The Black Mages – Interview Collection

The Black Mages - Interview Collection

These three interviews with the members of The Black Mages were originally found at the GSLA archive. Each interview coincides with the release of their three cds in 2003, 2004, and 2008. While not the most in-depth discussion, they contain rare commentary from each member on their individual Final Fantasy arrangements; as such, they're probably best enjoyed by listening and re-visiting those works as you read.

Nobuo Uematsu (keyboard)
Kenichiro Fukui (keyboard)
Tsuyoshi Sekito (guitar)

Uematsu: There are six of us, including me, the producer and keyboardist. We are all Square staff.

Fukui: I also play keyboards. And I arrange and mix the music.

Sekito: I also arranged the music. I play guitar in the band.

Uematsu: There's really so many musically talented individuals at Square, I didn't have to worry about not having enough people. I was more concerned about teamwork.

Fukui: Game development is all about desk work, but I want to do fun stuff like live shows too. (laughs) With The Black Mages it feels like we've gathered all this surplus energy into one place.

Uematsu: There were lots of requests from fans for an arrangement of the Final Fantasy battle songs. And since many of the original songs are unusual rock pieces, I'd always wanted to perform them as a band. Then Sekito and Fukui showed me a few arrangements they did for fun.

Sekito: Oh, that's right.

Uematsu: They sounded exactly like I wanted them to. Those became the prototypes for The Decisive Battle and Battle Theme on the album. After that, things progressed very quickly…

Sekito: The tempo of Battle Theme was slowed down compared to the original song to give it a more grounded feel. The guitar solo took me two nights to come up with. It's only about 16 bars long, and it's not something that grabs the spotlight on first listen, but if I had to use a metaphor, it would be like the "good wife" who selflessly supports the other notes. (laughs)

Fukui: The lengthy "Dancing Mad" was 18 minutes long when we first finished it, (laughs) and it was like, "What the hell..!?" We shortened it after a lot of trial and error, but it's still over 12 minutes.

Uematsu: The arrangement was difficult. Usually, I create my music with a computer and sequencer, and I'm not thinking about how a live band might perform them. (laughs) There were some phrases I thought were really cool, but when I went to actually play them, it turned out I couldn't!

Fukui: This was originally game music… then we said, OK, let's try to make rock arrangements… then we decided we'd do live shows… and now it's just blown up into this even bigger thing. (laughs)

Uematsu: At first, I was only planning to produce the album. I was going to ask other people to do the live shows.

Fukui: But I said to you, "Uematsu, we need your help. We don't have enough people to play all the parts in these songs."

Uematsu: And that's how I got drafted. (laughs) As for the songs on the album, we've kept with the general rock stylings, so I think people will get a lot of listening enjoyment out of them. We didn't include any songs from FFIII, FFIV, or FFIX either, so I'd like to keep going with a second and third CD where were try some new things.

Fukui: I want you to use it as driving music. (laughs) Pump the gas and let her rip!

The Black Mages' first album.

Sekito: I mostly want people to listen to the guitar sound. I use a lot of effects, so I hope people find it interesting. My hope is that this album could serve as a bridge between guitar freaks and game fans.

Uematsu: I play organ and synthesizer in the live performances.

Sekito: You'll be able to see Uematsu's organ playing in all its glory!

Uematsu: Well, that would be great. Layering the organ and the synthesizer, yeah. (laughs)

Fukui: Well, there'll be twin guitars and twin keyboards. I hope you are looking forward to their heated battles.

Uematsu: I don't like to fight. (laughs) The live concert will consist of two parts, the first half of which will be an open recording for Uematsu Radio. Then there will be a special guest. Who it will be is still a secret.

The Black Mages - 2004 Interview

Nobuo Uematsu (keyboard)
Kenichiro Fukui (keyboard)
Michio Okamiya (guitar)
Tsuyoshi Sekito (guitar)
Keiji Kawamori (bass guitar)
Arata Hanyuda (drums)

Uematsu: You know, relying on sequencing can make things sound very monotonous. The rhythm is more lively when you actually play it. I think you'll know what I mean if you listen to the new album.

Fukui: I'd really wanted live drums on the previous album. I'm happy that we were able to achieve that this time.

Uematsu: Sorry, I'm still a salaryman. I have to attend regular meetings you know. (laughs)

Hanyuda: I did the recording sessions between meetings and would get soaked with sweat. But it's a blessing that a mere office worker is allowed to do something like this!

