[December 1999 Kenji Nagashima]
Q: First off (this is starting to become a routine question but), please tell us your date of birth, your sign of the Zodiac, and your blood-type.
Kenji Nagashima (hereafter, KN): June 26, 1969, Cancer, type-B blood... I don't think there's any point in getting to know me better though... (laughs)
Q: Presently, you are working for SQUARE Sounds Co., Ltd. as a recording and mixing engineer, but could you tell us more in detail about what it is that you do inside the recording studio ?
KN: Well, if I write down everything, it'll probably take up this entire page. So, to explain in layman's term... You've seen pictures of studios where they have that guy sittin' behind what looks like a cockpit of some spaceship and fooling around with a bunch of buttons and knobs, right? Well, I'm that guy (laughs).
Q: So, it seems that you've been an engineer long before you started working for SQUARE, but how did you end up with this job? (also, could you tell us the names of the artists that you've worked with in the past? In the order that you worked with, if you don't mind.).
KN: I was a guitarist to begin with; and I used to always say to myself, "someday, I'm gonna become a pro!" So when it came time to decide upon my future, I decided to go into a junior college of music - sort of as my excuse for moving out to Tokyo. And as I was flipping through some books on junior colleges of music, a certain word caught my attention... "...e, Edison?...engine?... e..e .. engineer? What IS this? Some sort of factory worker or something?" (laughs)
Anyway, soon after my high school graduation, I moved out to Tokyo. ... But once I got here, my jaw just dropped, seeing all the number of talented guitarists here. Right then, I knew I would have to give up my dreams of making a living off of my guitar. And so, after graduating from this junior college, I went on to get a regular ole' job in a regular ole' studio ... well, I WISHED. The truth was, none of the recording studios were hiring at the time, and all that was left were TV related jobs and M.A. jobs. Back in my little hometown, people were whispering stuff like, "Did you hear? I heard that Mrs. Nagashima's little boy moved out to Tokyo to become a musician! Maybe we'll see him on TV someday." (I come from deep far yonder in the rural areas of Hiroshima. Out there, once you move out away from that small community, you become bait for all the old ladies' afternoon conversations...)
I looked desperately for a job in a studio in order to save my (and my family's) face... And after searching high and low; luckily, I was able to land a job in this studio called "Smile Garage" (which no longer exists anymore). I was allowed to work as an assistant for big name artists such as Tatsuro Yamashita, Maria Takeuchi, Masayuki Suzuki, Mackey, etc. It was here that I swore to myself, I would work hard and someday become a true engineer at this studio... But that day never came... or never would come.
This studio was wonderfully situated in the bay area... which was also the location of the city's next "beautification project" - so the city just decided to tear down the entire studio, and the place has been turned into a park now. But luckily for me, a friend named Mr. Aono (yoohoo! Hey Mr. Aono, are you reading this? I just mentioned your name! I hope you're doing alright!) picked me up and asked me if I wanted to work for his studio. I learned a lot about engineering by working for him. During that time, many new talents came and went - KIX*S, Maho Suzuri, Souichi Shimoguchi, NaNa, but most of these jobs went straight to Mr. Aono, and none of them ever reached this mid-twenties freshman engineer. I remember, it was about the time that the word, "multimedia" began to pop up all over Japan. I fell in love with the Macintosh computers, and to me, it was the next best thing to food. (back then I used a NB165c or a 630...) Just when I started to think, "... I wish I could use the Macs with music in someway..." I got a phone call from SQUARE's sound effects team leader, Mr. Nakamura, asking me if I wanted to join his company... Those of you who are thinking of becoming an engineer, don't follow any of my examples, OK? (laughs).
Q: Could you give us the titles of the games that you have worked with, since entering SQUARE? (and also, could you go a bit further and tell us which songs?)
KN: The opening and ending themes for Tobal; all the Chocobo games (Dungeon 1 and 2, Racing); FFTactics - opening and ending; Legend of Mana - opening and ending, Soukaigi, Racing Lagoon, Xenogears - opening and ending; Parasite Eve (1 and 2) - opening and ending; on FF8 - opening, ending and "Eyes on me"; and finally, Chrono Cross - opening and ending themes... Now what else was there...? (laughs).
Q: So, why did a person like yourself - an engineer of the ordinary music business - decide to work for a "game company" such as SQUARE.?
