The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Interview – Jason Michael Paul
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour arrived in Phoenix on November 6th, 2017 at the Phoenix Symphony Hall. I had the pleasure of chatting with the show’s producer, Jason Michael Paul, prior to the show. “This show is designed to be performed in symphony halls like this,” Paul gestured out to the soon to be filled hall. “It’s really out sweet spot. The capacity is just right. We usually have no problems filling a venue of this size.” Paul had just flown in the morning of the concert following five performances in six nights. He gave me a brief tour of the backstage set up without any hint of fatigue. “This is all done on a 3 hour full rehearsal,” Paul explained with a knowing smile. “There’s also a choir only rehearsal with only a piano and conductor for an hour.”
The Phoenix show was my fourth time attending a Symphony of the Goddesses concert and it was easily my favorite in terms of the set list. The music remains timeless and the atmospheric Breath of the Wild pieces really added to the already impressive lineup. This show covered all the mainline favorites from A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and the aforementioned Breath of The Wild additions. Even beloved portable entries including Link’s Awakening and A Link Between Two Worlds were represented with full medleys.
Read on below for the full interview with Jason Michael Paul!
Can you tell me about your background in the music industry?
I’ve been working with classic and operatic performance since I was 24. I started with Luciano Pavorotti and the Three Tenors doing shows for them all over the world. I did a bit of everything from catering, managing the dressing rooms, to travel, everything, you name it. I was also working with the video game industry as well kind of simultaneously. I was working with PlayStation and also Square. I also had an affection for Japanese culture, so I worked quite closely in learning the language and everything. I also lived in Japan, so I was fortunate to an appreciation for video games and Japanese culture.
I started working with Square on game launches for Kingdom Hearts and things like that. I got to work with the likes of Mr. Nomura, Mr. Hashimoto, the producer of the game, Utada Hikaru, Yoko Shinomura, and of course Mr. Uematsu when I started doing Final Fantasy concerts.
Oh so you worked on the Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy tour?
Yeah, that was my first project. Square Enix hired me to do that show. So I hired Arnie Roth to conduct. I went on my own way and continued to do shows. I created another show called Play: A Video Game Symphony. That’s where I got introduced to Nintendo. I invited Mr. Kondo (The Legend of Zelda series composer) in Chicago at our premiere. That’s where my relationship with Nintendo began in 2006. Fast track to 2010 around the time of the 25th anniversary for The Legend of Zelda series, they asked me to come on and produce orchestra concerts and recordings. It was quite an honor. We were successful with those first three shows, so they asked me to do more and I took the show on the road.
How involved is Nintendo with the concert series?
At the beginning they were very hands on. Everything is vetted by them. This all approved by the series producer, the series composer, and Mr. Miyamoto. Everything is with their blessing, so it’s as first party as it gets.
Are you the one who curates the musical selections for the shows?
Yeah, I basically put it together and submit it to Nintendo for approval.
Are there certain songs you pick for specific tour locations? Like is there a certain piece that’s more popular in one region than somewhere else?
No, not really. Not with The Legend of Zelda. Believe it not, The Legend of Zelda is not as popular in Japan. It’s actually more popular outside of Japan. We do obviously have movements dedicated to certain games like Wind Waker and the bigger installments. We use the interludes for some of the newer games like Tri Force Heroes and a Link Between Two Worlds.
You’ve been involved with this tour since the beginning; do you have a favorite piece?
I really like the Overture. It’s a really good representation of The Legend of Zelda throughout its 30 year history. I really like it because I think if you only listened to that one piece you’d get a really good sense of what The Legend of Zelda is. That’s a really good piece for storytelling and condensing 30 years into one 6 minute piece.
I also like Skyward Sword. I was fortunate to produce the orchestral cd that came with Skyward Sword, so I feel like I’ve kind of contributed to that game. So that one has a lot of significance in my life. Dragon Roost is one of my favorites, Ballad of the Goddess from Skyward Sword is another one of my favorites. Yeah there’s a lot of good stuff, man. [laughs]
Concerts like these tend to introduce a new, younger audience to live orchestral music performances. Is something you keep in mind when you produce music for this tour?
Absolutely. It doesn’t change what we do from a technical aspect or what we do with the creation of the show. My intent from the beginning is to create something you don’t necessarily have to be a Zelda fan, symphony fan, or pop culture fan to enjoy. Really the goal is appeal to all walks of life and to create something that can stand on its own musically without the visuals. But of course the visuals are just stunning. It’s the storytelling aspect of it and being able to create something that anyone who watches the show can walk away with a deeper appreciation or yearning to learn about The Legend of Zelda. We’re blessed because a lot of fans, like for example, I had an editor from Zelda Universe come to the concert with her father. It was her first concert and she was 22 years old. It was her first concert, alone a symphony concert. That’s normal, so what a great introduction to the world of concerts. To have it be your first show and to have it be about a subject matter that’s so close to your heart. That’s really cool.
If you could do a tour for another video game series, what would it be and why?
Ah man there’s so many. I have another show that’s a good representation of my taste for video game music. It’s called Heroes of Video Game Symphony. It’s a spin-off of Play: A Video Game Symphony and features a variety of music from a variety of games. Like Castlevania, The Last of Us, Bioshock, Portal, Dear Esther, a wildly popular indie game, Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Metroid. I’ve pitched a lot of ideas to Nintendo for a first party concert event called Nintendo All Stars. A Nintendo All Stars concert is something that could happen so Kirby, Fire Emblem, Mario, are all games that I love. There’s a lot others like The Elder Scrolls. Video game music is what I’ve lived and breathed my adult life.
How long do you see this concert tour going?
This one is unfortunately out of my hands. I would let this thing run forever, but Nintendo has their own ideas with what they want to do with their brand. We have other projects. If this one goes on hiatus, we can pick it back up. Maybe not in 2018 but ‘19, ‘20. Or in ‘18 we’ll go to places we’ve never been with this show, which is not very many at this point. We’ve done over 270 shows worldwide with this project. As you can imagine we’re scraping the barrel with finding places we haven’t been with this show.
Do you have a favorite Zelda game?
I’m a big fan of Ocarina of TIme. I’m also a big fan of Majora’s Mask. Big fan of Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword. Breath of the Wild. All Zelda games maybe? [laughs] Mostly the console titles are the ones I like. I was never a big handheld guy. More recently my daughter has become an avid gamer, so it’s been convenient to play Majora’s Mask 3D together.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had over the years as the producer?
The most memorable experiences are the ones where my daughter gets to come to the shows. It’s kind of why I do this, but every show is memorable. That’s the one thing about being in this business is a lot of people become jaded or become numb to why we do this in the first place. One of the things I appreciate about doing what I do for a living is that I never get tired of it. I love coming to work and having something that is a contribution to society itself in a way. I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to give people work in every city I go to and being able to contribute in that way. It’s one of those things I take very seriously. So every show is memorable, but of course the shows with my daughter are the best, they’re always the best.
Any messages for fans of the series?
Buy your tickets! [laughs] Come see the show, do not miss this opportunity! This might not come again so come celebrate 30 years of history with us and join the party.
Tour schedule information and tickets are available here.