An Interview With Koji

My favorite way to run into the artists who get featured on Grassrootsy, is to split a show with them.  An artist’s true colors shine through their stage performance, interaction with their audience, and reflection of how much value they put on their music. I recently did a show with Andrew Koji Shiraki, a Harrisburg, PA based singer-songwriter, artist, and activist and was excited to run into yet another artist who has paved his own way through originality and hard work. Building relationships with his fans seems to be his “thing”.  Here’s what he has to say.

“Don’t waste your time with things you’re not prepared to do. Create a serious plan and execute it seriously.”

1.) What’s your story?
My journey in music began when my dad bought me my first guitar at age 11 or 12. From the start, I played in punk bands with friends from school. As time went on, I was the one friend that could not stop playing. It was in the punk-hardcore-emo DIY community that I learned my skills both as a musician and as a working professional. Through working as a youth community organizer and playing my bands “Jura” and “Koji on the Roof”, I developed a tool box which included recording, organization, marketing, and so on. This skill set served me well after graduating high school and moving on to college where I would begin playing at a professional level.

While studying at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, I joined a band called El Toro. Our record was released on Undecided/Victory Records who were part owned by Sony. My time with El Toro in our big ugly tour bus was my first brush with the industry and following a lengthy legal dispute with our label, I left the band with a serious commitment to make music on my own terms.

This current stage of my career came with several starts and stops as I took the Koji project through another incarnation as “Koji on the Roof” and “Koji & the Colormake Crew” the band before finally deciding in 2009 to pursue the project as a solo endeavor. Art is my full time job and since leaving El Toro in 2006, I’ve released several 7-inch records and CDEP’s, performed hundreds of shows across the nation and abroad, while continuing to also work as a visual artist and activist.

2.) I personally know that you are at the point where you pay someone to handle your booking, as well as pay people to travel with you and handle your merch.  How did you get to this point? Do you feel its hard to do?
It should be said that I have a unique relationship with my booking agent and team. Many of us saw the sort of merging of the independent world with the majors and I felt like I did not share the same vision as many of the members of our community held. There was this incredible bubble that occured around the independents that led to an economy that supported a lot of meaningless music that saturated and polluted the world. What we are seeing now, is a return to people working with good people and building up artists they believe in. Anyone that joins our team knows and believes that love and community are the mission. Working in this spirit is the singular reason for any success that I’ve enjoyed and maybe a little bit of luck. Any person wishing to pursue a career or life of any kind is going to find their own path, but understanding yourself and having principles is the best place to start. Was it hard for me to get to this point? My first inclination is to say “no!” but that’s only because I wake up every day happy and fulfilled.

3.) At a recent show you opted out of playing on stage (like the other artists) and actually sat within the audience. This significantly changed the atmosphere into a house show type feel. I think fans appreciated the intimate feel? Is this something you do often and how else do you create a community-like vibe at your shows.
The reason I started playing entirely unplugged or off the stage is that the shows that I first attended as a teenager did not have any stages or baracades. It just made sense that you be close to people. Whenever I feel far away, I know something must be done! On some occasions, the solution is to forgo the stage and pa system for the floor. It just occured to me a few years ago that the Clash and lot of other bands I really liked played on stage. That was a huge revelation for me. (Laughs) Community is something… We’re really lucky to have each other here and I’ve always thought music is a celebration of life, so I just try to show that through words and interactions. Be honest, be humble.

4.) What has been the most effective way for you to build your fanbase? And how do you try to maintain the connection with fans you’ve met on the road?
There are so many ways to stay in touch with fans these days that it’s hard to know which ones work! Although, it’s become quite obvious that MySpace is giving way to Facebook even for music pages. If you’ve been paying attention you know which social networking sites and tools you should be using. However, I contend that one should play to their strengths so if you’re successful at or attracted to Twitter, blogging, etc. then concentrate your energies there. Don’t waste your time with things you’re not prepared to do. Create a serious plan and execute it seriously.

5.) What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better?
Oh! The single thing that artists should do to promote themselves better is RESPECT everyone. We do not see this enough.

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2 Comments on “An Interview With Koji”

  1. DC Cardwell Says:

    Nice interview! I enjoyed Koji’s fresh insights and progressive ideas.

  2. EMay Says:

    Nice interview! His concert in Pittsburgh was great (and as sound tech, I’d have to say he was a breeze 😉

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