You grew up in Canada, correct?
I grew up half in Canada, half in Japan. I spent half my life in Tokyo.
Where do you live now?
I live in California right now. About two years ago. I was going back and forth to Japan every month, but I lived in Japan for 18 years so… long, long time. I’ve been involved with the music scene there for about 14, 15 years?
Were you composing there as well?
Composing, singing and performing. I’m still doing a lot of composing for Japanese companies. I was doing a bunch of TV commercials. A jazz compilation for a coffee shop in Japan. I did BMW commercials in Japan. I’m working with the Persona guys right now, Lotus Juice, on a track. We’re going to put that out soon too. A lot of other projects, new games, animation. I can’t say much as it’s not all solidified now. I’m doing a lot of that, and a lot of collaboration with other artists.
Are you expanding beyond the anime spectrum and such, for example, working on a full album?
I’ve done a lot of albums that haven’t been related to anime. I think anime has comprised of the most successful stuff I’ve done, but I’ve had done several top ten iTunes hits with other artists that I’ve written for, and one iTunes hit a year before last in Japan, that one stayed was an iTunes hit for six months in a row. I’ve had several other hits with other people in Japan. The anime stuff, I think I’m best known for as its spread worldwide, but the actual music, songwriting, for TV commercials, movies and other things has been there as well. I’d say it’s a 50/50 split between the anime and non-anime stuff.
You’ve been keeping really busy!
Keeping really busy, yeah! I’m writing for the History Channel now, so I’m doing documentary soundtracks for the History Channel and Vision Network in Canada right now. I’m doing sort of electronic/Indian fusion soundtracks for them. I don’t know how I squeeze it all in, but I manage to still play cons! (laughs) Between all that, I have two kids in diapers as well. It’s a crazy lifestyle, but I’m enjoying myself, it’s been great.
In the places that you’ve lived and visited, what are your favorite place to live, and favorite place to have visited?
I think the place that I live right now. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I lived in Japan, it was my favorite to visit. I loved it because it’s so beautiful and there’s so many things to do. I could get all the food I want from Japan. I could enjoy the cultural diversity. I’m of Indo-Canadian extraction. So I could get great Indian cultural things as well. There’s fantastic wineries everywhere; I felt it was a great bouncing point between Asian culture and North American culture as it has a little of both. It’s also easy to fly back to Japan and Asia from there. So I’m in the place that I’ve always wanted to live.
Lotus Juice has mentioned this is his first North American convention, but you’ve visited numerous conventions. What was the first inspiration for attending conventions?
Some anime fans found out that I’m living in North America, they reached out to me to play in a few cons. I had such a great experience that I found a guy that wanted to book me all the time. He just loved the whole situation and said there’s probably a lot of other people who want to see you as well and has been booking more conventions. It’s been great. I think it basically started as some fans reaching out to me saying, ‘can you come play at our con?’ Now it’s become a way of life for me (laughs). I’m booked into cons for the next two years and there’s more people calling. I’m getting to travel around the world playing at conventions, which is great. I meet all these wonderful people [in places such as] Brazil, Ireland, Germany, and Indonesia now… Singapore, Taiwan, all over the U.S., too. It’s been growing and I get to perform more and meet more people. It’s great. Talk about Poppy Cat wherever I go (laughs).
You have a Facebook Page as well as a Twitter. Having a more hands on approach in reaching out to fans and communicating with them, have they had more influence on your goals at this time?
Absolutely. I mean, I honestly didn’t realize how incredibly popular anime was in North America as it’s been worldwide when I was living in Japan. When you live in Japan, you live in a bubble. Even Lotus Juice and the other guys who were talking to me [such as] other composers, are just shocked and surprised when they hear how big a scene it is outside of Japan because we don’t know. Now that I’m living here, I’m seeing it firsthand and I’m bringing other artists over to collaborate with me and we’re all seeing this big huge scene. We’re all like, ‘okay this is great!’ It’s a family we can all be part of and get involved more with the fans over here.
What drew you into music as a profession?
I can sleep late every day – that’s a good one. No 9-5 cubicles for me (laughs). I love making music, obviously, that’s what I just love; it’s a labor of love. I’d do it for nothing; fortunately, it’s been a very good life for me. It’s been great in every way. It’s rewarded me very nicely. The freedom to travel and to do things and meet people and have an effect on their lives. To give them [fans] something that has value, a long lasting value. To hear people talk about something we made ten years ago who say, ‘Ah! Oh my god, I loved that song, I listened to it all through high school!’ and I think, ‘Wow, that makes me really old, doesn’t it?’ (laughs) To me, it has a lot of far reaching impact on a lot of people. Sometimes I think people remember the music more than the actual animation it came from. I may be wrong, but that seems to be what sticks in their heads when they go, ‘I remember that song, but I’m not sure where I heard it before.’ I’m not sure, but sometimes it seems that way.
