Acclaimed Japanese composer Hiroyuki Sawano has been thrilling anime, movie, and video game audiences with his signature sounds for years. Sawano’s music has been featured in some of the biggest franchises of all time, including Attack On Titan, Promare, Kill la Kill, The Seven Deadly Sins, and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. In recent years, he’s worked on Kingdom Season 3 and No Guns Life Season 2.
Sawano is also actively engaged in creating and arranging music for other artists. Sawano launched a vocal-driven project under the name “SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]” in the spring of 2014.
In 2021, Hiroyuki Sawano’s anime music was released in the United States for the first time. He also released the Promare OST as a special edition double-LP gatefold vinyl format set.
To celebrate this occasion, we spoke with Sawano to find out more about his history and his plans for the future.
Monsters & Critics: How did you find yourself working in the anime industry? Any humorous stories you would like to share?
Hiroyuki Sawano: My love of music began when I was young, when I was impressed by the music of Chage and Aska. I realized I was interested in becoming a composer after discovering Tetsuya Komuro and his work as an artist, producer, and film musician. Also, when I was a student, I became more interested in the world of film music through the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Hisaishi, Hans Zimmer, and Danny Elfman, which led me to want to create music in many genres.
M&C: The goal of a TV composer is to realize the feelings that the director wants to express. What is your process for creating the thematic mood?
Hiroyuki Sawano: Basically, we start by asking the director about the show’s world view and the musical thematic of the work in an early meeting. Many of the directors I work with have a strong sense for entertainment, so I try to create melodies and sounds that emphasize that. I often check in advance if vocal music is needed to accentuate the drama.
M&C: Where do you find inspiration for creating the sounds; what do you visualize in your mind?
Hiroyuki Sawano: In terms of inspiration, I am often influenced by various foreign music that I listen to on a daily basis and incorporate it into my own sound and arrangements. Rather than picturing it in my head, I use DTM (Desktop Music) to improvise and build up the sound, groove, melody, and riffs.
[DTM Music Note: “Desktop Music is a general term for music production activities in which a personal computer and an electronic musical instrument are connected via MIDI to perform and record”]
M&C: You began playing piano in elementary school and studied music as a teenager. Do you have any personal experiences that you pull from when creating?
Hiroyuki Sawano: I don’t know if my childhood experience is still alive, but I want to cherish the feeling of being moved by listening to the magnificent music of an orchestra in the music I create. When I was a student, I didn’t like folk music or jazz, but after my composition teacher told me to listen to music I didn’t like, I bought a lot of that music, which led me to incorporate various genres of music into my current compositions.
M&C: You have worked on a huge variety of anime including Guilty Crown, Blue Exorcist, Attack on Titan, Kill la Kill, Aldnoah.Zero, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, The Seven Deadly Sins: Dragon’s Judgement (and previous seasons/movies), Re:Creators, Kingdom Season 3, and No Guns Life Season 2. What was the most memorable piece of work you have done for anime?
Hiroyuki Sawano: It’s hard to narrow it down because they all left a strong impression on me one by one (laughs). Guilty Crown is the first work that I worked on with director Araki, and it also inspired me to use a lot of vocal music in the soundtrack. Aldnoah Zero directed by Aoki and Promare directed by Imaishi were very memorable for me because I felt that the work and the music were blended in a very good way. Of course, Attack on Titan and Mobile Suit Gundam UC are also important works that have influenced my music career.
M&C: You have released multiple volumes as SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]. Tell us about your vocal works.
Hiroyuki Sawano: I don’t think there is much difference, but for an album, I can freely pursue the sound I want to make. I think the most important thing is that the album is released under my name. I also have my own name for soundtracks, but the premise is that the music is for the work.
M&C: Tell us about your plans for 2021.
Hiroyuki Sawano: As an accompaniment composer, I will be working on music for new anime productions. nZk will be releasing a new album in March, and I also have plans to work on music for other productions. In addition, I would like to collaborate with other works to create music other than theatrical music.
[Note: In 2021, Sawano is confirmed to be working on Attack On Titan: The Final Season, The Seven Deadly Sins: Dragon’s Judgement, the 86 anime, and the three-part Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash movie series.]
M&C: Besides anime, you have created music for TV shows, movies, and video games. If you could work on any project outside of anime, even non-music related, what would it be and why?
Hiroyuki Sawano: I think it would be fun to create the story and concept of an anime and then eventually create the music. I used to make independent films when I was a student (laughs). I would also like to know if the music I’d make for my own anime work would be different from my usual music or not.