From producing tracks for Adult Swim to animations such as Carole and Tuesday and Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, it’s no secret that Flying Lotus has always been one of anime’s biggest fans.
In his most recent project, Flying Lotus produces the music for Netflix’s new animation series Yasuke that follows the story and journey of a black samurai. Today he shares with us the creative process behind the music, how he personally connects with the character Yasuke, the importance of putting in strong female characters, and more on Yasuke.
How did you come to work on the project Yasuke- could you share how you felt and your first thoughts when you were approached as well?
Flying Lotus: A producer friend that I worked with on an Apple TV show pilot reached out to me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to work on a project about Yasuke, the black samurai, as an anime series on Netflix. I was like, “Are you kidding me?! Of course!” I was really excited and blown away to be invited to the process. From there, I started showing up at Netflix, taking meetings, and eventually, the project became what it became. I didn’t expect it at all.
Did they explain why they wanted you to work on this project?
Flying Lotus: The director LeSean was a big fan of mine and he really wanted me and LaKeith to be a part of it.
Did you put the music together before the animation or was it put together after you saw most of the finished animation?
Flying Lotus: I actually started working on the music before I saw anything, but only just for fun. I was rumbling with ideas and messing around. I didn’t want to make any music for the show until I saw the picture, because I felt like seeing it was really what I needed. I needed to see it move before I could determine what it’s supposed to sound like. Once I started seeing things move and characters talk, it became really easy to put the sounds together, find Yasuke’s theme, and the other pieces as well.
Was there a specific concept you had in mind for the 26 tracks?
Flying Lotus: I tried to replicate Yasuke’s adventure through music. I tried to think of how the show felt and bring that same experience to the soundtrack. As Yasuke is dealing more in magic, the music gets more ethereal and magical. It starts off as sort of hip-hop and then it turns into a more mystical world.
Were there any new instruments or sounds you used outside of your usual production?
Flying Lotus: I always use synthesizers in my work, but this one was very synthesizer-heavy especially using old, vintage synthesizers. It was the first time I’ve ever done something like that for a project and had that be the focal point of the show. Using the Yamaha CS-60, Mellotron, and Prophet-5 - those old beasts, they really had a shine in this album.
What qualities do you think are important for the opening track of an animation?
Flying Lotus: For an opening, it just has to be memorable and something that you can sing along to. Like when you hear the melody and it feels right. It has to have that quality. Something I’ve noticed in anime is that for the introduction they go for an earworm like a pop song. I wanted to have that same thing, but just not a pop song.
What are some animations that you thought had an earworm as an opening track?
Flying Lotus: Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball… all of the stuff that we’ve watched a million times.
How did you produce the opening track “Black Gold”?
Flying Lotus: When I started working on that theme song, I figured out what the Yasuke melody would be. Once I got the melody, I made the beat and did a lot of different things with that melody. You have to get that right first. You have to figure out what Yasuke’s heart sounds like. And Thundercat came in towards the end as I was finishing things up.
Many of the battle scenes were eye-catching, but another eye-catching aspect was the unique sounds that we’d never heard of in other battle scenes of anime. What went through your mind when putting together the sounds for these battle scenes?
Flying Lotus: That was the most difficult part because I think I only have very limited battle references in film and TV- it all kind of sounds the same. Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, duuuuun!! And I thought, “I don’t want to do that. What else can I do?” I started experimenting in my world, things that I felt made sense, and felt like I came upon something. But it was very difficult. I just didn’t want to do anything that was expected and stuff that we had already heard. What’s the point, right?
Especially coming from someone who has been watching anime quite a lot.
Flying Lotus: Right, I had a responsibility.
Could you share your favorite battle scene as well?
Flying Lotus: It’s a tie. The first one is the war scene from the first episode. It’s the first scene and it’s when there’s the big battle outside of Honno-ji Temple. I had a very difficult time figuring out how to make that war sound fit, but once I did it was so much fun. I was screaming at the TV, “YES! THIS IS IT!!” while working on it. The other scene was from episode 4 where Yasuke is fighting this demon warrior Kurosaka in the forest and the sequence is gorgeous.
The scene where Yasuke sees himself decapitated and the yellow lily and cherry blossoms blooming from his headless body- the visuals and music were both very beautiful. Along with that beauty, his sadness, regret, and pain of being alive could be felt. Through the story, his own suffering wasn’t expressed himself, but through scenarios of the past. How and what did you do to express his pain through the music?
Flying Lotus: Part of that is just finding sounds that feel like memories and remind me of ghosts and of pain. Something that haunts you, maybe not scary, but a memory. The Yamaha CS-60 helped me find that sound. I found this tone in there that brought this ghostly vibe to everything. I really wanted that sound to represent Yasuke’s past and past trauma.
I read that you resonate with Yasuke’s character- what parts of yourself do you connect with and have in common?
Flying Lotus: That’s a good question. I feel like I have a lot in common with Yasuke in terms of that he’s a person who’s dealt with a lot and still tries to be nice to everyone and gives everyone a chance. He’s also a person who keeps to himself, and I’m kind of the same way. He’s the outsider and I’m used to being the outsider.
Could you share another character that you love, aside from Yasuke, and why you love them as well?
