Interview: Sadaharu Yagi

by | May 6, 2016

1 In Music meets Grammy-winning engineer and producer Sadaharu Yagi. Sada, as he’s known, was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and moved to Los Angeles to work in the music industry. He has collaborated with a wide range of artists in a variety of genres. When he is not in the recording studio, he’s more than likely in Joshua tree or on the beach in Malibu.

1inmusic: Hey Sada, thank you for joining us. You’re one of those people who seem to have been in the business forever, but when did you realize you were going to make music professionally?

Sadaharu Yagi (Sada): I started going to a music school in my hometown when I was 11. I wasn’t really interested in music back then but my parents forced me to go to learn drums. Soon after, I joined some local bands as a drummer. Since then, music has always been a big part of my life and became something I couldn’t imagine living without. When I was 18, I already knew what I wanted to do for a living and decided to move to LA.

1inmusic: Listening to the music you work with, we wonder, what type of music do you listen to in your everyday life?

Sada: I dig all kinds as long as they are well written and well produced. I grew up on grunge, funk-metal and a lot of alternative rock music like other kids from my generation. I was also really into the UK post punk scene from the late ‘70s. So many bands from that period added new elements like hip-hop, reggae and afrobeat into rock music. They are, in a way, my biggest influence and I played those bands millions of times growing up.

1inmusic: Is there any specific kind of music you always work for / prefer to work with?

Sada: Not really. As I mentioned, I was a rock kid, always rehearsing loud in the small, lousy studios. But I also listen to a lot of other genres and enjoy working for any kind of project, whether it be soul, urban gospel, latin, hip-hop….. Actually a new album by DJ Paul (from Three 6 Mafia), Master of Evil, which I recorded and mixed, came out last October. The album is pretty sick. You should check it out.

1inmusic: What is the most impressive project you have worked on through your career?

Sada: It’s so hard to single out just one artist. I am so honored to have worked with a number of the world’s top artists in my career. I would say… working for Draco Rosa’s album was actually pretty intense and one of the most unforgettable experiences. I was with him in the studio for 7-8 months to make a record called Vida. It featured a lot of great artists like Shakira, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and so on. Draco was making this album with me whilst fighting against lymphoma. Emotionally and physically it was not easy for him. Yet through all the tough moments, he played the piano, the guitar and all other instruments outstandingly, putting all of his deep emotion into the music. In the end, the album won me two Grammys. I was very lucky to be there watching and capturing the talent of this multi-instrumentalist.

1inmusic: Any other project/artist that you were inspired by?

Sada: Speaking of multi-instrumentalists, Wyclef Jean was another guy I was really impressed by. He and I worked for a different version of Divine Sorrow, and the original version was already released featuring Avici. We were working on the “R&B” version of this song, dismantling all the instruments and arrangements recorded for the old version. Wyclef basically needed only 3 hours to come up with the whole new idea for the arrangement with the bass, guitar, B3 organ and everything else. I was astonished at how quickly but perfectly he could compose music once he got into the creative groove. He sang on it and nailed it in a few takes. Not many artists can make music like that.

1inmusic: Wow indeed. Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?

Sada: There are a lot of underrated artists and albums in the music history. We lately lost two legendary artists, David Bowie and Prince. Even in these artists’ works, there are some completely undervalued ones. I don’t know how many articles I’ve read that didn’t praise Bowie’s 80s album Let’s Dance. Many critics said the album was too commercial and shallow. Just because it was the biggest hit record in his career doesn’t mean the album was not made with great creative depth. In the songs like Ricochet and Without You from the album, you can still identify his ‘70s experimental vibe. Also, Prince released great music before 1999 or Purple Rain. Recently I was listening to his early albums, Dirty Mind and Controversy. It struck me how amazingly those albums were produced by… by himself! These works are not rated as highly as they should be.

1inmusic: You’ve worked with many international artists. What is the difference between domestic projects and international projects from your professional point of view?

Sada: Yes, I often make records for international artists from France, Spain, Japan, the UK and more. There is not much difference. At the end of the day, we are all making music. But the vibe during the creative process might be a bit different. I feel like the vibe of LA projects is slightly more laid back thinking of the feeling and communication among musicians. Actually it’s not really about domestic or international. Even the vibe of the sessions from/in Nashville or New York is a bit more uptight than LA.

1inmusic: What do you think about modern music scene from the production perspective?

Sada: Youtube or Spotify are great avenues to find new artists. Everything is getting quicker and more convenient even on the production side. It’s great for us to be able to copy and paste the performance digitally or correct the pitch on the computer screen. But I noticed many young musicians don’t practice as much as the older generations used to do since everything is digitally fixable. Back in the analog days, no musicians could rely on the computer for their musicianship.

1inmusic: Do you think analog recording is better?

Sada: I have nothing against digital and embrace the technology, which now allows us to do many time-consuming tasks within a minute. I would say it’s more about the mindset of the users. At the end of the day, we humans are not computers. We are analog. If music is made only with digital technology, with no heart and no message, we are just making perfectly tuned and edited soulless garbage and in 10 years nobody gives a crap about your creation. Whether we use digital or analog, authenticity still matters.

1inmusic: Where do you think the music industry is heading to?

Sada: It’s been the most common topic among the industry people over the decade. The value of sound quality has been replaced by a new value of “convenience” since the advent of mp3s. The way music has been viewed has dramatically changed as if the sound quality is not what listeners and music providers really care about anymore. Several years ago, I have become aware of a new tendency in music sales. People have started paying money for vinyl records and the sales are apparently still rising. Also in Japan, high-resolution audio, which started as a small trend in the beginning, is in bigger demand now. I see these situations as a move against convenient compressed digital sound. I believe that by educating listeners hopefully more people will feel good about spending some money on uncompressed music.

1inmusic: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?

Sada: I guess there was not much I could’ve been told when I started out. It’s one of the oddest industries to work and make a living in. Nobody in the CD era really knew that such a big shift was awaiting the industry with Internet and digital technology, so what’s going to happen in the future is also not easy to predict. All I can say is “follow your passion only if nothing can stop it.”

1inmusic: Success to you is…

Sada: … very simple. Keep making music beloved by people all over the world regardless of their generation, gender, language and culture.

1inmusic: Any upcoming projects?

Sada: Yes. Currently working on a Japanese project. Last year I produced a rock band from Japan, called UNCHAIN, and did all the production here in Los Angeles. The album hit Top 30 in the charts and it was highly rated over there. It was quite an experience and I am now more intrigued to make records with Japanese, Europeans and other international artists. Hopefully I can announce more about the project soon.