Name: Patrick Shiroishi
Nationality: Japanese-American
Occupation: Saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser
Recent Release: Patrick Shiroishi & Marta Tiesenga's Empty Vessels LP is out via Full Spectrum.

If these thoughts by Patrick Shiroishi piqued your interest, visit his official website or bandcamp page for more information and music. We also recommend our earlier Patrick Shiroishi interview about improvisation.

Over the course of his career, Patrick Shiroishi has collaborated /  performed / shared the stage with a wide range of artists, including Tashi Dorji, Thom Nguyen, Jessica Ackerley, Claire Rousay, Lia Kohl, Sally Decker, Briana Marela, Bana Haffar, Olivia Block, Daniel Wyche, Marisa Anderson, and Luke Stewart.

[Read our Tashi Dorji interview]
[Read our Thom Nguyen interview]
[Read our Jessica Ackerley interview]
[Read our Claire Rousay interview]
[Read our Lia Kohl interview]
[Read our Sally Decker interview]
[Read our Sally Decker interview about collaboration]

[Read our Briana Marela interview]
[Read our Bana Haffar interview]
[Read our Olivia Block interview]
[Read our Olivia Block interview about sound]

[Read our Daniel Wyche interview]

For many artists, a solitary phase of creative development precedes collaborative work. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your first collaborations?

Collaborations were more or less how I really started playing music.

From Deerhoof inspired bands in late high school to Zeuhl (Corima) and brutal prog (Upsilon Acrux) after that, playing with others was and still is a huge part of my practice. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties was I exploring a solo context … those first records and shows were extremely scary and vulnerable but great learning experiences.

Improvising with different musicians, especially when I am fully in the moment, is where I discover a lot. I do my best to take my zoom recorder to document these sessions in case I play something / do something I haven’t done before. Then I can listen back and further develop that idea at home and later incorporate it in my solo practice.

Tell me a bit, about your current instruments and tools, please. In which way do they support creative exchange and collaborations with others? Are there obstacles and what are potential solutions towards making collaborations easier?

In a live setting and depending on who I am playing with, I will either bring one or several saxophones with me to fit the situation. Recently I have been bringing my pedals along to improvise with and it’s helped me develop my agility and range with them, although there is the occasional mistake - sorry to my collaborators who’s experienced this (laughs).

Just like with the horn, there are many obstacles with electronics and through trial and error / working with them in live situations are they becoming part of my arsenal of sound.

I’ve also been taking part in online collaborations, which was very different as far as my typical approach was pre-pandemic. I’ve accumulated a bunch of weird little instruments and sound sources over the years, and I usually turn to them when working digitally. I try my best to create situations that will push me out of my comfort zone, that’s where the most interesting things happen.

What were some of your earliest collaborations? How do you look back on them with hindsight?

This would be in late high school. I wanted to play in bands since middle school but just couldn’t find anyone to make music with …

The first band I played in was a Led Zeppelin cover band where I played bass … I didn’t even play bass but I jumped at the opportunity to play music. Shortly after that I fell into a scene with brilliant musicians, most of whom I still communicate and play with today.

My first real band was called Otomoto, we were an art rock band where I played drums. We all contributed ideas and it was such so fun … we were just so excited to be making original music and would spend hours writing and rehearsing in a ridiculously small room attached to our bassist’s garage we called “the sweatbox.” Most of our music was lost in a corrupted hard drive but I can happily listen to the three songs that survived. Love to Mallory, Jeeshaun & Victor.

Besides the aforementioned early collaborations, can you talk about one particular collaboration that was important for you? Why did it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

This would have to be Nakata, a free improv duo with Paco Casanova. We both play in Corima, which I joined at the end of 2010. We would rehearse and hang multiple times a week and would share films and music from all over the world, a lot of discovery happened for me around that time.

Paco and I shared a lot of free improvised music with each other and eventually we decided to take a crack at it … and boy was it harder than we thought it would be!! We played a lot that year, documenting what we did, listening back, making changes in our playing, and eventually putting out some music on bandcamp …

I chose this collaboration because it really was my first step into free improvisation which is a huuuuge part of my practice today. Without Paco’s support and jumping in headfirst with me, I surely wouldn’t be where I am right now.  

What are some of the things you learned from your collaborations over the years?

That playing with someone new can bring a different, refreshing view to my own playing. I don’t want to repeat myself or make the same record over and over and collaborating always helps me expand my vocabulary …

I am very grateful to everyone who has worked with me thus far.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?

I don’t look at it in terms of gaining or sacrificing, but more as expanding.

Of course, there are many ways to look at a collaboration / group improvising and not one correct way to do this, but for me it is the most interesting to be in the moment and conversing with the people I am playing with.

I mean, even playing in a “solo” context, the performer is conversing with the listener, right?

There are many potential models for collaboration, from live performances and jamming via producing in the same room together up to file sharing. Which of these do you prefer – and why?

If you asked me this pre-pandemic I would have laughed at the idea of making music via file sharing, but I’ve had some really beautiful experiences with friends from around the globe, like with Camila Nebbia, Noel Meek & Fuubutsushi.

However, if I had to choose one model, it would be playing in a room together with the person … there’s nothing like feeling that energy in real time and being able to adapt to what someone else is doing and going in a new direction together.

Like this new duo record with Marta Tiesenga, who I think is one of the best saxophone players in Los Angeles. Right from the first time we played together there was an instant connection and fluidity and I think that translates on Empty Vessels beautifully.

What tend to be the best collaborations in your opinion – those with artists you have a lot in common with or those where you have more differences? What happens when another musician take you outside of your comfort zone?

As I mentioned before, being taken out of my comfort zone is where new things arise. I feel like I have the best collaborations when I share parallel core beliefs, specifically outside of music.

If you can shoot the shit or relate via similar life experiences or align on what you want to say through music, the music will come.

Some artists feel as though the creative process should not be a democratic one. What are your thoughts on the interaction with other musicians, the need for compromise and the decision making process?

I might be reiterating an answer to a previous question, but the interaction is the most important aspect of collaboration for me. I want to be able to contribute to the collective sound in a meaningful way each time I’m playing.

When I first started playing improvised music, I filled up all the space I could be it notes or volume. I’ve since changed my approach and have come to realize that not playing or being silent is also contributing to the improvisation.

Of course, there are many variables both personal and situational on how my decision making will be on a given day, but the bottom line is if I’m playing with a several musicians, I want it to sound like a group, not me playing over a group.

What's your take on cross-over collaborations between different genres?

They’re interesting as hell and can lead to new sounds and genres. You can say that some people have attempted this and the results have not been good, but you need that trial and error to get to that new discovery. More cross over collabs!!!!

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?

By listening, by being 100% in the moment, by being vulnerable and open to whatever might happen, by being okay with a “mistake,” by everyone giving their all.

Collaborating with one's heroes can be a thrill or a cause for panic. Do you have any practical experience with this and what was it like?

Joining Upsilon Acrux and playing with Paul Lai was one of these times. That band changed my life as far as what I thought music could be in high school. Noah, Dylan and I along with our group of friends would go see them at The Smell or any venue whenever they played live and would just be blown away by their musicianship and compositions.

Years and years later, the three of us were asked to join the band and boy was I fucking nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited, but I kept thinking “what if I can’t live up to expectations?” Paul was very gracious with his time and making everyone feel welcome and comfortable and emphasized that no idea was to be turned away.

After four years of writing and playing, we made a record I am very proud of that contains some of the most complex music I’ve ever been a part of. He also taught me a very valuable lesson that I still keep in mind; that no idea is precious, everything is to make the song better.