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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.3


Earlier, we asked you about your thoughts on production, but have you ever written a song with an international audience in mind? Or is it more like just pursuing the worldview of the work regardless of the foreign audience?

In my case, I became an apprentice to my mentor when I was 21 years old, and I had a thought that became stronger in my mind after I became an apprentice. I thought the quality of music overseas is very high, and Japan is very Galapagos-like and unique. My mentor always asked me “Isn't it true that Japanese music can't read the atmosphere in the world?” probably a thousand times. I thought so, too. When I listen to foreign music, the sound is excellent, and the arrangements are very sophisticated, and I've always wondered why Japanese music is often so messy. I do not deny it, but it is also a good part of Japanese culture. But from an international perspective, I know that Japanese music is surprisingly unheard of all over the world. When I was 22 years old, I was working on a record label with my mentor, who used to arrange songs for the pianist Keiko Matsui who had been on Billboard charts. Initially, I had the idea to make music that would make it to Billboard on my own. Since digital distribution services weren't very advanced at the time, I still remember the idea of starting my label and putting it out on TuneCore.

At that time, TuneCore didn't reach Japan.

Yes. Since it didn't reach Japan, we communicated directly with the United States in English and put out what we made. At the time, Germany had the concept of Creative Commons, an idea Ryuichi Sakamoto advocated, which basically meant that music would become increasingly free. We wanted to do that first. It was 12 years ago. I did that and put our works on charts in Germany and the US, as well as music sites in Japan at the time like muzie and MySpace, to see how the rankings would change in the world. As I expected, Japanese-like songs that ranked very high in Japan did not rank at all in Germany. On the other hand, our music made for the international audience were top-rated in Germany and America. We did a lot of analysis on our own, and from that time on, we were very aware of the situation abroad. So, to answer this question, there are a few songs of mine that I wanted only Japanese people to listen to. The foreign feels vary from 20% or 30% to 70% or 80% depending on the music, but in my work, I always think about the international market. I am always conscious of what’s happening abroad.

Maybe you've done this before, but do you think you'll be recording and audio mixing overseas in the future?

I'm thinking about audio mixing and recording, but rather the music industry itself has become so systematized that we can complete our music in our environment. When people ask me if I record live instruments, especially for MYTH & ROID, I actually don't record those anymore. The only thing I record is the vocals. However, the vocals don't need to have a lot of resonance, and they're recorded without any effects, so there's not much difference between what’s recorded overseas and in Japan. I think there is a difference between countries in terms of sound engineers' techniques, but I don't feel that strongly about recording overseas. However, I've always admired Hollywood, so if I were to be able to record an orchestra in Hollywood, it might be a dream come true. Japanese people actually made the music for Thorand The Lego Movie. His name is Wataru Hokoyama, and I am actually very close to him. There is also a person named Shinnosuke Miyazaki. He's been working as an audio engineer overseas for a long time, and he's at the forefront of mixing for Hollywood movies that can be seen in Japan. Initially, I wanted to go to Hollywood and become a new musician who would be active there. I'm good in digital, but there weren't many people who were strong in digital, so I dreamed of joining Mr. Hokoyama’s team and working with him in my early 20s. This dream has gradually changed, and so have the times, and we are now able to release various things from Japan.

You have a fantastic worldwide perspective. I'd like to ask you about the work that you’ve been working on. Do you have any specific works or songs that you would like to tell us about or any memorable episodes?

As I mentioned earlier, in K-On!there is the opening theme called "GO! GO! MANIAC" and the ending theme called “Listen!!” from the second season. These were the first songs sung by voice actors in history to reach #1 and #2 on the Oricon charts at the same time. “GO! GO! MANIAC" is one of the most interesting and memorable stories of my career because I wrote that song 27 times, as I said earlier. Also, there's a song called "HYDRA" that I wrote after the new vocalist for MYTH & ROID came onboard. That song reached #1 on China's music distribution service “QQ music” in October 2018. I listened to it every day for about a month in between my other jobs, and I went through a lot of trial and error to make it. It was my first time as MYTH & ROID to write an entire song in Japanese without using English, and it was also the first ballad single, so I was very particular about what kind of ballad I was going to make, and that's why it left such an impression on me.

In China, the ballad genre itself is very popular. May I ask you once again to elaborate on the story of your 27 retakes?

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the producer at that time was very particular about it. K-On!’s "Cagayake! Girls" from the first season of anime was a hit, and the anime also became a social phenomenon, so when it came to the second season, people would listen to the songs and compare. The first reason was that the staff and other staff members were so enthusiastic that they simply took a lot of retakes. Secondly, because I'm a super strict person myself, I forced myself to redo it. The client said, "Isn't this just the right direction for you?” but I did a series of retakes saying that it was not good. In the end, the filename was like "K-ON! Second Season No. 27” (laughs). I feel like the number of times increased because of these two reasons. It was over 10 years ago, so I can't remember for sure which of us had to redo more, the other party or myself. I guess it's about half and half.

So half of it was you wanting to retake.

The first season's "Cagayake! Girls" was a hit, and I knew it would get compared to the second season. So, at that time, I was only 23 years old, and I was rebellious but in a good way, and I felt that it had to go beyond the limit. I was young and there might be this cheeky part of myself who thought "No, no, you should make the world more interesting" to musicians active in the industry. In that sense, I did it all over again and asked myself, "If I want to create a revolution in the world, I need to do more and more of this.”

