For years, following the success of the Lexington-based band Chico Fellini (she was the bassist), Emily Hagihara has been one of the most sought-after musicians in Lexington. Locally, she plays drums in the angular rock trio Ancient Warfare, as well as for the all-female cover group The Binders, which played to packed houses on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. While Chico Fellini is currently taking a break, Hagihara’s recent stint playing auxiliary percussion on the new album from My Morning Jacket front man Jim James, “Regions of Light & Sound,” has provided her musicianship an outlet to a significantly larger national audience. The opportunity arose following her role playing percussion on the 2010 album “Dear Companion” by Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, which James produced; local producer Duane Lundy, with whom Hagihara has worked on several projects, helped bridge the connection.
“We had a small window of time to work with between our schedules – (James) obviously keeps very busy and I was touring with Cheyenne Marie Mize and catching up with Ancient Warfare at that time,” she said. “We landed on a day that would work, so I brought what would fit in my car, knowing that there would be additional instruments available at the studio. I played lots of hand-held percussion instruments – tambourines, shakers, hand drums, triangle, crotales.”
Stream a brand new, unreleased track by Hagihara.
While Hagihara is known for her ability to play a variety of different instruments – bass, guitar, piano – as a performance major graduate in percussion at UK, drums are her primary forte, and have been since she was about 12 years old. She said she’s drawn to the physical nature of percussion, as well as the “never-ending variety” it provides.
“The day that the music instructor at Cassidy Elementary had us try out the basic wind, brass and percussion instruments was the day that I picked percussion,” Hagihara said. “I’d say the immediate influence came from my older brother, who was playing drums at the time, but aside from that, I was also immediately turned off by the sounds that I got out of the other instruments. I know these things take time, but it felt very unnatural.”
Regardless, when it comes to songwriting, Hagihara said that historically, when she sits down to write, it has started with guitar or keys. More recently, however, she’s been taking a different approach, starting with drums or bass and gradually adding other instruments. She likens the new material she’s working on, which she primarily writes, creates and records at home, to “soundtrack” music.
“The music I am making now is more focused, largely because I have the ability to demo,” she said. “I’m taking my time with it – each part receiving equal attention for the greater good of the whole. There is more of a focus on melody, an area that was lacking in my earlier writings.”
Though she’s still in the “idea” phase as far as a forthcoming solo release, fans will be happy to hear that Ancient Warfare has a full-length album in the works – and also that Hagihara isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon.
“I used to sort of have this romantic idea of moving to a big city – I’ve visited New York several times and I love it – but I really love Kentucky,” she said. “And I think it’s something that I realized later in age. I love Lexington, and it’s such a beautiful state.”
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