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[Anime Key Player Interview #14]
Tom-H@ck, Composer, Guitarist, member of OxT and MYTH & ROID, and CEO of TaWaRa Inc. Part.1

2020.05.20

JAMLAB has interviewed many anisong industry professionals. Most of the interviews we’ve done so far have been producers from the business side; however, in this article, we welcome Tom-H@ck, who is active as a creator and artist both in Japan and abroad. Tom-H@ck started his career as a composer and arranger after debuting as the composer of "Cagayake! Girls," the opening theme song of the TV animation K-On!in 2009. He is currently active as a composer and a member of units OxT and MYTH & ROID. Aside from being a creator, he is also involved in management as the CEO of the music production company "TaWaRa." We had the opportunity to sit down with Tom-H@ck, despite his hectic schedule.
 


First of all, could you please introduce yourself and talk about your current job?

I do various jobs, and recently, my range of work has been particularly expanding. First, I debuted in the industry as a composer. The most known work I was involved in was K-On!.K-On!,which celebrated its 10th anniversary and participated in "Animelo Summer Live" last year, was my debut work as a composer, and I’ve been composing songs ever since. The president of my agency at that time had always said, "You're born to be an artist, so why don't you become one?" and that became a reality with OxT and MYTH & ROID. At that time, there were good male and female vocalists, so I thought “why not do both?” and I became not just as a composer but also an artist. I used to belong to a company called F.M.F., but two years after MYTH & ROID debuted, I started my own company and managed MYTH & ROID and myself. After that, I gathered other creators and artists, and I became an executive. Basically, I am a composer, an artist, and a manager, but in fact, I am running four companies, which I have not made public. I'm involved not only in the music industry but also in many other fields. That’s my work in simple terms.


How about your career?

Back in my teenage and early twenties, I never imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing right now. My work became connected with the right people, my network expanded, and I've started doing things that I didn't mean to do, but in a good way. In terms of management, it wasn't as if I had a long career, but rather it was a result of connections with people and of plans turning into reality. In the end, I think I ended up where I am now because of the accumulation of things that lead to the future.


So was it a bit later in your career that you thought that you really wanted to be a composer?

Maybe. I was initially a guitarist, I thought I’m good being a guitarist playing as a studio musician as long as I could eat. Since I lived in the countryside of Miyagi Prefecture, I had to show my parents that "I can live on music" when I came to Tokyo to reassure them. I told my parents that if I were a guitar teacher, I would be able to make a living, so they wouldn't have to worry so much if I went to a music school. That wasn’t a lie; when I was a teenager, I didn't intended to do anything big. At the very least, as long as I could eat as a guitar teacher, I’d be fine. I went to a music school to become a studio musician or teacher. So until I was about 21 years old, I only did support work as a guitarist and worked as a studio musician. My first job was when I was 19 years old; I played the guitar behind an idol named Ami Tokito, who was produced by Tsunku. I was a student, but in my second year, I rarely went to school since I worked outside most of the time. It was when I was 21 years old that I aimed to be a composer. I was a studio musician at that time, but I was getting a little bored. Because of my fickle nature, I aimed to become a composer which is a job with a lot more potential. Rather than wanting to make money, I imagined myself a guitarist until I was 50 or 60, and I thought it would be a boring life. So, I wanted to try something new, and when I was about 21 years old, I started writing music in earnest.
 


We would like to know more about you before you started working. How was your childhood? Of course, you liked music, but were you interested in anime?

When it comes to anime, I watched the common ones such as those by Studio Ghibli and Ghost in the Shell. However, I didn't actually have a chance to see the so-called late-night anime or the geekier ones. As for music, my father is a guitar and audio enthusiast, so we had a lot of audio equipment at home. My grandfather used to play shakuhachi(an ancient Japanese bamboo flute), too, so now that I think of it, I grew up in an environment where music is common. Also, my cousin played the drums, I was about 7 or 8 when I first played the drums using drumsticks. I have played with audio equipment and listened to music since I was a child, so I think that was the beginning of my experience with music. My childhood would just be me now, except younger.


So you were interested in a lot of things.

That's right. Mini 4WD was very popular at that time, so I bought a course which cost about 20,000 yen and held a competition at my house. I prepared gifts and gave them to everyone. I manage my company in the same way; I’ve always liked showing hospitality, and entertaining people. That was the kind of childhood I had.
 


