INTERVIEW: Diving into Anime Music with Hiroyuki Sawano and SennaRin

Hiroyuki Sawano is one of anime’s most well-known and renowned composers and producers, with composing credits for popular shows like Attack on Titan, Kill la Kill, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Guilty Crown, and the upcoming Solo Leveling, which is scheduled to release in January 2024. Alongside Sawano is singer and lyricist SennaRin, who has worked with Sawano on songs for anime. She also made her solo debut in 2022 with the EP Dignified, which was produced by Sawano.

Sawano made his first U.S. appearance at AnimeNYC 2023, where he, along with SennaRin, performed for the first time in America. Anime Trending was honored to both witness their first live performance as well as sit down in a roundtable discussion with Sawano and SennaRin to dive into the minds behind the most iconic sounds and lyrics in the industry.


Anime Trending: This is your first performance in the United States. Could you share your thoughts and reactions for the first time? 

Hiroyuki Sawano: For us to perform overseas together for the first time, that’s something that we’re very very excited about.

So, a question for Sawano-san: Over the course of your career, you’ve worked with a wide range of music artists, so what do you enjoy about working with SennaRin, and what are some unique elements of her sound that sets her apart from other artists you’ve worked with?

Sawano: [As a producer], I really like SennaRin’s voice. She can really approach different sounds, and I really like her husky voice and how she performs live, so that was why I decided to produce for SennaRin.

For the album Dignified, most of the music was written by Sawano-san, but SennaRin wrote most of the lyrics. What has the process been like producing and collaborating in that way? Does the music come first or the lyrics?

Sawano: For us, I created the song first and then passed it over to SennaRin, and then she created the lyrics afterward. That’s the process.

You’ve created a number of musical works that a lot of international fans really like both for anime and for video games. How much information are you given in advance for each? In your words, what is the main difference in your approach for each of the different mediums?

Sawano: Of course, for stuff that has material, such as a manga, I’ll get the material and look over it, but for me, it’s not like I would read all the volumes or something like that. I look more general, like how the world is, and input my vision for the songs for that, and then I start the process from there.

So would it be correct to say that you reinterpret the world-building in your own music? 

Sawano: I think that’s correct, I interpret that, but when I get an offer there’s a certain sound that they’re looking for, and there’s a sound that I like, and I just try to input that and tackle it from that.

This is for SennaRin. You started releasing covers at a fairly young age. You said you didn’t envision a professional music career. Do you still remember how you felt when Mr. Sawano reached out to you?

SennaRin: So originally when Sawano-san reached out to me, I had already been listening to his soundtracks, and so when he reached out to me it was really exciting because I was really familiar with his works already.

senna rin artist photo
© SennaRin

 

AT: This is for both Sawano-san and SennaRin. You’ve worked on projects together such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Can you talk about the creative process specifically for that show, such as the tracks for “Dust” andMelt?” Is there anything from the setting of Legend of the Galactic Heroes that sticks out?

Sawano: For the scene, I wasn’t going deep into the storyline, but I checked out the promotional videos, and I looked at some clips of the battle scenes. What they had asked me was, “Can you make an epic ballad?” So that’s where I got my inspiration, and from what they had asked, I made a ballad.

More often than not, the songs that Sawano-san produces have lyrics written by Benjamin, Mpi, or cAnOn. However, SennaRin has participated and written the lyrics for every song so far aside from “Dust.” So what was the decision behind this?

Sawano: Working with SennaRin, I saw she was really skilled in creating lyrics for the songs and the melodies, and she could really fit the lyrics and slot them in with my songs. So I think for the projects I work on with her, I want to pass those tasks to her. 

So as a follow-up to that, will the three new songs released and “S9air” also have lyrics written by SennaRin? Can you tell us a little bit about the new songs and what you would like for fans to anticipate?

SennaRin: The first two songs,”Yet”  and “Ray,” are available now, and people can check them out. For the song “Mist,” we finished it into a really cool new song, so I want fans to really look forward to that one.

I would love to talk a little bit about the cover videos that started your career. What inspired you to release them, and did you self-produce them? 

SennaRin: I love to sing, and I wanted to sing, and YouTube is a worldwide platform, so I just wanted to see how far my voice could reach, and so that’s kind of where it all began.

For Sawano-san: What was your biggest inspiration in becoming a composer? As a composer, now that you’ve worked in this industry for quite a while and you’re probably one of the most famous soundtrack composers within the anime-game industry, what would you consider the most important aspects of creating songs? 

Sawano: Tetsuya Komuro was one of the biggest influences for me to become a composer, and also if you know the band, Chage and Aska, I was really inspired by Aska. I wanted to actually be a singer-songwriter, but I didn’t have much talent in singing. I guess I transitioned to more, you know, like Komuro-san, because he made a lot of soundtracks, so I leaned toward that realm. I listened to a lot of Joe Hisaishi’s tracks and that kind of inspired me to do a lot of the movie music as well.

For advice for people who want to become a composer, you have to keep going with your music, even if people say it’s not good or they put you down. What’s important is, don’t quit and just keep continuing, and I think that’s the best advice I can give for people who want to become a composer.

