Original URL: https://natalie.mu/music/pp/saitosoma
He learned about a deep world in his first year of middle school
—Since this is your first interview with Natalie, please tell us about the music that influenced you.
Up until elementary school, I listened to the music my parents liked and the artists that were popular at the time, like the Beatles, Yuming-san, Spitz, and PornoGraffiti. After that, in my first year of middle school, I made a friend who was a fan of all things subculture. He taught me about the deep world of music and literature, and I started looking for new music and artists myself too. It was the rock ‘n’ roll revival era at the time. For Western music I listened to the Libertines, the Strokes, and Bloc Party, and for Japanese music I listened to artists with a slight downer aesthetic like ART-SCHOOL and GRAPEVINE. I think the music I listened to in middle school became my musical roots.
—I heard that at the time, you frequented a CD/record shop called Birdland in your local area of Yamanashi.
My family didn’t have a record player at the time, so I bought CDs. Unfortunately, Birdland no longer exists… I miss it. In elementary school I listened to cassettes, and in middle school it was MiniDiscs and CDs. Thinking about it now, it feels like I was gaining listening experience during a time when music formats were changing. Speaking of which, the other day I finally bought a record player—although it was a cheap one, under ¥10,000. It feels like once you step into the world of records and audio equipment, you end up in the rabbit hole *laughs*. Recently I’ve been asking a knowledgeable friend about them.
—Your artist debut with SACRA MUSIC was in 2017. Was an artist debut something you originally wanted?
I had opportunities to sing character songs, but I didn’t really have a desire to sing under my own name. But when the topic of an artist debut was brought to me, I had a premonition that if I leapt at this chance, I’d be able to do new interesting things. So, I went for it.
—Your second album in bloom is the first time you composed and wrote lyrics for all of the tracks on a full album. Did you ever think you’d be writing so many songs?
In middle school, I was in a hobby band and wrote songs there. Even after becoming a voice actor, I still wrote music, even though I didn’t plan on showing it to anyone in particular. When it was time to make my third single, I told the producer, “I’ve actually been writing songs on my own,” and had him listen to the track that “Reminiscence” was based on. Then he said, “Let’s use this!”
I was really happy to be able to sing my own creations as part of my artist career. After that, I suggested more of my songs. The team I work with generally responds positively to my suggestions, and before I knew it, I was the composer and lyricist for every track on in bloom *laughs*. It’s fun to create each song with the team, like we’re a band. I’m glad I took the leap when I was first offered an artist debut.
He wants to create introspective music, that isn’t pop style
—Do you use your voice acting experience in your music?
I do. My various experiences as a voice actor are heavily reflected in my music creation. I think these are all songs and lyrics that I couldn’t have come up with when I was in a band as a teenager. Even if I had the chance to release a song that I wrote as a teenager, the scope of it would probably end up being very small. These are songs that I’m only able to present because of my accumulated experiences as a voice actor—songs that I can only create now. It’s like everything has a reciprocal effect. Thinking about it that way, the opportunity truly came at a good time for me.
—You mentioned character songs earlier. How do your vocals differ between singing as a character and singing as a solo artist, in regards to approach and mentality?
When I’m singing as a character, I think the most important aspect is “How would this character sing?” Rather than my own singing style, I consider how the character’s personality would reflect in the song. Singing as myself is something I didn’t have the chance to do much since starting this job, so when I began as a solo artist, I thought, “Have I been spoiled by my characters all this time?” When it came time to sing, I thought, “Is this right?” and started out fumbling around with every song. It felt like I was reexamining what “my music” was.
—When I watched concerts from series like IDOLiSH7 or Hypnosis Mic, I got the impression that you prioritized characterization, putting on a performance that gave the fans exactly what they wanted.
That might be because my inspiration for becoming a voice actor was my admiration for their craft; the way they add appeal to their characters who take center stage. To be honest, I’m still not great at public appearances. I’m sure that when you were in school, there was always someone in your class that would pass on having his photo taken. That was me *laughs*. But when it comes to performing in-character at a concert or event, even though I’m still nowhere near perfect, I still want to perform in a way that won’t bring shame to the character or the fans. For example, at an IDOLiSH7 concert, standing on stage as Kujo Tenn is a difficult task, but as long as the audience goes home thinking, “I saw something amazing,” “That was fun,” “That felt great,” then I feel blessed to be an actor. I think that’s exactly what entertainment means.
—When it comes to your solo music, which do you prioritize: the desire to provide the fans with the performances and music they want, or the desire to bring out what you yourself want to do?
The focus is around what I want to do, but I also prioritize pop appeal and entertainment value. But since I’m doing this under my own name, I want to take the music I’ve listened to and the books I’ve read, and express them through my own songs. I think this album is a particularly good example of what I want to do. My previous works had quite a large focus on entertainment value and ease of listening. I kept that for this album too, but I was a bit more self-indulgent with my technique.
