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J-Pop Exchange Exclusive Interview with Tetsuya Takahashi

Tetsuya Takahashi J-Pop Exchange Radio Show Exclusive Interview


OAD: 3/31/2012 

SeanBird (J-Pop Exchange): Hi Mr. Takahashi, thank you for taking the time to speak with us…

Tetsuya Takahashi: It's my honor to join your program!  It's my pleasure.

SeanBird: Did your interest in music begin in your childhood?  How did you become interested in music?

Tetsuya Takahashi: In my childhood, I really liked music, especially singing.  When I was a child, there were many TV programs about Super Heroes such as 'Ultra Man' and 'Kamen Rider (Masked Rider)', and I sang the theme songs of those TV animations like "crazy" everyday.  Not only TV animations, but any theme songs of hero TV programs, as far as I remember… I think everyone knows 'Godzilla'.  There was a series of Godzilla movies then.  Mr. Akira Ifukube was the song writer and the composer of the BGM for Godzilla, and I really liked the theme song for Godzilla.  So, I sang it over and over again.  I think that was my formative experience of music.

SeanBird: Please tell us about your musical studies and training.

Tetsuya Takahashi: To be honest, I almost never had Academic Music Education in my life.  In fact, when I was little, there was my baby sister's piano in my house, an upright piano; on it I started playing my original songs, and I played them in my own unique way.  Later, in elementary school, I became a member of a brass band club and played trombone.  Maybe that was the only time that I learned something about music in an academic way, at an early age.  Otherwise, I learned music on my own.

SeanBird: Who are your musical influences?

Tetsuya Takahashi: There are many musicians and artists that influenced me.  Ah… for example, Pink Floyd, Earth Wind & Fire.  -- And some others … Japanese Artists, Tatsuro Yamashita and Ryuichi Sakamoto; vocalist, Al Jarreau; movie soundtrack composers, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Hans Florian Zimmer, etc… They are some of the famous people that I like, but there are many others!  However, one of the artists who influenced me in the most direct way, especially in my childhood was the group 'Queen'.  Since the day I first encountered the music written by Queen, I was shocked by the beautiful harmony and the sound created by them… and thinking back about that time, I think my song writing is influenced a lot by that shocking sound experience.  -- And the other person is… there was a progressive band named, 'YES' -- And the keyboardist of this band was Richard Christopher Wakeman [known as Rick Wakeman].  The world he made by his creation and performance was … how can I say, after he became a solo artist, we used to call the musical atmosphere he created 'Symphonic Orchestra' in old times.  The sound he produced was a mixture of Rock and Orchestral, and I was very into this mysterious and dynamic world of sounds.  And needless to say, I was influenced a lot by him too.

SeanBird: What music do you like to listen to?

Tetsuya Takahashi: I listen to almost anything! -- From Rock to J-Pop, and of course Movie soundtracks, songs from anime …. And, yes, I love anime; it's the old type cel animation that I like though.  And I also like choral songs, Christmas a cappella, and larger scale Choirs too!  Let me think, what type of songs do I not listen to? … Hmm - maybe Japanese Enka is the only type of music that I don't listen to.  Otherwise, I enjoy listening to any kind of music.

SeanBird: How and when did you decide to pursue a career in music?  Was it always your intention to pursue a career in music?