I see. You said you liked music because you grew up in an environment where you were exposed to it, but what kind of music do you personally listen to right now? Where does it all come from?

I'm working now, so I make sure I check all the international charts like Billboard Top 30 about twice a week. Of course, I look at Japan’s Top 30 as well. There are many kinds of charts in Japan, so I check them all, including subscription services, iTunes, and Oricon. Rather than listening to A type of music I really like, I listen to it for work year after year, so I basically listen to different types of music in the cycle I just mentioned. Also, if somebody I know introduces artists to me, even if these artists are not on the rankings, I’ll listen to their music if it’s cool. This is how I listen to music, so I listen to all kinds of music without missing anything.


That's wonderful.

Thank you.


What kind of person were you before you started working?

The same way I am now (laughs). I was an only child, and my family didn’t have money problems. I don't know why, but I've had this sense of mission like, "I have to listen to various kinds of music" since I was a teenager. I listened to The Beatles, of course, and for our generation, I listened to Linkin Park. I've listened to a lot since then. I was listening to rock music such as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit, and I was listening to guitarists such as Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. Also, I really liked game music orchestra and listened to the orchestration by a musician named Noriyuki Iwadare. I love the music of Hollywood movies by John Williams, and I've been listening to a lot of jazz, rock, and orchestra since I was a teenager.


You listened to a wide range of mature music. Not many teenagers listen to Wes Montgomery.

The reason I listened to it was that because I came from the countryside, there was no place to learn how to play the guitar. I could only learn through books, similar to teaching materials. For example, Wes Montgomery said something like, "I use better techniques than a guitarist who plays fast and makes full use of a lot of techniques, so that's why my kind of guitar is also important," in a book, so I decided to listen to his music. My introduction to music was just like that, not very eventful, and I started listening to music ever since.


That's interesting. You mentioned earlier that your first work involving anisong was as a composer of K-On! but you first got involved with music with your work as a musician. When did you start making music?

I've been making music since I was a junior high school student, and in my day, I did it on MTR (multitrack recorder). Of course, some people had been using computers then, but I started using MTRs and other devices to make whatever I wanted.


When did you actually make your first song for work?

In terms of making money, it’s K-On!.It was a brilliant debut; I was fortunate. If you want to say a little bit more between amateur and professional, a semi-professional period, I learned under a mentor for a couple of years. At that time, my mentor would pay me a small salary or a part of our profits. If you’ll include that, then I started making songs little earlier. I have done AKB48's programming, helped my mentor at that time with other artists and some soundtracks, but K-On!was the first time I did it all by myself.


We’d like to ask you some questions about making music. First of all, you’ve written many songs, but is there anything you keep in mind when writing one?

When I make music, I have to be aware of what I’m making it for. For example, am I creating it as an artist, or am I being asked to provide a song; it starts with these two. That's how I decide what kind of music to make. In my case, as an artist, whether it's OxT or MYTH & ROID, each has different characteristics, so how I make the music changes. As for providing music, I have to adapt to the circumstances, such as how the anime will be, which artists and voice actors will be involved, and so on. I think that it is necessary to be very deft, flexible, and to have the ability and effort to return whatever comes in at 120% instead of 90% or 95%.


There are songs related to the anime, and there are times when you provide the songs to the voice actors themselves, but in each case, do you change things that you consider when composing?

In terms of anime, there is always the original work from which the anime is adapted, so I read that before I write the song. There is no picture and no voice at this stage, so it's just textual information. As is absolutely the case with any work, there are so-called "gaps" when you look at the text. There is a gap in the story, in the direction, and so on. I've been thinking about how to fill that gap with music to make it more appealing. For example, if you look at the text, an ordinary person would put some hard rock music in one part which would be very standard and good, but if you use jazz instead of hard rock music, it may fill in the gaps even more. It's really more like supporting the story with the keyword "gap" in my head all the time. I take this into consideration when I write the theme song or soundtrack to an anime.


Occasionally, there are movies where you can see the music coming in. For example, they might put an orchestra to a very brutal scene.

Yes, the production will surprise audiences. Of course, people who think of productions like this are different, but as musicians, we need to have ideas that the producers don't have. If I can help to make the anime more appealing that way, I think I can do the best job in terms of providing the music.


Next : Tom-H@ck Interview Part.2 will be published on 26 May, 2020.

 

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