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J-Pop Exchange Exclusive Interview with Kenji Kawai

Kenji Kawai J-Pop Exchange Radio Show Exclusive Interview


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

Kenji Kawai: I am very happy to have this chance to be interviewed on this program, thank you.

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

Kenji Kawai: Yes.  I have been interested in music since I was a child.

My father loved to listen to movie soundtracks, and I listened together with him all the time.  In that way, I was influenced by my father’s taste in music.

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

Kenji Kawai: I didn't really study music.  For a limited period of time, I was a student of a music school. But I was too busy hanging around with girls... what a shame... as a result I quit that school in half a year.

SeanBird: Who are your musical influences, what music do you like to listen to?

Kenji Kawai: The artist I am most influenced by is Burt Bacharach.

There are a lot of artists I've been influenced by: Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Quincy Jones, Earth, Wind & Fire, Santana, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and a lot more!  And I love each and every one of these artist even today!!

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

Kenji Kawai: When I was young, I never thought about becoming an artist or song writer.  I majored in Nuclear Engineering at a university, but I realized that the classes were too difficult for me to follow, and I quit the school in a year and a half.  Feeling sorry for my parents, I started thinking about becoming a music teacher.  A little while later, I became a student of a music school. — Though, I was too busy thinking about girls (as I already mentioned previously), and this time I quit the school in 6 months.  At the same time, I found a poster advertising a band competition at the rehearsal studio where my band often practiced, and we became one of the contestants.  Luckily, we won that competition!  After that, I started to get more chances to work on band projects.  Again my dream changed, and my goal became to develop into a studio musician like Lee Ritenour.  However, I had more opportunities to work on arrangements and song writing for the bands. —And that was how I became a song writer.  Everything happened and linked coincidentally, and each happy coincidence led me to becoming a song writer.

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

Kenji Kawai: I am not one who can create a song from a completely blank white canvas.  In other words, I can't write a song without any hint.  For example, a movie can be a good inspiration to start from and build up the image of a song.  That is the reason I still have not produced my original solo album.

I always have black tea right next to me when I work on my song writing projects. . . . And, though I know this is not good for my health, tobacco is somewhere around me.

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

Kenji Kawai: The person who discovered my ability to write songs was from an animation music company, and he introduced me to Mr. Mamoru Oshii.  After working on a project together with Mr. Oshii, I got more opportunities to work on animation projects.

SeanBird: Please tell us about the scoring process behind a production such as Vampire Princess Miyu. Where in the process do you, as a composer, become involved? Do you get to see the animation ahead of time?

Kenji Kawai: For example, in the case of "Vampire Miu," the scenario came out first, and then continuity (a brief sketch of the anime and characters) was written.  After the Music Director announced the menu of the music, it was my turn to get involved in the project.  Then we had meetings and talked about more detailed and concrete images of the songs, which would maximize the potential of the animation.

SeanBird: You also composed the score for the series, Maison Ikoku (a personal favorite of mine); please tell us what your experience was like producing music for that series.

Kenji Kawai: Most of the time the pictures were created last; which means, it was impossible for me to see the animation before it aired, and of course before I wrote the songs.  However, sometimes there were exceptions.  In the case of "Maison Ikkoku," I became involved as of the 2nd season.  So, I could watch the 1st season and view the images before I started writing songs for the following series.

SeanBird: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you would like to talk about?

Kenji Kawai: Recently, I wrote songs for the Hong Kong Movie, 『イップ・マン2(葉問2:宗師傳奇 Ip Man 2)』and the British movie, "Chat Room," directed by Japanese director, Mr. Hideo Nakata.

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

Kenji Kawai: I think it's quite difficult.  There are some songs released only in Japan, aired only on TV, and songs not released in CD format.  I’ve heard many songs are available to listen to on YouTube.  I'd appreciate it if you could try some research and listen to more of my songs.

SeanBird: Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.

Kenji Kawai: I hope I might be able to see you all sometime in the future.


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