Flying Lotus: I like Lord Nobunaga a lot. He’s a guy who I would like to have a drink with. In the show, he seems like a really interesting fella. He’s a guy who has crazy taste, is forward-thinking, and a futuristic individual who loves his alcohol. He sounds like a good hang!
The diversity of Yasuke is clear through the depiction of the characters. There are various races (even robots!) as well as strong female and children characters whereas most anime depict them to be weaker. On top of that, the relationship between Yasuke and Saki is about protecting each other, rather than one protecting the other. With everything that happened in the year 2020, these were values that feel important to reflect on. Through this project, what were some of the things that you wanted to convey?
Flying Lotus: It’s funny because those things were important to me, specifically having female characters that were strong. When I was first introduced to this story, there were no real female characters aside from Natsumaru. I thought it would be a missed opportunity to not have more female characters, so I created the characters Saki, her mother, and Daimyo. All three of those women are all very powerful characters in the story. It was important for me to have that as well. We do have a black character, but I was personally tired of not seeing women being able to hold their own in this universe and in anime. I really put my hat in for the strong females.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you were introduced to anime and maybe tell us a few of your favorites as well?
Flying Lotus: I was introduced by my cousin! He showed me Fist of the North Star when I was way too young and Akira as well. I saw that as a kid and it blew my mind. All the adult themes and animation- it was so different. They are still some of my favorites today.
Animation has been a part of your career as far back as your contributions to Adult Swim in the mid-2000’s- how does it feel to be in a position where you’re one of the driving forces behind the creation of an original animated series that will be seen by people worldwide?
Flying Lotus: It feels good. It’s a lot of pressure because I want to make everyone happy and Netflix very happy. It’s a very intense pressure situation, but it’s a dream come true. I want to keep doing more stuff and I have ideas that I want to develop myself.
Prior to Yasuke, you had the opportunity to work with Shinichiro Watanabe by both contributing music to his original series Carole and Tuesday and the score for Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, but also have him direct the music video for your song “More (feat. Anderson Paak)”. What has it been like working with him?
Flying Lotus: Watanabe is a music lover. I remember when we talked on Facetime, he was talking to me from his studio, and there were records everywhere. And I was like,” Okay. I know what kind of guy he is.” Just like if he were to come over to my house and see that I have all these anime movies. He’s a beautiful man and an awesome guy to work with. I keep hitting him up and say,” Hey man, don’t forget about me!” I have to remind him that I’m alive all the time.
Having worked on a few anime series at this point, is there a specific method to how you approach scoring an animation project? How would you say it differs from the creative process you use when working on an album?
Flying Lotus: One thing that I’ve learned is to not get into one way of doing things. Being a good producer means being able to be flexible and adaptable. I think that’s truly what it is because you never know you might be working with different people with different sensibilities. People have different comfort zones and things that make sense to them that don’t make sense to you, but you still have to come together to make a project. I think if anything, trying to be adaptable is huge.
There is data that more than half of the people who have Netflix subscriptions in the world are watching some kind of anime, just by that, you can assume that the popularity of anime is steadily rising. You've been known to love anime for a long time, but what do you think is the reason behind so many people catching on now?
Flying Lotus: I think the reason the people are catching on is that it can’t be denied. The stuff that we’re watching is beautiful, these pictures we’re looking at are gorgeous, these storylines that people are creating are of quality- just like any other medium in storytelling. You can’t deny how good it is just because it’s animation. It’s like saying you could deny Pixar films. Those films are brilliant, what they do is brilliant. It doesn’t matter if you have a big machine pushing it or if it comes from Japan or wherever- a good story is a good story and a beautiful, good story will probably be watched no matter what.
Please share with us what you want to do and where you want to go when you visit Japan next!
Flying Lotus: I want to go to Super Mario world! That’s it! I want to go to Japan just to go there.
Any last comments?
Flying Lotus: Thank you so much. I hope you love Yasuke. It was a lot of fun and I hope we can do more!
Artist : FLYING LOTUS
Title : YASUKE
Release Date : 2021.6.18 (Fri)
Cat No : BRC-637
Price : ¥2,200 ( + Tax )
Label : Warp Records / Beat Records
01. WAR AT THE DOOR
02. BLACK GOLD (FEAT. THUNDERCAT)
03. YOUR LORD
04. SHORELINE SUS
05. HIDING IN THE SHADOWS (FEAT. NIKI RANDA)
07. FIGHTING WITHOUT HONOR
08. PAIN AND BLOOD
09. WAR LORDS
11. YOUR SCREAMS
12. USING WHAT YOU GOT
13. AFRICAN SAMURAI (FEAT. DENZEL CURRY)
14. WHERE'S THE GIRL?
15. WHEN IT DIES (BONUS TRACK FOR JAPAN)
16. KUROSAKA STRIKES!
17. THIS CURSED LIFE
19. TAIKO TIME // SACRIFICE
20. YOUR DAY OFF
21. YOUR ARMOUR
23. MIND FLIGHT
25. YOUR HEAD // WE WON
26. THE EYES OF VENGEANCE
27. BETWEEN MEMORIES (FEAT. NIKI RANDA)
Additional contributions：Moemi, Eddie (Otaquest)