Fast forward 25 years, you probably wonder who sung these lyrics of the main Pokémon theme when you were a kid (or a teenager like I was) and what’s the story behind the song. Usually, back then, we never knew the faces or stories of the songs in our favorite TV shows. With the 25th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise fast approaching, we at Soundcinemas decided to reach out to various key performers in both the English and Spanish dub of Pokémon. In this first interview of the upcoming 25th anniversary, we approached American singer, writer, record producer, and actor Jason Paige. Mr. Paige is best known for us hardcore Pokémon fans on the Internet as the performer of the “Pokémon Theme” (also known as “Gotta catch ‘em all!”). He also sang the “Viridian City” song in Pikachu’s Jukebox, which first premiered on Sundays in August 1999 and later at the end of each episode starting in September of the same year.
Mr. Paige gladly answered each of our questions with detail to benefit the casual or nostalgic Pokémon fans who didn’t know the whole story behind the song and the artist who impacted our lives.
1) Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Early life, how you got interested in music)
I started singing the day I was born My Cry was a C#. Next I learned the ABC song even before I could speak I was singing. Much like most people in the western world. Then I learned nursery rhymes, Ring Around the Rosy, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star were some of my earliest performances.
I can remember in the 3rd or 4th grade writing some songs but I can’t remember them now and I haven’t found any record of it. My parents had albums in the house that they listen to that influenced me. Elton John, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Blood Sweat and Tears, a band I would later be the lead singer for. (I sang BGs on a Billy Joel and Alice Cooper recording too.)
When I had to enter High School the school in Rockaway Queens was not desirable so I auditioned for the High School of Music & Art, made famous by the hit movie “Fame.” I was a voice major and the structured musical environment restricted all of my learning to classical and technical theory. After school I would play with a band my friends and I started called BreakThrew and we would write our own music and performed it at a couple of talent shows.
For the next 10 years (ages 14-24) my bands went on in different incarnations with different names supported by multiple deals/labels to be produced by Steve Katz guitar player of Blood Sweat and Tears, Mark Cunningham of Heaven, Paul Stanley from Kiss, and Bernard Edwards from Chic.
At age 25 my band “What’s Up” produced by Bernard Edwards morphed into a hit Public Access TV show “The What’s Up Show” and I began doing session work in New York City. Every year I’d do hundreds of sessions – voice overs, jingles, theme songs, song demos, backgrounds on albums and live for various artists. This was the next phase of my vocal expansion.
2) What did you know about Pokémon before signing up?
I knew as much as the producer of the session was able to tell me. That it was a Japanese TV show being brought to the United States to be tested. They had a few clips of the show and determined that the song would be sung from the point of view of the character known as Ash. At that point we all had heard about the epileptic seizures that a particular episode had caused when it aired in Japan.
3) How did you get the role? How was the process?
Being a session singer I had sung a number of Jingles for the producing music house. “Domino’s Pizza delivers” was one of my favorites that I did for that company. When a music production house gets a assignment for a job it contains information about what the client wants. Being successful in the industry required having the skill to change my voice based on the instructions for any given music brief. Sometimes I sound like a country singer, sometimes I sound hip-hop, sometimes I sound Jazz, classical. Whatever it is I can do it. Girls, guys, animals, kids, old people. I have done it all. check out my sound alike reel here.
4) Were you given any direction or notes on how you had to perform the song?
There was directions from the Pokemon Corporation and there was direction from the producer as they had written the song as well. The decision was to sound like the character Ash might sound. A 14 to 17 year old energetic 40. During the recording I would try different notes riffs and inflections to give them choices as I usually do when I’m recording.
5) How much were you paid for performing the song?
I was paid a embarrassingly low fee for the TV show only, that I can’t reveal. I always work in good faith with hopes of the work succeeding and there being more reward down the line. Due to the success of the song the extended version was recorded along with Viridian City. For these recordings and the myriad of products that contain my voice I was forced to take a one time fee.
Fortunately the success of the song and Pokemon has sustained so long that the rewards are finally starting to come in but only becaus of my efforts to put the face and name to the voice billions have known for 25 years. Rewards in the form of collaborations, fan love and interviews like this that can make up for all the lost time that I wasn’t associated with the brand.
Understanding the great impact the song and my voice has had on billions of people Ive been compelled to make appearances at events all around the world and be an ambassador for all of the good Pokemon has done in people’s lives. Good thats amplified primarilly by the enthusiasm of the fans and their creative imagination to build the ecosystem with their own projects. Cosplay events, videos, music, original art experts in all areas and more.
Most Comic Cons are giant Pokemon flea markets where individuals share their creations. I’ve done a couple of Pokemon related original songs. A Theme for Pokemon Go and a Theme to Detective Pikachu that I distributed on streaming services. I do live pack pulls. and I make live appearances and perform at events sign autographs on Pokemon cards available www.JasonPaige.Com/shop
However no amount of income can equal the incredible comments I get on my videos. There are over 20,000 confessions of love and appreciation on the main video from so many people from so many different backgrounds for so many different reasons all unified by this one musical performance. There’s nothing like it that has ever existed in history.
6) Have you heard the theme song in Japanese or any other language?
Yes I have. I at one point thought I might cover it in English. Instead I did my own version of the English Pokemon theme song in Japanese. On tour in Germany I sang the hook in German. And in French when in France. South America is next hopefully.
7) Did you ever thought Pokémon would “blow up” this big?
Everything that I do I intend to do with all of my energy and commitment to whatever the particular task is. I’m going for the Grand Slam every time. So yes I expect to hit a couple of grand slams. I also wrote and sang on the Lego Mania theme used between 95 and 2001 and had had quite a few other successes at the time and since that are known all over the world. But nothing in the world is as big as Pokemon.
8) In your opinion, why do you think Pokémon has lasted this long in different mediums like television, films, and video games?
I think the Pokemon company is very good at managing and allowing the fans and other companies to take the IP and make great imaginative creative products. They also have a really great theme song that spearheaded it all for the Western world. The lyrics set the stage for the entire ecosystem. The musical performances have an authenticity and energy that hooked people in. And underneath it all is a card game that allows participants to use their imaginations to create a robust reality based on some numbers and a flip of the coin. It’s the individual that is most responsible for creating the magical world of Pokemon in their own minds. And the Simplicity of Pokemon’ stays out of the way so the individual can “understand the power that’s inside”. His own imagination.
9) Did Pokémon change your life? If so, how?
It didn’t change my life, I changed my life. It provided me with an opportunity to imagine how I could create around the ecosystem and its unlimited opportunities to engage with fans other creators and media organizations like yours. If I didn’t do the work I’m putting myself out there it’s very likely no one would know that I’m the singer of the Pokemon theme song. In most of the places the song is distributed I’m not even listed as the artist. Even in my own video Pokemon is listed in the description as the artist.
[Editor’s note: Kids WB did a special in June of 2000 called “Pokémon around the world month” with the theme song in different languages. None of the performers, not even Mr Paige were credited in the openings. All the information regarding the performances are only available through specialized fansites like Bulbapedia and the Spanish wiki about Spanish dubs “Doblaje Wiki”]
10) Do you have a favorite Pokémon?
I don’t have favorites I have experiences. Each one is unique and individual just like we are. To favor one can limit my experience of all of the rest of them. And there are so many to experience.
Interview by Gabriel Rodríguez