By Dylan Haslam
There are many elements within the realm of pop culture and entertainment industries that make a particular movie, television show, or video game spectacular. From proper visuals to a relatable plot, all elements must blend together cohesively in order to create an unforgettable experience fans will remember. In particular, music, when executed properly, has the power to not only give someone an amazing auditory experience but also to even make the listener feel as though they are connected to something bigger than themselves. We all have those particular movie scores and video game soundtracks that, from the moment we heard them as children, have stayed with us for the rest of our lives. Music is an integral part of pop culture and is responsible for some of the biggest moments that have defined the industry. Music has definitely shaped my pop culture experience thus far, and I wholeheartedly believe it is the reason I have kept up with the nerd life so thoroughly. Some examples of the music that has had the biggest impact on me include Hans Zimmer’s “He’s a Pirate” and “Up is Down” from the Pirates of the Carribean movies; “Duel of the Fates” and the rest of the music by John Williams found in Star Wars; Phil Collins’ Tarzan soundtrack, The Lord of the Rings soundtracks, the music found in Naruto: The NeverEnding Story and, most recently, Grant Gustin’s “Running Home to You” from CW’s The Flash. These are only a few examples of many as there are immeasurable amounts of movies, animes, and cartoons that have had an impact on me that I continue to listen to even today. When it comes to the question of the soundtrack that has had the most impact on me though, the answer has and will always remain the same. The soundtrack that has stuck with me the most is a particular theme song that outlines the dreams and aspirations of a young man from Pallet Town. It is a song that reassures you that with hard work you can become the very best like no one ever was. I am talking, of course, about the classic Pokemon theme song, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All ,” sung by the talented Jason Paige. This past week, I had the privilege of interviewing this amazing artist and got his insight regarding the effect music has and continues to have on people.
Dylan: Your cover of “Black Or White” parallels only the King of Pop himself. What was it like to share the stage with Michael during that song at the Jackson Five 30th anniversary concert?
Jason: Thrilling. It was the most energy I’ve ever felt in one place at one time, besides boating underneath Niagara Falls. The screaming cheers lasted five times the length of the songs. A three minute song was followed by fifteen minutes of thunderous applause. I was one of eight [background] singers for all the artists in the first act who sang Michael’s songs to him. Whitney Houston, Usher, Ray Charles, and way more. The second part of the show featured the Jackson Five with Michael doing all their greatest hits. We sang all their parts with them as well.
During the show you absolutely nailed the rap; did you feel any pressure leading up to that moment or did the experience come naturally to you?
I have been rapping and beatboxing since the late 80s -mid 90s in my band What’s Up and had been schooled in imitating such legends as LL Cool J, Eric B and Rakim. I had recorded using many different rapping voices for jingles and countless other sessions, so out of our bg I was the clear choice. Singing with Michael wasn’t our first rodeo. Though getting to do “Black or White” was an unexpected gift. I was proving myself valuable throughout rehearsals. On stage at Madison Square Garden I was checking the lead mics for the artists not there yet. I would do my best impressions of Ray Charles, Ricky Martin, Mark Anthony, etc.”
The realm of popular culture encompasses many elements, from movies, books, games, and also music. Music in popular culture has the ability to make a lasting impact on people. Whether it is a theme song or movie score that stays with you throughout your life, to even the music in a particular moment that you cherish in a movie. What are the musical moments that have stood put to you and made a lasting impact within your popular culture experience?
Unfortunately I was most vulnerable to music and its cultural programming in the late 80s. So I got caught up in the Motley Crue, Def Leppard Hair Band nonsense. Some jams still to this day trigger a fist bump air drumming spasm, but those spandex and hair for sure hasn’t lasted. My love of Stevie Wonder’s music is ‘lasting.’ All the popular TV themes of the 70s and 80s trigger nostalgic feelings in me. Gilligan’s Island, Threes Company, Cheers, Flintstones/Jetsons, Greatest American Hero, Welcome Back Kotter, and Speed Racer were some of my favorites in terms of theme songs. However, none of these had games, movies, live shows, or products and none of those songs made the crossover into radio and pop culture the way that the Pokemon theme has.
Are there any particular soundtracks or scores that have stood out with you, and still remain with you until this day?
I’m one of the founding actors in Los Angeles’ highly acclaimed ‘for the record live’ theatrical series. It celebrates the soundtracks from the movies of famous directors Tarantino-Scorsese, Zemeckis, Paul Thomas Anderson, to name a few. I’ve gotten way deep into many of those movies’ soundtracks, recreating them on stage, playing the characters from the movies, singing the songs interwoven with the scenes. A highlight of my performance career is winning awards for the Joe Pesci, Jack Nicholson role in our Scorsese show.
Do you believe that music has had a big influence on popular culture?
