Date: 2018 December 07 22:09
Posted by Joe
At the end of the most recently released Evangelion movie viewers were treated to a special music video for the song Sakura Nagashi. It marked the end of the movie and Hikaru Utada's return. While the film ended, the music stayed with us. We wanted to know more. So we tracked down the song's composer - Paul Carter and caught up with him in his London Studio to find out about the creative process behind the song and geek out over Yoko Kanno.
Why are you known as Benbrick?
It's the road I used to live on when I went to University, Benbrick Road in Surrey. From the window of my bedroom I could see Guildford Cathedral which is where horror movie The Omen was filmed. The name stuck with me when I left so I decided to use it!
How did you get involved in Sakura Nagashi?
I became really good friends with Hikaru Utada when she was in London. We hung out a lot, she was working in the studio next door, so we'd just listen to music and play each other songs and watch random YouTube clips.
We'd started jamming a piece of music one day, and I started playing the main motif, it was the first ever time I'd played it and it kinda came out fully formed. You know, some of the latter parts of the song are quite intricate, especially in left hand on the piano. That all came out in one go too. It was very odd, it's never happened to me before. It's kind of surreal. I think we both knew it was something special.
A few months later she came in and said "I've been asked to do this song for this film, and I really feel that this could be the piece I want to work with. Do you mind? Are you up for carrying on working on it?". Obviously, I'm like, "holy shit, of course that would be amazing!"
So did you have to do any revisions to it?
We did, we spent about a year back and forwards on it. Musically, only one chord changed from the voice note to the finished version. In the breakdown before the second verse it used to go somewhere different. I think the real time-consuming part was Hikaru finding out what she wanted to say. The Tsunami had just happened in Japan too, I think that was on her mind.
We were programming and doing different bits and pieces back and forwards on the sound of the track itself - other than that tweaking, the music kind of stayed the same.
Did you work on that part together?
Yes, I programmed parts, and a bunch of the stuff we programmed for the demos were then used on the song. I wrote some string parts that she then had recorded too.
Hikaru is a phenomenal producer , I guess her fans already know that, but people in London were surprised when I would say she's producing all her own stuff. Most big artists are working with a huge team of different producers to get the final result. She is definitely the driver, you know.
You played the piano on the album too?
Yes, it was one of the first things that we had recorded! Everything then fitted around it.
Was that recorded here in London?
It was record here, yeah. Studio software has developed so much and there's a huge business from creating libraries of sounds that producers can then replay with a keyboard. There's companies like Spitfire Audio that record entire orchestras and then create packages so producers can add those sounds to their songs. So, for this song, everything was live, but the piano was a sampled virtual instrument that I'd played in and tweaked.
So was she collaborating with you in London? Remotely or elsewhere?
In London. We both had studios next door to each other for that year. We worked a lot in my studio and then she would take things into her studio and work on it, then bring it back to my studio.
Then she's travelling and doing her thing as well. There'd be periods where we wouldn't be working on it. The final part she took it away, I think she did it in Japan to record all the extra bits and pieces and put it together. I got sent a couple of versions to listen to after I finished all my parts.
Before you started the project were you aware of Hikaru Utada and her work?
No. I don't think she told me for a while how successful she was. We were kind of friends first. Eventually she told me, and we'd watch some things on YouTube and she'd send me some songs.
So how did you meet her?
A friend of mine knew her A&R and we were introduced at his birthday party. She was there, and we were introduced, we talked about music and just hit it off by talking about PJ Harvey.
You had no idea how big she was?
I had no idea! She's very down to earth. We just hung out.
Before being involved in Sakura Nagashi did you watch any anime?
I've seen some Studio Ghibli stuff. I've seen Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away. I've always been fascinated by it, I really should watch more.
Once I discovered Yoko Kanno that just blew me away! I try to imagine the stories from listening to the scores. Sometimes I'm sat listening to Yoko Kanno's Tokyo.Sora soundtrack and wondering how to get to that level of musical expression...
That's really what it's all about, touching people through the music. I did a piano cover of Sakura Nagashi on You Tube and I got this comment from someone about their friend. That's the thing, sometimes you forget how much of an impact the movie has. I think it's because you never really know where you're truly at, and you always want more. You're always striving to be more successful or have more of an impact.
How much did you know about Evangelion?
I didn't know much at all, obviously I googled it to see what it was. Each year I get reports from my publisher, and the first one after the movie was released had this mind boggling number on it! I think that helped me understand how many fans there are worldwide. It's crazy to be involved in that.
I got sent the DVD and I got a quarter of the way through with English subtitles and I was completely lost even with the subtitles on, I ended up fast forwarding to the end credits scene. Haha!
So you were watching the third movie, without seeing the previous two?
Yeah! I didn't even know the story of the first two. Actually, I really liked the music video version, it was much easier to try and understand the characters and it was totally different from the movie or from the single music video. The bits with Shinji and Kaworu are almost like they are playing along to the song.
Have you heard any of the other music in Evangelion?
Yeah, I have Shirō Sagisu's score and it's great. I should really go back to the movie now you've helped explain the story to me and hear it in situ!
How does one become a composer?
I was writing songs for a long time and writing with different people, but I was always interested in piano and composing. I've played piano since I was four years old. I'd studied sound recording, then I'd worked for various artists.
Before this piece, I had got into this situation where I was writing songs everyday with different writers, and it never really worked for me. I always felt weird about going into daily sessions writing song after song and trying to come up with something meaningful. It's very difficult to find your space within music. Sometimes it takes a riskier strategy.
A few years back I got some music to Ricky Gervais. I was a huge fan of his and I composed a piece and cut it one of his TV shows (Derek). I spent weeks re-cutting the video to my score. I think people who saw me at the studio with Final Cut Pro open instead of Logic Pro X, probably thought "What is this guy doing?!", "Make some music!". There are so many paths you can take - and somehow this one led to him loving my music, using it for the trailer of season 2, and us meeting later that year.
What's next for you?
I'm really excited about this podcast (Have You Heard George's Podcast) I'm working on with George the Poet. He has a really important message and there's a lot of emotion in the stories he is telling . Putting music to it is made easier because there's so much depth in what he's saying.
We've done 8 episodes so far, and 3 live shows at Everyman Cinema. I'm learning so much about composing through it, but I'm producing as well which means lots sound effects and 3d spatial stuff. Episode 3 covered the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we had the amazing Disney actress Jade Alleyne playing the lead character. That's one to check out if you're new to it.
Do you think you'll work with Hikaru again?
That's a good question! You know, once you've worked with an artist that is not only incredibly proficient at their craft, but also strives for excellence and perfection, you start to crave it and search for other artists with that gift. You crave artists with the same musical and emotional intelligence. But it's rare. It's really rare! I'd love to work with Hikaru again, but I wouldn't be unhappy if we never did. I feel like that song was a good representation of that particular moment in time.
Otaku News would like to thank Paul Carter for agreeing to this interview and giving such awesome answers. You can find out more about him on his own website Benbrick.co.uk. Also don't forget to check out his work on Have You Heard George's Podcast
Paul has been kind and also given us a few signed copies of his sheet music score for Sakura Nagashi to give away to our lucky readers. So if you're musically inclined you too can play it on the piano. This is a collectors item as it's signed the composer of the score! For your chance to win a copy, simply e-mail SakuraNagashi@otakunews.com and tell us the English lines in the song Sakura Nagashi.