Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview Nobuo Uematsu during the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert in Boston. Uematsu-san is often regarded as one of the most famous video game composers ever, due to his musical works with the Final Fantasy series and Square Enix. The interview, which discusses his thoughts on Final Fantasy, the Boston show and video game music in general, can be read in its entirety by clicking the link below. Thank you to Nobuo Uematsu and the rest of the Distant Worlds team for making this a reality.
Williams: How do you like Boston so far?
Uematsu: This is my second time in Boston. Since it has such a large student population, I find it to be young and vibrant. I’ve always wanted to come here when I was younger.
Williams: Are you excited to see these students (referring to the hip/vibrant comment) performing your music? It is usually a professional orchestra that does so.
Uematsu: It is not necessarily whether it is performed by a professional or amateur group, that part does not matter because they do the same thing in Japan. It is more that, since I composed most of these pieces nearly 20 years ago, the fact that these students are still playing them is very honorable.
Williams: Arnie Roth mentioned that are a lot of Final Fantasy fans within the university orchestra. Are you excited in hearing a particular piece that they are performing?
Uematsu: I am very excited to hear all the pieces! But personally, I am excited to hear The Opera.
Williams: Ah yes, Maria and Draco – a very exciting piece, indeed. Speaking of The Opera, when you were composing the piece, what was your inspiration?
Uematsu: Originally, there was a man named Yoshinori Kitase. There was an idea that it would be really interesting to have an opera integrated into the game. The words, the story…everything was already set. From that, we said “let’s write the music to this”. The inspiration was already provided because the words and storyline were already there. (Laughing) Right when I completed Final Fantasy VI, Koichi Sugiyama (composer for the Dragon Quest series) contacted me and said “If you were doing The Opera, why didn’t you contact me!”
Williams: The Black Mages – do you miss playing in that band? Specifically being able to put additional rock elements into Final Fantasy music? Is that something you wish you could continue doing?
Uematsu: More than saying I want to “integrate more rock themes into the music”, I feel it would naturally come into it. But as you know, The Black Mages is already disbanded. (Laughing) Right now though, I am doing Earthbound Papas, so you should definitely promote that! When I was originally with The Black Mages, I was employed with Square Enix. At the time, I could not do much outside of Square Enix (with the band). We disbanded, but formed Earthbound Papas, which still has the same music that we play from Square Enix. We also play music outside of Square Enix. The members are pretty much the same. It is less of a disbanding, and more of a “name change”.
Williams: Like a re-branding.
Uematsu: Yes, exactly.
Williams: What kind of control do you feel you have over the music Earthbound Papas can play?
Uematsu: When I worked with Square Enix, they (the project team) would just tell us the story. They would be like, “this is the story, go!” They would not tell us things like, “we want the battle themes to be rock, or we want this song to be creepy”. It was not anything like that. As opposed to now, when I am working outside, a game will specifically ask for a certain type of feel/genre.
Williams: Me being a musician as well, I know that musical creativity can be confined at times when we are trying to play within a certain genre. It is harder to let the musical style flow naturally. Whether it is Final Fantasy or music outside of what you are asked to write, what inspires you to write creatively? For example, I understand you got a chance to take a trip to Germany, which helped you write the medieval theme music to Final Fantasy IX. Inspirations like visiting castles and such.
Uematsu (Laughing): If there was the time/availability of going to a castle every time for such work, that would be great!
Williams (Laughing): Well, you can always do a business expense on it!
Uematsu: A lot of the times, I am given scripts. As I am reading it, the melodies come into my head. It is like I am reading while simultaneously composing in my head.
Williams: There are many moving parts and must be very difficult (composing music) – just like beating any of the Final Fantasy games! Each one requires hundreds of hours. Music can be complex at times, and it requires a talented group (to perform it). As Arnie Roth mentioned in a recent interview of mine, the reason why he picked the Berklee Contemporary Arts Orchestra (to perform this music) was he wanted a young, talented group of aspiring musicians who could quickly transition between the music’s various complex genres. Final Fantasy’s music calls exactly for that. For example: One Winged Angel. It will go from an operatic theme to a hard rock theme, and then it switches back. Musicians are needed who can handle that change. In addition to handling change/being quick on their feet, what other advice would you give to aspiring musicians about breaking into music (both the music industry and playing music within the video game industry)?
Uematsu: If you wanted to become a professional classical musician, perhaps there would be no reason to learn folk music, or rock music, or any other genre besides “classical”. One would only have to play music by Beethoven, Bach, or Brahms. In my opinion though, it really does not matter. If something, like a particular genre such as jazz or rock, is interesting to you, then it should be considered great music. In the future, perhaps most orchestras won’t just be playing the music of a single composer from a classical era. It could be more integrated, like they are today. More like pop concerts, video game concerts, or movie concerts. The more one is integrated into different genres, the genre itself of an “orchestral concert” will change in the future. We probably would not just be playing one genre of music. We would have to play multiple genres. It’s hard to say because we can’t tell what the future holds, but it’s probably a changing genre.
Williams: You’re right. And like the wide, changing genres your music calls for, Final Fantasy concert goers vary differently than your normal “classical” concert goers. But (like classical concert goers), Final Fantasy attendees appreciate the wide range of musical genres that are played from the games. In America, I believe that concert goers are adapting to the acceptance of this mix of musical genres. It may be different in Japan. But that is something I’m looking forward to seeing flourish in America. We’ve seen other video game concerts come to life (i.e.: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Video Games Live, etc.). Distant Worlds has been going on for quite a while.
Uematsu: For about 6 years now.
Williams: I am glad to see that Distant Worlds continues to have a strong influence on these other concerts. What are you looking forward to the most during the Boston Distant Worlds show? You must be excited to be performing Dark Worlds with Arnie-san.
Uematsu (laughing): Oh, I am playing that with him?
Williams (laughing): Haha, well that is what the website (Distant Worlds: Boston webpage) says!
Uematsu (laughing): Why didn’t they tell me! My glasses are farsighted, but in order to see a score I need my near-sighted glasses…which I did not bring with me.
Williams: How often do you get to interact with your fans during these concerts?
Uematsu: For me, it is a bit surreal. I did not study orchestral music originally, but seeing orchestras who want to play my music and fans who want to listen is an amazing feeling. If I could, I would love to shake every fan’s hand and say “thank you”. But if there are thousands of fans, it is a bit unpractical to do so. Deep down though, I want everyone to know how thankful I am.
Williams: Whether it is in person or in spirit, you are able to infect people’s minds with such inspiring music. And whether it is Final Fantasy music or something else you are working on, we are ecstatic for you to continue giving us music we all love. Thank you again for the amazing interview, Nobuo-san. If there are any parting words you would like to share before we wrap up, please feel free to do so.
Uematsu: In music, you have harmony. When notes go together, they line up beautifully and make this beautiful music. Sometimes you are the melody, other times you are the harmony and vice versa. It happens to create this beautiful, harmonious thing called music. I wonder sometimes why humans cannot be like that…why we have wars going on constantly, people fighting and other conflicts. Really, we should be able to piece together these differences, like music. Sometimes you are the melody, sometimes you are the harmony – they work together. It will be great, one day, if humanity could follow the same pattern that music does.
Williams: Agreed – different pieces come together to create unity. Your music is continuing to do that. Thank you very much.