[Interview] Ani-PASS #10 – Saito Soma – in bloom

Released: 2020/12/9

Soma was on the back cover and had a stunning 21-page feature. There is also a laminated artist card inside, as well a postcard that came with purchases from Animate.

※Since this is still a recent release, I will not be providing scans. The magazine is in stock on Amazon Japan.

I decided to stop following physical restrictions and personal rules

Q: Two years from quantum stranger, your long-awaited second full album in bloom is finally being released. Last year in December, you released the mini-album my blue vacation. Every December, Santa Soma delivers a present in the form of an album. *laughs*

Ahaha, you’re right *laughs*. My releases often end up being in June and December. After my blue vacation, I was vaguely planning a full album next, but while I was preparing a single for my third anniversary in June, the world fell into a pandemic, making it so that I couldn’t release a physical CD. In the end, I was able to release the tracks “Petrichor,” “Summerholic!”, and “Palette” (which are also on in bloom) as a series of digital singles starting in June. And then my album would be released in December. The releases have gone mostly as planned, which is a relief.

Q: It’s true that this year has been irregular in every way for the entertainment industry.

It really has been. But for me, there was a positive outcome in that I realized the advantage of digital singles. Normally, my albums always end up being released in December. That makes it really hard to include new songs that are based in the middle of summer. But through digital singles, I was able to link the songs to the seasons and release “Summerholic!” in summer. It’s really good that I was able to do that, since the digital single series was themed around seasons. For us creators, it’s more constructive to think about what we can do based on the current circumstances. Especially in this troubling time, I was able to proactively work on my music.

Q: You were proactive during the stay-home period too, right?

Yes. I bought a new computer for making music, as well as various tools.

Q: You composed and wrote lyrics for all of the songs on in bloom. Come to think of it, during the release interview for my blue vacation, you said that your demos evolved from singing to your own accompaniment to programmed tracks with an iPad and GarageBand.

Yes. And now they’ve evolved even further, to a computer and “Logic Pro”! *laughs*

Q: Finally, the addition of a true DAW (digital audio workstation)!

Indeed. Now I can express my ideas more clearly at the demo stage…and way more of my songs get scrapped now *strained laugh*. I have the production team listen to my idea sketches more often now, which means that there are more fragments that get rejected. But in that sense, it means that we’re working more like a band this time.

Q: Is there anything else that changed about your creation process?

One thing would be that I decided to stop following physical restrictions and personal rules. Before when writing lyrics, I had a personal restriction on myself to not use vocabulary that I already used in another song. But I decided to remove that restriction and not be afraid to use what I felt was most appropriate for each situation. But on the other hand, this resulted in “a restriction of not setting restrictions,” or “a rule to not follow rules,” which made things much more difficult up until halfway through production, especially when it came to writing lyrics. *strained laugh*

I was glad that I was able to write a standard guitar band song

Q: Which was the most difficult?

“Schrödinger Girl,” perhaps. I’m releasing eight new songs this time, and in April, I posted a video of a work-in-progress on Twitter and said, “I’m working on this new song right now!” Since the chord progression was based on Swedish pop, I gave it the tentative title of “Hokuou” (Scandinavia)… but I really could not come up with any lyrics for it *strained laugh* so I put it off for quite a while. The melody ended up having the dry feel of a band in winter, so I think it matches the season. This song was actually a candidate for the lead song until “carpool” was made.

Q: Really?

This time, I mulled over what to use as the lead song up until the very end. At first it was between “Schrödinger Girl” and a song that wasn’t included on this album, but neither of them felt quite right. I wanted the lead song to be a bit dark, something like Spitz or ART-SCHOOL, with a composition you’d see from a traditional Japanese band. I spent about a week thinking of new songs every night, when the melody of “carpool’s” chorus popped into my head. It’s an orthodox chord progression that I like. I quickly sent it over to the producer Kuroda-san and the arranger Saku-san. Saku-san replied with, “I can feel that this is going to be a masterpiece,” and we went through with it… The next day, I finished the song in a flash, lyrics included. It’s a really good song, if I do say so myself *laughs*. A lot of the songs that Saito Soma writes are niche. I intentionally hadn’t written songs that immediately grow on you like this one does, so I was glad that I was able to write a standard guitar band song.

Q: As with your other songs, “carpool” really feels like it tells a story.

I’m always happy that my listeners each visualize their own scenery, but personally, the keyword “carpool” makes me think of adolescence. Like The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf.

To the boy, his “bad friend” was like another version of himself. But that bad friend died in the sea, and after that, the boy felt like he was living out of sheer habit. Then, after growing up into a young man, he drove to the sea where his bad friend passed away. The driver’s seat used to be “your exclusive seat,” but now it’s “my exclusive seat.” And it ends with “I’ll catch up soon, so wait for me there.”

Q: The line that goes “You’re calling out to me from between the waves” is both nostalgic and profound.

Indeed *strained laugh*. That said, this is ultimately only my interpretation, so please don’t restrict yourself to it when you listen to the song.

Q: The song really is like a short film. Do you have a favourite line?

“I never wanted to know what lies beyond the sea’s horizon.” I think I wrote a really good lyric there. Kuroda-san was with us when the song was being mixed down, and when I tried to talk to him, he was so moved by that phrase that he shed tears. *laughs*

Q: It must’ve resonated with him. The MV takes place on a coast too.

Yes. It was filmed at the coast near Helena International Hotel in Fukushima Prefecture, where King Gnu-san’s “Hakujitsu” was filmed. I wanted to have a cut where I walked along the shore, just like in the lyrics, but it was right after a typhoon, so the sea was too stormy. It resulted in good footage though, so that was nice *laughs*. I feel bad singing my own praises, but it’s the first time in a while that I wrote a song that I’m completely satisfied with.

Q: In terms of being like a film, “Kitchen” feels more like a cut from everyday life than a story.

I struggled the least with that song’s lyrics *laughs*. Also, it wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the stay-home period. I’ve cooked for myself before, but I took this opportunity to get back into it and I bought a lot of appliances. I like casually drinking alcohol in my kitchen while making snacks to go along with it. One of the themes of this album is “delusions,” and this song is a fleshed out “kitchen drinker” delusion from my own experience.

Q: The chic bossa nova arrangement feels fresh too.

The song itself is from the hobby band I was in when I was a student, although the lyrics were written anew. The guitar chords are also my unique chords—they’re strange ones that take a long time to explain how to play. Also worthy of mention is that the rhythm section is made up of kitchen utensil sounds. I created sounds during the stay-home period and Saku-san sampled sounds from things like ladles. The snipping sound is from scissors, and there’s also the sound of a coffee grinder. It’s a playful toy pop song, and when you listen closely to the lyrics, it makes you think there must be something wrong with the protagonist’s head, which is fun too. *laughs*

Q: The unique vocal work that feels like it’s wafting in the air is lovely too. It’s perfect for the bossa nova atmosphere.

I often used to ask the engineers and technicians I met through work, “How does live singing differ from recorded singing?” I was told that I tend to be too loud in front of the mic. I was also taught that singing more softly would make the low harmonics resound more richly. So, I tried to sing softly for “Kitchen.” All of the vocals are double-tracked and I sung in an extremely relaxed way to get that floaty feeling.

Q: You didn’t establish rules for singing style either.

Right. So it was done quickly, probably in about five takes. We recorded “Canary” on the same day, but that one only took around two takes.

Q: That’s fast! “Canary” has a simple accompaniment centered around the acoustic guitar, and the swaying vocals are quite impressive.

I wanted to make the song feel ambiguous, and the lyrics have that kind of setting too. Up until now, I’ve enjoyed singing over and over again to achieve higher accuracy, but for this song, if my pitch wavered, I left it like that. I wanted it to be a bit distorted. Personally, I wanted to do whispery vocals like Elliott Smith.

The chord progression goes Em7, D, C. Everyone likes this kind of progression, right? I love it! It’s a simple composition.

Uchida Kirin-san, who also played the cello for “Rutsubo,” provided a beautiful, emotional solo. It stood out a lot against the stillness in the rest of the song.

Q: The lyrics are also a bit distorted. It feels like you’re drifting through an imaginary dream world.

A lot of the songs on in bloom blur the boundary between dream and reality, or delusion and reality.

Q: As with “carpool,” “Canary” also ends with unsettling words: “poison” and “I lose my senses.”

Indeed *strained laugh*. Actually, there’s a song that didn’t make it onto this album called “Rakuen” (Paradise), which I wanted to use as the last track. “Rakuen” is also about limbo—a place where people go when they leave this world that isn’t heaven. The song says that it’s the final paradise; the garden of beginning and end. I’m sorry for talking about a song you can’t listen to yet, but I think that that “interspace” feeling is present in all of the songs.

Q: The threshold between life and death, fantasy and reality… in bloom’s songs do have those themes. When I listened to this album, I thought, “Saito Soma’s gone all out!” *laughs* How does Saito Soma arrive at these songs?

Hmm… I think it has to be because I’m twisted in some way *laughs*. I find myself drawn to things with a sense of loneliness, though this doesn’t apply to everything, of course. So even though my stance of “not including personal messages in my music” hasn’t changed, I think the number of introspective songs has increased.

Q: You’ve always liked shoegazing music, which is characterized as introspective and floating, right? Since your heart and mind are free from restrictions now, it feels like you’ve dug deep into your true nature.

I really wanted to make “Isana” a shoegazing song. “Isana” is an ancient word for “whale,” and I included a guitar choke in the intro of the demo that sounded just like a foghorn or a whale’s cry. That’s where the whale motif came from, and I decided to sing about a Spaceship Earth-esque world view. So, I think the scope of the song is wider than my previous albums. It’s also spiritual.

Q: Whales are mystical creatures, right?

