Folk music is so ingrained in Yo Zushi that the man once described by Marie Anne Hobbs as “the spirit of Bob Dylan for the twenty-first century” no longer feels the need to call himself a folk musician. “It’s just how I think – I don’t feel I have to say it,” he explains, when we meet on a bench in Clissold Park.
Zushi was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1981, and came to Britain as a child with his family. Some of his relatives still live in Hiroshima, and he has grandparents who survived the atomic bomb.
He found success ten years ago as a singer-songwriter, and has shared bills with Joanna Newsom, Scritti Politti and Micah P.Hinson. This month sees the release of single ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, taken from his new album It Never Entered My Mind, which comes out in July. It’s Zushi’s first album for five years, which suggests he either takes these things slowly or that a lot of effort has gone into it.
“If you’re independently making music you have to take the compromise of basically pacing yourself so you can afford to eat some food at the end of the week,” he tells me. Zushi is a journalist by day, and recounts interviewing the song-writer Liam Hayes and asking him a similar question. “He just said: ‘Well that’s just how long it takes if you don’t have any money and you’re relying on favours’.”
The album is named after a recording of Miles Davis playing an old American show tune. “There is no overarching idea behind the album, it was just this feeling that I wanted to create in a bunch of songs. So we ended up recording about 100 songs and whittling it down to nine,” he says.
Zushi is as much a listener and fan as he is a performer and writer. Certain artists fixate him for long periods of time: Elliot Smith, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen.
“If you get really into a thing you kind of start thinking in their language,” he says, “and when anyone writes a song you automatically inject it with a lot of yourself.
“If something appeals to you on an emotional level, whatever it is you feel becomes part of your experience. So it’s not really an invalid thing to use it in your own music. That’s what everyone does really.”
Zushi’s current obsessions are with Alex Chilton of Big Star and Elvis Costello. On the press release he gives me It Never Entered My Mind is described as: “A story album about love in stolen moments.”
“It means absolutely nothing but it kind of gives you the gist,” he says. “I like writing that is open ended and if you get the guy who wrote the song to say it’s about this … it might not be about that for whoever’s listening.
“The job of someone writing the song isn’t to make mini movies where the songwriter is the main character – you need to make mini movies where the listener is the main character.”
‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ single launch is on 8 May at Powerlunches, 446 Kingsland Road, E8 4AE. It Never Entered My Mind is to be released in July.