KN: I had a deep interest in computers... well actually, just Macs, but... Mr. Nakamura from the sound effects team told me, "each person gets to use their OWN Macs", and I was seduced by those words... (laughs) Also, it was right when SQUARE had decided to move into the PSX platform, and I had this feeling like, "I don't really know what they're doing... but it seems like a lot of fun!"
Q: From an engineer's perspective, what do you think is the main difference in the recording of regular "artist's music" from that of "game music"? (Do you feel that there really is a distinct difference between these two genres of music?)?
KN: The main difference is that in the artist's case, you have to think first and foremost about the artist (or producer) and work to his or her demands. In the case of game music, there's the person (the artist) that actually does the writing, but then you also have to take into mind the thoughts and feelings of the people behind the artist (for example, the Chrono Team). Well, actually, that was just the typical straight-A student type of answer (laughs) , but in my case, it really doesn't matter if I'm working for the music industry or the game industry; either way, I love the recording and track-down processes.
In Mr. Mitsuda's case, I think that he trusts my work because a lot of times, he just leaves all the recording processes to me. (umm, can you make sure to change the "I think" part to "I know" before putting this up on the homepage? laughs) Recording vocal tracks is always the most difficult part, but the fact that game music doesn't require this (well, most of them don't) makes it a lot easier on me. For an engineer, instrumentals are the most fun to record because you're not bound too tightly by the thoughts of others, and it leaves you with more room to play around.
Q: And now, I'd like to ask a few questions concerning your relationship with Mitsuda. First of all, when and where did you first meet Mitsuda?
KN: Believe it or not, Mr. Mitsuda was my interviewer at the company's job interview.
Q: And what were your impressions of Mitsuda at the time? (Rumor has it that you two didn't get along too well in the beginning...)
KN: Well, I have to admit, we were both a bit jagged and edgey back then. The first time that we ever got into a fight was because we had a big disagreement over whether or not to put "-kun" or "-san" after each other's names (a Japanese way of politely calling other people's names)... We were getting into arguments over real childish sorta' stuff. (laughs) But we've both grown up now. Right? Mitsuda-kun...
Q: So, how did you two end up getting along after that?
KN: Well it started off like that, so for a while there we just PRETENDED like we were getting along, but it was after Tobal No.1 was finished... I think it was then that we both finally realized that we weren't dealing with amateurs here and accepted each other's talents and skills. Please. I'm trying hard to forget all of this, so don't remind me... (laughs).
Q: After working with him for so many years, how does Mitsuda seem to you now?
KN: He's really matured. Not to mention rounded out (mentally and physically). Well, in my case... mostly physically...(laughs)
Q: From your perspective, what are some of the good qualities of Mitsuda?
KN: No matter what situation he's put into, he's always got a smile on his face, and in that sense, I think he's really helped me out a lot. He also has the strength to take on almost anything and to carry it out completely to the end. (How's that sound?).
Q: And is there anything about him where you just have to say "Please spare me just this!"
KN: His left foot kinda' smells ... (just kidding) I don't think there IS any, ever since we both "rounded out"... (especially me).
Q: How do you feel about Mitsuda leaving SQUARE and becoming a freelance composer?
KN: It's a chance for him to become known not only as a game music composer, but also as a true artist. He's definitely got the right weapons and the adequate levels, so all he needs to do now is to look for the way out (OK, that was kinda' cheesy). I really felt this way after reading all the posts in this BBS. There seems to be a lot of people looking forward to his works as a freelance. So I think he should go for it. If it means that he has to quit his job and become a freelance to do this, then so be it. Well actually, until I saw the posts in the BBS, I sorta' had this feeling of "is he really going to be OK..?" (laughs) But looking at the way that he can arrange his songs for real instruments, I think that he may have had strong intentions on becoming a freelance from a very early point in his career. Never immersing himself or becoming overly satisfied with his present positions or titles (the easiest way would have been to stay at SQUARE but), I really think that it took a lot of guts and courage on his part to make this decision. I truly respect him for that!!
Q: Do you have any plans on becoming a freelance engineer yourself? (Please tell us your thoughts on this, up to this point)?
KN: Oh yeah! Did I tell you? My daughter, she just turned 3! (laughs).
Q: Do you have anything like a special room in your house where you keep all of your recording equipments? Or are all those kinds of things kept at the company? (Also, do you ever work on your recordings at home?)
