“I had to rearrange the way I’ve been thinking,” Sen Morimoto sings on his album closer “Reality.” The line gets to the heart of his third studio album Diagnosis, a project that’s taking indie jazz fusion to the next level. The song is broadly about the personal hell one creates by being overly self-critical, but Diagnosis as a whole implores listeners to examine their own truths and perhaps leave with a new perspective.
While the album does hold themes of love, spirituality, and radicalization, you won’t find many overt anecdotes about Morimoto’s personal life. Instead, he aims to examine the systems in place that exploit artists’ trauma in order to profit off their music. “Every song on Diagnosis is, at its core, an attempt to flip the lens around,” he said in a statement. With lush production, the 13-track LP is a series of ruminations on the current state of the music industry. He sings of art as content, information overload (and how particularly dystopian it feels to watch commercials at the gas pump), and in his own words, “making sense of the chaos around us.”
To celebrate the release of Diagnosis, Morimoto sits down with Uproxx to talk Stevie Wonder, fear of the unknown, and the innovation the DIY music community breeds in our latest Q&A.
What are four words you would use to describe your music?
Anti, Capitalist, Diorama, Pop.
It’s 2050 and the world hasn’t ended and people are still listening to your music. How would you like it to be remembered?
I hope my work can be looked back on as part of a moment in time when the American public was becoming more broadly aware of the evils of capitalism and the US government’s role in the senseless death across the globe and destruction of the environment.
Who’s the person who has most inspired your work, and why?
I learned how songs are written by teaching myself Stevie Wonder songs on the piano so those chords, melodies, and lyrics are deeply ingrained in me.
Where did you eat the best meal of your life and what was it?
This is an impossible question to answer but one meal that comes to mind is one I had on tour in London at an Indian restaurant called Dishoom. The flavors were so deep and they kept the chai tea flowing. I think of that meal a lot.
Tell us about the best concert you’ve ever attended.
Another difficult one. Maybe Solange at Pitchfork Fest in 2017. It felt like the density of the air changed when that set started. Everything was so perfectly arranged in music and movement.
What song never fails to make you emotional?
Nina Simone’s live recording of “My Sweet Lord” and “Today Is A Killer” always makes me feel like I can see the full spectrum of emotions in front of me like a painter’s palette. The joy in the choruses with the full choir that break down to these unreal intimate solo piano and vocal moments that sound almost improvised. She was able to make these songs that were written by other people sound like she was just thinking aloud in that one moment, and we’re lucky enough to have a recording of it happening live.
What’s the last thing you Googled?
“Vin Diesel Iron Giant”
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever crashed while on tour?
We once stayed with a friend of a friend’s dad, so we had never met, but they had a really advanced security system at their house with a wall covered in TVs that showed camera angles all over the outside of the house. So our bass player slept under the glow of these TVs which I thought was kind of creepy.
What’s your favorite city in the world to perform and what’s the city you hope to perform in for the first time?
My favorite city to perform in has to be a hometown show in Chicago, though I absolutely love playing anywhere in Japan too, especially Osaka. I’d love to go play in Mexico City. Lots of places in Central and South America.
What’s one piece of advice you’d go back in time to give to your 18-year-old self?
Don’t put too much value in the standards of the music industry. Everything worthwhile out here is done outside the box, and most parts of the industry are just trying to latch onto whatever innovation comes out of the DIY world.
What’s one of your hidden talents?
I’m not at a point where I could really call it a talent yet but I’m enjoying learning to sew. I want to make merch out of reused garments because merch is kind of the only way an artist makes money these days but I think a lot of band tee’s end up in landfills.
If you had a million dollars to donate to charity, what cause would you support and why?
Right now I would put all of that money into humanitarian aid to Gaza and the Congo. Sadly a million dollars wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what’s needed to rehabilitate and take care of those that have been displaced.
What are your thoughts about AI and the future of music?
I think it will likely become a tool for TV and Ad music placement. That’s a part of the industry which actually pays musicians fairly a lot of the time so I could see a lot of these production companies relying on AI-generated soundtracks and scores to make that process much cheaper for them sadly. I’m sure there will be some cool art that can come from using AI in a creative way but at what cost, you know?
You are throwing a music festival. Give us the dream lineup of 5 artists that will perform with you and the location it would be held.
I had this thought, which I immediately realized was stupid because people get wasted at music festivals and it would be way too dangerous but – I thought it would be fun if a subway train system in a city put on a festival where acts played stripped down sets on the platforms of different stations and fans could take trains to each platform to hear the sets. I’m not sure who would play. If it was booked for my specific taste maybe Cardi B and Paul Simon headline.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on social media?
I’ve always liked following Noname’s twitter. I think for a lot of people it has felt like a friend to radicalize yourself with. Exploring thoughts around anti-capitalism and anti-colonialism in a public forum with a large platform is really brave and I think it gave a lot of people trying to sort through the same moral dilemmas a voice of support in each of their journeys.
What’s the story behind your first or favorite tattoo?
My favorite tattoo is a big red snake on my arm. I was driving around with my friend at the time, who is now my partner, and we said: “What if I got a Gucci snake tattoo right now?” We went to the closest shop, asked for a “Gucci snake” which the tattoo artist looked super puzzled about but did a really cool take on. Years later we live together and have grown up in a lot of ways but this tattoo is a reminder of our silly times together running around being kids.
What is your pre-show ritual?
I used to kneel on the bathroom floor and pray for the grace to communicate real love to the audience. I’m not really religious but I felt it got me in the right mindset to play honestly. Now I just circle up with my bandmates, remind them that I love them and decide to have fun.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Maybe Shakira, or Robin Williams.
You have a month off and the resources to take a dream vacation. Where are you going and who is coming with you?
I think a trip to Japan with my whole family, my partner and her family and our bandmates would be the move.
What is your biggest fear?
I fear for the world. I fear that we’ve gone too far building this capitalistic machine that has a will of its own, and it freaks me out how easy it is for us to be unaware of its effects on the world. I am afraid of what else I’m unaware of.
Diagnosis is out 11/3 via City Slang. Find more information here.