Indeed. I don’t know why, but they seem very sci-fi. And to me, they feel nostalgic. My mother is from a place that’s famous for whales, so I was very familiar with the word “isana.” And when my grandfather was driving, he’d talk about what happens to whales that stray into the harbour. Whales bring back fond memories for me. The “you” I sing about in this song could be a whale, or it could be something more cosmic… The song is also about the people in each of the in bloom songs. I think this song can be experienced in many ways.

Q: Since the album title is written in hiragana in “Isana’s” lyrics, it did feel like it was depicting a vaster world. And sound-wise, the arrangement was done by The Florist, a well-known artist in the Japanese shoegazing world.

Yes, it was Kuroda-san who introduced me to The Florist-san. My song “Kesshou Sekai” also had strong shoegazing elements, but it was still closer to guitar rock. For “Isana,” rather than going for a thundering sound, the arrangement used a thick reverb to create a wall of sound. There are also elaborate details in the sound. They also slowed the BPM quite a bit from the demo I first created, and said, “We might as well take it past 8 minutes!” *laughs* It’s long as far as pop music goes, but well, the Beatles’s “Hey Jude” is over 7 minutes too *laughs*. I hope that those who don’t usually listen to shoegazing music will find it a pleasant song and see what I was aiming for.

Rain fell upon the world that once ended, leading to the sprouting of new life in “in bloom”

Q: in bloom has a lot of reverb-heavy songs in general, right?

Yes. Saku-san said so too: “There’s reverb on basically everything this time!” *laughs* There’s also frequent use of chorus for spatial effect. “Schrödinger Girl” has chorus all the way through.

Q: It gives off an organic feel, though.

I think it’s because instead of trying to match the BPM exactly, I aimed to give it “fluctuation.” It also used a lot of live, unedited instruments. The only tracks that were fully digital were “Vampire Weekend” and “BOOKMARK.” Oh, but we had live guitar for both of those as well.

Q: “Vampire Weekend” is a light funk song. It gives off an urban scent.

I boldly used an existing band’s name for the title *laughs*. This song implements a strange structure in a different way from “Kitchen.” I made the demo on my iPad with GarageBand, trying the feature that lets you create a song by looping a resource. It’s a Western-style idea of repeating the same chords while changing the melody and creating a groove.

Q: Where did the vampire motif come from?

I was reading a book and it said something along the lines of “living like a vampire.” Vampires’ true nature may deviate from the norm, but instead of denying that they’re deviants, they pose as humans while possessing their own traits. It’s a form of life hack. I was inspired by that and made the protagonist a “vampire” who has an abnormal mentality of not being satisfied with their normal self. In accordance to that, the song’s structure is abnormal too *laughs*. I asked ESME MORI-san, who I worked with in Hypnosis Mic, to handle the arrangement. The guitar is by Morishii-san from Awesome City Club, which ESME MORI-san also provides music for.

Q: The vocals are sexy, too.

I made the lyrics more mature to match the arrangement. My favourite word in them is “damashiai saretai.” It takes “damashiai” (which means to deceive each other) and replaces the “ai” (each other) with “ai” (love). These five syllables “da-ma-shi-a-i” are layered with a whispering voice, and I hope you enjoy the “o-mo-te-na-shi” feeling it gives off *laughs*. I think it’s a danceable song, so the beat feels really nice when you turn up the volume.

(TL note: “o-mo-te-na-shi” refers to a presentation given by Takigawa Christel to the IOC when Japan was bidding for the Olympics. She used “omotenashi” (hospitality) as a key word and stressed each syllable individually, which left a big impression on Japanese people—who proceeded to do the same thing on social media with other five-syllable words.)

Q: The other digital track is “BOOKMARK.” What can you tell us about “J-san” who performed the rapping?

J-san is my friend. He’s not a professional musician, but he’s always been good at rapping and he writes music too. He wanted to try writing a song based on a guitar loop, so we made the track together. I already had the basis for the song itself from back when I wrote “Petrichor,” and when I passed it to J-san to do the arrangement, it came back to me with programming and rapping included *laughs*. It sounded really cool, so I asked the record label to include it on this album.

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of pages flipping in a book, which relates to the “BOOKMARK” title.

Q: So that’s why there’s the sound of turning pages. It’s a stylish presentation. Are the lyrics about a protagonist who’s drinking alcohol?

Yes. It’s rare for me to be so direct, right? *laughs* This song is about a student who stayed up until 4 a.m. and is reminiscing about his youth. It’s about a once-real dream that is now a memory of the past.

Q: This song brings back authors’ names with the line “Kafka, Pelevin, Dick, Vonnegut.” The choices seem a bit student-like too. *laughs*

(Victor) Pelevin is the only one of these that’s still alive, though *laughs*. (Philip K.) Dick and (Kurt) Vonnegut were named because I remembered when J-san asked me for sci-fi novel recommendations, I said he should start with Dick and Vonnegut. That was what led to us becoming good friends.

These lyrics feel like a pair of drunk students having a pointless, immature debate. Like, “Was Dazai writing his stories seriously or abstractly?” *laughs* J-san and I wrote the lyrics together, and I think mine were a bit more nonsensical. I figured that since it’s students singing, I should tone down the rap part because they’d be too embarrassed to go all-out. It’s an early-morning song about someone around 20 years old, who says “I’ve woken up from my dream!” but is actually thinking that he really doesn’t want to wake up. *laughs*

Q: Perhaps that’s why he wants to put a bookmark there—he never wants to forget that memory. Finally, the last track of in bloom is the new song “Saigo no Hanabi” (Last Fireworks).

This is sort of a song about birth. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted for in bloom, and that had its advantages, but I didn’t really think any of the songs were catchy and easy to familiarize with on the first listen. This kind of contradicts what I was talking about earlier, but I wrote a j-pop style song with “happy end” imagery.

…That said, it takes some sharp turns, so you’ll be thinking it’s pop music when suddenly it shifts to rock. That non-straightforwardness is fitting for the end of this album, and I think I was able to write an interesting song.

Q: The lyrics are about fireworks even though it’s winter.

Yes. It seems impossible at first, but there actually are sparklers designed for use in winter. That’s really lyrical in itself. The person in this song is mostly likely setting off winter fireworks by themselves. So, they’re probably pretty eccentric. *strained laugh*

Q: A lot of the in bloom protagonists are people you can’t lower your guard around. *strained laugh*

The line “If a meteorite were to come down today” is conspiratorial…or rather, it’s an absurd thought, right? But that doesn’t mean there’s a zero percent chance of it actually happening. The line “The last fireworks fall in the winter sky” is made up of everyday words, and yet it feels out of place. The things that this person is saying and thinking could all be delusions, but there’s also the possibility that today really is the end of the world. Nothing is happening on a global level, but his personal world could be ending—it’s the scope of his thoughts. But since the ending goes, “Look, they’re lighting up again,” I hope that’ll ease your concerns *laughs*. It’s rare for me to include a message—and this isn’t really to the point of being a “message”—but I hope my feelings of, “Thank you for letting me release this album; I promise there’s more to come” will get across.

Q: Saito Soma’s world of music is unending.

Yes *laughs*. The title in bloom also has a strong nuance of “this is a good period of time” rather than flowers blooming. Up until my blue vacation, the world view was faded and decadent. In “Epilogue,” rain fell, and the rain continued at the start of this year’s “Petrichor.” Rain fell upon the world that once ended, leading to the sprouting of new life in “in bloom”. I hope you thoroughly enjoy this album.

Keyword Q&A

Q1. carpool – Where would you go on a drive? Tell us your recommended drive destination.

I’d like to see the autumn foliage, if there’s a place where you can still do that in December. If not, then… I never thought this at all before, but recently I’ve been wanting to visit the remote islands of Okinawa. I want to drive in a quiet, deserted place with sprawling fields… but I don’t have a driver’s license, so if a big-wig listens to “carpool” or reads this article and starts a TV or YouTube program where I get my license, you might see “Saito Soma is taking action!” *laughs*

(TL note: This is a reference to a phrase “(name) is taking action” which was popularized online by an entertainer.)

Q2. Schrödinger Girl – Schrödinger is associated with cats. Which animal would you compare yourself to?

There are a lot of animal horoscopes on the internet, right? When I did one, it said I was a black panther. Is it a dog or a cat? It’s called both, but I think it’s more often designated as a cat. Personally, I’d like to be a jellyfish, just floating around. That’s how I feel sometimes.

Q3. Kitchen – What’s your favourite part of cooking?

Huh?! It’s…obviously the eating part, right?! *laughs* If I have to pick a part of the actual cooking process, I think it’d be seasoning. When I get the seasoning just right, I think, “Yes!”

Also, while it’s not strictly part of cooking, I used to hate washing the dishes—but since I cooked more often during the stay-home period, I started to enjoy optimizing cooking and washing at the same time, thinking of it as a game. I like it the most when the food’s ready and everything’s clean at the same time.

Q4. Canary “This poison is a bit lukewarm” – Do you eat piping hot things as they are, or do you let them cool first?

I really have a cat’s tongue. I guess that’s why I’m a black panther? *laughs* The skin on my fingers seems to be thin too, so I’m sensitive to hot things. I love piping hot foods like ramen, though… Maybe I’m the type that doesn’t mind getting burnt. I want to eat delicious things in their best state.

Q5. Vampire Weekend – What kind of fantastical person would you want to become?

I would like to try being a vampire, but if I was going to become something… It’s not really a fantastical person, but something like a silicon-based lifeform? Or a data lifeform that can’t be confined to 3-D. Something that only exists on the net. I’m a sci-fi fan, after all.

Q6. BOOKMARK – What are your favourite types of alcohol or cocktails, and how do you like to drink them?