Fukui: The previous album was just Sekito and me, but this time Okamiya has joined us to broaden the scope of the music.

Hanyuda: The big draw this time are the three different styles of arrangement. Fukui's is fusion-tinged hard rock, and you can straight-up rock out to it. Sekito's arrangements are tricky and intricate. What is this rhythm!? (laughs) They're difficult to play. And Okamiya's songs bring a completely different feel from The Black Mages' earlier stuff.

Fukui: I think these will be even more difficult to play live…

Uematsu: That's why we won't play any new songs this time. Because it makes me nervous… just kidding. (laughs)

Fukui: We recorded, what… 11 songs, right?

Uematsu: Actually, there were 12 songs, but we didn't have time to record them all, so we decided to save them for the third volume. Actually, I've really been wanting to make a third volume. I already have about half of the song selection locked in.

Sekito: For this CD, I arranged Vamo'alla flamenco from FF9. The introduction of the original song is an important part, so I kept the basics faithful. Then I made some changes of my own. You know, I'd always thought it was a cool song, but when I asked about it later, it turned out to be a song for a mini-game…

Kawamori: Oops, I told you that. (laughs) But it is really popular among players.

Fukui: I did the arrangements for To Zanarkand and The Man with the Machine Gun. I especially wanted to take To Zanarkand in an unexpected direction, something that would make the listener go, "Whoa!" So I kept the piano melody of the original song, but changed the rhythm and arranged it in a very dramatic way. After filling it out a bit, I ended up adding vocals too.

Sekito: The lyrics were written by Alex, who translated FFX. He also came up with the title "The Skies Above."

Uematsu: I told him that the lyrics didn't necessarily have to be informed by the game, but he captured the image perfectly. The singer will be a surprise until the live performance. Actually, there's also a song with a female vocalist. I'll give you a hint: it's someone I've worked with before. I wonder if she's familiar with Final Fantasy…?

The truth is I'd really like to tour around the country, starting with Hokkaido and so on… but I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction of the audience in Osaka.

I don't really think about it much, but the members of The Black Mages are always near me. And we don't intend to limit ourselves to just playing rock music. We've also played with an orchestra, and someday I would like to break down the barriers and combine those two.

Fukui mentioned that our second album has a wider range of music, but this is all going in the right direction… there so many different genres of music in the world, right? I love imagining the possibilities of The Black Mages and a chorus group, for example. What's cool is that when I suggest such things, I don't get any negative comments from any of the members. Even when I want to do something very difficult, someone always comes up with an ingenious idea to make it work. It's not that we are just good friends--it's that we're able to talk through our disagreements and listen to each other. And no one has ever lost their temper in that process.

Hanyuda: Won't we sound more like a legit rock band if we just say that we sometimes get into fights, though?

Uematsu: I guess so. (laughs)

The Black Mages' second album, "The Skies Above"

Hanyuda: I've been playing in bands since I was a student, so I'm surprised and at the same time happy to be able to play in this way. I will do my best not to make any mistakes, so please buy the CD and come see us live.

Fukui: The new CD features a full band, but I want our shows to be exciting, not just a straight run-through of the songs. I'm looking forward to seeing you in Osaka, my hometown.

Kawamori: There will be a lot of catchy songs, so I think the audience will enjoy the shows even more than before. Also, please look forward to Sekito's stage banter--he's in charge of gags.

Sekito: Well, we're always challenging ourselves. (laughs) We are working on the album at a rapid pace, and I hope we can keep that sense of urgency in our live performances.

Uematsu: The second album will include vocals, and I think it will be more varied than you might expect. Also, this is the first time we're doing a live concert in Osaka, so I'm looking forward to that. I would like to use this as a springboard to do shows overseas as well.

There have been orchestral Final Fantasy performances in Los Angeles and Leipzig, but I've often been asked by foreigners who come to those concerts, "Why don't you play Black Mages shows here?" I was surprised how well they know us! So I would like to give it a try.

Actually, there was an offer to do a show in Taiwan last year, but ultimately it didn't happen due to the members' schedules. I've got a good handle now on how the orchestral concerts will be received, but I wonder how a live rock concert would go over.

