StarRo's Journey to Making Music For Himself

By Kelsey Tang

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In a world where success is measured by the amount of Instagram likes and comments, starRo has learned to detach himself from the digital numbers. But it took a harsh battle with depression to reach this level of composure. In just a decade’s time, the artist born Shinya Mizoguchi has already encountered a lifetime’s worth of experiences. In 2011, the decision to make music yielded small but notable results: starRo posted his remixes and tracks on SoundCloud, and eventually earned a spotlight in Soulection. Then in 2014, the decision to pursue music witnessed much more risk and reward alike: he quit his salary job in tech, but a year later earned a Grammy nomination. Now the Tokyo-born artist has wrapped up his North American Tour, and he’s sipping a Jameson on the rocks before us in a dimly lit bar.

Life seems to move quickly for starRo. During these last ten years, he transitioned from a tech employee, to a SoundCloud producer, to an internationally-recognized Grammy-nominated artist with a jet set lifestyle. At the beginning of this three-part evolution, even his first EP Komorebi was quickly finished in a span of two weeks.

“I got my first interview when I was literally no one,” remembers starRo. “I just posted something on SoundCloud and got 76 plays, and I never had that kind of attention as a musician. I’ve always been a bedroom producer to forcibly show my beats to friends.” And just like that, the glamour and glory of this Grammy-nominated producer dissolves before us, revealing a character that feels like that one friend trying to make it in the industry.

“I thought, the interviewers probably think I’m a bigger artist — I gotta have at least an EP,” he continues. “So I told them, okay I need 2 weeks — I’m busy. And I was working on that EP just to say I dropped my EP in the interview. That was how Komorebi was made.”

Komorebi is an epic narrative of jazz-inspired piano melodies, fluttery guitar strumming, and heavenly strings — it’s a chandelier of a dozen dazzling parts coming together. It’s also only a sliver of starRo’s range of talent. From collaborating with Masego to touring with Anderson .Paak, his hip-hop and funk-heavy soundscapes are in constant high demand. Then there’s the electronic portion of his work, fully charged with bubbly synths and thundering bass, attracting a handful of pop vocalists.

Along the way of his three-part evolution, he sought validation from his fans, looking to meet their needs via his music while increasing his social media numbers. “As an artist, you want your growth accelerated,” he admits. “First you want a hundred people happy, then a thousand, then ten thousand, and then a million people. It multiplies. You feel anxious because you think, am I ever gonna slow down?”

While starRo has done anything but slow down, he’s learned to make music on his own terms now. And he’s living proof that an artist can harmonize two lifestyles in opposition: 1) making a living off of palatable and profitable music and 2) diving deep into one’s artistry to make music outside of fan expectations.

When asked if he wants listeners to still like his music, starRo just chuckles: “I don’t care. That’s why I started two different projects. In one project, I’m more of a producer, working for other artists. That makes my living. My other project is a one-man band where I basically do everything. I produce, sing, and write lyrics. In Japanese.”

Pops Kenkyukai is the name of his “other project” — an experimental musical alter ego, and a keyhole into the more romantic crevices of his psyche. Both starRo and Pops Kenkyukai coexist in the same mind, and there’s something so refreshingly unpretentious about this peace treaty between making art that sells and making art for art’s sake.

Pops Kenkyukai is now streaming on Spotify.

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Jeffrey Wu