Of course; music teaches us how to speak, spell, and communicate. Everyone in this hemisphere learns their ABCs through the ABC song. Children’s nursery rhymes also contribute much to the learning experience. Popular music has also been in the hands of very few distributors up until the internet allowed for independent artists to self-distribute. Our culture has been shaped by the large music labels who’s marketing had put a very few and very specific categories into our record stores radio stations and crafted much of pop culture. The psychedelic rock movement of the 60s and 70s, the punk heavy metal glam movement of the 80s, and gangster rap of the 90s and 2000s are all examples of centralized marketing plans that shape culture. Music is how we learn to communicate. It is a fundamental part of the human experience. We learn to sing, we learn to communicate, to express emotions, and we learn to express ourselves through music. It’s language, and when that language can be monetized, manipulated, and sold, it can be very powerfully distorted. Culture can shape music and music can shape culture, so it goes back and forth. I was born into a culture of few choices, now there is a culture of a million choices. Music certainly shapes culture.
When you first recorded the Pokemon theme song, were you aware that it would become the icon that it is today?
I am not a fortune teller. But I always try to go for the touchdown/grand slam in every play. I’m not just trying to get a first down/base hit. I’m going all the way every time. Whenever I commit myself to performing recording, I commit fully to the motive of the project. The Pokemon project required a full investment in the song and its words. Which are very inspirational, encouraging individualism and commitment to being the very best. No intellectual property in history has ever expanded and had as big of an impact on world culture like the Pokemon. Due mostly to the die hard independent creators whose incredible imagination with which they create Pokemon products, toys, clothes, events, cosplay, artwork, and video games create value for the rest of us. The imagination of the world merges with Pokemon. I believe in each individual’s ability to have great impact over the world. We just don’t know exactly how that impact is going to happen, but when we commit fully to each moment planting seeds for the future, anything is possible. This seed planted in 1998 has helped Pokemon grow into a jungle of incredible experiences for billions of people.
How did you come about getting the legendary role of singing the Pokemon theme song?
Well, jingle houses I worked for get briefs on what they want a song to be. They call the singers that they believe can execute those. I’m sure the brief said that they wanted a young antomate sound and teen rock sound. This is one of the things I can do and have done for them before in other commercial jingles and throughout the industry. I work up the vocal gymnastics to satisfy what every client wants and is looking for. The story is whatever the message is. That’s it, stepping up to the plate and going for the home run.
How has your recording of the Pokemon theme song impacted your life?
It’s impacted my life greatly; however, only in the past three years. For eighteen years I was trapped in a Pokeball. I have finally popped out of the Pokeball and revealed to the world the face behind the voice. No, I have had a full life of many great vocal successes. When Pokemon Go came out, the song made its way up the charts again and inspired media organizations into contacting me wanting to know the story. The greatest impact comes from heartfelt comments and personal interactions with people who share their stories of what the song means to them. I can only imagine how much time and energy, enthusiasm, challenging thought, strategizing play, and joy and happiness people have experienced in all of their Pokemon related exchanges. When they hear the song, it releases and consolidates all these experiences emotionally into that moment. Performing the song live impacts my life profoundly because I see how profoundly it has impacted other people’s lives.
Did it open the door to more project opportunities?
It opened the door to the ecosystem of Pokemon fans who can now hear me perform the song in various forms, such as the concert with Video Games Live, YouTube, in my own videos, and at various Comic Cons and other events as well. I also have created other companion songs to the main theme to inspire the Pokemon fans such as my Pokemon Go theme song “Catch The World With A Throw” and “It’ll Always Be Me And You,” my theme to the Detective Pikachu movie.
I think I speak for a large part of your fans at my school when I ask what upcoming projects you have been working on? I know you had recently done a cover of the Pokemon theme song with Jonathan Young for YouTube.
That was my favorite one. We may set something up again. He is so talented, I’d do anything with him. I will be doing some kind of version of Lego Mania here soon. I wrote the song back in the day, and maybe I should do a remix. I just completed the world premiere of Neil Simon’s musical Musical Fools. Rave reviewed it at the Open Fist Theater in Los Angeles. My YouTube channel and Facebook social will continue to feature more interesting covers, originals, streams, and skits. I will also be traveling the world appearing at Comic Cons and other related events. I’m also working on some exciting new musical theater projects making their way into the mainstream. I also have some secret projects that I’m not allowed to talk about. An NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) project I’ve been doing vocals and behind the scenes work for. Not being able to talk about a project makes it extra important. Then more people start to talk about it and it gains popularity.
Music is a driving factor in pop culture that has contributed to enriching the experiences of many within the industry. It is also responsible for creating a variety of lasting memories. Throughout video games, television, anime, and movies, music has stayed with them throughout their lives. These musical moments allow people to bond and create relationships; as well, it allows them to dive even further into the work of art that they are appreciating. Jason Paige provided expert insight into the industry and truly encompassed the effect music can have on people and the way it can truly influence lives. It was an interview for the ages, and Paige really showed his high level of understanding within the realm of music and the musical industry. Much like Paige sings in the original Pokemon theme song, he proved to be “the best like no one ever was.” Through his profound answers, we were able to bring to light some common themes within the realm of popular culture and further our collective appreciation for the works of previous artists. It was an honour to hear from a professional with his experience; as a fan, it was an unforgettable experience.