So because it is the 10th anniversary, I have to ask: What was it like working on Kill la Kill? 

Sawano: As you know in Kill la Kill the show is where the girls are dressed very eccentrically and sexy, and so I thought, “What’s going on?” Before that gig I worked on Attack on Titan and Blue Exorcist, so building on that I wanted to make something that’s cool and very entertaining, so that’s kind of how I approached Kill la Kill.

For the second half of my question: What is the origin of the “Sawano Drop?”

Sawano: So I think when I was making the main melody and the theme melody, I wanted to really emphasize the melody, so that’s why I created the break into the “Drop.” That kind of became my signature, and I kind of liked it, so I kept using that style in my other works.

So actually, it’s interesting because when you give the music to the music director, he would cut the music at certain parts to fit the scene. I was told because of that process where they cut the music, it’s easier to edit. That’s what they told me, so that’s why I decided to have the gap and then the “Drop” because of how the directors use the music.

AT: You will be working on both the opening and original soundtrack for Solo Leveling. What musical aspects did you want to focus on specifically for Solo Leveling?

Sawano: When I first got the offer for the soundtrack, they told me about the opening too, and I wanted to emphasize the sound of the K-pop group, Tomorrow x Together, TXT, because I heard that they would also be a part of the opening, so I wanted to create a sound that also brings out their strengths as well. 

For the soundtrack, I have a vision where I want to make it more like Hollywood, and really have a high entertainment value, so that’s why I created some intense songs and then also mixed in with the orchestra, so that’s how I wanted to approach them.

solo leveiing lv 8 single artwork
© Solo Leveling Animation Partners

 

This is a question for SennaRin. So some of your previous covers on YouTube have included Radwimps and Saucy Dog. Are these ani-song artists, and the other artists you’ve covered, a major source of your inspiration? Are there any new artists you’d like to cover in the future?

SennaRin: I think it’s not from specific artists, but when I listen to a song, the inspiration comes from a song-by-song basis, and if it sounds good, that’s where the inspiration comes from. So I take inspiration from a lot of foreign art.

What was the experience like writing the climax song for One Piece: Red, Tot Musica? Were you approached to write that specific moment? 

Sawano: So for the One Piece: Red film, Tot Musica, I was specifically asked to do Tot Musica, and of course, I was very surprised when I got the offer. The other songs that are featured in the film are made by the character Uta. But my music kind of brings the demon out, the bad. It kind of was similar for me to the Attack on Titan music, so that’s where I saw the similarities. 

Is it true that Oda-san was involved in the music-making process? 

Sawano: Oda-sensei was not just telling me, “You gotta make this kind of song,” but in the process, it was more like I created the song, and I sent it over to Oda-sensei so he could listen to it, and he was like, “Oh that’s cool! Thank you!” That kind of interaction.

You said before that Tot Musica was like a “magic-creating” song. Is there a specific instrument or noise that you lean on to create an atmosphere like “magic” or “foreboding?”

Sawano: I lean on the drums and percussion specifically as instruments, and in Tot Musica, there’s the phrase “bring the demon out.” I made that the emphasis where they’re speaking and “bringing out the demon” and that was the melody, so that’s what I emphasize for that kind of music.

ado uta song one piece film red album cover
©Eiichiro Oda/2022 “One Piece” production committee

 

What has it been like for you, Sawano, to perform your music live, especially because you tend to be more of a soundtrack creator? 

Sawano: For performing live in the studio, when you make a song and you’re like, “Oh it’s a really cool song,” no one’s gonna really clap for you, but you’re happy. But of course, in the live concert when you perform the song and everyone’s clapping and cheering, I think that’s a really special experience for me and it’s exciting.

SennaRin debuted during a pandemic, because she debuted during a time when people weren’t able to go to concerts. What was it like performing for the first time in front of a live audience?

SennaRin: I debuted around April 2022, so it was kind of toward the end, but during that time there weren’t a lot of concerts, and when I did my own solo live, I was able to perform, and I was excited to start performing live.

For SennaRin, do you have any fun stories from your trip to Brazil?

SennaRin: The crowd reception in Brazil was really, really crazy, and I thought the stage was shaking from the reaction. Usually when I have the earpiece on, I can’t really hear what’s going on, but their screams came through my earpiece, and I could hear through my earpiece, so that’s how loud it was!

Anime Trending: Do you have any final comments to share for fans at AnimeNYC?

Sawano: For me, it’s really my first time at the event, and we were able to see the show floor getting very busy and exciting! I think if the fans can come out and see us and take away something and enjoy our performance, that would be great for me.

SennaRin: So it’s my first time in New York and to do a live show here, so, I’m really excited to see the fans’ reaction and how the show goes, especially because Sawano-san doesn’t really come out too much for international shows, so this is kind of a rare appearance for him as well, and so we are really excited to have that performance!

Nico is part writer, part podcaster, and part Italian. When he is not working for Anime Trending, he is hard at work caring for his cats Solo and Doppio and making sure they grow up with only the most refined tastes in anime such as works directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Gen Urobuchi. When he's not watching anime, he is busy playing competitive card games and RPG's he never will have time to complete.
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