Interview originally posted on Elfwood Ezine.
Interviewed by Erwin Limawan
Yuki Kajiura is the composer for the all-female group See-Saw. She was also the music composer for .hack//Sign, Noir, and Aquarian Age.
Q: Last year at Anime Expo, Kouichi Mashimo (Director of .hack//Sign) was a Guest of Honor. At his panel, he was asked why English was used for the opening song of .hack.//Sign. He answered that if it had been in Japanese, it would have been too profane. Do you agree with that?
Kajiura: When I got the offer, the song was originally in English. So I created the song, I handed it to the Director, and his response was “It’s great, let’s go with that.” So we just went from there. The melody was easier if the lyrics were in English rather than Japanese.
Q: How did you get started as a composer?
Kajiura: I was an amateur composer when I was in college and when I was working in an office. It started as a hobby. I was in a band called See-Saw, and that was how I started as a composer.
Q: And are you still the composer for See-Saw?
Kajiura: Yes, I am.
Q: Do you see yourself primarily as a composer for Anime soundtracks, a performance artist, or another kind of composer?
Kajiura: Actually, I want to do everything. But I have no time, so… But I love doing soundtracks, so I want to keep it as my main job if I can. But I love doing my own music too, composing for See-Saw. I’ve been working on soundtracks for a while, and I love it, but sometimes I get bored of the same job, so if I have the opportunity, I’d like to expand my composing career into other areas as well. But for now, I’d like to concentrate on animation soundtracks.
Q: How do you begin composing music for an Anime?
Kajiura: First I get some written script, yes, and some character designs. But in most cases, when I create music, there are no moving pictures yet. So I’d get some background designs, character designs, some brief stories. That’s all I get, and the director’s menu; what he or she wants. Whenever I get an animation project, I usually lack a lot of the materials I need to compose the soundtrack, so I’d talk to the director and get my ideas from there. I’d also look through books and pictures that have similarities to the animation to get my ideas.
Q: How do you match the timing of your pieces, how long it should be, etc?
Kajiura: The director usually says, “this song needs 5 minutes, this song cuts at 15 seconds, etc.” To be honest, I’m not sure about the timing, but in the case of animation, it’d be rare where I have to compose a song just for a particular scene. I’d make the soundtrack first and then put it on the animation. In Mr. Mashimo’s case, he’s actually an exception, because he’d listen to the music first and then he’d put it on the pictures.
Q: You’ve worked as a part of See-Saw for quite some time. What is it like to be working with Chiaki Ishikawa (See-Saw vocalist)?
Kajiura: She is the ideal vocalist; I love her voice. My music career started with her. See-Saw is like our playground. I want to do only what I want with See-Saw. Both of us only want to enjoy our work with See-Saw. It is always a pleasure and fun to work with See-Saw.
Q: What do you consider to be influential on your work, how you create something?
Kajiura: I’m influenced by a lot of things such as books, movies, and even just by talking to people.
Q: In both .hack//Sign and Noir, some of your pieces are used in practically every episode in the series. What are your thoughts on that?
Kajiura: I compose a lot of pieces for an Anime, but the Director is the one who has the final say and decides what songs he wants to use. I believe the Director really liked a certain song in .hack//Sign, so that was why it was overused.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing in a soundtrack?
Kajiura: In Animation, music plays a more important part than in real movies, because movies have sound and atmosphere. But sometimes animation lacks something. If it’s just the picture alone, it’s hard to grasp, but the music adds atmosphere, and it creates a complete atmosphere to the particular scene, so it adds a lot of things to the scenery. The best soundtrack is not just about music, but it conveys a lot of emotions and sentiments in a particular scene. So it’s not just music, but it adds a profound meaning to the scene. But what it boils down to is whether it is good music, whether the quality is good at the end.
Q: When you were doing the music for .hack//Sign, were you influenced by music from other online games like Everquest?
Q: Why did you decide to do a solo album (Fiction)?
Kajiura: I actually received an offer asking me whether I wanted to do a solo album while I was working on .hack//Sign, and that was where the story began.
Q: When you are composing a certain piece, how do you choose which instruments you will use?
