Nobuo Uematsu Interview: The Earthbound Papas (April 2011)
Nobuo Uematsu has been very busy this year with several new projects. He has completed the scores for the major RPGs Final Fantasy XIV and The Last Story, produced albums with the rock band Earthbound Papas and vocalist Kanon, and performed at various orchestral and rock concerts across the world.
On April 2, Matt Diener was able to talk to Uematsu prior to the second performance of Distant Worlds - Music from Final Fantasy in New York City. Here Uematsu reveals exclusive details about the establishment of the Earthbound Papas, a rock band considered the spiritual successor of The Black Mages. He also reveals his admiration for vocalist Kanon, his feelings about returning to Final Fantasy, and his plans for future Final Fantasy concerts.
Interview Subject: Nobuo Uematsu
Interviewer: Matt Diener
Editor: Chris Greening
Translation & Localisation: Hiroki Ogawa
Coordination: Chris Szuberla, Hiroki Ogawa, Arnie Roth
Matt: Nobuo Uematsu, we greatly appreciate your time today. We are extremely sorry to hear about the recent disasters in Japan. We were relieved to hear that you and everyone at Dog Ear Records are safe, but we imagined these events have affected you. How are you coping in these tough times?
Nobuo Uematsu: It was my first time experiencing such a big disaster and I was surprised by the effects. Eastern Japan looked like it did after a war — a bombsite. There was nothing left of some towns — it was shocking. I hope that Eastern Japan gets better.
It was difficult to decide what to do after the disaster. All I can do for the moment is hope, but that doesn't mean I won't do anything except hope. I want to start doing charity events. We also need to discuss the nuclear situation to determine if it's dangerous or not. We need to talk more about it. I would prefer not to have nuclear power in my country any more.
Matt: Numerous events have been cancelled as a result of the earthquake, including Fantasy Rock Fes 2011, where you and Motoi Sakuraba were scheduled to perform as headline acts. Are you looking forward to the day this special event will occur?
Nobuo Uematsu: It is not decided yet, but we are looking at rescheduling it to August this year. We are looking forward to it.
Matt: Your new band, The Earthbound Papas, will perform at the festival when it does occur. Could you tell us about the aims for this band — are they the successor to The Black Mages or something different?
Nobuo Uematsu: When we originally formed, The Black Mages were all staff at Square Enix and we did battle themes with rock arrangements. After I quit Square Enix, I've composed other game scores like Blue Dragon, but I couldn't perform that kind of game music with The Black Mages because it is a Square Enix band.
By forming the Earthbound Papas, I wanted to have more freedom in both choosing the tracks and also arranging them. I want to do music from Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, of course, and some original compositions too. The resulting performances may be quite different from The Black Mages.
Matt: There are some high-profile names involved in Earthbound Papas. What it is like to continue work with Michio Okamiya and Arata Hanyuda from The Black Mages? What inspired you to recruit Tsutomu Narita and Yoshitaka Hirota?
Nobuo Uematsu: I think you know already, but we needed to pick people who left Square Enix or were not affiliated with them. Michio Okamiya and Arata Hanyuda had quit already, so I was able to continuing working with them from The Black Mages.
About Tsutomu Narita, I did some work with him on the television animation Guin Saga. On that release, he did the orchestrations and he's such a genius working with an orchestra. Also, he's not a rock musician so I wanted to put another personality in the band that wasn't a rock one.
As for Yoshitaka Hirota, he is an experienced composer and arranger. For his own band, he usually plays very aggressive and dark music, so I wanted him to bring his unique personality to Earthbound Papas too.
Matt: The band actually debuted at the climax of "Dancing Mad" on the Distant Worlds II album. What was it like to debut with this track on this release — did it have special meaning to you?
Nobuo Uematsu: I'm always thinking about collaborations between orchestra and rock bands. At PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, someone did "Dancing Mad" with a rock band and orchestra before me. I wanted to do it myself in an official way. I thought it was good timing with my idea for the band.
Matt: Your band's first studio release Octave Theory actually combines covers of existing compositions with original pieces. What inspired the selections? Do they tell an overall concept or story?
Nobuo Uematsu: When thinking about the first tracks to play on the Earthbound Papas albums, of course the fans are going to be thinking about The Black Mages. If I changed the focus and style suddenly, maybe the fans wouldn't like it so I tried to keep things similar.
