INTERVIEW: Music Composer Hiroyuki Sawano

We had the exciting opportunity to interview the one and only Hiroyuki Sawano, thanks to Milan Records. Many of his works from anime will be available digitally on February 12. The non-exhaustive list will include pieces from critically acclaimed shows like Kill La Kill and movies like Promare

Thank you very much for your time! Congratulations on the upcoming digital release for the Promare soundtrack. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? 

I’m Hiroyuki Sawano, a composer.  I started composing music for film and television in 2005 and have been working on a vocal project under the name “SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]” since 2014.  


How much information were you given about Promare before working on the soundtrack? How did that information, or lack thereof, help guide you in your creative process? 

I knew it was a theatrical film and that director Hiroyuki Imaishi would be working with writer Kazuki Nakashima. I think I was told that it would be a large scale piece of entertainment with a quick pace, similar to my previous work on Kill la Kill.   


When you were asked to work on Promare, what guidelines were you given by the anime staff and were there any challenges in incorporating them into the soundtrack? 

As with Kill la Kill, I wanted to create music incorporating a variety of different sounds and genres to strengthen the entertaining parts of the story. Rather than struggling and having a hard time [with Promare], I found the music came naturally, which was very exciting and rewarding as a composer.  


One of my favorite tracks from Promare is the theme: “Inferno ft. Benjamin and mpi.”  Could you talk about how Benjamin and mpi were involved and about the process of using vocalists instead of instrumental tracks? Was there a reason behind using English lyrics? 

“Inferno” was one of the few vocal tracks I hoped would become the theme for the film. And although the song could have been performed by a single person, I thought it would be more powerful (and match the film better) if the two voices of Benjamin and mpi were combined into one vocal track. I also felt that having both voices on the track further connected the lyrics to the two main characters, Galo and Lio, and their story.  


What was the working relationship like with director Hiroyuki Imaishi and the staff at TRIGGER on Promare? 

The passion that Director Imaishi and the TRIGGER staff have for their work inspires me to create meaningful music every time. I feel that they are always thinking about how to utilize the music in their works, which as a musician and composer, I really appreciate.


In many animations you work for, there is a moment that your music builds tension in the audience, particularly when the music’s timing with the animation creates a climactic point.”. A lot of fans refer to it as the “Sawano Drop”, and they really like to find them in the animation. What is your opinion of this somewhat bizarre fan obsession? When you compose a new track, do you think about how your track can include the “drop”?

(Laughs) I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily conscious of a “Sawano Drop” when I write a song, but I have always wanted the most exciting part of the song to be some sort of an explosive development. I put a lot of importance on the narrative and inflection that leads up to that moment. I always hope that listeners are able to recognize those moments [and realize]how they work together with the visuals to emphasize certain scenes, so I am very happy to know people are picking that up and enjoying it.  

You worked on Thunderbolt Fantasy, a project created and written by Gen Urobuchi that features Taiwanese glove puppets. How were you approached to work on the show? What were your initial thoughts when you found out it wasn’t an anime show, and how did that pose a challenge to or change your creative process? 

I think I received an offer to work on Thunderbolt Fantasy because I had just finished working with Mr. Urobuchi and director Ei Aoki on Aldnoah.Zero. When I heard that it was going to feature puppets, I couldn’t immediately picture what kind of show this would end up being, but I was so excited and hopeful that working again with Mr. Urobuchi would result in a fascinating project.

I was really able to approach the music, in the same way, I would [with] previous works, as the puppetry itself did not dictate the choices to the music. I’m so happy that Mr. Urobuchi loved the main theme song, and it was so invigorating to work with Takanori Nishikawa on the theme song for the second season.    


One of the things you are known for is your creative song titles. For instance, Attack on Titan has a song titled “凸】巨人” and Thunderbolt Fantasy has a song titled “bolt-arr2” using an emoji. What is your approach and method for naming songs? 

I am often asked about the titles for my songs (laughs), but I mostly decide them based on my personal feeling and mood. I want the songs on the soundtrack to be enjoyed within the work, but I also want people to be able to listen to the songs in their own way and have their own reaction. I don’t ever want to fix the image of what’s happening on-screen too much within the track title, but of course I’d be happy if people enjoyed reading them and understood the meaning.


With the ongoing pandemic, what are some new challenges you’ve faced while composing and working on new soundtracks? 

Except for the recording and mixing, the rest of my production is done in my home studio, so I think personally I was really able to spend my time and work as I normally do. There are many times when I record with a large group of musicians, but during this time we were limited in the number of people we could work with, so we had to split up the group into various sessions. It took a lot of trial and error to organize everyone’s schedules.    


Recently, your official YouTube channel has been uploading alternative versions of previous tracks and ProjectemUwas launched for 2021. How did both ideas come about? 

At first it was a home recording project I began with the hopes of doing something positive with musicians who weren’t working amid the pandemic. As composers, it’s our job to create music that is commissioned for a specific purpose or work. I wanted to create something that would allow fans to enjoy the music even more, which is why I started ProjectemU.   


Do you have any final comments for listeners and readers from all over the world?

I’m really happy that the soundtracks for these Aniplex titles, which I have composed, will be released digitally overseas. From Blue Exorcist in 2011 to Promare in 2019, each of these soundtracks has had a great influence on my career and current musical activities. I hope you enjoy the music and it adds to the world of each anime title.

Special thanks to Hiroyuki Sawano, his team, and Milan Records for the opportunity. Many of his soundtracks will be available beginning February 12 digitally. 

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