Kajiura: It actually goes case-by-case, but I usually begin matching a song from melody. In most cases, I play a piano or sing at first to decide the melody, and then everything begins; I decide which instruments I use, what sound effects I use. But for me, everything starts with melody.
Q: Which Anime soundtracks impress you, personally?
Kajiura: I never actually listen to Anime soundtracks myself. (Laughs)
Q: Do you use any computer programs to work on your music?
Kajiura: Yes, it’s a very important thing for me. I’m a Macintosh user. Why are you guys laughing? (Abe’s interview was directly before hers, read up on it to get the reference) I use Digital Performer; it’s a music sequencer software.
Q: Are there any other composers you like in the field of Anime and games?
Kajiura: Yes, I admire many composers. I don’t listen to a lot of soundtracks, so I’m not very sure.
Q: Are you planning on doing anything outside the Expo while you’re here?
Kajiura: I don’t have a lot of time. But I want to go to Disneyland. (Laughs) I have to.
Q: You mentioned earlier that the Director gives you a menu of what he wants. Is it just like a description of what kinds of music he wants?
Kajiura: Usually, but in Mr. Mashimo’s case, it is very different. His menu is sometimes… Meaningless. (Laughs) Usually, I’d get descriptions like “mysterious music” or “attack music”, but his menu says, “Go to Hell” or “Jump! Jump! Jump” I don’t know what he’s saying. (Laughs)
Q: So his menu is more like song titles rather than descriptions?
Kajiura: Yes, but it is interesting. Sometimes I get a lot of inspirations from his titles. It’s hard to grasp what he really wants; since he doesn’t really give me any limitations, I can go off on my own. But it usually matches what he wants. It’s a mystery, but it matches. (Laughs)
Q: What are your expectations for your concert in about two and a half hours?
Kajiura: I just hope the listener will enjoy it. It’s my first experience, because I’ve never done my solo live until now. I’m a member of See-Saw, so I’ve done many live performances AS a member of See-Saw. But it’s my first solo live. In U.S! I can’t believe that. (Laughs) I hope you and they will enjoy it.
Q: Since you don’t listen to Anime soundtracks, what kind of music do you listen to?
Kajiura: In my childhood, I loved Opera music, Queen, Beatles. I loved the 80s British songs, Duran-Duran, Depeche Mode. I really loved the Beatles in my younger days. Paul McCartney was my hero. I love many folk and world music. I especially love traditional Finnish and Irish music. I have a lot of music to listen to.
Q: Are you surprised that your music is so popular?
Kajiura: Is it popular? (Laughs) It’s the greatest feeling ever; it’s a great pleasure. I was very surprised.
Q: Do you plan on marketing yourself to the US audience?
Kajiura: I am releasing a CD in the US. It’s being sold in the Pioneer booth. ( Note: At this point, a music producer from Victor Entertainment came on to say that because they don’t have a US division, they are collaborating with Pioneer USA to market Yuki Kajiura’s CD through the Pioneer booth.)
Kajiura: This is my first solo album. Actually, half of it is from soundtracks and remixes of my previous works. It’s my introduction to the United States.
Q: You composed songs for the Gundam Seed series, but not for the actual soundtrack. Were you ever offered that opportunity? If not, do you have an interest to do the Gundam soundtracks?
Kajiura: I had a lot of fun. Gundam is a great series and I enjoy it as well. In the future, since it is so popular, I would like to contribute to it.
Q: What are your hobbies?
Kajiura: I’m an at-home type. (Laughs) Reading many books.
Q: What kind of books do you enjoy?
Kajiura: I love many kinds of books. I enjoy science-fiction books, but recently I have read Michael Ondaatje’s work. He’s the writer of the English Patient. I love his writing. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I don’t read them all the time.
Q: Can you compare the US and Japanese con audiences?
Kajiura: I’ve never been to any conventions in Japan. I’ve only seen the fans at the opening ceremony here in US. I was so surprised at how open they are, and I’m really excited about my concert later today.
Q: Do you have any plans to collaborate with other Japanese artists?
Kajiura: There are no plans right now. There are a lot of artists I’d like to collaborate with. If I had an opportunity, I would take that chance.