[Interview] Harajuku Pop Web – Saito Soma – “Petrichor” and “in bloom”

Published: 2020/7/8
Original URL: https://harajuku-pop.com/21129

“I’m the type that pays attention to the visual nuances of words”

Q: Like flipping pages in a book, your artist career has entered Chapter 2 with the “in bloom” series. I’m interested in the reason why you’ve separated it into “Chapter 1” and “Chapter 2.” Was it done deliberately to make a clear distinction about what you’ll be presenting next?

It’s not that deep—It’d been about two years since the label asked me if I was interested in a music career, and after releasing an album and performing a live concert, I felt that I’d reached a sort of milestone. Looking back, there was a nice flow from “Fish Story,” the amazing song Oishi Masayoshi-san wrote for me, until my album quantum stranger. Many of the songs were themed around “traveling” or “the end of the world.” But since I was a voice actor doing a singing career, I thought that pop entertainment would have to be at the core no matter what. However, I couldn’t stop my desires from building, and I started wanting to do darker, more incomprehensible songs. So from now on, I’m going to create more varied music, so please lend me your support. Although it kind of feels like I’m trying to show off, and it’s a bit embarrassing… *laughs*

Q: I was also intrigued by the name of this series, “in bloom.” What was the reason behind that?

I didn’t really think there was a need to give it a name, but the producer asked me to give it one so that the connection would be easier to understand *laughs*. The original plan was to release a single in June, but due to various circumstances, it had to be turned into digital releases instead. So, when I was putting together the songs I had in reserve, I noticed that many of them had a seasonal feel to them. I was originally thinking of using “in bloom” as a song name, but I realized that it was perfect for this series and decided on it right away. It had a nice ring to it, and personally, I’m the type that pays attention to the appearance—or rather, the visual nuances of words. “in bloom” was both visually and audibly appealing. So it’s not like I chose this title from the very beginning to form the overall concept. It’s more like it dawned upon me.

Q: You say that the themes for this series are “the changing of seasons” and “what comes after the end of the world.” I can feel romance and emotion in “the changing of seasons,” but what I’m really interested in is “what comes after the end of the world.” Could you tell us the reason behind these two themes?

I’ve always liked the process of change as well as ambiguity. So, I wanted to write songs that gave off the feeling of the rainy season or that brief moment between summer and fall. I enjoy turning nameless concepts into songs rather than simply giving them names. I still have yet to write a coherent message song—my approach is to express certain situations or feelings in the form of music. In that sense, the three songs in this series express the changing of seasons in their own separate ways.

As for “what comes after the end of the world,” I mentioned earlier that many of my songs so far had “the end of the world” as a motif. When I was reading Dazai Osamu’s Roman Dourou, I encountered a phrase that left an impression on me: “The real story always begins after the dance of love has ended. Most films end with the formation of a happy couple, but what we want to know is what kind of life they live afterwards.” There are two themes I’ve chosen not to write about for the time being: message songs (as mentioned earlier) and love songs. Setting that aside, I very much agreed with that passage. So far, I’ve been writing stories about how people would receive the end of the world, but now, it’s a question of what happens next. Is the world completely over, or…? I wanted to try writing songs about that. This theme will continue beyond the scope of these three songs, too.

“I like the scent of rain. I also like both the sound and appearance of the word ‘petrichor.'”

Q: The first digital song in the series is “Petrichor.” The word refers to the scent that rises from the ground when it rains, and I thought the word had a lovely aesthetic. I’m very interested in what led you to it.

I don’t remember how I learned this word, but… At first, I had a sort of prototype for the song, and when I came up with it, I knew it was going to have rain. And originally, I didn’t want to use katakana for the title—I wanted to give it a bit more of a Japanese setting. But I got stuck, and when I was brainstorming, I suddenly remembered this word and decided to lift the restriction on katakana. From there, it was a relatively smooth path to the overall image. I like the scent of rain. I also like both the sound and appearance of the word “petrichor.”

Q: Since the “in bloom” series is about the changing of seasons, will the next songs also take place in specific seasons? I’m also interested in why you chose to begin with a season about rain.

