected to these details on the regular for songwriting or is it something that happens subconsciously?
Sen: I naturally write in ways that interact with the senses, just because I think it is kind of visceral for me. When I’m experiencing some sort of emotional situation, I often am noticing the things that are happening to my body. Like, the hair on the back of your neck standing up or getting goosebumps or something. You always feel something physical, whether it’s a smell or a taste. I will pick up on those sorts of things at times when it’s hectic or emotional and I feel like most of the songs are about those kinds of manic states. I think that’s a really good way to communicate memories too. People can relate to those senses, even if they can’t necessarily relate to the specific words of that situation.
WLUW: Have you ever felt pigeonholed as a saxophonist or do you think that it just opened more opportunities for you as a musician?
Sen: I feel like less than it pigeonholed me, but more of in a career sense, some people started assuming that I’m only going to do saxophone or something. After the first record, I felt like everything was saxophone-related. So it was like, “Oh, that’s that guy, you play saxophone.” I didn’t want to lean on it too hard because I feel like a lot of what makes me happy about making music is having the freedom to experiment with different things. So yeah, I definitely consciously reeled it in a little bit on the saxophone.
WLUW: What is a dream livestream festival lineup for you, (not sponsored by City of Chicago)?
Sen: Oh yeah. A dream lineup. I mean, the thing I miss most about Chicago shows is just being at the show, performing with my friends. So it would probably just be everyone on the album; KAINA, AAAMYYY, NNAMDI, Joseph Chilliams. Kara Jackson, Qari, Lala Lala. These are all the people that I would want to go see first when shows open back up for sure.
Stream the full interview above, and support Sen’s new album here.