Every record has a story. But in the case of Ninjato’s ‘Studying War for Peaceful Reasons’, the story is a long and interesting one. This Ghent-based producer might not be new on the scene, it had been a while since we last heard from him. After going through a rough time in his personal life, the Caoutchou Records affiliated producer found back his mojo and started working on his most accessible (in a good way) and eccentric album to date. The result is available for your listening pleasure as of now – as is his remix of STUFF.’s ‘Walking Headz’ track, for which the video is premiered right here, right now (see below). We sat down with Ninjato to hear him out about the what’s and the why’s behind his latest release.
How have the reactions on your sophomore album been so far?
"Really good, sometimes even ridiculously positive! I don’t know how to react when I get enthusiastic feedback like that, especially because this was a project for which I dealt with a lot of doubts - although I got over them eventually. The album is a lot more 'danceable' than my previous stuff, and it contains countless influences from all sorts of sources. In the end, I am extremely happy with the result. My goal was to tell my story – and I think I succeeded in doing so."
So what’s your story then?
"There are many stories actually! To start, my modus operandi in the studio has become a lot more analogue over the years: slowly experimenting with actual music instruments instead of just a computer screen. I found out that in order to get quality results, you really need to master these instruments, which obviously took a lot of time. This has opened the doors to ideas and influences from a variety of unexpected sources, so this really felt like a fresh start for me. Then the other storyline here is – plot twist – that I’m really into politics and all that stuff. Whatever phase in history you’re studying – even the current geopolitical landscape – you’re always going to end up with one reason behind all top-level decision-making: war. I became almost obsessed with this topic, educating myself on the subject with piles of books, documentaries and movies. This concept of war has been in the back of my mind throughout the production process of this album, hence the title. Eventually the process of studying war and sonic experimentation culminated in the goal to make an album. For me, it’s one project, but both sides portray what I stand for and what I’ve been spending all my time on in the last few years."
Like you implied, your previous output used to be a lot more ‘experimental’ in the leftfield or IDM kind of way. What struck us when we listened to your new album, is the accessibility. It feels like these tracks have a lot more potential to break through in a wider audience. Was that a conscious decision? Or did it just ‘happen’ when you experimented with new instruments?
"Yeah, for Caoutchou Records this definitely sounds a lot more accessible! It just came to a point where I wanted to reach a bigger audience. I know who I am, so that means some elements in my music will always need to be ‘off’, if you get what I mean. That said, I wanted to find a common ground between my music taste, and that of the average listener; that was a proper challenge for me. Whenever I perform live on a stage, I always watch how specific people react to particular tracks. I also used to work at Bonnefooi, and there I also peeked how the audience interacted with every different kind of music. In the end, I realized that what you think is cool music isn’t always perceived in the same way by others. I’ve learned from those actions and I applied my lessons to my own productions."
So you’ve opened up to more sides of music production. Any other personal developments you went through, compared to when you just started out?
"In a technical sense, I’ve just become a lot more efficient. Things that used to take me hours can take me mere minutes now. That too has allowed me to experiment more with new styles. What hasn’t changed is the fact I’m so dependent on mood. If I’m not feeling well, physically or mentally, I can’t express myself. So this is partly a reason why it took me so long to finish my album."
Yeah, we were about to bring that up. In previous interviews you mentioned you went through a rough patch in the last few years. Many artists claim that actually helps them to make better music – but it seems you’re not like that.
"No, I’m not. When I heard my father had cancer, I started working on my first album, as I still had a lot of hope at the time. So when he died, I fell in a hole. I couldn’t do anything anymore; I almost closed the door on music altogether. On top of that, I was in a precarious budgetary situation, and I had to deal with a lot of pain in my hip. A heavy operation and many stacks of painkillers made me numb and unable to do any productive work for a long time. But eventually, I crawled out of this pit and I got working in the studio again."
Judging from your eclectic music we assume your studio looks more colourful than average. Are we correct?
"Well, I don’t know about that. In order to be creative I need the constant element of surprise. I’m constantly experimenting with new instruments and such; for me it’s the only way forward."
The artwork, composition and music video for Black Forest reveals you’re a fan of games like Street Fighter. You even made a little mini game that comes with it.
"A ninjato is a kind of short Japanese Samurai sword – and if you type that in YouTube, you only get results of random dudes slicing random things with Katana’s. That had to change (laughs). So I got talking with Ship Of Fools, a visual production studio, and they proposed to make a very simple video game to promote the release. It’s just a tiny little detail to be honest, but it goes along really well with the music."
Are you planning to do anything with the sounds you recorded while you were traveling?
"I stayed in Laos for a long time, recording samples of almost everything: bat colonies, caves, local music instruments, people, etc. My next album will probably revolve around these. To be fair, that’s still a long way ahead of me. I want to go back for a second round first."
About that video we premiered here for your STUFF. remix, how did you end up remixing one of Belgium’s most exciting bands?
"I knew Menno and Andrew from STUFF. from the Scheldapen days (a long-gone Antwerp music venue. The same management now runs Het Bos, ed.) and I booked them in Bonnefooi every now and then. They told me I could remix any track from their catalogue, and as soon as I started working on this project, I felt inspired to produce music again. This track actually rekindled the fire inside me – and it got me on the right track to finish this album. It was just a fun project to work on!"