I often drink highballs at home. During the stay-home period, I bought a carbonated water maker because I wanted to make delicious highballs…but when it runs out of gas, you have to send it to the manufacturer for an exchange, and it’s annoying so I haven’t done it. Now I’m buying carbonated water from the store like a normal person *laughs*. If I’m not home, I like bottled beer in the winter. I like drinking it at diners and hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants. If they have Sapporo’s “Red Star” beer (Sapporo Lager Beer), that’s the best. It’s good to choose the right alcohol to go with your food.

Q7. Isana “Like a long film” – What’s your favourite feature-length film?

Stanley Kubrick’s works, perhaps. A cliche pick would be 2001: A Space Odyssey. The one I want to watch right now is Eyes Wide Shut. The film itself is great, and there are also a lot of fascinating stories revolving around it. I haven’t been able to watch many films lately, so I’d like to properly settle down and focus on watching some.

Q8. Saigo no Hanabi – Did you see fireworks this summer?

Fireworks, huh… I haven’t seen them or set any off in a while. When I’m out, I might hear the sound of fireworks coming from somewhere and catch a small glimpse of them, but that’s about it. So, I really want to try out the winter sparklers. Summer fireworks have their charm too, but I want to use the sparklers in the winter, when it seems like they can go out at any moment, while saying, “It sure is cold!” Since the winter air is crisp and clear, I’m sure they’ll be beautiful. I’d also like to use fireworks in a place covered in snow, although it might not be possible in Tokyo. I wonder if we can film a “Saigo no Hanabi” MV up north. *laughs*

Q9. in bloom – What’s your favourite flower?

Delicate flowers like violets are nice, but if I had to say, rather than lovely flowers, I prefer peculiar decorative plants like staghorn ferns, or bizarre ones like cacti and carnivorous plants. I often used to use cacti as a motif in lyrics, and the word comes up in “Reminiscence” too. Isn’t that unusual appearance great? *laughs* I like looking at plants, so I might use in bloom as an opportunity to bring some into the house.

Behind the Scenes: Soma-san appeared in two styles for us, one with a long coat and one with a white jacket. The first part of the photo shoot had him holding flowers in a garden, while the second part was in a room with beautiful lighting. There were so many wonderful shots that we struggled until the last minute trying to decide which ones to use and where to put them. By the way, the flowers in the birdcage are themed around “Canary.”

Bonus: Animate-exclusive postcard

Bonus: Off-shots from Soma’s stylist, Honda Yuuki


[Interview] Bessatsu Kadokawa Scene 03 – The Talented Expresser: Saito Soma

Released: 2020/8/31

Soma was on the back cover and had a 16-page feature.

※There was originally a digital version released too, but it seems to be unavailable now. Either way I will not be posting scans for this one. (It’s in stock on Amazon Japan)

Interview #1: Saito Soma’s Roots and Desire for Expression

Saito has charmed many fans through his voice acting, music career, and essay-writing. Here, we explore his roots and creative side.

(1) Voice Acting

Acting is all about how close you can get to that person.

Saito Soma has appeared in many popular series such as IDOLiSH7 (as Kujo Tenn), Hypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle- (as Yumeno Gentaro), and Haikyuu!! (as Yamaguchi Tadashi). He’s received high praise from anime fans for his diverse yet detailed acting ability. Now that he’s reached the tenth year of his career, we asked him about his stance towards voice acting, his ideal image of a voice actor, and his unique theory.

There are a lot of interesting things about this job. First is the question of “How close can I get to a character that isn’t me?” This applies to all types of acting, not just in anime—acting is all about how close you can get to that person. However, different actors have completely different ways of approaching their characters. Some people link themselves to the character while they act, while others use data to construct the character logically. Even if the approach differs, what’s most important is how well you can synchronize with the character and the project.

I myself go through a lot of trial and error, but if you ask me for my ideal, I think it’s best to be able to act without thinking about anything. In real life, you wouldn’t think, “This is my personality, so this is how I should talk,” right? It’s important to use a logical approach at first, but I want to be able to jump from there to “unconscious” acting. Right now I’m having the most fun pursuing that.

As I gained experience, my perception of time changed. The other day, I was talking to a veteran voice actor and agreed with them that it’s very important how you perceive the duration of “one second.” In everyday life, a second passes before you know it—but when we’re recording and the line is one second too short, they’ll throw in another three words, meaning that it was quite a bit too short *laughs*. This job requires us to have a macro bird’s-eye view of the overall work, and at the same time, a micro awareness of “How do I perceive one second?”

This year, it’ll have been ten years since I debuted as a voice actor, but if you asked me ten years ago, “What do you think one second is?”, I don’t think I would’ve been able to give much of an answer. I think that being able to sense an expansive space in the duration of “one second” now is a sign that I’ve grown at least a bit. The more I continue down the road of anime, the more things I notice, and the more I find myself thinking, “This part is too short.” Voice acting really is a job where you can take pride in your technique. I hope to treasure each and every one of my roles while progressing towards my goal.

But if you ask me whether or not I’m suited for this job, I still don’t know the answer. Of course, I leaped into this world because I admired voice acting, but that doesn’t mean I analyzed myself and thought, “I have these traits and weapons in my arsenal, so I can put up a fight here.” After having the opportunity to be part of so many anime series, I do have my own methodology, but as I said before, it’s not good to be too caught up in analyses and theories. Even if you stick to your ways and use what you’ve learned that way, it’s of no use if it doesn’t match the project.

You need the adaptability to let go of your fixations.

Saito has gained a wide range of expressiveness through the many characters he’s voiced. He’s built up his own voice acting techniques and methods, but sometimes it’s important to discard them.

This is veering into philosophy, but I recently came across the word “non-self” in a book I read, and I thought it was really good. Not “selflessness,” but “non-self.” It’s important to have your own “self,” as in something that forms your axis, but if you adhere too closely to it, you’ll suddenly get left behind by the world which is always in a state of flux. For example, let’s say you get assigned to a character that’s difficult to portray. You read the script and come up with your own interpretation of what kind of person they are. But if you go to the recording and they tell you “That’s not right,” how do you react? Of course, it’s fine if you just think, “Oh, so I was wrong.” But if you don’t have that flexibility and instead think, “That can’t be true!”, then you’ll get bogged down. Everyone has their fixations, but you need the adaptability to let go of them when the time calls for it. When I see my seniors doing that, I think they’re amazing.

It’s a matter of calmly looking at the work as a whole and maintaining a balance—sometimes I do it my way and sometimes I express what I sense around me. So when interviewers ask me, “What is voice acting?”, I can only say, “Right now it’s like this.” I want to be able to enjoy all of the changes.

Voice actors actually have a lot of freedom thanks to the nature of animation. For example, when it comes to gasping, there are subtle differences depending on whether it’s from a sudden realization, surprise, or shock, making for countless ways to do it. Since we’re free from the restrictions of 3-D, more detail is expected from us. I think that’s one of the characteristics of anime.

Even in a live play, I think the principles are the same as voice acting. You have a script and you connect your heart’s movements with your body’s movements… I don’t have experience with acting in traditional plays, but I think the essence is the same: getting as close to a character in a fictional world as you can. Of course, due to the medium, the way you express yourself is different—a live play has the advantage of being able to use your body—so I’m personally really interested in it. I’m turning thirty next year, and I want to challenge new things.

My favourite movies? When I was a student, I watched more indie films than Hollywood blockbusters. I was interested in surrealism because of Nakajima Ramo, so I’d watch things like Un Chien Andalou. I also like sci-fi, so I watched everything from esoteric films like Donnie Darko to staples like A Clockwork Orange. After starting this line of work, I also began watching dubs of action and comedy films. I think that translation is amazing, and it’s educational from a voice acting perspective too.

(2) Music

I was seeking something different from everyone else.

Saito’s artist career began in 2017 with the single “Fish Story.” In 2018, he showed off his talent for composition, lyrics, and even CD cover design with his first album “quantum stranger.” His style combined his deep musical sense with “the voice actor Saito Soma’s” pop music. Now, he’s evolving that style even further. First, let’s take a look at his musical journey.

Rather than listening to music from specific periods or listening in a systematic way, it feels more like I reach out to whatever I like or am interested in. In elementary school, it was centered around what my parents listened to in the car: Yuming-san (Matsutoya Yumi), Inoue Yosui-san, Spitz. They also played a lot of the Beatles. I still like those songs, and I think they’re reflected in the music I write now.

I fully got into music in my first year of middle school because of a friend I made. His whole family was into subculture—his parents and older brother were all knowledgeable about pop culture and subcultures. He put his recommended songs on a MiniDisc for me, and on it was U2; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Marilyn Manson; and Kinniku Shoujo-tai. Those varying genres of bands were my gateway, and I delved deeper from there. As for the current music at the time, my middle school years happened to coincide with the rock ‘n’ roll revival period. Some of the bands I liked were the Stripes, the Libertines, and Bloc Party. I listened to their songs a lot.

Looking back now, I think I was seeking something different from everyone else. It wasn’t that I was trying to reach farther, but rather, I proactively took in things that other people didn’t know about and weren’t interested in. I was looking for “someone who isn’t me, in a place that isn’t here.” I think it was music and fictional works such as novels, movies, and animation that satisfied that longing of mine.

I think I realized that it was important to absorb different things, contemplate them by myself, and decide what to do.

In elementary school, I was aware that I was living as a model student. As a child, I lived my life thinking about how I should act to get adults to accept me… So when I learned about rock, punk, and literature, I think I was shocked to discover that those things existed in the world. They were vulgar in a good way, and very free. They made me think that maybe I’d been living my life not thinking about anything. I didn’t rebel against my actual lifestyle, but I wrote songs and prose, trying to become a me who wasn’t a model student. I think I realized that it was important to absorb different things, contemplate them by myself, and decide what to do.

I prioritize entertainment value above all else.

Considering that he’s been delving deep into music ever since middle school, it was inevitable that he’d start his own artist career. Just like with voice acting, he has his own unique stance when it comes to music too. His central principle is entertainment value that a wide variety of listeners can enjoy.

