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Hiroki Ogawa and Nobuo Uematsu Talk Dog Ear Records, Chaos Ensues

September 3, 2009 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook Hiroki Ogawa and Nobuo Uematsu Talk Dog Ear Records, Chaos Ensueson Twitter

So, here’s part two of the massive interview that took place on Saturday, July 18 before the Distant Worlds show in San Francisco (part one is here). While we had intended to talk to Hiroki “wappa” Ogawa about Dog Ear Records, we quickly discovered that Uematsu’s integral role in the company meant a joint interview, and more tangents and crazy questions.

Wonder who all works at Dog Ear Records? We have that. Curious about what Dog Ear Records has up its sleeves? How about a Famicom piano album by KALAYCILAR pianist Keita Egusa, a full-length Cellythm album, and a “best of” collection featuring Uematsu-san’s music? Have you ever wondered what Koichi Sugiyama thinks of Uematsu’s music? That’s here too.

Join us for another round of questioning with Nobuo Uematsu and Hiroki Ogawa of Dog Ear Records after the jump.

OSV: Hello Ogawa-san. It’s great to meet you. We have Uematsu-san here as well to talk about Dog Ear Records. These days, and rightfully so, Dog Ear Records is associated with Uematsu-san’s music, but you also release other music as well. I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about the company, when it was founded, who runs it, and what the company’s goals are?

Ogawa: So the company was founded in October of 2006 by Uematsu-san, and he later asked me to join the company. He thought if he started his own label, he could release any kind of music he wanted.

Uematsu: A typical record company, they’re more interested in business, or something that will sell, so that’s why I made my own so I can do whatever I want.

OSV: And how do you know each other?

Ogawa: When Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey were announced at E3, he had to make a three minute trailer, and we met working on this. I was a contractor for musicians, so that’s how we got to know each other.

OSV: So Uematsu-san wanted to record guitarists, for example, and you worked with some artists and sent players over to record the guitar sections?

Ogawa: Yeah, like that.

OSV: And this was E3 2005?

Ogawa: E3 2004, I think. I actually did contracting work for the voice actors, and later was asked to find an orchestrator.

OSV: So Uematsu-san founded Dog Ear Records. So now what are each of your respective roles in the company?

Ogawa: Well, he’s the CEO, composer, and producer of Dog Ear Records. And I’m a director. I oversee the whole business, kind of like an executive director, I guess.

OSV: So are there other staff members?

Ogawa: I think we have a total of 6 people now.

OSV: I think there was a former Square Enix sound director who works at Dog Ear Records?

Ogawa: Kensuke Matsushita. He used to work for Square Enix.

OSV: And what does he do at Dog Ear Records?

Uematsu: He’s smoking.

All: [Laughs]

Ogawa: So he’s like the executive producer and does the contracting and stuff like that.

OSV: And the other three?

Ogawa: One is [Uematsu-san’s] wife, Reiko-san. She does accounting.

Uematsu: Counting money.

All: [Laughs]

Ogawa: And the other two are more like office staff, but they also manage projects. Their names are Hiropi and Sekky, and they write on the DERBLOG now.

OSV: So, Uematsu-san, it seems like you’re very much into dogs. So I’m curious about how you came up with the name. Also, on Phantasmagoria, you had “Dogs on the Beach.”

Uematsu: A few reasons. Basically, I like dogs. And the ear or the foundation was a dog ear. So you know how you flip the corner of a page over in your book to keep track of where you are? That’s called a dog ear.

OSV: Is it?

Uematsu: Yeah.

OSV: Oh. I didn’t know that.

Uematsu: It’s in the dictionary! [Laughs]

OSV: I’ll be sure to look that up.

Uematsu: So it tells you where you’re at. So I wanted to create music on Dog Ear Records that’s kind of attached to me.

OSV: And who designed the adorable logo?

Uematsu: So, a classmate of mine back in high school is doing illustration, and we had him do it.

Ogawa: Yeah, he’s the same guy who did the “Here Comes Conga Boy” cover.

OSV: Oh! Very nice. So we’ve seen 5 or 6 releases from Dog Ear Records so far, and the first one was the Anata wo Yurusanai soundtrack. Take us through this release, was it a challenging project as the label’s first album?

Uematsu: Basically, because that lack of budget because it was new and not known, and we didn’t have any contents or anything published, so there wasn’t much budget.

OSV: I really liked the jazzy, sort of casual style. It’s different for you. So… who are these guys?

Ogawa: They’re friends of mine.

OSV: Okay, so the second release on the label was The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight. I’m wondering how Dog Ear Records was able to publish it instead of the Square Enix label.

