Interview Date: 12/30/2016
To chase a dream and fall short. To try your best, only to discover it is not good enough. To give everything… drop out of school, pay your dues… and then… nothing. Just years of waiting tables and singing in bars. It’s a tough fate, and far more common than the lavish lifestyles of those of the singers we see playing to sold out arenas. Of course, Hiroshi Kitadani wouldn’t know anything about that. Instead he knows of a different sort of struggle. To make it to a label, release multiple albums, and then… well, thanks for playing. Your contract is up and we’re not renewing it. Sorry, man.
Some people would have given up. Hiroshi Kitadani is not one of those people. Instead, the licensed hair dresser (true story, you can check it out on his webpage) doubled down. He expanded his horizons, and took a chance, moving into the world of anime music. His first gig, the theme song for a show that he first thought was named after a dress, quickly became a global phenomenon. Before he knew it, he was performing gigs in Boston, Brazil, and beyond.
That said, let’s give an idea of his perspective. A bit of a dramatization that blends his reality with the rocking lifestyle that Kitadani’s lived and breathed for so much of his life:
After my first contract was up, I got an invitation to sing the opening song to an anime about a dress. Seriously. It was called One Piece. Presumably, it’s the opposite of a blouse + skirt. Or, perhaps, it’s the opposite of a bikini. Well, it doesn’t really matter because work is work, and I need it! Sure, I’ve been singing pop songs, but my skills will translate into singing anime songs. Let’s do this!
OK, it appears the anime isn’t about a dress. It’s about pirates. That’s fine. Let me just sing for my friend Kōhei Tanaka… aaaaand I’m in JAM Project. Whoa, that was fast. Let’s try and slow that down.
I sing “We Are”. It’s released as a single on November 20th, 1999. Knowing a good thing when they see one, Lantis is incorporated six days later (seriously). The song becomes a huge hit and I become an Anisong singer. A few years later, there is an opening in JAM Project. I let them know I was interested. They felt the same way. Boom, I’m in Brazil dodging panties (true story). Life comes at you fast. So do things thrown up on stage, so be ready.
I know this sounds a little far-fetched, but read on. It’s all there, every bit of it. Here is our Q&A with Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project (special thanks to Lantis for helping to conduct the interview):
Anime Herald: You dropped out of high school to become a singer. What inspired such a strong passion for music?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I was inspired by various artists. I loved being in a band and singing in public. (Editor’s note: He has previously gone on record as saying KISS is one of his favorite bands. When we interviewed JAM Project at Anime Boston in 2014, he listed their greatest hits as his #1 desert island album. I wonder how many artists their Japanese tour inspired.)
Anime Herald: When you disbanded your rock band and started your solo career, you received an offer to sing “WE ARE!” from Kōhei Tanaka. Did you have any idea at the time how big an effect this would have on your career?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I didn’t expect that it would become a song which would change my life so dramatically. Besides that, it was my first time singing an anime song. I was very surprised by the offer. Today I feel nothing but gratitude for the opportunity.
Anime Herald: Did you think One Piece was going to be one of the longest and most successful anime ever released?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I had an image that “One Piece” was a one-piece dress at that time. “One Piece” is one of the most popular manga in Jump. It surprised me that “One Piece” became beloved worldwide. I’m thankful to be part of it.
Anime Herald: Since you joined JAM Project in 2002, how has your career changed? What direction would you like to take your music going forward?
Hiroshi Kitadani: Like powerful baseball teams and soccer clubs, performing with high skilled people expands my capabilities, and I feel it. I will not stop and will keep trying new things.
Anime Herald: What was the initiation like for JAM Project? Did you have to outperform the current members in a drunken karaoke competition?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I didn’t have to audition. When Ichirou Mizuke left the band there was an opening. I reached out to them to express interest and they were happy to have me join.
Anime Herald: In your creative process, what’s the biggest difference between composing a song for an anime and making a piece for your more personal projects?
Hiroshi Kitadani: The theme of anime songs are clearer than my personal projects. So, anime songs are easier than my originals to compose.
Anime Herald: What musical goals have you set for yourself that so far remain unfulfilled?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I haven’t fulfilled many goals! (Laughs)
I want my voice and face to be recognized worldwide. I’ll work hard to achieve that.
Anime Herald: Lantis Festivals have historically provided unique opportunities for Lantis artists to collaborate on stage together. Your collaboration with Sphere was very well received. Are there any Lantis artists that you’d like to work with in the future?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I can’t say who I want to work with, but I want to collaborate with various artists because I can get different forms of inspiration from them.
Anime Herald: As someone who’s toured across the world, you’ve certainly seen a lot. What would you say is the absolute strangest thing that’s happened to you during your career?
Hiroshi Kitadani: It wasn’t strange, but during our tour of Brazil, fans would get excited and throw women’s underwear, sweaty shirts, wristbands, and even headphones. (Laughs)
Anime Herald: Is there a place that you would like to perform in that you have not yet had the opportunity to play?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I want to go to Australia.
Anime Herald: You will be performing at Otakon Vegas in January. Are you looking forward to coming back to the city?
Hiroshi Kitadani: Of course. This time I’ll bring a lot of money. (Laughs)
Anime Herald: You’ve mentioned an appreciation for anime. What were your favorites as a child? What are you currently watching?
Hiroshi Kitadani: Since I liked sports, I watched Star of the Giants (kyojin no hoshi), Tiger Mask, Aim for the Ace!( Ace wo nerae), Ikkyu-san, Lupin the Third, Dr. Slump, and so on. I watched many different animes. I checked every series broadcast recently and decided which one I would keep watching. Sports anime series definitely move me, and I like Kyoto animation’s work too. Noitamina’s anime is also good
Anime Herald: The documentary bundled with “R-New” showed that you like to cook. You also post a lot of pictures of you cooking on your Twitter (twitter.com/gokigensandany). What dishes do you like to make, and are there any kitchen tricks and recipes you’d like to share with your fans?
Hiroshi Kitadani: I specialize in traditional Japanese food. Like homemade dishes which grandma would make. The best trick is to make them with heart and careful preparation. I have too many recipes to write. (Laughs)
Anime Herald: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans in the US?
Hiroshi Kitadani: Thank you for giving me such support. When I look back at my life, I never expected to be performing on stage in the US. Thank you for giving me such a chance. It’s been an honor to meet so many of you. Please make some noise at the concert in Vegas. Let’s enjoy.
Otakon should be putting out the schedule for Otakon Vegas fairly soon. Special thanks to Lantis for helping to conduct the interview, and to Naoki Hamaoka for translation. Finally, I’d like to thank Hiroshi Kitadani for sharing his thoughts, and I’d like to wish him best of luck in Vegas.
Hiroshi Kitadani will be performing at Otakon Vegas!
Date: January 13 – 15, 2017
Venue: Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas
Otakon Vegas: https://www.otakonvegas.com
Lantis US Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LantisUSA/