When it comes to the music career of “the voice actor Saito Soma,” I prioritize entertainment value above all else. My voice acting work came first, and the various connections I made through there gave me the opportunity to release songs and perform live. But I don’t exactly try to show my true colours there in a “listen to what I have to say” way. In all of the songs I’ve released so far, there hasn’t been a single message song or love song. I’d say I’m more similar to Pete Doherty (from the Libertines) who also often wrote lyrics about fictional settings. Although as a listener, I do enjoy message songs too, and there are love songs that tug at my heartstrings.

Also, rather than songs that say “You’re not alone,” I’m more drawn to songs that say “It’s okay to be alone.” Like Elliott Smith’s lyrics, or in terms of Japanese bands, ART-SCHOOL, BURGER NUDS, GRAPEVINE…that kind of introspective mood. I want to mix that element into the voice actor Saito Soma’s pop music.

My songs don’t have any of that “Happy! Yay!” stuff in them, so they might not be suited for live concerts *laughs*. I was in a band when I was a teenager, but at that time, I was already thinking, “I want to create the best music” instead of “I want to perform live.” That hasn’t changed, so when I’m composing, I don’t think about whether I’ll be able to reproduce the songs at a concert. For example, “Waltz” and “Lemming, Ai, Obelisk” have a ton of layered vocals. It becomes a question of “How are you going to perform this live?” *laughs*

I also like albums that have concepts, and I’m fussy about CD jacket designs too. CDs are more than just music—you can put them on display and the lyrics cards are fun to read. I suspect that we’ll be the last generation to experience the appeal of CDs, so I want to provide the enjoyment of holding music in a physical form. For the packaging, I work together with the record label’s producer and designer. While I do present my own design direction, the staff also suggest a lot of ideas that I think are great. I love how it feels like we’re creating it as a team, and it’s a lot of fun.

(3) Writing

I don’t include any personal messages in my writing at all.

Saito Soma is also known as a writer. In 2018 he released his first essay collection, Kenkou de Bunkateki na Saitei Gendo no Seikatsu, and he actively does writing work. We asked him about his history as a reader and how he feels about writing.

Writing was my first interest, not acting or music. Everyone in my family was a different type of reader, so our house had lots of books and I naturally ended up reading from a lot of genres. My tastes were probably closest to my grandmother. Her bookshelf had the first edition of Kojima Nobuo-san’s Zankou, and it was just amazing. In middle school, I liked reading Dazai Osamu-san, Oken-san (Otsuki Kenji), and Tsutsui Yasutaka-san, among others. I also liked South American literature like Borges and García Márquez.

I wrote as a hobby in university, and after working as a voice actor, I received an offer to write an essay serialization. The serialization was published as a book in 2018, and circumstances permitting, I’d like to release a second one.

I consider essays a form of entertainment too, so I hope the readers have fun reading them. If I were to write fiction, I’d like to write a curious and bizarre story.

One time, the editor in charge of my essay collection read me a short story. It was about someone who regularly drank in Kichijoji, and at some point he accidentally wandered into an ogres’ feast, where he was made to gamble by guessing which of nine fingers was a human finger and licking it. I’d like to turn that kind of thing into an entertaining pop story, but I haven’t been able to find the time… I hope to be able to plug away at it.

Just like with my music, I don’t include any personal messages in my writing at all. I don’t think there’s any connection whatsoever between my creative works and my own thoughts and beliefs. I think that’s probably because…creating is a hobby for me. I’m not doing it with the intent of expressing my feelings… For example, I might walk outside and think, “It sure is bright,” and when the wind blows, “This feels nice.” Even if I directly convert those situations into my creations, I don’t add my own emotions to them. If there was something I really wanted to assert, I think it’d be better to say it straight out instead of going through a creative work.

Column: Tell us your recommended autumn entertainment!

First is Dazai Osamu’s “A, Aki” which can be read on Aozora Bunko. It’s about a professional poet who keeps notes on poetry materials because “you never know what kind of request will come in.” When they flip to the page for “autumn,” what’s written there is “Dragonfly. Transparent.” It shows how genius Dazai was.

Also, though the genre is horror, Tsunekawa Kotaro’s Aki no Rougoku (Autumn Prison) has a peculiar setting but is very easy to read. I often say that I like bizarre stories, and I recommend this to people who wonder what I mean by that.

As for anime, Zettai Shounen. For me, autumn is the season for sci-fi, and this anime does a great job at blending slice of life and sci-fi elements. I own the DVD boxset and have watched it many times. *laughs*

Interview #2: Saito Soma’s Artist Career – Chapter 2

The second chapter of Saito’s artist career has begun with the “in bloom” series (three digital releases) themed around “the changing of seasons” and “what comes after the end of the world.” We asked about his preferences when it comes to lyrics and producing his own music.

I feel that I can be bolder now.

Saito Soma completed Chapter 1 of his music career with his first album quantum stranger (2018) and his mini-album my blue vacation (2019). The “in bloom” series that marks the start of Chapter 2 consists of three songs: “Petrichor,” “Summerholic!”, and “Palette,” which are themed around “the changing of seasons” and “what comes after the end of the world.” Entering this new phase, he said he thought that he could be bolder music-wise. In this interview, he reflects on his career so far and speaks about where he currently stands as an artist.

My personal music career began with my debut single Fish Story, which Oishi Masayoshi-san wrote for me. Then came my second single which was centered around “the end of the world” (Yoake wa Mada / Hikari Tatsu Ame), my third single Date which I composed and wrote lyrics for by myself, my first album quantum stranger, and then my first live concert (quantum stranger(s)). With that, I felt that I’d reached a milestone. I hadn’t done everything yet, but the two years since my debut had flowed very nicely, so I thought that I could call that “Chapter 1.” The final part of that chapter was a song called “Epilogue” that was released in March this year.

Up until now, I strongly felt that “as long as I’m a voice actor, I want to produce music that has entertainment value.” That still hasn’t changed, but when I heard what my listeners had to say, I also felt that I could be bolder now. There were things that I’d originally decided not to do, but in the EP I released last year (my blue vacation), there was a song with a darker atmosphere than anything I’d released before. I’m also trying new things with “in bloom” which will be the start of Chapter 2.

As for the title “in bloom” itself… at first, I didn’t plan on giving it a name. But the producer at the record label told me to give it one because it’d be easier to promote it that way *laughs*. “in bloom” was originally going to be a song title. To put it simply, it means “after the rain, flowers bloom”—it relates to the theme of “after the end of the world.” Dazai Osamu wrote a story called Roman Dourou. It’s about five siblings that like books, and there’s a part that goes, “It says that everyone lived happily ever after, but what we want to know is what actually happened after that, right?” and I thought, “True!” I wanted to depict what happens after my “end of the world,” and that was going to be the song called “in bloom.” After the rain, beautiful flowers bloom. It also has the imagery of changing seasons.

Saito Soma’s second chapter is starting with the three songs in the “in bloom” series: Petrichor, Summerholic!, and Palette. From the lyrics to the sound production to the vocals, every song is packed with new expressions.

“Petrichor” is a shuffle beat song. The rhythm has a swing to it, and when you first listen to it, it sounds like a normal pop song—but when you look at it from a different angle, you see that it’s more than what it seems. In that sense, I think it’s a bold song. As for the lyrics, technique-wise, at first I wanted to write it without a single foreign loanword. I wanted it to feel like the “new music” genre from the 70s and 80s. But as I was writing, I thought, “There isn’t much point in imposing this restriction by myself” *laughs*. The tentative title back then was “Amadare” (raindrops dripping from eaves/etc), which led me to “Petrichor.” Petrichor is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on soil. I chose it because it’s a song themed around rain.

“Summerholic!” seems like it’ll be exciting at a concert, I think? It’s an up-tempo song with a cheerful melody. Although the lyrics are about spending summer cooped up in your room *laughs*. I put a lot of homages into this song. Specifically, the Libertines, the Cribs, and Ojamajo Doremi. The chord progression is commonly used by English rock bands, so it has a UK rock aesthetic. The melody has a summery atmosphere. The lyrics are about not going outside to play, instead eating ice cream and drinking beer in an air-conditioned room. Even though it’s bright and sunny outside, the protagonist chooses to enjoy spending their time at home.

“Petrichor” is about the rainy season, “Summerholic!” is about summer, and the third song “Palette” is about the transition from summer to fall. It tends to be a sentimental time of year, but instead of giving it a name, I decided to try turning it into a song. The lyrics are quite optimistic. At first I wanted to make them darker, but my mind changed bit by bit as I was writing. Before you realize it, summer is gone and the season has changed—and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I was rewriting the lyrics up until the day of the recording, and it became a song that expresses painful feelings within grandiose sound. I want “Palette” to be heard in the loudest volume that your environment will allow for. I think it’s an immersive song, so you can even pretend you’re the MV’s protagonist when you listen to it. *laughs*

For all three songs, we were joined by amazing musicians. “Petrichor” was done quite experimentally, while I could really feel the band’s groove in “Summerholic!” and “Palette.” Ono Takemasa-san’s (from KEYTALK) guitar solos greatly exceeded the scope of the demos. That’s the thrill of creating music as a team, and I’m thankful for it.

As for the sound, I consciously produced the songs in the style of Western music. By not increasing the number of notes, it creates gaps where you can feel the groove. I also emphasized listenability, but they did end up being quite bold. Also, I obtained quite a lot of equipment during the stay-home period. I used to create my demo tracks by recording myself singing to my own guitar, but now I can do some of the programming myself too. I want to combine the best aspects of analog and digital.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are restrictions on all artist concerts. Saito is no exception, but he seems to have an idea of what kind of live performance he can do.

