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Interview: Superstar Rock Band JAM Project

by Cindy Sibilsky,

JAM (the acronym for Japan Animationsong Makers) Project was founded in 2000 by the acclaimed 1970s theme song artist Ichirō Mizuki, along with well-established and talented singers from across the anisong world. Their mission was and is to create powerful rock songs with beautiful lyrics, complex arrangements and sweeping orchestrations exclusively for anime, tokusatsu and video game music that compliments the intensity, sense of heroism and adventure from the diverse themes, epic stories and myriad characters explored in the ever-evolving universe of Japanese animated entertainment in all forms. The super group's current members are music legends Hironobu Kageyama and Masaaki Endoh (both are founding members), along with Hiroshi Kitadani who joined in 2002, Masami Okui and Yoshiki Fukuyama who both became a part of JAM Project in 2003. Their songs from beloved series and games such as One-Punch Man, Super Robot Wars and Garo have provided soaring wings to uplift the musical genre of anisong to new heights and act as a soundtrack for some of Japan's most memorable series over the past two decades.

Their musical influences are varied. Some are more obvious to the ear and shared between members (the '70s and '80s rock bands, especially Aerosmith), while others are more subtle but equally present in the fullness and range of their sound (church chorales and pipe organ arrangements). The results from such juxtapositions are rich and dynamic yet melodious soundscapes that balance out their metal and arena rock-style edges. Combined with their complementing fashions and visual pageantry, the JAM Project experience feels both epic and intimate simultaneously. All five of the above mentioned current members performed at Anime NYC on November 15, 2019, for the sold-out Lantis Matsuri Concert, marking the 20th Anniversary of the Japanese label, very close to the same landmark year for JAM Project. It seems that the year 2020 will serve as a launching point to further solidify their mission and vision for the next 20 years. This was the first time all five of the current vocalists gave a show in NYC together. They kindly took time away from their jetlag, post-concert exhausting and sightseeing schedule to sit down with ANN for an interesting and insightful interview: In 2008, JAM Project conducted successful live tours in Japan and overseas by visiting 10 cities in eight countries including the US, China, Taiwan, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, France, and Spain. Since then, JAM Project has performed even more around the world in Singapore, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and more. Like the heroes in anime, JAM Project always takes aim to make dreams come true!

ANN: You've all had (and still have) successful careers as artists on your own. How did the supergroup JAM Project form, how has it evolved over the years and what do you envision for the future?

Hiroshi “Dani” Kitadani: I will explain the history and process of the band a bit. The group Japan Animationsong Makers Project was created in 2000 to produce songs specifically for Japanese anime, ‘handmade’ songs that would be featured in anime series or made especially for anime. Two years later, I joined and then the next year, Masami and Yoshiki joined. So, we have been doing this for a number of years, and usually when major artists do that and tour, they tend to get separate staff, green rooms and stylists and makeup artists. (They all laugh) But JAM Project is so tight and likes to be together and so we all share. In that way, it's kind of unique.

Masami Okui: Like family.

Kitadani: Now we are reaching the 20 year anniversary we plan to remain equally that tight and close, but also strive to be more creative and continue to make an even better sound, better music for the future of JAM Project.

Your music has the epic, sweeping soundscapes and intensity of hard rock and metal music. Who are your musical influences and inspirations? (Eastern & Western)

Yoshiki Fukuyama: I've been listening to American and European music ever since I was a child, and I played guitar from an early age, so even when I make new songs, I tend to go more for the rock music side of things. I love Queen and The Beatles, but now that I'm in New York, I'm reminded that I also have all of the music by Simon and Garfunkel and Billy Joel as well.

Kitadani: I loved the band KISS purely because of the visuals first and then I got into their sound and after that I fell in love with rock music from the '80s -- Motley Crue, Ozzy Osborne, bands like that -- then I kind of went back to the journey and the roots of it all, so I'd now say that LA Metal music is currently my biggest influence.

Hironobu Kageyama: I love '70s rock music. For British bands, I love Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, for American bands, I love Aerosmith, and because of those influences I debuted with a band called Lazy, so I have been singing professionally for 40 years now. With JAM Project, I think that my love for that kind of music is in the foundation for the songs I create for anime.

Okui: I had never actually listened much to Western music growing up but I became a fan of Kageyama's band Lazy and that's when I started paying attention to rock music. On a radio show, he mentioned a few of the bands that had influenced him and that's what kind of got me into listening to more Western music. I would say that, throughout my own career, I have sung more of Japanese pop songs and female Japanese rock songs as opposed to more traditional hard rock music, so that is my difference from the rest of the team members. The other major difference is that, I really like church music -- the arrangements and the orchestra, the sound of the pipe organs -- I love that kind of music, so for my work in JAM Project I think my passions for those kinds of arrangements and choruses really influence it.

Masaaki Endoh: I loved watching TV growing up so that kind of Japanese pop music that you'd see on television was my biggest interest while growing up, so that sort of melodious, lyrical style was probably my earliest musical influence. When I started listening to Western music, I still found myself most drawn to that kind of melodious rock music such as Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.

Your songs are also very heroic. What do you feel makes a person heroic? What are the qualities of a hero?

Kitadani: I have a definition of what it is to be a hero. In One-Punch Man, there's a character called Mumen Rider and there's this line of his that really impressed me. He said that he will go up against an enemy even though he knows he will be beaten, he still chooses to go up against him. I was very impressed and moved by that statement and feel that is really the definition of a hero. I read a lot of manga from Shonen Jump and see how the characters go through hard training and then finally beat their enemies. So that sense of being diligent and not giving up is the Japanese image of what a hero is.

Okui: In American films, even in Japanese films such as those like Uchū Senkan Yamato (English title: Space Battleship Yamato), there are these heroes who sacrifice themselves for something important. They make sacrifices for the sake of saving somebody. Their goal is not to become famous or anything, what they are doing might not even become known to anybody, but they still do something heroic without notice for somebody or even for the Earth, for example. I believe that there are many heroes like that who we don't know or hear about much like someone trying to save the environment or who fights for or defends someone without people knowing. That's my definition of a true hero. Kitadani: (laughs) That sounds like Saitama! (all laugh and nod)

Thanks to platforms such as streaming, the popularity of Anime has grown into a global phenomenon and is more accessible than ever before. Do you see that interest expanding to Anisong and live concerts such as the one you are performing at Lantis Matsuri? And if you could take this music anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Kageyama: Over the past 10 years in the States, there have been many anime cons that we have been invited to perform at. But in the beginning, we were invited to maybe sing one song or two, do a panel or talk, and that's it. Nowadays, we get to perform an actual concert inside the event and sometimes even outside of the venue. So with the progress of the internet there is a much larger reach. I know that our concert at Anime NYC was streamed all over the internet, so a lot of people in Japan and Asia could see it as well. It has definitely progressed and I feel that we are in a very good place now. In terms of the future, I feel that we could probably even go to a country that we might even feel right now is impossible, so I am hoping in the future we will be able to go places that we have never even imagined were possible.

Okui: At the panel, I said that I would love to play in Egypt, in front of the Sphinx and I feel that's not impossible -- that dream could come true.

Our thanks to Lantis, AnimeNYC and JAM Project for this opportunity.

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