Hailing from Japan and now based in Los Angeles, StarRo is a music producer that shouldn’t be defined. If you’re trying to get an idea of what type of music he makes, here’s the thing, there’s no one genre. There’s no identity, no pigeonholing, not confined to specific genres. StarRo is simply making great music as he goes along, and if one sounds a bit more hip hop or R&B ladened, and the next more European in its electronic influence, then that’s just how it it. However in saying that, contradictorily, StarRo’s music is unequivocally his own. But while such diversity can often cause many harm in terms of branding themselves, it seems to have done the opposite for the burgeoning creative, who was recently nominated for a Grammy—if that’s not an indication that he’s doing something right, then we don’t know what is. His Mother seems to now understand the breadth of his music making abilities, and coming from a traditional background where music isn’t a lucrative industry, this says a lot. “She knows that I’ve been making music since I was a kid, and that I did all those day jobs that I wasn’t continuing with… I think all Mothers start to worry when their kids starts quitting their job to get into something that’s not as secure… so I think there’s some relief for her through this as well,” StarRo tells me in our candid and almost therapeutic conversation about the pursuit of originality.
“I listen to all kinds of music right now, so now I’m kind of bringing in influences from my entire life—bringing them all together.”
The music landscape is awash with budding artists trying to find a niche, or even copying their peers and idols. For StarRo, it’s more about shutting off any musical influence during the time of writing, and using simply his own database of knowledge; a sum of everything he’s experienced in life to come up with something that’s uniquely him. It wasn’t always this way, the producer admits to experimenting with creating specific sounds, all the while working a day job. But having now fully committed to music, a devotion that doesn’t come easy for someone so strategically minded and with a upbringing where life security takes precedence over creative ambitions, he’s at a much for fulfilled place in life. It’s a choice that is now paying off for the trail-blazer, and with Monday, his debut full-length album only a few months old, and with the doors about to open much wider through his Grammy nomination, we can only expect to see great things to come.
For those that aren’t familiar with your sound, in your own words, how would you describe the type of music you make?
This is actually quite a difficult question to answer. My music has a lot of different elements. I’m not the kind of producer that would follow specific genres, like ‘ok I’m going to start making trap beats, or house beats…’ I’m not that, but I would say my biggest influence is soul music, R&B and hip hop. My music is a collection of those elements but with a modern twist. Or I guess you can look at it as something that incorporates older musical templates like rock or jazz… basically, it’s a mixture of everything!
So with these templates that are playing a part in the build of your music, are you consciously trying to take on older, more traditional elements and purposefully making them contemporary? Or is this just something that’s organically happening?
It actually used to be more conscious if I’m being honest, but in the past year, it’s starting to become much more organic. Now it’s more about what kind of music I’d like to listen to. I mean, I still listen to a lot of current music, so those things are still taken into consideration, but it’s not me trying to go out there to make something that sounds like Chance The Rapper or Diplo. I listen to all kinds of music right now, so now I’m kind of bringing in influences from my entire life—bringing them all together.
Do you find yourself aware of how much you’re progressing as a musician?
Oh yeah, definitely! I feel like I’ve now found my own sound. I used to go everywhere—I’m still doing that actually—but before it was more that each track used to be more defined by a genre sound. I didn’t really have a signature sound. Right now I feel like I have one, but without pigeonholing me into a specific genre. That’s to me is definitely huge progress as a musician.
“Basically this album is my ‘dream album’ as a music fan.”
Is that actually normal for musicians though? To have that experimentational period and trying to find your own sound?
I think a lot of people struggle with that, yeah. Especially with people that are making music specifically for DJs or clubs. Typically you’ll go after specific genres, because that’s what the scene wants. So when they’re discovering music, they’ll go through similar keywords. So some producers will do that, but it’s a struggle to stay away from sounding like you’re copying someone else. Or if you get a fan base because you did this one trendy type of genre, you’ll want to stick with that because it seems successful, otherwise you’re the type of artist that will go in completely the opposite direction. For me, when I made my [Emotion] EP in 2015, that was a challenge to change from my direction. I made something that doesn’t at all follow the path I was going in, and because of that, there was probably some people that stopped listening to my music. But with that challenge, I overcame the fear to progress and make something different. And then fast forward to 2016, I made my full length album [Monday], and by then, I was already “fearless.” I wasn’t scared about needing to brand myself with a group of listeners. When I made the full album, I was in the mindset of ‘what would I want to listen to,’ or ‘what’s something that I haven’t heard before within my radar of music knowledge.’ Basically this album is my ‘dream album’ as a music fan.
So to better understand how music affects you, can you recall the first time you decided internally that music was what you wanted to pursue in life?
Well, there was two different factor with this. There’s the making a living through music aspect, and the feeling that this is what I want to do, which are two different things to me. I actually had a day job at a tech company, which had nothing to do with musical creativity. But with that, I’ve always thought that I would do better in music, however the reality is that to make a living off of music, you have to meet the demands in the market. So to answer your question in when did I realize I can make a living making music, it was probably when I left my day job in the summer of 2015. I did that because I felt I had to—I started doing a lot of shows and being on the road, so it didn’t make sense for me stay with the tech company. That doesn’t mean I was making as much money as I did when I had that job though!