Live concerts aren’t possible in the current situation, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. If the situation improves, I’d like to try an acoustic concert. My songs aren’t the kind where everyone gets loud and hyped up anyway *laughs*. I think it’d be nice to have people listen to them carefully in acoustic form. Dirty Pretty Things’ first album Waterloo to Anywhere had an acoustic version of one of the songs as a bonus track ((note: Japanese edition only)), and I suspect that it was recorded in a big area, which sounds really fun. I think it’d be nice to have a fun acoustic concert with the musicians for everyone to see. It’s only a thought, though—nothing’s been decided yet.

I’m actually not that comfortable with my own concerts. When I’m standing in front of people as Saito Soma, rather than a character, I don’t know how I should act. But I gain very much from it. Brainstorming with all of the staff, spending time to prepare, and then putting on the show itself—the sense of accomplishment after making it through isn’t something that you can feel just anywhere. Year by year, the joy of concerts is budding within me.

Staff Interview: Saku

Saku is a composer, lyricist, arranger, and guitarist who has been deeply involved with Saito’s music. We asked him about Saito’s songs, lyrics, and nature.

It’s my role to organize Soma-kun’s ideas and brush them up.

Saku has been the main arranger supporting Saito Soma’s music from his third single “Date” up until now with the “in bloom” series. He’s also done composing and guitar work for artists like Kanjani∞, Aoi Eir, Haruna Luna, Amamiya Sora, and Kito Akari. We asked him about how he met Saito, as well as the nature of Saito’s music and character.

I met Soma-kun in 2018 when the record label producer introduced us to each other. I joined them when they were drinking and we talked about various things. We hit it off right away because of our similar tastes, like how we both liked GRAPEVINE. He showed me the song “Reminiscence” that later became part of his third single Date. It had a bit of a GRAPEVINE feel to it, and after listening to it once, I really liked it. From there, I got to be the arranger for his songs. It was right when he started doing his own compositions and lyrics.

Soma-kun’s songs are a bit unusual. The chord progressions and melodies have unexpected parts that make you think, “It’s going that way?”—anyway, they’re unique. For example, “Summerholic!” has parts where the chords and melody don’t match up, but when you try to change the chords to the right ones, something feels wrong. That’s Soma-kun’s characteristic quirk. Building up his songs as an arranger is extremely stimulating, and I’ve gained a lot from the experience.

His lyrics also have a unique world view. Every time he sends me a song, I look up word definitions *laughs*. I understand the content, but I’d never be able to write these lyrics myself.

It seems that at first he used his iPhone to record himself singing to his guitar, but lately he’s been able to do his own programming and the quality of his demos has greatly improved. He also sends me reference tracks, saying things like, “I want the rhythm to be like this song” and “the guitar should sound like this song,” and they’ll be songs that only an enthusiast would know. The noise guitar reference for “Petrichor” was an artist named Arto Lindsay, and I didn’t know who that was *laughs*. Soma-kun really is knowledgeable about a lot of different music.

We’re trying new things with the “in bloom” series. The saxophone phrase in the intro to “Petrichor” was Soma-kun’s idea. In the demo he played it with guitar and asked to use a saxophone for it. It’s my role to organize Soma-kun’s ideas and brush them up.

He’s also an amazing vocalist. He has the strength you’d expect from a male vocalist, but his high notes also feel like a woman’s vocals. He also has a clean falsetto, so we often layer the chorus melody with one an octave higher. Soma-kun seems to like doing that too. When we’re recording, he doesn’t just sing the way that was planned—he also gives suggestions, like, “How about this way?” It’s really fun to make changes on the spot like that.

Soma-kun’s human nature? How do I put this… He’s really a good kid *laughs*. He’s polite to everyone, he’s friendly, and everyone loves him. It comes really naturally too. It doesn’t feel like we’re just work associates—it feels like Soma-kun, the producer, the engineer, and I are in a band together. He often sends me LINE messages like, “I hadn’t given Foo Fighters a proper listen, but they’re cool, huh?” *laughs*

I hope that Soma-kun will continue to demonstrate more of his individuality. He already has a lot of dark songs, but I think he can step into his dark side even more. But since Soma-kun’s really nice, I think he’ll also compose songs that will make his fans happy.

Bonus: Off-shots from the photo shoot (2 per tweet GIF)

[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!

Birthday Wishes 2020

[Interview] Ani-PASS #06 – Saito Soma – Until the End of the World

Released: 2020/1/10

Q: It’s been some time since your first solo concert at Maihama Amphitheater in February 2019. How did you approach your music during this time?

My first concert was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. As I said during the concert, having a live band backing me up made me truly feel that Saito Soma’s music is created by a team, not just myself. And if that’s the case, then my next music should be created as a team. As I was making those mental preparations, I also wanted to take some time for “input,” and so I deliberately spent half a year on that, constantly coming up with song motifs and various ideas.

Q: And after half a year, it was time?

I decided it was time, and after thinking about what topics to use in what form, the first song we finished was the leading track “memento.” The CD’s release date was slated for December… because I thought it’d be a good time, being exactly a year since the previous release. *laughs*

Q: The fact that it’s neither a single nor an album, but an “EP” feels really fitting for you, since you’re such a music connoisseur…

Yes, I deliberately wanted to call it an “EP” rather than a mini-album. Also, the concept behind “my blue vacation” is “If the world were to end one day, wouldn’t the time until then be like a vacation?”, but you see, I’m a big fan of a novel called Summer Vacation EP by Furukawa Hideo, and at one point I considered using that exact same title for my EP. But, it was going to be released in winter instead of summer, so I pondered about what a winter aesthetic would be like, and thought maybe blue with a hint of gray? To cut to the point, I made the entire EP the colour of “KITANOBLUE.”

Q: That’s the characteristic colour of Kitano Takeshi’s films, right?

Yes, so the CD jacket and the “memento” MV also used a dark, desaturated colour palette. I hoped to portray my decadent, ending world there.

Q: Why ending?

The “ending” feeling has always been at the base of the things I like, whether it be music I listen to or books I read.

Q: Perhaps you could call it your eternal theme.

With the release of this EP and the solo concert I performed, I thought that the first season of Saito Soma’s music had concluded. In order to move on to the next season, “memento” became a fantasy-style ending, and the concept expanded from there.

That said, I realized that the world seen in “memento” was actually the same as the one in “Kesshou Sekai.” “Kesshou Sekai” has romanticism, so I prioritized beauty when I sang it. But this time for “memento,” it was a bit more pop-style, because it’s a song that goes, “Let’s go on a drive until the end of the world!” Even though it’s the same end of the world as “Kesshou Sekai,” the perspective is different. In that sense, if “quantum stranger” is Season 1, then “memento” takes on the role of Season 1.5.

Also, the rest of the tracks which were written after “memento” are something of a premonition for the new direction my future music will take.

Q: So, “my blue vacation” is also a prologue for Saito Soma’s 2nd season.

Yes, you can interpret it that way.

Q: Now then, first let’s talk about the starting point for this release, “memento.” The word makes me think of the phrase memento mori: “remember that you must die.”

Yes, it was directly inspired from memento mori. In Latin they say “Carpe diem,” which I think would be “seize the day” in English? The “sono hi wo tsumi” in the lyrics is a direct translation of that, and shares the same meaning as memento mori.

Q: It means that since we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, we should treasure this moment.

Right, which is why the lyrics for “memento” are very straightforward. It’s just, “The world might be ending, but until then, let’s go on a drive!” The song has a very upbeat, optimistic energy. I also prioritized the feeling of rock music and speed you get when you listen to it.

Q: The way those straightforward lyrics paint visuals with imaginative words really feels like “Saito Soma style.”

Yes, like the phrase “tou karamitsuita midori no yubi” (green fingers entwined around a tower). This one is exactly what it describes—ruins covered in vines. But if I had to give an opinion, it seems harmonious in a way… it’s not a negative visual.

Also, in my mind, the car that’s driving towards the end of the world in these lyrics is a blue van.

Q: It matches “my blue vacation.”

Right, the word “green” appears in the lyrics, but “blue” doesn’t. *laughs*

The way I imagine it is, even though the world is ending, these delirious people are carpooling in that blue van. It could even be that the end of the world is all in their imagination. They look absurd from an outsider’s perspective, but the people themselves are dead serious about it.

In my mind, this EP is made up of the stories of people in different places during the time span of “my blue vacation until the world ends.”

Q: It’s like a scene from a surrealist film. Did you have any difficulties with the lyrics?

The entire song took a while, but what was particularly hard was the chorus. It took a long time to find words that rhymed and fit well.

By the way, the “suikatou no kodomo-tachi” (watermelon sugar children) in the chorus was inspired by Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, which I also recommended as part of Kawade Shobo’s book fair. I’ve actually eaten real watermelon sugar before. It tasted completely different from what I was expecting, but I’m stubbornly continuing to use my personal impression of the words. *laughs*

Q: I see *laughs*. This song has a strong “band” feeling to it, but what really stood out was the effect on the vocals after “minasoko e shizunda” (sinking to the bottom of the sea). It felt like even the audio was contributing to the distorted world.

That was the divine work of Hayashi (Kenichi)-san, the godlike engineer who I owe a lot to and who has also worked with bands like the Southern All Stars.

With this release, I finally started using music software myself to create my demo tracks. For this part, I’d already put a thick reverb into the demo, and tried to make it sound shoegazing-style. And for the mixdown, Hayashi-san and the director Kuroda (Akihiro)-san both shared ideas and turned it into something really nice.

Q: You started using music software!

Yes. The musical quality of my demos is now leaps and bounds higher than back when I was simply singing to my own accompaniment. I used to explain in words what I wanted the arrangement to be like, but now I can show it directly with sound. It’s a major change, and the arranger, Saku-san is very happy. *laughs*

Q: What tools do you use, by the way?

It’s ultimately just to convey what I have in mind, so I use an iPad and Garage Band. I connect a mobile audio interface called Sonic Port that lets me record my guitar and change the tones and effects. It’s extremely convenient; I recommend it!