Ogawa: It was basically a licensed thing. So we had permission to use the music. Uematsu-san had the original idea for The Black Mages, so that’s why we were able to release it.

OSV: So the next project was your first producer credit, Ogawa-san. KALAYCILAR. I really enjoyed the album, but felt it was too short. I’m curious how this project came about, and why do you two think–

Uematsu: The pianist is his friend.

OSV: Oh, is he popular?

Uematsu: As a studio musician.

OSV: So I’m curious because it was the first album on Dog Ear Records that wasn’t videogame music.

Uematsu: Ahh, well, Anata wo Yurusanai.

OSV: But that was game stuff. Black Mages was game stuff, but KALAYCILAR was original or traditional music. So I’m wondering how the project came about and if you think of Dog Ear Records is not only a label for Uematsu-san, but also for other sorts of experimental things?

Ogawa: I met him when I was doing that contractor job, and he played this… KALAY… uh, I don’t know.


Ogawa: Yeah, so he played this song at my wedding. I had recorded it, and kept it in my closet for a long time. At the time, I hadn’t thought about doing a label or anything like that, but then Dog Ear Records came along, so I presented this material to Uematsu-san and the idea matched with the philosophy of the record label, which is doing something interesting. So we decided to just go with it, the first non-game music album on the label.

OSV: So the original plan was to produce a digital-only release, but then you decided to print physical copies. Why was this, and did it sell well?

Ogawa: Yeah, we’re almost out of copies. So on iTunes, they compress the sound so much, we thought we had created something really good and it was worth producing CDs. And we needed something to sell at concerts.

OSV: Are you guys considering doing anything else, perhaps a full-length album, with Eguchi-san?

Ogawa: We’re planning something that will feature him. It’ll be like a concept album, perhaps arranging Famicom music with a super-technic piano.

OSV: Please! That sounds awesome. So the next thing was with Ante, and you guys were involved with Final Fantasy Remix and Monkey breaks. How did you come to know Ante, and how did you end up working on those projects?

Uematsu: So about 25 years ago I met this guy, Philip, from Belgium. He was into karate. And I got to know him, he happened to do karate, and he came to Japan and was teaching English and French. So he was hanging out with a bunch of friends and they were doing a remix of hip-hop and techno, so I thought it might be interesting if they did that with Final Fantasy music. And that’s how it came about.

OSV: Wait, you did karate together?

Uematsu: No.

All: [Laughs]

OSV: Okay, that’s why I asked. In Final Fantasy Remix, you were a producer?

Uematsu: Just producer.

OSV: And how do you feel Final Fantasy Remix compared to Final Fantasy Mix.

Uematsu: It’s better.

OSV: You think Final Fantasy Remix is better than Final Fantasy Mix?

Uematsu: I think so. I hope so.

OSV: Did you like Final Fantasy Mix?

Uematsu: Yes.

OSV: It had some really unique arrangements. So Ogawa-san, you’ve been traveling around the world with Uematsu-san to these concerts, so I’m wondering what your reaction has been to his popularity outside of Japan, and if this has factored into a more international approach with Dog Ear Records.

Ogawa: Yes, every time I attend Distant Worlds concert and meet a lot of fans, I feel that we should have a more international approach. But even if it’s in Japan or outside of Japan, I have the same way of thinking. It’s more like, rather than business, it’s more about individuals. Once, I went to tour with Distant Worlds with Uematsu-san, and a family came up to Uematsu-san with three kids, and they had all gone into music because of him. That really had a big impression on him, so I thought that we should focus more on individuals rather than business, not just counting people as numbers. I thought that we need to imagine the faces of people who bought our product and think about how we can make everyone happy even if those numbers are small.

OSV: So because of Uematsu-san’s popularity outside of Japan, do you feel that the releases you put out on Dog Ear Records appeal to people outside of the United States? Like KALAYCILAR or Monkey breaks, do you believe these take an international approach?

Ogawa: Yes, they’re all on iTunes international now.

OSV: Okay. So Dog Ear Records is going to publish 10 Stories next year, right?

Uematsu: Right.

OSV: So the Japanese version is in spring?

Uematsu: Spring.

OSV: And then there’s going to be an English version?

Uematsu: Sure. There will be an English version on iTunes.

OSV: So no physical version in English.

Uematsu: It’s possible. Licensing and everything, we can do within the company, so we can sell it directly on Amazon.

Ogawa: Do you think the CD would sell really well in English in the US?

OSV: I’d say go with digital.

Ogawa: Yeah, maybe not.