KN: If only I had the money...To tell you the truth, I don't have ANYTHING. My room is just buried with "shoes". (laughs) If Mitsuda-kun sells a lot of records, let's try making a studio together. I can be the manager of the place.
Q: So does your daughter ever listen to the music that you work on? Or are you the type of person who keeps his private life separated from his work-life?
KN: Whenever she sees SQUARE's commercials come on TV, she starts to run around the house shouting, "Daddy's company! Daddy's company!" (laughs) Also, my wife acts as a reference, so I always get her to comment on the songs that I work on. For the first time in a long while, I got a pretty good rating from her in the Opening theme of Chrono (laughs).
Q: From your viewpoint, how does Mitsuda's music sound (compared to the works of the other SQUARE composers) ? What kind of special characteristics do you think it has?
KN: His songs are creative to say the least, and they have a real clear introduction - rising action - twist - conclusion; which makes them easier for people to listen to. In the studio, he's really open to other people's opinions and respects any idea that he considers to be "reasonable". So it's because I know these things about him, that even though he and I have several differences in musical directions, there's a certain kind of affection towards the songs that we've worked on together. In that sense, I don't think I can give you a fair third-person opinion on his songs. If I go any further... it could get a bit nasty (laughs) so maybe next time... secretly...
Q: Of all the songs that you have worked with in SQUARE, which one would you say is your favorite, and which one would you recommend the most? (it doesn't have to be Mitsuda's works)
KN: Quality-wise, "Chrono Cross", no question about it. But my personal favorite (including the graphics, sound effects, and music) is the opening and ending theme of Xenogears. We went through a lot of hard times on that one, so I sorta' have some strong feelings towards it. We were even talking about putting sound effects and some voice narrations into the original album. Isn't that right, Mitsuda-kun (laughs)?
Q: What kind of music would you like to take on in the future? And what would you say is your final goal?
KN: I want to take part in some music that will continue to live on into the next generation. But unfortunately, that's going to be decided not by the quality of the sound, but mostly by the quality of the songs. No matter how hard I try, my work alone won't be able to leave anything for the upcoming generation. So let me just say that I'm looking forward to Mitsuda-kun's upcoming works. Or should I say, I'm counting on his upcoming works.
Q: Could you please leave a word or two for Mitsuda?
KN: I really hope that we'll be able to work on a lot of good songs together in the future. I think that your possibilities are truly unlimited, and I am looking forward to your future works. I also hope that we'll continue to be good friends from here on out. (laughs).
Q: And finally, could you please send a word to all the readers?
KN: Thank you very much for listening. I'm the guy who's always working behind the scenes, and I'm not too used to writing things like this; so I'm sorry for all my rampant remarks. I hope I didn't offend anybody. Let me just say that, good artists are always supported by good fans. For those of you who would like to continue to see the endless possibilities of Mitsuda-kun, please continue to love and support him... because you know something's bound to come up soon. (laughs)
Q: Thank you very much! Mr. Nagashima and Mitsuda are very close friends now and get along very well, but back when Mr. Nagashima had just entered the company, the two of them were notorious for their bad relationships with each other. It's kind of funny, but the reason why the two were on such bad terms with each other is probably because both men were overly conscious of each other's presence - am I not correct? Something like... "I'm not lettin' THIS guy get the best of ME!" But Mitsuda is the type of person who has to fight it out once before he can really start to open his heart. (It was like that even with Mr. Kato, right? Mitsuda-san!?) So, once he acknowledges the other person's abilities, then there's a real tight relationship that begins to form. So you see, fighting can sometimes be a very important step in becoming friends with a person (especially in the case of Mitsuda... laughs). And now finally, let's have a word from Mitsuda!
Mitsuda: I'm sorry that your questions turned out to be so long. But thank you very much for taking the time to carefully answer each one of them. I too was once attracted to the job of a recording engineer, (I mean, it looks kinda' cool, the way you take charge behind all those equipments) but I gave up after looking at the number of knobs on those consoles and thinking about having to learn how to use all those equipments (laughs). Thank you for showing me all those engineering techniques; I've really been able to learn many new things from you - how to put sounds together, how to balance out songs - I've also learned how to approach songs from a different angle, which has really helped me to write even better songs than before. I hope that you'll be able to teach me many more things in the future (more "tricks of the trade"), and I also hope that we can continue to take on many more fun jobs together. Thank you very much for your time today.