Q: You have the face of a musician now, Soma-san *laughs*. You said that after your first concert, you realized the enjoyment of creating music as a team. Did that mixdown story you mentioned also change your way of thinking when it comes to sound production?

Definitely. My communication with Hayashi-san and Saku-san regarding music has become more intimate too. I don’t think the me last year could’ve taken the same close-knit production stance (which has its pros and cons) that I did for this release.

The second song “Paper Tigers” was created through teamwork too. I intentionally wanted to make it a really pop-punk style, power pop song, so I invited Saku-san and Kuroda-san to bring their guitars to my house, where we had a jam session and tried making a pop song with chord progressions I never used before. We mostly completed the short size right there and then. The composition and lyrics credits went to me, but it was really a collaboration between the three of us.

Q: Does “Paper Tigers” refer to paper-mache tigers?

Yes. I think the words are supposed to have a negative nuance, but to me, they have a positive meaning of fearlessness. Even if you’re a tiger made out of paper, it’s fine as long as you have determination. But at the same time, it’s not meant to be a supportive “You’ll be okay.” All it means is that this person is that way. That’s really all it was, and the rest was just stringing together words that felt good in how they sounded. That’s also why I pronounced “etsuraku biyori” in an English-y way.

Q: The “seikai” (correct answer) at the start of “memento” also sounds like it could be “sekai” (world)…

Yes, that’s exactly right. The multiple meanings came in from the very first line *laughs*. I’m a big fan of a band called LOSTAGE, and especially for their older songs, the words they sang sounded different from what was on the lyrics cards. I personally love comparing songs with the lyrics cards, so there are phrases all throughout this EP that’ll make you wonder, “Does this have this other meaning to it as well?”

Q: What kind of people are singing the third song, “Waltz”?

This is a song that the spirits are singing to “her.” She used to be able to fly a long time ago, but now she can’t, and she can’t perceive the spirits either. She’s also forgotten that she used to fly, but the spirits in the atmosphere are telling her “We’re always here with you”… that’s the idea of the song.

The English band Mystery Jets has a song called “Soluble In Air,” and one of my motifs is “melting and mixing in,” which appears here. It was in “Kesshou Sekai” and “C” too.

Music-wise, I made this song in the image of a hymn. Since it’s sung by spirits, the arrangement is toy pop-like. The structure also doesn’t follow the typical Verse A→Verse B→Chorus, and—at the risk of causing misunderstanding—is unbalanced. I wanted to write a song that was irregular yet pop-like, which is a type of music I’ve always liked.

Q: The vocal style was fresh too, with the heavy use of falsetto. The chorus work was also quite elaborate. Now that I know the concept was a hymn, it makes sense.

I’ve always loved overdubbing *laughs*. Up until now I’ve been limiting my melodies to note ranges that can be sung at karaoke, but since this is a peaceful song, falsetto suits it well. In the future, I’d like to write songs that don’t adhere to that limit, and I experimented with that here with this warm-up song. In my opinion, both the lyrics and the music feel extremely complete, and I’m very fond of it.

Q: Next is “Ringo” (Apple), a jazzy song with the aura of a cabaret club in a run-down district.

The original demo I made used an acoustic guitar, and it was a song with a groove… In terms of my previous album, it was similar to “Lemming, Ai, Obelisk.” The image I had in mind was based on the singer-songwriter Fiona Apple.

But when I heard the demo Dewa (Yoshiaki)-san made, it sounded really cool, and I thought “It’d be a waste to use it with this melody as-is.” So, I did something unprecedented for me: rewriting the Verse A and B melodies to match the arrangement.

Q: That’s another way of building teamwork.

Yes, it was a new experience for me. As for the lyrics… I guess it’s a song about an underground illegal gambling den in the world that’s about to end? *laughs* It’s actually a simple story about someone who drowns himself in booze and gambling.

Since it’s a jazzy song with a good beat, I prioritized writing lyrics that have a nice sound to them. My personal favourite is the “ganjigarame no ahinsaa” (tied-up ahimsa) phrase. I wanted to end the line on a syllable ending in “a”, and I just so happened to encounter the word “ahimsa” multiple times, in Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha as well as a manga called Choueki 339-nen (by Ise Tomoka). That coincidence left an impression on me.

At first I wanted to write it from a woman’s point of view, using feminine first-person pronouns, but it all got mixed up while I was writing it. *laughs*

Q: The final view of the end is “Tonight.” It’s city pop, with a drifting feel. The swaying vocals give a mysterious feeling, like you’re drifting between dream and reality.

In the intro where the band comes in, Saku-san added a sitar. This was an amazing discovery. The image I had of “Tonight” was a park by a station along the Chuo Line. But by adding a sitar, the stage shifted to India… or rather, it made me imagine a fictional town that’s fallen into disarray. The idea of an airy stroll through a place like that is where the word “suimukou” (drunken dream voyage) came in.

Q: The word comes from India Suimukou, a book by the poet Tamura Ryuichi.

That’s right, it popped up in my mind by association. So, this is another song where the lyrics came about after hearing the arrangement. The part I like the most is the section starting from “kono mama me ga samenakya ii no ni” (if only I could stay asleep like this). It’s the most pop-like, fantastical part of the song, and extremely emotional. Dozing off inside a balloon and being happy to stay asleep… It’s a bit scary, but it’s like a scene from a movie.

Q: It’s a beautiful scene.

And then, at the very end, the view leaps from the disorderly Indian night to the “other side of the galaxy.” The song feels like skipping along in slow motion, so I’d be happy if you listen to it while taking a walk. If I were to make a MV for it, I’d want the video to show jumps in slow motion.

The other key point of this song is the fade out at the end. I wanted to show that it has no clear ending. One of my interpretations is that after this, the people in this story could either fall asleep, hold their breath as though they were asleep… or perhaps even continue dancing forever. I wanted an ending that would linger on.

Q: …And right when you think it’s over, the CD version has a hidden bonus track, Epilogue. Now that the CD’s been released, please tell us about this song!

The concept is, after the events of “Tonight,” finding a record in debris or a wasteland kind of place. That’s why we added the static noise of a record player. The idea is that you’re listening to a remnant of someone from the past. It’s a very old item, but a story from that time is clearly etched into it… making it a fitting epilogue for a story about the end of the world. The lyrics are also like… our time is coming to an end, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. We’re accepting it peacefully and solemnly.

I wanted this to have a lingering effect too, so please expand on it with your imagination.

Q: I’d love to hear a full-size version of this beautiful Epilogue.

Yes, please wait until the day it fully takes shape.

In 2020, I want to jump straight into the things I want to do with my music. Like creating things without regard for the forms and media I’ve used until now, or writing songs that fully unleash my personal tastes. I want to share, “Right now, this is what I like!” and I’ll be really happy if everyone accepts it. That’s the kind of musical challenge I want to take on this year.

[Interview] Seiyuu Grandprix 2020/2 Edition – my blue vacation

Tagline: Kimi-iro ni Somaritai (I want to be dyed your colour)

Released: 2020/1/10

※Soma was on the front page cover and had a 12-page feature. There was also a pin-up poster as well as several shop-specific bonuses (3 bromides and a poster).

(There are a lot of great Soma pictures in this magazine, but I won’t be posting scans because a digital version is available at sites like Bookwalker.)

An EP resembling what comes after the end of Season 1

Q: First, please tell us about how this EP came to be.

I released my first album one year ago and held a concert in Feburary, and at that point, I felt that I’d finished the “1st season.” After performing with a live band, I also felt that I really enjoyed making music with that team. Up until then, I’d constantly been outputting ideas, and I realized that in order to keep having fun with that team, I’d need time for input as well… so I chose to wait for a while.

Q: So, this EP is the start of the long-awaited 2nd season.

To be honest, I wanted to resume my musical activities sooner *laughs*. I had various structural ideas, like whether I wanted it to be an album or a single, but when I looked at how many songs I had in mind, I saw that it was the right number for an EP. Also… isn’t the word “EP” itself cool? *laughs*

Q: It does have a nice ring to it *laughs*

I’m a fan of the book Summer Vacation EP by Furukawa Hideo, and at first I was thinking of naming this CD “Blue Vacation EP.” However, I ended up settling on the current title for various reasons *laughs*. The tracks have a conceptual feel to them, but I think it’s only natural that they ended up this way.

Q: The leading track “memento” is themed around the end of the world, and has parts that feel like they follow from your “quantum stranger” album.

Yes, that’s exactly right! This EP is more like a “Season 1.5” than a full-blown second season. In anime terms, it’s like the OVA that comes after Season 1. So, it’s thematically similar to “Kesshou Sekai.” In that song, I sang about a world where everything turned to crystal, and “memento” confronts that same phenomenon from another point of view. To be more specific, it’s a more upbeat perspective: “If the world were to end, wouldn’t the time until then be like a vacation?” It’s something I hadn’t tried until now.

Q: The song paints the end of the world in a vibrant light. Was the “suikatou” (watermelon sugar) in the lyrics influenced by Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar?

Perhaps. But if I went too far in that direction, I’d end up at Season 2 instead of Season 1.5, so it’s a bit more reigned in than that. To put it simply, I’d already sung about sentimental situations in a mellow tone, and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried a more optimistic approach. So, the song was originally a lot more unsophisticated, but as production progressed, there were talks like “Should we put strings in?!” *laughs* and the final result was much grander. It was originally simpler, like “let’s all go on a drive until the world ends.” There were other ideas too, like the car being blue. The people in the song are awfully positive, so I think it can be interpreted in different ways.

Q: I see! Since the song is about embracing life when death is before your eyes, the title reminds me of “memento mori.”

I considered naming the song “memento mori,” but thought that might be saying too much. Then again, the “sono hi wo tsumi” (seize the day) in the lyrics means pretty much the same thing, so it’s already obvious. *laughs*

Q: How easy was it to sing?

