Interview: Manuel Karamori

by Simona Stanzani,

Although many artists have lent their beats and high-energy tracks to Avex's long-running Super Eurobeat CD compilation series, few can claim the honor of having been selected to have their music featured in one of Japan's greatest Eurobeat exports—the soundtrack for Initial D.

The Initial D franchise, based on Shūichi Shigeno's manga, boasts several seasons of TV anime, a handful of OVAs, a live-action movie, and a long list of video games, and still remains popular to this day. In fact, this past year saw the release of a new Initial D anime series, while 2014 will see the release of a new animated film. And, perhaps one of the most beloved aspects of the anime TV series was its Eurobeat soundtrack, which heavily featured Italo-disco artists like Dave Rodgers (née Giancarlo Pasquini), who is referred to by some as the "Godfather of Eurobeat."

Amongst those artists is an Italian musician named Manuel Caramori (who goes by Manuel Karamori). While many may not recognize his name, Initial D fans will recognize some of the tracks that he lent to the video games, as well as the most recent Initial D: Fifth Stage, like "Gas Gas Gas," "Nightrain," "Limousine," and "Adrenaline."

He's been working with Avex since 2003 at the young age of 20, having written and sang several songs that ended up on various Eurobeat compilations, and still enjoys dance music to this day. Recently, he wrote an ode to manga called "Manga Style," which he hopes will become an anthem to celebrate manga gatherings and events. It was recently recorded and produced by Avex, and although a release date has not yet been given, Karamori hopes it will be available in 2014 on another Eurobeat compilation.

In the meantime, check out "Never Say Never", which some fans may already recognize. And, check out Karamori's Youtube channel or Official Facebook page for some of his live performances and videos.

First of all, please tell us how you became a musician.

It all started when I was nine years old, I took private piano lessons, especially classical music, with a teacher who is still like a myth for me, because he introduced me to this fascinating world with rigor, but without clipping my wings, giving me room for creativity.

Then I enrolled in Verona's Academy of Music. During my formative years, I always cultivated other genres, like rock and dance music, which are my favorites today. I had many bands… in garages. With very odd names.

Which musical influences do you think contributed to your artistic background?

Surely Queen, Stevie Wonder, and Guns 'n' Roses, my all-time favorite artists. Very different, but also very unique in their genre.

Why did you choose the keytar as an instrument?

I knew about its existence, but I was charmed by watching videos of German and US artists that were playing it really well - on YouTube - and I remembered that Sandy Marton* was a forerunner in the '80s, with his most famous track “People from Ibiza.” Since it's light and easy to handle. but makes an impact on stage, I decided to use it on all my '80s and '90s style tracks during my live shows. I also did some presentations for Roland in Italy.

(* Ibiza-based Croatian musician who was very popular in Italy from '83 to '89.)

How did you get involved in the musical style Eurobeat?

The first three years of work in this field were purely about interpreting tracks that other authors proposed to me. Then, when I started to co-write them, my slightly baroque vein emerged… I mean, my arrangements are full of choruses, I like my music to have a maestoso impact, especially with the voices; the guitars are also composed by several superimposed tracks. I hope I managed to create a personal thread with certain characteristics that keep "dance" bass and drums, plus the power of hoarse voices and guitars typical of heavy metal.

I think that, because all the attention is focused on rhythm and melody, an often underestimated aspect of a song is harmony—I guess that using chords with a non-Eurobeat style, like in “Limousine,” contributes to give my tracks a particular touch.

Did your classical background influence your style at all?

Yes, it's always ready to pop up here and there, but I always listened to all sort of music; I am a very open minded person in general. Then, growing up, your tastes evolve too. Today, even a hip-hop track may sound appealing to me if it's well made. I think that any genre is difficult to make well.

I am not a specialist, but I guess that the search for your own style is an important part of an artist's formation, do you agree?

Absolutely. And I also think that even though composing your own songs is not a must for an artist, you have to be aware of what you are doing. I don't like it when today's performers sing prefab songs like buying a pig in a poke because they won a talent show or something. Style is born from experience, musical or not, that brings you to write successful tracks. Of course, if the performer is like Mina (Mazzini) or Elvis, then they can afford to sing only and it'll be more than enough.

How did your collaboration with Avex start? And how long was it?

It's an anecdote that I remember with a lot of emotion. I was 19 or 20… one afternoon, after learning that Rodgers Studio was 6 miles from my house, I went to ring their bell right away, carrying one of my first demo tapes recorded with a band. Not your usual route to get introduced to a studio… and Dave Rodgers* himself came to open the door. I asked him if he was interested in the CD and he said “no.” But he liked my voice, and the same week we did an audition; I sang “I've Got to Go,” which was to be the first track we published. I loved going to that studio. We had a four-year contract.

(* The musician known by many as the “Godfather of Eurobeat.”)

How were the tracks used in Initial D created?

“Adrenaline” and “Gas Gas Gas” were written in cooperation with Sandro Oliva, when I was already with GoGo's Music, while “Nightrain” and “Limousine” were my creation. They were published on Super Eurobeat (SEB), a CD compilation series of Eurobeat music in Japan, then they were chosen for Initial-D. That's generally the official path.

Did you see the anime? I know it wasn't aired in Italy and the DVD series was only partially published because the company releasing it shut down.

Exactly, I just know what I've seen online.

I listened to your original, catchy ode to manga, “Manga Style.” What inspired you to write it?

It's a track I'm really fond of. First of all, I wanted to make some sort of hymn to the manga movement in general, and I checked online if there was anything like this already. It doesn't talk about any work in particular, but that's because to get inspiration during the composing phase I thought about a big convention, like the Milano Manga Festival for example, and I imagined a crowd singing it like it was the opening theme of an event.

It does give the impression that who wrote it really grew up with manga in Italy. Japanese manga (and anime) have been an integral part of Italian culture since the '80s.

Yes, I was an avid fan myself until a certain age, but even now that - especially because of lack of time - I don't follow them anymore. I'm still very influenced by them, especially by the (Italian) anime song style.

I am really interested in this field, I'd love to write some anime songs.

And we'd love to listen to them! Thank you very much, I wish you the best of luck with all your projects and hope to hear your music on TV soon!

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