Tetsuya Takahashi: When I was a high school student, I was involved in 4 or 5 projects with different groups.  Those groups were mainly rock bands… and I wrote songs and sang for the groups. Sometimes we got a prize, and sometimes we got an offer to make a debut with some music company.  But I was just vaguely doing music activities.  And what was in my mind back then was … some ambiguous wish to have an occupation somehow related to music someday … to become someone who writes songs or makes arrangements and does chorus parts sometimes … to become someone who works behind-the scenes was the only image I had of my future.  One day, a guy came up to me and asked if I was interested in making a debut as a singer. I hesitated at the first moment, but soon I thought, "This would be a great chance to give myself a try," so I decided to accept this offer.  In 1996, I made a debut as a singer, with Toshiba EMI.  Consequently, after 2 years trial, I was fired … in other words; my singing couldn't make money at all.  In such a way, my singer-song writer period was ended.  It was a sad result, but personally this experience gave me a chance to ignite myself.  My vision of my music career got clearer, and I could straighten myself up.  Since my singing career finished, my goal had changed from singer-song writer to a composer who writes songs for commercials, or for other artists, and makes arrangements of songs.  So, for me, the experience of making a debut and try-out became my turning point, and gave me a serious attitude toward my music career as a composer.  To tell the truth, I yearned for song-writing work seriously, but because I knew it wasn't an easy dream to achieve, my mind was not always headed straight toward a music career when I was young.  But I really liked music and singing, and I couldn't keep myself away from it.  I was always writing songs, or thinking about new music, and kept singing whenever I could find a place to sing.  And I kept being true to myself, and such ways led me to myself today.  That's how I feel now.

SeanBird: Can you give us some insight into your writing process?  When you compose music, how do you progress from inspiration to creation?

Tetsuya Takahashi: I usually create songs in the middle of the night.  Somehow I can concentrate better during the night … maybe because it's quieter in the dark.  -- So, most of the time I write songs from midnight until morning.  However, when there are many close due dates, I start my day early in the morning, and isolate myself from 6 a.m. until noon.  I wake up in the morning and sleep at night, and try to fit in to the usual time schedule many other people maintain for their working hours.  Somehow, this strategy increases my creativity when there are tight schedules.  My scheduling style varies, depending on how close the due dates are. 

These days, I have more offers to compose soundtracks for movies and animation (though I still do song writing for musical artists).  And in such projects, the offering companies give me the plot and movie as a starter.  So I start from reading the plot and watching the movie. I'm sure there are many different ways to compose the back ground music of animations, though what I care most is the synchronization; how well the songs and sounds link to the screen image.  However, writing theme songs for certain animation or movies, involves a completely different process.  For the theme song of a title, firstly I try to come up with an outstanding and memorable melody line. Since I started my music career as a singer, I really care about the melody for the theme songs and what's always in my mind is to "come up with a good line that listeners can easily remember and even children can hum."  To the contrary, when writing background music or soundtrack type of music, the goal is very different.  The song must not stand out on the screen. The music must reach the people in front of the screen together with all the other elements, and I personally think composers should not appeal to their original characteristic sounds in such creations.  If the sound stands out too much on the movie screen or TV, I think it'll give discomfort to the viewers.  The song must reach the viewer's unconsciousness, and the point I always care about is this soft approach toward the viewer's unconsciousness.  -- To support the visual images with the sound.  This is what I usually bare in my mind while I compose songs for visual-motion images.

SeanBird: How did you become involved with composing music for anime?

Tetsuya Takahashi: There was a CG animation released in 2004, 'Apple Seed'.  Composing music for that animation was my first project for animation.  Since then, I got more chances to work for anime titles, both CG animation and cel animation.  I often wondered why I got so many chances to work for such anime titles, but now I think it's probably because I simply liked anime titles since I was a child.  I've been part of the generation that has been influenced by great directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  This generation experienced a great impact by watching the world-famous movies starting with 'Star Wars' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'.  So to speak, these kinds of… 'sense of wonder' type of titles are still my favorite. For me, as a professional composer, it is a great pleasure to work on anime titles that have interesting and similar themes beneath the stories. Well, the mainstream of the music industry is still the Pop's - the songs that have vocal parts - but I have really liked soundtrack type of music since I watched the Godzilla movies when I was a child.  In my early years as a composer, I could hardly ever make money with my music but I kept creating songs.  If there were any chance to collaborate with a short film project, no matter if it was indie or major, I always reached out and asked if I could be the composer of the project; and I composed something similar to a Hollywood type of sound track.  And after spending many years in that way, I got my current position as a composer!  I think I was very lucky and I really am happy to be here as I am today.

SeanBird: Please tell us about your experience with scoring the music for the X-Men anime.  Where in the process do you, as a composer, become involved?