Saying that, just because I wasn’t earning as much money as before, I didn’t think that I needed to stick around until the music side matched that amount. I just knew that this was the time, time was on my side, and I was writing with a flow—there are very few times in your life where you write with this kind of flow, so with that feeling, I wasn’t worried at all. I was very confident in making music as a living… and here I am now!
It’s different for everyone, so what are some of the feelings you get whenever you hear something that moves you/inspires you?
As a musician, if you really want to enjoy a song—appreciate it for what it is—you have to turn off your ‘music’ mind. For example when I was wrapping up my album, I stopped listening to music at all because I was analyzing things too much, thinking ‘maybe I can use this in my work…’ Or I would start to wonder what kind of mindset that artist had when they were making that track. There was too much to think about, so I stopped all together. But once I finished the project, I went back to listening to music as a pure music fan, not an analytical music maker. I also think this goes back to your first question of what kind of producer you are and the sounds you make. So some will listen to music to pull references. I’m at a place where I don’t want any new references—I want to try to make something completely unique, and use where I’m at right now in life. My own database of everything you listened to in your whole life.
You dropped your album Monday earlier this year. What are some of the feedbacks you’ve received so far that speaks to you the most?
Well… it’s not really feedback, but the fact that my Mom liked it a lot… that actually means the most! This album isn’t supposed to make you turn up or anything like that, it’s basically music that you can play in the background. It’s supposed to be a part of your daily life without thinking. I don’t want this music to have a purpose, like a subconscious soundtrack. But at the same time, it could still motivate people, make them feel positive. But going back to the question, the fact that my Mom really liked it is great, because she doesn’t listen to the type of music that our generation listens to. She didn’t actually say that about my previous projects, so I know hearing this from her is legit. As for the other people that I’ve heard from, a lot say the same kind of thing, that it feels good to listen to. That to me is the best compliment.
You’ve worked with an impressive roster of artists for the project. What’s the process like for you to decide on who to work with? Or is it more organic and random than methodical?
Every song starts off with a vision, and what kind of sound it should have. So it’s just a matter of finding the right artist that matches exactly what I was imagining.
“There’s definitely more flexibility and freedom in your creativity when your music careers gets bigger.”
Going back to your mindset as a music artist, you’ve mentioned in a previous interview that when you saw the challenge of remixing “Heavy Start Movin,” you knew that you had to “kill it.” What are those mental steps to bringing yourself to a point of starting such a big project and self-motivated challenge like that?
I appreciate you bringing this up actually, because my definition of creativity is… well here’s the thing, it’s very difficult for anyone to draw something from a purely blank canvas. But, in that process of trying, what happens if you accidentally drop one spot of ink onto the canvas? That’s where it all starts. Everything needs to have a starting point. No one is making anything from absolute ground zero—there’s always something, typically from the past that you can pull from.
We of course need to mention you Grammy Nomination! We know that it initially came as a surprise to you. But now that it’s sunken in, what does this mean to you as an artist? What will this mean for the future of StarRo?
Not really actually… I think as an artist, you always believe in what you’re making, right? So I guess the question I focus on is where will my music take me. Some people stick to their specific niches and stay focused on that. But for me, I would love for more people to listen to my music, and help take me to places where If I’m able to collaborate with this person, I can! Like, if I wanted to created something that had a 30-person symphony…. Stuff like that. So there’s definitely more flexibility and freedom in your creativity when your music careers gets bigger.
So it’s almost looking at it like a gateway, an opportunity that you can utilize to help take your music to new levels.
Exactly, it’s not all just about the fame. Looking at it from that point of view, I’m always thinking about where my music will take me. With the Grammy nomination, to be honest, it doesn’t really impact my creativity as an artist. The thing it effects the most for you is people’s perception of you. So now that you’re associated with the Grammy’s, the people that I’ve wanted to reach out to, they’re now starting to listen and take you seriously. So with all that, I’m very excited to see where all this will take me to. At the same time, as a kid, watching the Grammy show and seeing all these great people on it… it’s all pretty cool (laughs).
How did you Mom feel about that? That must have been a major proud moment.
Oh yeah, she’s very proud! She knows that I’ve been making music since I was a kid, and that I did all those day jobs that I wasn’t continuing with… I think all mothers start to worry when their kids starts quitting their job to get into something that’s not as secure… so I think there’s some relief for her through this as well.
So lastly, what are you like outside of music? What are your hobbies or what other forms of creativity are you pursuing?
Fashion, art and film. I don’t really have time to keep up with all that, but I’ll watch as many movies on planes as I can. Movies are my favorite past time. And Soccer. But I’m also not following that anymore. I used to follow European teams, but unfortunately my life in the past year and a half has been all about music—I’ve been enjoying making it so much that I really don’t spend time doing much else.
You mentioned something casually before about fashion? Is there something there that we can expect to see from you in the future?
Eventually I would like to do more collaborations with fashion brands—which is actually happening right now. We’re not working with a fashion collection called Taste Makers, who are based here in LA. The relationship is more homies than business partners—we’ve travelled through Japan together as well—so it’s really about what comes from all this organically.