The Black Mages - 2008 Interview

Nobuo Uematsu (keyboards)

We've chosen the title of the new album: "THE BLACK MAGES III Darkness and Starlight." The jacket is drawn by Hideo Minaba, who also drew the jacket for our last album.

There's opera in it too, and it's quite experimental. In fact, I and the other members of TBM also contributed to the chorus. I was very excited to record it. (laughs)

The English lyrics of Maria and Draco include the phrase, sung by Maria, "I am Darkness and you are Starlight." It symbolizes Maria and Draco, so to speak. Hanyuda-kun came up with the idea, and I thought to myself, "That's it!" As is always the case, everyone kept coming up with ideas, and we respected each other very much, so the album was made in a very good atmosphere.

The way Sekito layers his guitar lines is masterful. We were both very serious about the arrangements, always trying to complement each other: "Ok, if you do that, then I'll add this." We promised each other at the beginning that we would not get too technical with the arrangements because we wanted to enjoy playing live, but before we knew it, the compositions became wickedly difficult. I've got to practice my butt off before the shows scheduled for this summer!

The song LIFE at the end of the album is not from Final Fantasy but an original. We included it as a memorial to a boy who passed away recently, who was a friend of ours and loved video games and game music just as much as we all do.

The Black Mages' third album, "Darkness and Starlight"

Arata Hanyuda (drums)

I arranged Assault of the Silver Dragons from FF9. The original song is a magnificent orchestral piece, but the melody was more hard rock, so I thought it would be fun to arrange it.

The bond between the members has deepened, and in a real sense, the rock of Final Fantasy has blossomed. The image that we've been experimenting with up to the last album has come to fruition in a wonderful way. The drums are also very energetic. The average age of this band is 40+ (laughs), but for a bunch of geezers we did our best! We are very proud of this album, so please give it a listen!

Michio Okamiya (guitar)

I arranged the final boss battle theme of FF5, The Extreme from FF6, and the third part of Maria and Draco from FF6. Maria and Draco has four parts, and each part was arranged by a different member. I have a special place in my heart for the last boss music in FF5. It was the first piece I worked on by myself since I started working in advertising. Of course, I love the other songs as well. My goal with all of my arrangements was to make sure these could be performed live in an exciting way.

I was able to put almost everything I wanted into this album. I hope you will buy it and listen to it!

Tsuyoshi Sekito (guitar)

Maria and Draco was selected by Mr. Uematsu, but I arranged the first part myself. I also arranged Premonition from FF8. The original version of Premonition has many symphonic elements, and I did my best to recreate that atmosphere with just the six members of The Black Mages.

Being our third cd, I hope you don't listen to it in isolation, but consider it as part of a trilogy. That way you'll see the evolution. "Oh look, they've grown an inch!" (laughs)
Keiji Kawamori (bass)

It's been more than three years since the last CD. But when we started working together again, the communication among the members was so smooth that I couldn't believe it had been so long, and I felt a strong sense of solidarity and just the sheer enjoyment of playing in this band.

I arranged The Final Battle from FF9, and for me it's all about the "hell voice," that groaning sound that is heard in the background at the beginning. Back when I was developing FF9, Uematsu asked me to record a sound like the moans of hell, so I said OK and took two days off from work to record it... in hell. (laughs) I reproduced it perfectly for this CD, so definitely listen for that.

A full Black Mages concert from 2008.

Kenichiro Fukui (keyboards)

I arranged the Opening - Bombing Mission from FF7, Distant Worlds from FF11, and This is the Last Battle from FF3. I also did the second and fourth parts of "Maria and Draco," but they were all very challenging. In total it was about 15 minutes worth of music.

The two parts from Maria and Draco that I worked on have a lot in common, using the same theme, but the arrangement is very different. As the song progresses toward the latter half, it gets more and more exciting. The tough part was connecting my section after Uematsu-san and Okamiya-san's rampage. (laughs)

This time around, we challenged ourselves to create a fusion of rock and opera, and we took the best elements of the first two CDs. It's a very accomplished work!

Hideo Minaba (artwork)

I drew the jacket for the second album too, but this time around I changed the number of colors and added a different touch. Since "Maria and Draco" will be included on this album, I tried to evoke the essence of a stage production: lighting, resplendent costumes, and so forth. Also, I wanted an atmosphere that was like, "are they going to kiss…?" I always try to include some touch of eroticism in my paintings. The Black Mages is a risque group of guys, so I think that's important. (laughs)

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