When it was time to record, I found that the song was really hard to sing, and wanted to levy complaints against myself *laughs*. It’s an extremely difficult song, if I do say so myself. The hook uses a double track (layering recordings to produce a thicker sound), which is something like a self-collaboration. My singing technique has some holes in it, so I know for a fact that the arranger and sound engineer worked their magic to make it sound good.

Q: You said that you enjoyed making music with this team. Is that related?

Yes. Up until now I’d been creating songs that I could complete by myself, but after performing live, I was able to create songs that were the result of driving together as a team!

Q: How was the music video filming?

I feel like my requests are getting more abstract every time *laughs*. This time I didn’t ask for much at all from the filmers. Ever since I experienced the tremendous skill of arrangers and sound engineers, I decided to leave things to the experts.

Q: You must’ve trusted the video team a lot.

Yes. I did ask to make blue and gray the most prominent colours, but when they showed me the film set beforehand, all I could say was “Oh, this will be good as-is. It’s wonderful.” *laughs* They also included my request to make it band-style, and brought in a strings quartet and dancers. By leaving things to the pros, it became different from the world I’d wanted to construct, but that irregular feeling was enjoyable too.

Q: Is it similar to voice acting, in the sense of adapting to irregularities?

Perhaps. For the MV, it feels like I’m only one of the parts. I don’t know what the completed video is going to look like after they put everything together, and that’s part of the fun. But now that I understand that enjoyment, it might not be out of the question for me to direct my next MV all by myself.

Power pop and a hymn–a variety of themes

Q: Next, what was the theme behind “Paper Tigers”?

Even if you’re facing a tiger, it’s not scary if it’s made out of paper… “Paper Tiger” (as in paper-mache) is a historical Chinese phrase that describes an empty threat. The other inspiration for this song was Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie. The way it takes the negative idea of “as long as you’re confident, you can bluff your way through” and expresses it in an upbeat way is thematically similar to “memento.” As I was composing the songs this time, I realized that I liked taking concepts and words and shifting them away from their common meanings.

Q: The song is also rather up-tempo.

This song was actually completed last out of the ones on the EP. When we looked at the other four songs, we discussed how there wasn’t an up-tempo song, and I wanted a power pop song like something a band would come up with on momentum alone. So, I invited the producer Kuroda (Akihiro)-san and the arranger Saku-san to my place, where we had a band session and came up with the verse and chorus. The full song was completed after two days or so. In that sense, the song was created through “the wisdom of the crowd.”

Also, I just want to say that when Saku-san finished arranging the song, he even put his own temporary vocals in, and they were better than mine *laughs*. I think it’ll be a really exciting song to perform live too. It’s a song with a new perspective.

Q: What about the third track, “Waltz”?

I like songs in 6/8 time, but that rhythm always tends to become something delicate, so I wanted to make something bright and cheerful. Since it has whistles in it, genre-wise it might be considered toy pop, but the theme was “hymn.” The other image I had in mind was the anime Haibane Renmei.

Q: The original work of which was Abe Yoshitoshi’s famous work. It indirectly depicted the themes of “doomsday” and “salvation.”

Exactly! People say it was inspired by Murakami Haruki-san’s The Town and Its Uncertain Wall and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but at any rate, I love Haibane Renmei. You could say that this song is something like an unauthorized fan work *laughs*. But on the other hand, I also wrote the lyrics to have another possible interpretation.

Q: Which is?

This song is about a girl… in other words, an angel who can no longer fly, and it could be sung by the spirits who dwell in the atmosphere. However, they’re on different wavelengths now, so they can’t touch her anymore. Nevertheless, they say “We’ll always be close by, so it’ll be okay.” The concept of “sending your feelings to a higher plane” is similar to “quantum stranger.”

This song will probably shine if performed live with an acoustic set. I think this one was the one that took the longest to record. I shouldn’t complain about my own song, but there was so much chorus work… *laughs* But by not using instruments, I really wanted to push forward with the idea of a song that was completely sung by myself.

Q: Meanwhile, “Ringo” (Apple) is a jazzy song.

When I was first writing the song, the style I had in mind was the American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. That’s why I named it “Apple.” But, the arranger Dewa Yoshiaki-san turned it into a really cool song. The first verse’s melody originally used a backbeat rhythm (accent on the off-beats), but Dewa-san’s arrangement used the on-beats in a wonderful way. So, I abandoned the melody and rewrote it in an unprecedented production process of Arrangement→Composition *laughs*.

Q: The lyrics have a dangerous aroma to them.

The song is about betting everything away in an underground gambling den and getting drunk in a run-down bar. It’s just that, the melody being what it was, it was difficult to write lyrics for it. Rather than the topics and so on, I prioritized how it feels when you hear the notes themselves. The verse is a repetition of the same melody but with an octave shift, and I like the dark mood that that gives off. This is another song that’ll probably change dramatically when sung live. I’m looking forward to performing it one day.

Q: What about the last song, “Tonight”?

The EP was planned to have a good balance of “realistic” songs and “fantastical” songs, and “Tonight” was designated as a realistic song. To be honest, I worried about how well it’d balance out something like “Waltz”, but I was fatigued from singing grandiose, difficult songs, so I decided to go with this.

However, I couldn’t sing it satisfactorily on the recording day. The next day, I asked to do a retake, but the sound engineer Hayashi (Kenichi)-san picked the best takes out of the countless attempts I did and put them together for me, and I was stunned at how flawless the result was.

Q: That’s what happened?!

There were many other ideas that transformed this song! It was originally supposed to feel like wandering around a park somewhere along the Chuo Line, but when Saku-san added a sitar to the beginning, I revised my impression of it, because the scope of this stroll was clearly much wider. Even though the lyrics hadn’t been written until the recording day, his arrangement accelerated the definition of this song’s world.

Q: It’s rare for a song to fade out at the end like that.

That was the universal decision of the entire team. It was never a question of whether it should fade out or not; the discussion began with how long the fade should extend for *laughs*. With this song, I really felt that they were all professionals, capable of implementing the ideas that I couldn’t put into words. The bassist, Ochi (Shunsuke)-san’s performance was truly splendid, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him.

Q: Finally, there’s a surprise secret track at the end of the EP.

This is only included on the physical CD, and its title “Epilogue” is only noted on the credits page. When we all got together to come up with the melody for “Paper Tigers”, it only took an hour to finish, so we started talking about making a song to keep in reserve, and I’d actually already been considering a song like this… so I let them hear the hook melody for “Epilogue”, which I didn’t even have chords for. Saku-san said, “This is good! Let’s do this!” and we made the short version right then and there. The concept was traveling to the end of the world in “memento,” finding an old record player there, and hearing this upon playing it.

Q: Is that why there’s a filter over it?

Yes. The lyrics are also extremely direct, and I’d like to be able to do a proper reprise of it one of these days…

Q: I’m looking forward to that!

Through this EP, I realized again that I want to create songs that don’t fit the j-pop formula, where you can’t tell where the hook is supposed to be. Right now, what I want to make isn’t an assertive, serious song that I’d want everyone to listen to; it’s unsophisticated music that blends into your daily life like ambient noise. “Waltz” might be close in meaning to that…

I still have a dream left undone for the 1st season (the “Epilogue” reprise), but after that’s done, I predict that I’ll be focusing on “subtraction” work. We’ve been “putting everything in” this whole time *laughs*, so now I want us to pursue a more lightweight groove together.

my blue vocabulation
(Saito Soma was asked to list 10 words associated with “blue”)

◼ Sky (空)
◼ Sea (海)

Now it reads like Master Kukai (空海) *laughs*. One of the greatest geniuses in Japanese history!

◼ Earth

*looking at a globe in the studio* I just had this thought; what if we’re on a globe right now, and some kind of transcendental beings are watching us from their own meeting room? That wouldn’t be hard to believe. They might be spinning us in the palm of their hand without us knowing.

◼ Blue Flames

The blue part has a higher temperature than the red part, right? It resembles the relationship between calmness and passion…

◼ Indigo (藍)

This is the name of a Sukima Switch song. It’s nice… I love that song. Ancient Japanese names of colours are beautiful. ((The Sukima Switch song is called Ai as in indigo, but the lyrics are about “ai” as in love.))

◼ Lapis Lazuli

I’m a fan of a Japanese rock band called Good Dog Happy Men, and they have a song called “Jewel Box” that has this phrase in it, which stood out to me a lot.

◼ Blue Paint

I’m used to the colour blue since I voice a lot of blue characters, but I don’t think I actually used it much when I was little. I feel like I was always drawing with green, and most of my clothes were red.

◼ Sports Drink

I’m waiting for a commercial offer! *laughs* ((This is a reference to Soma’s favourite drink Pocari Sweat, which has a blue label.))

◼ Springtime of Life (has the kanji for “blue” in it)

Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn’t.
I became a voice actor in search of it.

◼ Hydrangea

June in Kamakura. I prefer writing it in hiragana (あじさい) over katakana (アジサイ).

remarkable 2019

#1: I bought a guitar!
The guitars I played at my concert were borrowed, but I finally bought a guitar to use for work! In fact, the one I’m playing in the “memento” MV is my personal guitar.

#2: Moving
I moved! As part of the process, I got rid of all of my old humidifiers and the new ones just arrived yesterday. The vents are on the front, so you can stick them to the wall. It’s an excellent space-saving product. Very convenient.

#3: Matching Hats
A bizarre phenomenon has been occurring lately: Umehara Yuuichirou-san and I keep wearing the same hats. Neither of us usually wear hats that often, so why is this happening? *laughs*

I finally realized that there’s no benefit from trying to act alluring

Q: It’s 2020, and you’ve reached the critical 10th year as a voice actor. Is there anything special you feel?