Your repertoire seems very diverse. Is there a genre that you tend to gravitate to, such as jazz, folk, rock or pop?
Someone asked me that and said I gave a generic answer, so I’ll try not to be generic (laughs). I think I’m essentially a rock guy. I think that’s where my roots are, in rock music. And I mix rock in with other things. Asian world music and rock. Or I’ll mix R&B and rock, or hip hop into rock. But I’m essentially a rock person, I think. I learned to be diverse and do lots of different things. I teach music production sound design as well at a university so I teach kids how to write music and also produce music professionally.
You’re not necessarily trying to invent a new genre, but experiment with the music you know and enjoy.
I think what I try to do is more like ‘world rock’. Because I mix elements from different cultures into what I do. Japanese hip hop in with rock, Indian fusion, Indian classical music with rock. American tribal singers with rock…
Last night, the set list seemed pretty diverse as well. How do you choose what to play for conventions?
I think I’m experimenting as I get a feel for what’s going on with the convention crowd. The convention crowd is different than the crowd outside the convention. At this point, I’m kind of experimenting, seeing what’s going to fly and what doesn’t work and adjusting as I go along. I will probably put together a full band by the end of the year. I’ll be mixing electronic with rock music and also a mixture of anime cover hits like from bigger shows like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop and anime. We’ll probably mix some anime hits with my original songs and hopefully tour conventions starting next year, doing bigger shows with a full band. That’s what I’m hoping. Like ‘club anime with original hit rock’. Something like that.
Sort of a fusion?
Yeah. We’re working on it slowly to bring it all together. We’ll have a very fun next year, that’s for sure.
You’ve done voice acting in the past. Is this something you still pursue?
The voice acting came very secondary. I didn’t expect doing voice acting. My first voice acting gig was Resident Evil 2, I was the hero, Bruce McGivern. A lot of people don’t really know that; they’re always surprised.
I was in the studio singing the theme song and writing music for Resident Evil 2. I had gotten up to get a cup of coffee and the director was saying, ‘Oh my god, the voice actor from America canceled!’ I offered and he said, ‘Do you want to read for it?’ Sure! So I sat down and read for it and he said, ‘You got it, just do it!’ I said, ‘cool!’ And then the stunt guy coming from the U.S. got sick as well so they asked, ‘Do you have any martial arts background?’ (laughs) I said sure, I had a black belt in karate. I studied karate in Japan. They said, ‘Excellent! You have the stunt job too!’ I said, ‘Cool! Wow, this is going to be an interesting weekend.’
I did the body capture movements and I did the voice and I sang the theme song AND I wrote the music; under different names. It couldn’t look like ‘by Raj Ramayya, by Raj Ramayya, by Raj Ramayya…’ So they changed the names around and we did the whole thing in about two weeks? That was my first voice acting job and I thought, ‘You know what, this is an easy gig; it’s so much easier than doing the music.’ Music takes so much time and voice acting was over in a weekend. Music took a long time so I thought I would do some voice acting.
Sometimes when I’m singing or doing music in the studio, I’ll get a call to do some voice acting and I really love it, but I’m primarily a musician who does some voice acting on the side. And I get cast in voice acting that involves singing, so I’m a singer and do some voice acting. There are several Japanese NHK shows where I’m singing and voice acting also.
Let’s go into some non-serious questions–
I’ve been non-serious since we got here (laughs).
If you have one, what is the strangest gift that a fan has given you?
Wow, that’s a good one. Wow, strangest gift. …I once got little carved dolphins with my name in them a couple of years ago. I think that’s pretty unusual. I don’t know why I got them, but I got some dolphins.
You mean like ceramic?
No, they were little wooden dolphins that were carved with my name, then my middle initial and then my last name, so three little dolphins.
In your travels all around the world, what is your favorite food?
I love Japanese food, of course, and I love Indian food. Those are my two favorite foods. Someday I wonder… I want to open a restaurant that’s sort of a hybrid between Japanese and Indian food. Like… Curry sushi, or something like that (laughs). Lentil tonkatsu. It’d be interesting to see if people would like putting those two together!
If that restaurant ever takes off, we’ll definitely have to check it out.
Interview by: AliW
Our appreciation to Mr. Raj Ramayya for taking time for us! Special thanks to Nan Desu Kan.