I see. What made you decide that “okay, this is final''?

I came to the point where there was nothing I could do to change it. It was like the melodic flow of hit songs at that time, and I'd also included my personality. I didn't think anyone had ever done a shuffle rhythm at a tempo of 250 before, and in a revolutionary way. So I gave the OK to the point where I was satisfied that there was no way to complain about it all. Tempo 250 is a tremendous amount of speed. Hadn't there ever been a shuffle rhythm at that tempo before? It was all over the news. There was a tempo 220, but not a 250 shuffle rhythm.

It's very interesting. Everyone was indeed looking forward to the second season of K-ON!, and the opening theme song shocked the world, surpassing all expectations. Next, I’d like to ask about your activities as an artist. Could you tell us a bit about how you came to be involved with OxT and MYTH & ROID, including how you met them?

In the beginning, I only worked as a composer, and I didn't really want to be a public figure. If you ask me whether I was egoistic or not, I was the former, but that didn't mean I wanted to be on TV or I wanted people to know my face. The president of my company and my mentor kept telling me, "You shouldn't aim to be a professional composer. You should be an artist.” However, I was growing up after the economic bubble burst, so I wanted to have insurance that I could make a stable living. I thought at the time that if I become an artist, I’m not going to be able to make a living.... Some people are still making music at age 60 or 70, so I stubbornly stuck to the path of being a musician. However, when I finally turned 27 or so, I was gaining popularity so I told myself to take up a new challenge and I thought it was time to come out in the open. I have worked on many popular works, but the one that became an explosive social phenomenon was K-On!only.After that, "Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (Haganai)" was blessed to become a hit, but the K-On!’simpression on myself was so strong that my business mind thought I needed to create a new branding for myself. Then I thought about becoming an artist, so I finally made up my mind and started moving.

When I decided to make my debut as an artist, the person from Pony Canyon, who was in charge of the music of K-On!, proposed an animation work that would be suitable for my debut. I was asked to do both the soundtrack and theme song for the anime, and I began to write songs. However, the plan stalled halfway through after I started composing, and Pony Canyon apologized by saying, "This can't push through, so we'll take responsibility.”

A year later, I was asked to be in charge of the theme song for an anime called Ace of Diamondinstead.As an artist, I didn't have a vocalist at the time, so we decided to hold an audition. Since it's a baseball anime, it was agreed that the vocalist would be male rather than female, then Masayoshi Oishi passed the audition. He said at that time he was not doing well at all in the industry, and he was about to go back to his hometown. We met in that way for the first time, so the name Tom-H@ck feat. Masayoshi Oishi was credited as the artist of our first single. I was the one standing in front, and Oishi-san was the featured vocalist. 

Then we released two singles after that, and when we started planning the third one, Oishi-san had released a hit song called "Kimi Ja Nakya Dame Mitai." My business mind thought, "It’s officially time to start a unit with him now.” At the time, GRANRODEO was the only male duo that was explosively popular. I thought this was going to be a niche market, and also, content for women was definitely catching on. I asked Oishi-san, "Let's do it," and we formed OxT. It was about this time that Kadokawa proposed an anime television series called Overlord. They said they were working on the anime series, and looking for an artist in charge of the theme song. So I thought, "If we're going to team up as OxT, wouldn't that be a good title to make our debut?” Then OxT became in charge of the opening theme song, and that’s how OxT was formed.

The ending theme song of Overlordwas performed by MYTH & ROID, right?

That's right. Mr. Wakabayashi was the producer in charge of Kadokawa, and he said he was wondering which artist to choose for the ending theme song. Then I suggested, "ah, actually..." Mayu, who was then the vocalist of MYTH & ROID, and I have been making demos for five years. Mayu was brought over from Sony Music Entertainment by the president of the agency I mentioned earlier, who told her, "Become an artist." I made some demos and gave a little presentation to the record company. It's like, "There is an artist like this, and I would like to make a unit like this. What do you think?" But no one nodded, "yes." It was the music of MYTH & ROID, but there were many “it’s not good” and “if you're going to do this, why don't you do it like this?" Nobody listened and the demos just piled up. So I made a presentation and asked them “If there is no ending theme song for Overlord,I will look for another female vocalist and make a new unit called MYTH & ROID, so could you take a look at my proposal?” That’s the proposal I mentioned earlier where I planned to have "over one million views in a year" and when I presented how I wanted to show the atmosphere of the unit, they asked, "Do you want to try?" This is how I created the song "L.L.L."

What a coincidence.

It was at the same period that the two male and female units debuted. Initially, there was no plan for MYTH & ROID whatsoever.

How did you meet Mayu?

Mayu was introduced to me when she was 17 and still in high school, and I was 24 or 25. The president of my agency at that time said, "She wants to debut as a vocalist." Our agencies were different, but the presidents got along well with each other and had the opportunity to meet and talk with each other, so they decided "Would you like to try it together?" From there, we started to make demos, and we did it together. At that time, I just did things as I was told; I never thought to make songs myself. It was like making songs for her because the president told me. We worked together for about five years and I even made music, but nobody picked them up. Maybe I wasn’t very good at producing music at that time.

MYTH & ROID changed vocalists. Could you share what happened?

The main reason is that Mayu wanted to pursue a solo career.

Next : Tom-H@ck Interview Part.4 will be published on 9 June, 2020.


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