When I started working, my senpais told me “Keep going for 10 years first, and that’s when it really starts,” and I had a vague idea of what they meant. But, after actually continuing for the first year and then the second, I understood the weight of their words.

It really does feel like I’m finally standing at the starting line now. And on a fundamental level, if I hadn’t worked as a voice actor, I think there’s a high possibility I would’ve stayed as a bitter, unsympathetic person…

Q: Does that mean it changed you on the inside?

Yes. When you’re serious about making progress in this industry, there are times when you’re forced to look at your inner self, and you’re not always going to like what you see. But, I feel that the process of understanding myself and thinking about what it means to care for others allowed me to give myself internal feedback, which had a major effect on me… To be honest, I used to be the type to think “I should’ve said _____ instead,” but now that’s not always the case.

Q: Your perception has changed.

This is going to be an awkward way of phrasing it, but I think you have to think about the fact that you have to change *laughs*. But as the years passed, my way of thinking became simpler. I can easily accept unsophisticated thoughts such as “I like this” or “My opinion is this.” Of course, there are still many times when I get arrogant or self-centred, but when I compare myself to ten years ago, it’s clear that those occasions are fewer than before. I think that’s not just because I’ve grown older, but also because I’ve been surrounded by the voice acting industry. I’ve also learned how to entrust things to other professionals, even in work.

Q: That reminds me of what you said about the “memento” MV.

Yes. You can only leave something in someone else’s hands if you trust both them and yourself. As for why…

Q: Is it because you’re responsible for making the decision?

That’s right. In the past, I only wanted to put out the “100%” I had in my head. I’m still not very broad-minded, but I’ve changed enough that I can vaguely understand that “my past self only thought about himself.” Also, even when I’m recording for an anime and think “Why isn’t this going well?” or “I think it should be like this, so why did they reject it?”, when I watch the broadcast version I’ll see that it was very well done. I learned that even if I can’t understand something in that moment, instead of getting hung up on it, I should be flexible and adapt my thoughts and acting.

Q: You’ve broadened your views.

I think I was too egotistical. First of all, that “100%” I keep talking about seems like a logical matter at first glance, but it’s actually ridiculously subjective. The number is manipulated to suit myself, so it’s seriously ill-natured *laughs*. I don’t think the past me ever tried to think deeply about my own senses, which is why I was completely biased to a logical approach. But sometimes, I inadvertently react to things based on feeling, before thinking. It’s something that happens all the time in daily life, and yet I’d detached it from my acting. In the end, I was just big-headed.

Q: It’s a trap you fall into by thinking too logically, then.

Yes… I think ideally, you want to have the earnestness to prepare like crazy until the day before the job, and then on the day of, wrap it all in brackets so that you can be flexible with it. It sounds extreme, but that’s what I finally realized after ten years. Since I’m a logical thinker myself, ideally I don’t want to throw that weapon of mine away, and instead value my senses as an addition to that… So basically, I want to make my next theme “living through my senses.” *laughs*

Q: Is that your goal for this year?

Not just this year, but on and on forever. If you interview me again when I’ve reached my 20th year as a voice actor, you might be talking to a Saito Soma who has nothing left but his senses. *laughs*

If it’s a suspicious character, it’s gotta be voiced by Saito Soma! That’s what I want people to think

Q: It seems like your range of anime roles is getting much wider too.

It seems that when non-anime forms of content are supported for a long period of time and get an anime adaptation, activity soars even more. It’s not up to us how long we get to continue voicing a character for, so I really am thankful. Also, in 2019 I got more extremely unconventional roles, so I’m secretly happy about that. *laughs*

Q: You want to voice unconventional roles?

I feel an indescribable attraction towards characters that are twisted in some way *laughs*. Your voice changes slightly as you continue to use your vocal cords for many years. It’s the so-called “way of life” for an actor, and I feel happy when I can adapt my voice in my preferred direction.

Q: You’ve recently been making an impression in roles such as Kyougoku Fuyuto in Kabukichou Sherlock and Vinegar Doppio in JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Ougon no Kaze.

I’ve always loved the original JoJo comics, so I was incredibly honoured to play that role. Doppio had been voiced by Miyamoto Mitsuru-san and Ishida Akira-san in the past, so I knew that if I did it the same way, there was no way I could win against them. So, I prepared several variations for the audition. Later, I heard that I’d been chosen for the role right away, which was a surprise. When I asked why, they said “Because your Doppio’s phone voice was the most disgusting,” and I thought, what good fortune *laughs*. I actually wasn’t feeling well during the audition, and during the Risotto battle when Doppio vomits out razor blades, I actually did feel like throwing up, which might’ve worked in my favour. *laughs*

Q: That’s also fate. *laughs*

I loved the original work and I had several plans ready, but in the end, sometimes the result is determined by something that has nothing to do with the allure or desire I put out.

In Kabukichou Sherlock as well, I started out by ad libbing a lot based on the elaborate preparations I’d done, but in Episode 3 when my character was talking to Seki Tomokazu-san’s guest character, I sensed that “Oh, if I stop to think, I won’t make it in time” *laughs*. At some point, they started writing “(ad lib the rest)” in the script more often. As I was saying earlier, I’ve always been logic-focused, so ad libs are my Achilles’ heel. But on the other hand, I was grateful for that role because it allowed me to practice seeing how the things I’d prepared would change during the actual recording. I’m still not at the point where I’d say I’m skilled at unconventional roles, but I’d like to eventually make them part of my arsenal, to the point where people say “If it’s a suspicious character, it’s gotta be voiced by him.” I want this weapon, no matter how much I have to pay! *laughs*

Q: I’m sure you’ve been getting more kouhais at work too.

Indeed. Shun-chan (Takeuchi Shunsuke-san) has a good grip on himself, and I learn a lot from him regardless of our hierarchy. He’s a natural, and a good person.

Nozuyama (Yukihiro)-kun from Rush Style is learning under Hayami Show-san’s guidance, and it amazes me how well he’s got it together… We haven’t had the chance to drink together lately, but he has a humane philosophy while also having the cuteness appropriate for his age, and I think that’s amazing. We’ve been planning to go for sushi with Hayami-san, but it hasn’t happened yet. *laughs*

Q: You must be good friends for that to come up.

I’m a passive person, so I’m thankful for anyone who comes to me, not just my kouhais. I’m especially grateful for friends who’ll drink with me, like Hirose Yuya from Arts Vision. Although it’s a bit embarrassing when he calls me “Soma-nii” *laughs*. I’d like to continue expanding my circle of friends in my own way.

Q: Are you interested in mentoring the next generation?

If I get the chance eventually… but first, I have to develop my own ability more. As for what I’d teach, I think it’d be fun to make a place where we can all study the flexibility of Japanese, like the effect a single particle can have on the nuance of a sentence, or how a word’s tone changes based on whether it’s written in kanji or kana. It might be elementary school level content, but it’s valuable to us.

Q: I’m looking forward to your future activities!

I’ve moved past the era of being frustrated with myself for not being able to do something, and into an era where I can now think, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that! I can’t do it! Yes!”

If you really don’t stand a chance then there’s nothing you can do about that, but if you can vaguely make out a path, then all you have to do is go for it. That’s how you expand your arsenal. In that sense, perhaps I’ve finally figured out the direction of my compass after these ten years. Now that I can look at the map and think, “What? The world is this big?!”, I’m looking forward to traveling to various places.

Behind the scenes of Saito Soma’s first front cover feature in Seiyuu Grandprix

Saito Soma-san makes his first front cover and opening feature appearance! His vivid blue outfit makes quite an impact. What did you think of it?

The internal theme for this photo shoot was “On an ordinary day, Saito Soma-san casually buys a bouquet and champagne on the way home and presents them to you.” It was only light acting, without being too conscious of the theme.

During the session, Saito-san talked about how his latest fad is matching Nishiyama Koutaro-san’s fashion. When we pressed for details, it turned out that they have similar taste in clothes, and that the trick to pulling off the Nishiyama-san look is wearing pants that go 70-90% down the leg♪ Thanks to Saito-san’s gentle aura, it was a relaxed photo shoot from start to finish.

During the interview, he talked in detail about his latest release “my blue vacation” and his 10th anniversary as a voice actor. It’s full of the most current information!

Shop-specific bromides:

Animate-exclusive poster:

Autographed Polaroids (raffle):

Off-shot from Soma’s stylist:

Blog post from Soma’s stylist about the outfit (has a couple of other photos):


(I won’t be translating it, because he doesn’t allow reposting/alterations of his content)

@SomaStaff 2019/02/18 22:10

We had a concert rehearsal! There’s nothing like a live band…! Suddenly, the concert is only days away…! I’m going to enjoy this to the fullest, with all of my wonderful band members and everyone who’s supporting me! Thank you! -S

@Sinxix 2018/12/23 21:01

tweet stranger was fun!
My food is cold now! w
There’s still a lot more I wanted to say, but I think I should eat first w

Once again, it’s a wonderful album!
I’m glad I could work on it with the Soma-kun team 🙂
The more you listen to it, the more new Soma elements you’ll find, so please listen to it a lot! #SS1stAL

@Sinxix 2018/12/23 20:57

Penguin Sanatorium
A send-off with Soma-kun’s singing and guitar.
At first, he asked me to play guitar for it, but Soma-kun’s guitar was perfectly fine, and the mood of his own accompaniment was great, so I refused with all my might w
Contrary to the title, it’s heart-rending. The melody and lyrics are lovely. It feels wasted as a secret track w #SS1stAL

@Sinxix 2018/12/23 20:48

Kesshou Sekai
This might be my favourite song in the album.
I arranged it based on how it made me feel when I heard the demo. For some reason, I teared up while playing guitar. It’s unusual to have a song with two hooks, but it’s a wonderful melody nonetheless. This is the true form of the singer-songwriter Saito Soma I know. Emo-ness is Soma-ness. #SS1stAL