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An interview with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu

August 12, 2014
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Nobuo Uematsu & Adam McCabe, photo by Jolie Hart

For a good hour before my quick interview with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, I sat in a dark corner booth of a hotel bar nursing a glass of wine and thumbing through my childhood. He had recently brought down the house with his band the Earthbound Papas at Orlando Nerd Fest 2014, and we jumped at the opportunity to have a chat with him. With that said, what do you ask somebody who has scored hundreds upon hundreds of hours of your gaming life? A one-of-a-kind artist who’s won countless awards and praise from a planet full of passionate fans? After my fair share of overthinking and humming “Aerith’s Theme” to myself, I paid my tab and proceeded to the room where we were to meet. Upon entering, all of my nerves were wiped away: There in front of me was “the guy from the pictures.” The same warm smile, the same pulled-back salt-and-pepper ponytail. A few formal greetings later, we kicked it off – with a little help from a translator.

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Nobuo Uematsu, photo by Jolie Hart

Orlando Weekly: How long have you been touring with the Earthbound Papas?

Nobuo Uematsu: Maybe … four years? Yes, four years.

OW: For those of us who don’t know, are there any gaming classics from your library that you cover in your sets?

NU: Not just on our album, but including live performances – for Final Fantasy music, we play more than 10 songs. But not just Final Fantasy. We also include other works like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, the TV animation in Japan Guin Saga, and also original music specifically for the Earthbound Papas.

OW: How do you feel about participating in big, local music events like Orlando Nerd Fest?

NU: I feel so nice that every crowd at every convention is so excited when we perform, so I’d love to come back again and again!

OW: Well, we’d love to have you back!

NU: Next time, I want to take the vocalists with us. With vocalists in the band, we can do the opera from Final Fantasy VI, “One-Winged Angel,” “Liberi Fatali” and those kinds of things.

OW: Are there any large musical events in the North America coming up featuring the Earthbound Papas?

NU: In the U.S., we’re performing in Kansas this November with Critical Hit. Outside of the U.S., we’ll also be touring in Mexico, Sweden, Paris, London, Hong Kong and Berlin!

OW: How does it feel seeing the impact your music has had on North American gaming culture? It’s one thing seeing that love in Japan, I’m sure, but I’d imagine it’s very different experiencing it in the U.S.

NU: I’m totally surprised. I was just focused on work and composing for the games, not trying to be famous in the U.S. Just composing as work. But it grew worldwide and I found myself performing outside of Japan – I just feel happiness.

OW: Will you be continuing your work with Mistwalker Studios in Japan? Any upcoming projects you could tell us about?

NU: It was announced already, but I’ve composed for the new iOS game Terra Battle and I have confidence about the music in this game. I made a good one! I’ve also composed for the game Wonder Flick, which is by Level 5. There are actually many different things I’m working on at the moment, but they’re difficult to announce right now … but they’re coming up!

OW: I’m looking forward to it! Now, I’m sure there are a lot of people wondering right now: What is your current involvement in the Final Fantasy franchise? Do you ever see yourself coming back to compose a full soundtrack for one of the titles?

NU: Of course, if Square Enix gave me an offer and the project is interesting, I’d do it. But it’s not my decision, it’s theirs. All I can do is wait. As for concerts, I’ve been talking with Square Enix’s music publisher about a new concert series. So we’re in talks about planning that right now.

OW: Tough question, but do you have a personal favorite composition of yours?

NU: There are so many, but if I did have to choose, I’d say “To Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X and “Kiss Me Goodbye” from Final Fantasy XII.

OW: After working on so many projects, where do you find inspiration? From where do you draw to keep coming up with fresh ideas?

NU: Well, I’m obviously a big fan of music. So I draw inspiration from not just one specific type, but all kinds of music: rap, classical, rock, everything. I’m just a big fan of all of it.

OW: Before we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to say to people like myself who have been listening to your music since our youth?

NU: Well first, I’d like to thank everybody for listening for such a long time, for all the continuous support. I’ve never been interested in politics, and of course I know there’s a lot of fighting between many countries. But when I do a concert like this, and meet actual people, it doesn’t matter where you were born or where you live – we can be friends together, by listening to the music. So I’d like to continue the concerts and visiting many countries, so we all can be good friends.

Here are a few of our favorite Nobuo Uematsu compositions:

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  • Kenny Baker

    Awesome interview Adam! Hope to have them back next year!

  • http://www.pixelitis.net/ Patrick Kulikowski

    Awesome! I hope to meet the man someday, I’ve always heard that he is so nice to fans, even drinking with them at a bar during MAGFest 2+ years ago!

    Good choice of Uematsu favorites, by the way. I’d add Final Fantasy IV’s “Red Wings,” Final Fantasy V’s “Clash on the Big Bridge” and “The Last Battle” and Final Fantasy VI’s “Devil’s Lab” and “Dancing Mad.”