“in bloom” is currently expected to be three songs, so that’s the plan.

Many of my songs already have rain or nighttime as a motif, and since this June marked my third anniversary since my debut, I was planning on releasing a single with all three songs about rain. The title was going to be “Ame no Sanbusaku” (Trilogy of Rain), an homage to Yoru no Sanbusaku (Trilogy of Night) by the author Fukunaga Takehito. That was the original plan. However, due to various circumstances, that became difficult to achieve, but I really wanted to release Petrichor in June no matter what. So, it became a series of digital releases. The other songs don’t have a rain theme and originally weren’t going to be used here, but since the new theme was the changing of seasons, I thought they’d be perfect. Come to think of it, “Reminiscence,” the coupling song on my Date single, was also originally titled “Ame” (Rain).

Q: “Petrichor” has a light, pleasant feeling that makes you want to go out in a raincoat with an umbrella and strut around in the rain. What did you keep in mind when you were composing this song?

Bringing out the nuance of splashing raindrops while not making it too upbeat.

The recurring sax riff is somewhat off key, but that’s because I was aiming for a sound that can’t be expressed on the musical scale. “Blue notes” are the same way, but I really wanted to express something “ambiguous” or “unclear” here too. So, people who listen to music from a logical perspective might feel that something is off. But when I created the riff, I hoped that it’d continue to linger in people’s ears after the song was over.

Also, it was the correct choice to add the noise guitar to the intro and outro—I’m talking about the sound coming from around the left side. I showed the arranger, Saku-san, a video of a no wave guitarist named Arto Lindsay, and selfishly asked him, “Please do it like this, playing the rhythm with noise instead of melody.” *laughs* I’m sorry for always making such complicated requests. Thank you for yet another wonderful arrangement, Saku-san!

As for the vocals, I like how the harmony in the hook has an Elliot Smith feel to it. Whenever we’re recording, everyone will be playing the keyboard or guitar and saying, “Wouldn’t this way sound more urban and stylish?” while making changes to the melody, and it’s enjoyable having that sense of teamwork.

The song takes a rather peculiar turn from the second verse. It’s presumptuous of me to say this, but personally I think the part that goes “kuruizaku you na…” is reminiscent of Inoue Yosui. I also like that the part afterwards has a spoken sound rather than rap or song.

“For some reason, I’m incredibly drawn towards things relating to ‘rain.'”

Q: When I listen to “Petrichor,” I feel romance in Japan’s damp and humid season. What is your personal impression of the rainy season, Soma-san?

I’m not good with humidity, so I can’t say I love it, but for some reason, I’m incredibly drawn towards things relating to ‘rain,’ whether it be the shape of the kanji (雨), the rhythm of rainfall, or the scent and colour. It’s like everything is quietly hidden away rather than shown in detail. Isn’t it exciting when you pass by someone whose face is hidden behind an umbrella, and you can only see their mouth?

Q: In “Petrichor,” we see the protagonist walking on the street against a rainy backdrop with colours being painted in, depicting the lyrics of the song. Was there anything you kept in mind or aimed for when writing the lyrics?

Madness and enchantment… The listeners’ interpretations of this song are quite divided. There’s no correct answer, so thank you all for ending up exactly as I’d hoped *laughed*.

My personal interpretation is that it’s definitely not only an upbeat, light song. This is ultimately only my perspective, but while this song has a Singin’ in the Rain-like feeling, it’s closer to A Clockwork Orange, in my opinion. This person might seem like they’re in a really good mood, but how does it look to a third party? When writing a novel, there’s a technique called the “unreliable narrator,” and this is it.

But, what’s most important is to interpret it the way you want to. Have confidence in your interpretation—believe in it and assume responsibility for it. I think that’s the best way to enjoy the song, and I hope people will come up with all sorts of interpretations.

Q: I always try to avoid going outside on rainy days, but after listening to “Petrichor,” I got the feeling that it could lead to something dramatic. In the lyrics, there’s a part about “taking a little detour”—when do you feel like doing that, Soma-san?

