An instant crowd-pleaser, in spite of the disjointed international release schedule by Netflix, Violet Evergarden is a labour of love for the tight-knit Kyoto Animation team. In search of music that can reflect the quiet intensity of the melodrama on display, Japan-based American composer Evan Call was instructed to construct the sentimental anchor of the entire production.
The following is a translation of the interview printed in the Violet Evergarden Original Soundtrack booklet, conducted with the composer and series music producer Shigeru Saito.
“Looking back over the time I’ve spent with Violet Evergarden, I can say that it has been quite an adventure in both a musical and personal sense. It has been my dream to compose a score in this style, and I am very thankful for the opportunity, and for the support from all of you as well. Just as Violet grows as a person with each new encounter, I too feel that I have grown through my interactions with all of the great, hard-working people involved in bringing this world to life. I hope that you will enjoy listening to this soundtrack, and that it will bring back memories of that pure-hearted and straight-shooting girl we all love, Violet Evergarden.” – Evan Call
Beginnings in America
Interviewer: To begin, may I ask about how you first encountered music?
Call: When I was 13, I suffered from occipital neuralgia and wasn’t able to go to school for an extended period of time. That’s where it began. My head hurt a lot and I was taking a variety of drugs my body didn’t agree with, so if I moved around too much, I would be in a lot of pain. The only thing I could do was the homework that teachers sent to my home, and that’s where I became interested in music. I dug out the guitar that my mother had bought in the 70s and began taking Bluegrass lessons from someone in the neighbourhood—that’s how my music was born. Even when I was finally able to go to school again, the medicine I was taking meant that I couldn’t do any sports for a while, so music became the perfect hobby to have.
Interviewer: So you started with a guitar, playing folk music.
Call: When I got to (senior) high school, I joined the choir club and was a member of the chorus. After that, well, the older brother of one of my classmates liked metal and even wrote his own music, and that led to me buying my own electric guitar and starting metal. He also taught me a lot about Japanese anime, so if I hadn’t met him, I probably wouldn’t have made it onto the path of music, or known so much about anime. Playing the electric guitar was merely a hobby for me, I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to become a musician, and when I graduated, I went to junior college with the intention of becoming a Spanish-English interpreter. But there was also a course on classical music, which I decided to take. And for some reason or other, I really got into it. That was the turning point, the point when I genuinely started wanting to study music.
Interviewer: And that’s why you enrolled in the Berklee College of Music.
Call: I’d lived in California my whole life, and Berklee was in Boston (on the other side of the U.S.), but my mother and father both told me to do what I wanted to do and sent me off. Berklee really opened my eyes – I plunged headfirst into an environment where students from all over the world gathered in order to study music. And since it was also my first time living in a big city like Boston, it was a bit of a culture shock seeing how tall the buildings were and just how many people there were around.
Interviewer: What did you major in at Berklee?
Call: Film scoring. I studied how to turn what you feel when watching a video into music. Rather than detailed orchestration, the focus was on how to express emotion, and that’s become incredibly useful to me in my current BGM work. It was also only after entering Berklee that I worked with jazz for the first time. Furthermore, I started teaching English to the overseas students there, and because I did lessons with about 15 students each week, I learned a lot about the music from each of their countries. Japan, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Central and South America – there were people from so many countries, each with their own ways of approaching music. It was very stimulating. My own approach to music really evolved from being exposed to all of this.
Interviewer: So you were able to learn about music from all around the world all at once.
Call: I was. As for orchestral music, the hall(s) where the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed were really close to the school, and students from Berklee were able to go see them for free. And since I went pretty much every week, I listened to a whole lot of music and learned how to arrange them. The Boston Pops Orchestra did a lot of contemporary and film music, which I found really interesting. We even got to see John Williams conducting (he composed the music for the Star Wars film series and many others). Being able to see the composers I admire with my own two eyes are the experiences that stand out the most in my memory. I was at Berklee for just over two years in total.
Interviewer: Is Berklee also where you met your girlfriend?
Call: No, I met her before that, when I was in junior college. I was just 18, and she was this shy girl who’d come over on exchange from Japan. So when I was at Berklee, we had a long distance relationship, with her in Japan whilst I was in Boston (laughs).
A Music Career in Japan
Interviewer: After graduating from Berklee, why did you decide to go to Japan?