OSV: So this ties into Dog Ear Records being your label. It’s been very difficult over time, that composers, the company owns their music. But now you have a reputation, so I’m wondering if you’re at such a point in your career that you keep the rights to your music so you can publish them on Dog Ear Records.

Uematsu: Yeah, I have the license for the music we put out on Dog Ear Records.

OSV: So if you wanted to produce an arrange album of Anata wo Yurusanai or Lord of Vermilion, or…

Uematsu: Blue Dragon?

OSV: Lost Odyssey?

Uematsu: Yeah.

OSV: So you could do an arrange album because you own the music.

Uematsu: Yeah… that’s a good idea! [Laughs]

OSV: [Laughs] Yeah, the reason I’m so curious is because I’m a huge fan of Sugiyama Koichi-san, because he’s kind of an oldschool composer like you. Even longer, because he was in film. I always wanted to know why when Square Enix came together, you two never collaborated. I also remember you saying he took interest in the fact that you got to compose the opera scene for Final Fantasy VI.

Uematsu: So, Sugiyama-san used to call me every single time a Final Fantasy came out to tell me, “Yeah, this was good, this one wasn’t,” and all that.

OSV: Wow, an official critique.

Uematsu: Well, you know, Sugiyama-san used to write a lot of songs, and he still does. They’re big hits. So he’s like the teacher, and I have to comply.

OSV: Well, he owns all the rights to his music.

Uematsu: Yeah, he owns the rights to Dragon Quest.

OSV: Have you ever met him in person?

Uematsu: When Final Fantasy VI came out, Sugiyama-san called me as usual, and told me, “You wrote opera without knowing opera,” and I said, “Yeah, yeah,” and he said, “Why didn’t you talk to me? Why didn’t you let me give you some advice?”

OSV: So now that you’ve gone on and you’re doing really well, have you talked lately?

Uematsu: Every year there’s a concert called Press Start, I’m sure you know it, but last year, Sugiyama-sensei came and after the concert, he came to the green room and talked to individual composer who were featured during the show, and told them, “That should have been like that, and this should have been like this,” and he was describing all the problems, and everyone was so honored because Sugiyama-san is so respected.

OSV: So it’s a positive thing. It’s not like, “Why is this guy telling me how to do my job?”

Uematsu: Everyone was shaking because they were so nervous because Sugiyama-san is right there. They felt honored, overly honored, to get his feedback.

OSV: [Laughs] That’s really cool. So I was looking through the Dog Ear Records catalog last night, and I noticed there are a couple releases that I’ve never seen, and fans might not be aware of, so take some time to tell us about them and why we might care.

Ogawa: So there’s this lady, Kiyota, she’s a singer, and when we recorded a collection of vocal pieces from Final Fantasy, Kiyota-san sang one of those.

Uematsu: Do you know Mahoroba?

OSV: Yeah, the one with the brown cover?

Uematsu: Yes! [Laughs] That’s it.

Ogawa: So she worked on it. And she did a song called “Canon – Beneath the Ceiling of Stars” for the Planetarium, and that’s the song.

OSV: And I think there were a couple other digital releases that I saw.

Uematsu: So once I was asked to write a song for a musical, so I went to the show, and during the show, there was a singer, Suika-san, and I was quite impressed with her. So I asked her to do some work with.

OSV: So you got to write music for a musical?

Uematsu: Well, not a musical. It was like theater. Just the main theme.

OSV: And did you get Sugiyama-san’s permission first?

All: [Laughs]

OSV: So you wrote the theme song, got introduced to her, and recorded a track with her. Is that the single? Is the iTunes release the main theme?

Uematsu: Not the main theme. Just an original song with her.

OSV: Oh, very good. And where can people find this main theme?

Uematsu: It’s not out there. We might put in on a CD next year, maybe.

OSV: You should.

Ogawa: There’s this record label in Belgium called Off Label. They release some of these artist’s works as well, and they only release material that really impresses them, not just because.

OSV: So it’s like Off Label distributes Dog Ear Records music?

Ogawa: The other way around.

OSV: So they find good artists, and you help distribute their music.

Ogawa: They don’t have a method to release things on iTunes, so Dog Ear Records took care of that part. It’s a collaboration.

OSV: Great, I’ll have to get a link to their site then and see what they’re all about. So there are also some events that Dog Ear Records puts on, including live events and a radio show. What are these about? Is this for fans, or who is this for?

Uematsu: [Laughs] It’s for fans, and it’s for us.

OSV: What do you guys talk about?

Uematsu: I’m the host of the show. And basically we have a bunch of people from Dog Ear Records perform on the stage.