I do it pretty much all the time. I love going for walks, and I’ve always enjoyed taking a different route every time. Even when I was a student, I’d constantly take different routes home. But, unlike the person in “Petrichor,” on rainy days I’d run straight home *laughs*. Then again, we don’t know where this person is coming from and where he’s going. He’s insane, in a way. So to be honest, it makes me think “this person looks like he’s having a lot of fun, but he’s kind of scary.” Going back to the original topic, I really love taking unknown roads and being inspired by what I see there.

Q: In “Petrichor,” I could sense the emotional “changing of seasons.” Are there hints of the other theme, “what comes after the end of the world,” hidden in the song as well?

I think it might be inelegant to explain too much of that, but… hmm, perhaps there isn’t that much in this song. I think this song is really introspective and subjective. Rather, since it’s about the rainy season and the changing of seasons, you’d think the person would be emotional, but he actually seems extremely ephemeral. It feels like he’s really enjoying what he’s doing.

That said, just because I wrote the song doesn’t mean I’m going to openly explain everything, although I’m not going to tell any crazy lies either, of course. There might be something hidden in smoke, so please listen to the song while keeping that in mind.

The “world” is another tricky aspect, though. Is it referring to the whole world, or this person’s world? I hope that the various interpretations will blend in with the raindrops.

Q: The recording members were: Bass – Ochi Shunsuke (CRCK/LCKS), Sax – Fujita Junnosuke (TRI4TH), Piano – Watanabe Shunsuke (Schroeder-Headz). Were you looking for a band arrangement?

No, I wasn’t. In fact, I wanted to reduce the amount of sounds as much as possible. Japanese pop music always ends up increasing the sound density and filling the gaps in the songs. It’s an additive process, whereas I wanted subtraction—a song where you could hear empty space. So, I didn’t ask for anyone specific. Since it’s also a jazzy song, I requested people who would perform this subtraction while preserving the song’s groove. In the end, everyone performed wonderfully and I was extremely happy with the result. Their performance was especially great in the outro, so please listen closely to it.

“Rain in slow motion is truly beautiful, don’t you think?”

Q: The MV for “Petrichor” was also lovely like a watercolour painting. Was there anything you were aiming for in particular with it?

Filming MVs in these times is rather difficult, and this was the result of researching what would be possible. I’m truly thankful to the movie team for creating something beautiful under such limited time constraints. When I gave them the general idea of what I wanted and they came back with the watercolour aesthetic, I thought, “This is it!” It really is a stylish video that matches the song. I asked the usual two to do the fashion styling and makeup, and of course, they did a wonderful job as always. Yet again, I felt how blessed I was to be able to create something with a team.

Q: Do you have any interesting stories from the filming? Also, what would you say the highlight of the MV is?

I remember that on the filming day, it just barely didn’t rain, but right after we finished filming, it suddenly started pouring. The movie team really did a wonderful job, so please watch it several times. Rain in slow motion is truly beautiful, don’t you think? As an aside, there’s a cut where I was snapping my fingers as I walked, but I actually can’t get any sound to come out at all *laughs*.

Q: What does the completed song mean to you now?

I think that once a song is out, it no longer belongs to me—it’s been released into the atmosphere. Personally, this time I’m very satisfied that I was able to express a hidden madness appearing and disappearing from behind the upbeat-ness, but when it comes to music, the most important thing is that it’s being listened to. There’s no greater happiness than having your song listened to by one more person, one more time. But if I may say an additional thing, it’s that I’m glad it became a song with a suspicious air, fitting for the opening to my new series.

Q: I’m also curious as to why this series is taking the form of digital releases.

As I wrote above, it was originally going to be a CD single. Currently, physical and digital releases coexist, and both sides have their advantages. But I grew up in the era of buying CDs in my hometown’s used record shop based on their covers, excitedly listening to them at home, and feeling overjoyed when there was a secret track after the last song. So, next time, I definitely want to release a CD.