Call: Many students who study film scoring look for work in New York or Los Angeles, so even people with a lot of talent often couldn’t get jobs easily because there were just too many people doing the same thing. If I’d gone to either, then, if fortune favoured me, I’d probably have worked as someone’s assistant for 10 years or more before finally sprouting into a seedling myself – I figured that that wasn’t for me. On the other hand, Japan has a large TV and film industry, anime included, so after I spoke to someone in the know and learned that even young people were often given a chance, I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t really have a plan, I basically just headed to Japan on a 3-month tourist visa.
Interviewer: So after Boston, you set your sights on Tokyo.
Call: I returned home for a short while, to save money before heading for Japan. The day I left, at the airport in San Francisco, my mother cried a whole lot. I was really surprised.
Interviewer: She cried, even though you were going for just three months?
Call: I think she had a gut feeling that I would find work in Japan and so, would never return to California.
Interviewer: How did you learn Japanese?
Call: After I finished senior college, and before I entered Berklee, I visited my girlfriend in Japan, staying at her home for three months. Her parents couldn’t speak English, so I pretty much had to learn Japanese. That’s why I ended up learning the Kansai dialect right off the bat (laughs).
Interviewer: It’s pretty unusual to hear an American speaking the Kansai dialect (laughs). And now you’re completely at home with standard Japanese – you’ve really got a command of the language. So, having come to Japan on a tourist visa, you met someone from Elements Garden pretty early on, from what I understand.
Call: It was a complete stroke of luck. I was in a house-share, and my roommate invited me to a geek party where there were many foreigners. It was there that I met someone who knew Junpei Fujita of Elements Garden, and it was through that person’s introduction that I joined them. The song I worked on for first competition that I participated in ended up being dropped, but the feedback I received was that it was an interesting arrangement. After that, I was asked to arrange a song that Mr. Fujita wrote for Nana Mizuki – that was my first ‘big’ job.
(Translator’s Note: Elements Garden is a music production brand whose composers often write/produce music for anime and games.)
Work in Anime
Interviewer: So that was how you embarked on a career in the world of anime music.
Call: When I was with Elements Garden, I got the chance to create anime BGM jointly, and whilst I was doing that, I learned a lot about anisongs. It was then that I met Lantis producer Mr. Shigeru Saito, who asked me to compose and arrange Minori Chihara’s ‘Neverending dream.’
Saito: The members of Elements Garden really back young artistes, so a lot of people kept telling me “Evan’s really interesting, why don’t you try having him work on something?” and “It’d be a waste if you don’t get him to do something right now.” Of course, that piqued my interest (laughs). So the song I asked him to handle as a means of trying out his hand was Ms. Chihara’s ‘Neverending dream.’
Interviewer: Does that mean that you were the first producer to reach out to Evan?
Saito: That does seem to be the case. And I ended up introducing Evan to Mr. Tsuruoka.
(Translator’s note: sound director Yota Tsuruoka has worked on most of the KyoAni series.)
Interviewer: Evan, you’ve now worked with Mr. Tsuruoka on three anime soundtracks, Violet Evergarden included, but each of them has been very different.
Call: For the first project (Tokyo ESP), I was mostly asked to create music for action scenes, and a great number of them at that. Once I’d done enough with the main themes, I figured I’d do something new, so I incorporated some latin-y jazz, and made a few funky little pieces. The show’s mood was serious with a touch of comedy, so I enjoyed the freedom this gave me. For the second project, I remember Mr. Tsuruoka telling me that they wanted a whole range of things, from serious orchestral pieces to funk. In our first meeting about it, the director threw out ‘Motown’ as a keyword, but it’s difficult to do action-y stuff with that style of music, so it became ‘funk’ instead. And it seems that those left a greater impression on listeners than the orchestral pieces. Apparently, they thought it was interesting because it was a bit out there.
(Translator’s note: Motown is a music label that came to be known for the “Motown Sound,” a style of soul music that has had long-lasting influence.)
Interviewer: And Mr. Tsuruoka also likes this wild side that Evan has, doesn’t he?
Saito: Indeed, you can often hear him going “Evan just doesn’t listen to what I say.” Though he says that with a smile on his face (laughs).
Call: No no, I do listen (laughs). For that project, for example, I remember him just casually going “You’re American, so you’re fine doing funk, right?”
(The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.)