—It feels like you can do this because you trust that the fans will accept your music no matter what form it takes on.
That’s true. I’m fortunate to have fans who write to me, “I want to hear deeper songs too” *laughs*. After releasing quantum stranger and my blue vacation, my desire to write more introspective songs that weren’t easy listening grew stronger. I think that atmosphere is in this album. However, my original intent hasn’t changed: when releasing songs under my own name, each song has its own story, and doesn’t contain any of Saito Soma’s own feelings or messages.
The journey that began with “Fish Story”
—The three “in bloom” singles that released between June and August were created as the second chapter of your artist career. What changes were there between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2?
It might seem pretentious calling it “Chapter 2!” myself, but I feel that my solo artist career is a journey that began when Oishi Masayoshi-san wrote “Fish Story” for me. “Journey” is a common motif in the lyrics I write, and when I created quantum stranger and my blue vacation, I felt that I’d reached a major milestone in the journey that began with “Fish Story”. My first journey had reached a conclusion for the time being. Then, as I said earlier, I wanted to try writing deeper songs, or rather, songs that weren’t too held up by pop conventions. Since I’d been singing about “the end of the world,” I wondered what expressions would be born if I thought of Chapter 2 as “what comes after the end of the world.” How do I put this… It was like, “Can I be a bit more self-indulgent?” *laughs*
At the time of this interview (late November), I still don’t know what the fans’ reception is, but I think each song in my second album has interesting elements that I hope they’ll notice. Rather than a major change in direction, I want to widen my scope, taking off the shackles to express myself the way I want. That’s what Chapter 2 is about.
—In Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu, you wrote that when you were composing songs as a student, the themes were “extreme sentimentalism” and “the end of the world.” You kept “the end of the world” as a theme for quite a long time, but now the theme of in bloom is “what comes after the end of the world.” Is that because there was a major change in your mentality?
Thank you for reading my essays. That might be part of it, but even right now, I still think that that decadent feeling is an important characteristic of my works. When I’m writing prose, it’s never 100% bright—there’s a dark, fuzzy side to it. So even though this is Chapter 2, I don’t think there’s been a major change in my intrinsic nature.
Basso continuo throughout the album
—It feels like you have a lot of conceptual works. When you’re producing a release, do you decide the overarching theme in advance?
I used to love coming up with things like plots of short story collections, but I don’t think that’s quite the case for my music. My first album’s title, “quantum stranger,” wasn’t decided until the very end. I was stuck between “étranger” and “quantum stranger”… I don’t want to admit it, but I named the album after the fact *laughs*. I really love creating things conceptually, but I don’t plan my albums out from the very beginning. I think it’s interesting to find common themes between the songs once they’re done. My belief is that when you’re in that unconscious creative zone, it’ll definitely show through in what you produce. In that sense, in bloom got its title because among all of the songs and stories in the album, there are a lot of people who seem to be enjoying themselves. I sensed this while doing various interviews and promotions—there’s something like a basso continuo throughout the album.
—A variety of musicians were involved with this release. How did this come about?
The music is released under the name Saito Soma, but I think what’s fun about creating music as a team is the unexpected chemical reactions that occur, so I’m not too specific with my orders—I let the label decide who to send offers to. As a result, I’m able to perform with incredible people, and I’m truly grateful for that.
—It feels like you’ve polished your band sound. When did the album production begin?
The original plan was to release a 3-song single in June to coincide with my third anniversary since my debut. Since it was going to be June, the rainy season, I wanted to write three songs about rain, and that’s when “Petrichor” was born. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed the plan to a series of digital singles released in time with the seasons. After creating those three songs we continued straight into the album production, so I’ve been spending essentially the entire year up to now working on music. It was a lot of fun.
—That’s amazing, considering how busy you are with your voice acting work too.
Music isn’t something that can be finished in an instant, but creating music has always been a hobby and a form of relaxation for me. So even though there were some really busy times, I still had a lot of fun doing it.
—How do you create your demos?
Since my blue vacation, I started using a DAW to create my demos. My main arranger, Saku-san, was overjoyed, saying “Now I don’t have to align the BPM anymore!” *laughs* Before, I always felt bad for submitting my demos as simple recordings of me playing my guitar and singing along. I’m glad that I brought a DAW into my workflow, because it has greatly improved the density and level of detail of the arrangements. I still have a long way to go before mastering it, but I’ve acquired a lot of equipment during the stay-home period. That said, while a DAW is extremely advantageous when creating as a team, I also think songs like “Canary” and “C” are better off sounding less polished; I like the distorted aesthetic that comes from imperfect pitch. I want to keep being able to do that, so understanding the DAW is a way of expanding my range.