Q: I’m very interested in what form the rest of the “in bloom” series will take. Is there anything you’re allowed to tell us right now?

The second song is called “Summerholic!” and it’ll be released on August 19th. It’s an “upper” band tune for the height of summer. This one is rather simple; I think it’s an honest song that’s only been “twisted” once. That said, there are still tricks inserted throughout, so I think it’ll be fun to listen to. As I said for “Petrichor,” this one might also have a horror vibe depending on the listener. Well, it’s summer after all *laughs*.

The third song takes place between summer and fall. It features an emotional band sound and sentimental lyrics. This one has more of the “end of the world” motif, but the perspective is still a bit different from my previous songs. We just finished recording it the other day, so I’m looking forward to hearing the completed version.

Anyway, I have an infinite number of written songs in reserve… In the past, I showed part of the demo for a song called “Hokuou (Kari)” (Scandinavia (Temp)) on Twitter, and I have a lot of other materials stocked up too. The temporary titles are “Oasis Miss,” “Bossa Nova,” “VW,” “Marilyn Manson,” “Kujira” (Whale), etc… I want to do my best so that these songs will have the chance to see the light of day.

Q: What kind of situation do you want people to listen to “Petrichor” in?

I think one of the best things about this generation is that you can listen to music at any time. So, please enjoy the song in any situation you like. My personal recommendation is while taking a walk. It’s really fun listening to it at night and copying the MV, although people might think you’re strange *laughs*. I didn’t have any exact time of day in mind when I wrote the song, but I think it might be an unexpectedly good fit for the morning. After waking up in the morning, you could listen to it on the veranda while watching the drizzling rain.

“Books and sleep are my idea fountains.”

Q: Please tell us about your favourite fashion style.

I like relatively simple clothes as well as French style clothes. In the past, I didn’t like wearing rings or watches, but tastes sure do change as years pass. For watches, rather than expensive ones or mechanically-impressive ones, I prefer ones that feel right for my body, and I’m still searching for the best one.

As for colours, I’d say I have a lot of green or black items. I often voice blue-type characters which leads to wearing costumes with cool colours, but if I had to state my preference, it’d be autumnal colours such as deep burgundy. I’m also attracted to pale tones; in other words, items with ambiguous colours. I love sweaters and cardigans too.

Q: Is there anything you’re particular about when it comes to fashion? Do you have any favourite brands?

How the clothes feel on my skin. Not getting tired when wearing them—when I’m recording and have to talk for a long time, I often wear loose clothes that won’t feel tight against my body.

I have a lot of favourite brands, but I’m the type that likes to enjoy my fashion quietly, so it’s a secret *laughs*. Even if you know what brands I like, please keep it to yourself.

If I have to name something, I wear Dr. Martens shoes quite often. I own several pairs, and they fit the shape of my feet and are comfortable to walk in on any surface. I like Paraboot for the same reason. My latest concern is that caps don’t look good on me because I have a round face *laughs*. I like using nice things for a long time.

Q: What’s essential to your lifestyle, Soma-san?

Books and sleep. Both of them are my idea fountains.

By the way, “lifestyle” is a very important keyword for beyond the “in bloom” series. That said, it’s still in the planning stage, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out… Even when the world ends, life continues (or does it?). Keep that in the back of your mind, and someday the connection will be made.

Also, something nice I bought recently was a Le Creuset bowl. You can serve any type of food nicely in it, and it’s easy to clean. All I have to do is move the food from the frying pan to the bowl, eat, then wash the bowl, dry, and put it back. I’ve been cooking for myself more often lately, but I’m pretty much only using this bowl *laughs*.

I also bought a carbonated water maker-type thing, which has proven to be very valuable as well. It’s strange, because I used to not like carbonated drinks.

I also want a funnily-shaped guitar. Something with a really peaky sound… I should stop, because I could go on forever *laughs*.

Q: Lastly, please give us a message of your choice.

Thank you for reading all the way here! I hope you’ll listen to “Petrichor” many times! I plan on bringing you lots of songs this year, so please support my musical activities in addition to my voice acting work!