Tetsuya Takahashi: About the X-Men… it's one of my most favorite!  I really am a big fan!! I watched every single movie of this series!  One day, I got a call: "We have a project to make Marvel Comic's X-Men into an animation movie.  Would you be interested in taking part as a composer?"  There is a company named Sony Pictures Japan, and a long standing Japanese animation company named, Madhouse, and it was a call from one of the members in the Sony division.  I was very happy from the bottom of my heart, and of course I answered, "Yes.  I'd be very happy to."  By the way, it was not only the X-Men, but 4 succeeding series, starting from Iron Man to X-Men, Blade… etc.  And this project started with a meeting with all the staff including the people from Marvel Comics.  The director of this series was Mr. Kizaki, who directed the movie, 'Afro Samurai' which was also released in the United States.  The main voice-actor was Samuel Jackson.  It was a great honor to work with such great project members.  So, I was looking forward for to the project meeting to create animated X-Men together.

SeanBird: In regards to your entire body of work, are there any particular pieces that stand out as favorites or have a particular significance for you?

Tetsuya Takahashi: The piece with special memory is, the 'Apple Seed' that I worked on in 2004.  Until this project I worked mainly with songs for vocals, and I had done arrangements and chorus work … and also songs for the commercials.  But after this project, my main work shifted toward soundtracks for animation and movies.  I can say that 'Apple Seed' gave me the opportunity to open up my field of work toward different genres of music.

SeanBird: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you would like to talk about?  For example, I know that you are working on the score for the anime movie “Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker.” 

Tetsuya Takahashi: I think American people know this title better.  There's a game named 'Dragon Age' which was made in America.  And there is a project to make an animated version of this game together with a Japanese crew.  The director of this project is Mr.Sori, who worked as a producer in the project for 'Apple Seed' and he is also well known as a director of popular movies such as, 'Vexille' and 'Ping-Pong'.  As the title shows, 'Dragon Age' is a story of the historical age.  This Dark fantasy type of story is led by interesting characters, including a dragon, wizard and female warrior…etc.  

There's another project which will start very soon. There was a movie named, 'Starship Troopers' … and I think there were 3 series under this title, -- and it's the newest CG animation planned, to be created together with both American and Japanese people.  The director of this project is Mr. Aramaki, and he was also a director of the animation, 'Apple Seed'. Also, please look forward to the release of this exciting title, 'Starship Troopers - Invasion-'!

SeanBird: Where can people find out more about your music?

Tetsuya Takahashi: Well… if it's a Pop song that I wrote for the artists, of course you can find them in CD albums or singles.  If it's a soundtrack for the movies, they can be found on the soundtrack albums in the stores.  Recently, many of my songs are used in video works, so you can hear them on DVD or Blue-ray.

SeanBird: In conclusion, is there anything you would like to talk about that we have not discussed thus far?

Tetsuya Takahashi: The titles and related names that I mentioned in this interview, like… 'X-Men', 'Marvel Comics', and also 'Dragon Age'… all these were made in America.  Also, of course, the 'Starship Troopers' too; it was made in Hollywood. Recently more titles and projects are made and worked on together across the borders of nationality, like America and Japan in the above titles.  And I think more projects will be created together with the cooperation of different countries these days.  There are more K-Pop and drama (soap opera) from Korea coming into the Japanese pop culture mainstream. There are some negative parts too, but I think this is a very natural flow of change; and cultures can be even more borderless in our near future; not only America and Japan, but also Western countries and Eastern Countries generally.  Even if you say, 'Asia' there are many countries in this one area, it's not only Japan!  There are many new collaborative and cooperative creations in multiple fields.  So I think, someday there might be no border between one country and another. Maybe creative and inspiring people will come and go in the search of new creation, and many new mixtures of culture will give birth to something we can't even imagine today.  When I imagine about this new creation and mixture of culture, I become very excited to see our future and new creations!  And it is a really great honor to keep composing songs in this time period! We're experiencing a wonderful and dynamic change!