OSV: What do they perform?

Ogawa: It’s like Kiyota-san, Suika-san, Cellythm. The things that are out from Dog Ear Records.

OSV: So not necessarily game-related?

Uematsu: It’s possible. It’s not like we’re not doing it on purpose. We’ve only had two concerts so far. So maybe the third or fourth concerts, when my 10 Stories is out, we might do that.

OSV: And there’s admission? People pay to get in?

Ogawa: It’s about $35-$40.

OSV: So the radio show, what’s that all about? They’re so long! I tried to download them just to see even though I don’t speak Japanese, and they’re like two hours long!

Ogawa: So there’s no scenario or script. It’s all improvisational. And it’s for us to give details about the records we’re releasing and to give people the chance to listen to the material.

OSV: So you talk to the artists and listen to the music?

Ogawa: Yeah, they’re on as guests.

OSV: Oh, well, I wish I could understand it. Okay, so Ogawa-san, we’ve been talking a lot about Uematsu-san, but let’s talk about you. What’s your background? How did you get into the music business? Are you into games? Do you play any instruments?

Ogawa: I was a hardcore gamer growing up. I moved around quite a bit, and when I came back to Japan from Singapore, and I played Super Mario Brothers for the first time, and I got really obsessed. And my grandfather used to send me Famicom carts like Dragon Ball and Knights of Zodiac.

Regarding music, I started playing keyboard when I was 13, in middle school, and I played in a band until I was 22, but it didn’t do so well, so I started a publishing company and promoting company. Then I got into the contractor job, and did that for 4-5 years, and now here I am.

OSV: Do you still play?

Ogawa: Which one?

OSV: Both, games and keyboard.

Ogawa: Well, not so much keyboard anymore.

OSV: No keyboard? Aren’t you inspired to play so you can join The Black Mages?

All: [Laughs]

OSV: What games have you been playing lately?

Ogawa: Mostly games on the DS. Rhythm Tengoku.

OSV: Rhythm Tengoku? Actually, interesting, Tsunku was at Anime Expo in Los Angeles two weeks ago. But yeah, Rhythm Tengoku, that’s a good one.

Ogawa: Oh, and Professor Layton.

Uematsu: I like that one.

OSV: Yeah, good music.

Uematsu: Yeah!

Ogawa: So I don’t really play RPGs because sometimes we get busy and stop playing, and after 2 or 3 months, we come back and don’t remember what’s going on. So we play something really short, and not long.

OSV: I did the same with Dragon Quest VIII and Final Fantasy XII, so I’m familiar with that too. So my next question is, aside from 10 Stories coming up, what’s next for Dog Ear Records, not necessarily related to videogames, but what’s next?

Uematsu: 10 stories 2. [Laughs]

OSV: [Laughs] It’s actually kind of similar in name to Ten Plants, if you remember that.

Uematsu: Yeah! Actually, there’s a Japanese band called Yoshihiro Kai, and they released an album last year called 10 Stories, so we’re considering changing it.

OSV: 11 Stories. You have to write an extra song. [Laughs]

Uematsu: [Laughs] I have to, right?

OSV: Or 9 Stories. Then you write one less. So what’s next for Dog Ear Records?

Ogawa: We’re planning a few albums. They may be game-related or not, but we have a few ideas.

Uematsu: There are many projects that we’d like to do. One is like Irish music, and then there’s a trio rock band with drum, bass, and guitar.

OSV: Like Rush?

Uematsu: … No.

OSV: [Laughs] You don’t like Rush?

Uematsu: Sure I do. And there’s a singer, songwriter. There are lots of plans, but not enough people to get it all done.

OSV: You could do a Celtic Moon-like album featuring remixes from all the music you own the rights to.

Uematsu: Another good idea! I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but I am planning on a “best” collection of my music.

OSV: Like your greatest hits?

Uematsu: Yes. It maybe have two discs, one of vocal themes, and another with instrumentals.

OSV: And when are you planning on releasing it?

Uematsu: Well, the album is meant to celebrate my 50th birthday, so it has to be before March of next year! [Laughs] It will be difficult to finish before then.

OSV: Well, we’ll definitely be looking forward to it. That’s all I have for now, but we definitely appreciate yours and Ogawa-san’s time. We look forward to all the releases Dog Ear Records has planned, so please keep up the hard work!

Uematsu: Thank you.

Ogawa: Thank you.

[Special thanks for Chris Szuberla, Leanne Araya, and Arnie Roth at AWR and Hiroki Ogawa at Dog Ear Records for helping make this interview possible.  Translation provided by Shota Nakama.]

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