—I see. Are you attracted to imperfections?
Yes, I’d say so. Perhaps ever since I was a child, I’ve been attracted to things that feel somehow strange, awkward, or warped, including lyrics. But on the other hand, part of me is also attracted to things that feel complete. It depends on my mood at the moment, and I’d like to express that through music and melodies.
“This will definitely become a masterpiece”
—It’s brilliant how each and every instrument and vocal in the leading track “carpool” stands out on its own. How did you create this song?
“carpool” came about quite late in the process. The release timing for the album was confirmed, and we calculated backwards in the schedule to determine the deadline for the music video filming. Before “carpool” was made, the plan was to film an MV for either “Schrödinger Girl” or another song. I personally like both of them very much, but neither of them felt right as a leading track with an MV, and in the end, we chose not to include the other song on in bloom. At that time, I decided, “I’ll reset my thinking and just play my favourite chords however feels right, and figure it out from there.” I sang up to the chorus in a flash, coming up with the chorus’ lyrics at about the same time. I sent it to the label and they told me, “This is really good!” Saku-san said, “This will definitely become a masterpiece, so please let me do the arrangement,” which made me happy to hear, although I replied doubtfully, “Are you sure? I still have no idea.” *laughs*
From there, the rest of the song came along smoothly, and I thought, “This is going to be the leading track.” It’s strange—the songs that I don’t put too much thought into, letting the melody and lyrics come to mind naturally, are really easy to listen to. The same thing happened with “Date,” and it was the first time in a while that I felt that sensation. The team members said things like, “This is the kind of song we love!” and “This is the kind of band we want to be!” *laughs* Also, since the album was going to release in winter, I wanted the leading track to have both a good melody and an ominous air to it. Fortunately I was able to create this at the last minute.
—Do you think that because it was created at the last minute, it represents your current style the most?
—Next, I’d like to hear about “BOOKMARK” and its rapping parts. It’s credited to both you and J-san, and it’s also the only song on this album where you’re credited for arrangement as well. Who is the guest vocalist for this song, by the way?
The guest vocalist is J-san as well. He’s an old friend of mine. The base song that became “BOOKMARK” was originally a candidate for the 3-track single I mentioned earlier. But since the plan was changed to digital singles, this song was set aside. I happened to show it to J-san, and he did a really cool arrangement of it and added the rapping. When I showed it to my producer, he gave it the greenlight.
J-san and I did the arrangement together. It’s unique, right? The song is about a student who stays up all night, looks around at 4 a.m., realizes that the sky’s already blue, thinks “I’ve wasted this time”—but definitely doesn’t feel bad about it. It might be the most straightforward “adolescent” song on this album. Also, J-san has a nice voice, right? He’s so good at rapping *laughs*. It’s interesting how this kind of song becomes an accent of the album.
—So J-san is your friend. What kind of discussions with him led to “BOOKMARK”?
I’d created the full-size of the base song, and I asked him for advice on how much rap to add. Also, we made it almost completely remotely, although I’d attribute that to the pandemic. I only met with J-san in person for the recording. Being able to create a song while restricted by distance and time was fun in its own way.
—”BOOKMARK” is a straightforward number, but the lyrics of the songs you write always have room for interpretation.
Yes, that might be true. I think that using complicated words to say complicated things is actually simple. My writing style changed quite a bit for this album. My current mood is that linking two simple words to create something new is the wonder of language. I’m still probing around, but personally, I think I was able to write lyrics that were interesting in a new way.
Creating a “space” with fans
—Tell us about your future activities. Your official fan club “space” opened on December 11, right? How do you plan on using it to connect with your fans?
As I continue with my releases and concerts, I want to create a peaceful place for the people who support me by buying my CDs and attending my concerts. That’s why I named it “space”—it’s a space that we all build together. It also has other meanings, like “Saito’s pace,” outer space, and so on. It also represents my original wish of wanting to produce music at a gentle pace for a long time. I don’t know how “space” will evolve yet, but I hope it becomes a good place for my supporters.
—And then there’s your live tour “We are in bloom!” which will be held from April to May next year.
We’ll have to deal with practical issues and we don’t know how the pandemic situation will change by then, but I’m looking forward to it. I had my first concert after releasing my first album, and I’ve gained quite a lot of songs since then, so I don’t plan on limiting the setlist to this album. I hope you’ll look forward to it too.
Also, as I thought during my first concert as well, since I was a band kid to begin with, I truly feel blessed to be able to sing with a live band. To be honest, I wasn’t that thrilled about performing live at first, but once I did a concert, I realized that there was something I could only relish there. I’m excited about what kind of performance I’ll be able to put on next, so please wait patiently until then.