The album features both covers of video game battle themes, as well as new original albums. Among the covers are "One Winged Angel" and "Liberi Fatali" from Final Fantasy, the boss battle theme from Lost Odyssey, and "Eternity" from Blue Dragon. Other performances include my newer work like Guin Saga and "Forest of a Thousand Years", an original composition written for a green project in Jiyugaoka, my company Dog Ear Records' town.
Matt: We noticed that you're also penning a special album with Kanon, A New Story. Could you tell us more about the inspiration and content of this release?
Nobuo Uematsu: I first met Kanon when doing Guin Saga. I was doing the background music for the animations and Kanon sung the original song for the ending. When I met her, Kanon mentioned that her brother was a maniac for Final Fantasy and she often saw her brother playing the games. So, we both talked about the music for Final Fantasy together. After that, there was a Guin Saga arranged album, which we collaborated for one song on.
Later I started composing for The Last Story with Sakaguchi-san. I was looking for a vocalist to sing the ending theme and I knew Kanon was a good singer with a beautiful voice. So I sent Sakaguchi-san mp3 samples of her voice, and he also liked her voice very much.
Finally, we began working on working on a full album together, A New Story, featuring both Final Fantasy covers and original songs. It's not happening very quickly, but we are collaborating little by little.
Matt: Your other big score this year was Final Fantasy XIV. What was it like to revisit the series here? How did your freelance experiences since Final Fantasy XI influence your direction?
Nobuo Uematsu: 11 years have passed since I did Final Fantasy IX, which was the last Final Fantasy project I composed all of the themes for. I didn't feel like I was revisiting Final Fantasy, though, since all of the games have a different taste or feeling about them.
The big difference is that I working as a freelance composer on Final Fantasy XIV. When I was in Square Enix, I used to talk with designers, writers and programmers, just smoking and discussing a lot. I didn't have the chance to talk with them as much this time. I'm not sure if this was a good or bad thing.
Matt: New Distant Worlds concerts, including Returning Home, have prominently featured Final Fantasy XIV. We heard "Answers" last night, which was incredible, as well as "Navigator's Glory", another great track. But you also added "Clash on the Big Bridge" from Final Fantasy V. What do you think these additions of very new themes and a classic theme have brought to the concert experience?
Nobuo Uematsu: Comparing the original Final Fantasy with Final Fantasy XIV, there is more than 20 years between them. Children now may be playing XIII and XIV while their parents may have played I or II. Final Fantasy really has become a big series.
In terms of selections for Distant Worlds, I was hesitant about choosing pieces from XIV, because we perform the most popular songs chosen by fans. XIII and XIV need more time in order for representative pieces to be chosen.
On the other hand, there is a lot of music that I want to do with the orchestra from past Final Fantasy titles and I know that's what the audience wants to listen to. I want to add more from the older titles in the series more than ones from XIII and XIV.
Matt: Finally, you recently announced that Dog Ear Records will be holding a special charity event for the earthquake. Could you elaborate on what to expect from this event?
Nobuo Uematsu: Basically, it will be the same event that we do twice a year. There are a lot of artists involved this time because it is a charity event, so the performance time that each artist may be shorter than usual.
The Earthbound Papas will of course feature at the concert. We will also have Kanon singing for us, as well as the world music duo AKANE. Vocalist Emi Evans will also perform with her band Freesscape; she is the vocalist of Nier and she also played the cello with the Earthbound Papas in the album Octave Theory.
Because it is a charity event, we will have to be serious, but we also want to keep the atmosphere similar to how the Shinzoku Kaigi events have been in the past.
Matt: Do you have anything else that you'd like to say to your fans or fans of the Distant Worlds concert series?
Nobuo Uematsu: My message for the Distant Worlds fans is that Arnie and I want to change the music which is played at each concert. There is a lot of music that I would like to add in the future if the fans are OK with it...
Matt: I think we're OK with it!
Nobuo Uematsu: (laughs) ...and to fans of the Earthbound Papas, usually video game music is composed by one composer, but now one rock band will be able to compose video game music: the Earthbound Papas. We will offer a unique style of video game music... now I'm just waiting from an offer from a developer (laughs).
Matt: Many thanks for your time today, Nobuo Uematsu. It has been an honour speaking with you.
Many thanks to Chris Szuberla, Hiroki Ogawa, and Arnie Roth for helping to organise interview. Special thanks to Hiroki Ogawa for his translations and Heather for the interview photos.