According to Dragon Ball series lore, the spirit bomb technique involves drawing energy from surrounding life and objects to create a massive ball of energy to throw at one's foes. The spirit bomb is, of course, one of the hero Goku's greatest powers, as first seen in the Dragon Ball Z saga when King Kai teaches him the ultimate move. But what if I told you Goku does not draw his greatest power from surrounding life and inanimate objects, but from the Canadian rock band Rush? I am extremely pleased to learn this is a fact, according to Sean Schemmel, the English voice actor best known for his role as the saiyan Kakarot, aka Goku. The plan was to talk to him about all kinds of music stuff, but as soon as Rush entered the conversation he pretty much only wanted to talk about that, and I was more than cool to indulge. As I learned, Schemmel's Rush fandom level is over 9000. [I am legally obligated to write that joke.]
The actor, voice actor and accomplished French hornist is also a walking music knowledge encyclopedia. During a backstage interview with Schemmel at the Regina Fan Expo, the mere mention of Rush sent him into a glorious 45-minute rant about the three-piece band's artistry and influence on his life and work. He confirmed Power Windows is Rush's best album. At one point, he broke down crying talking about Neil Peart, much like Kid Goku did after the death of Android 8 in Dragon Ball: The Path to Power just before unleashing a powerful Kamehameha. In other words, Goku's strength comes from Canadian prog rock.
Noisey: What music does Goku like?
Sean Schemmel: Goku's favourite song is "Kung Fu Fighting." I've decided that. Goku would hear that and say, [speaking in Goku's voice] "Wow! This is the greatest! Wow!" He'd play it at weddings … I didn't create the character, so you might have to talk to Akira Toriyama, but in my opinion, as one of the guys who voice Goku, "Kung Fu Fighting" is his favourite song.
What about you?
I'm classically trained, French hornist. I separate my interest in music between classical music and everything else. Because everything else from other genres fits into similar musical forms. A rap song has a similar form to a country song, which has a similar form to a rock song, which has a similar form to a jazz song. They have similar basic forms. A symphony is usually what's called sonata-allegro form.
[Mumbles] Would you call that the final form?
Hm? Well, for me, for non-classical music, Rush is my favourite band of all time.
Is Goku a Geddy Lee, a Neil Peart or an Alex Lifeson?
Here's the thing with Alex: With Alex Lifeson—I'm going to say it but he might not like it—it took me a long time to understand his guitar solos, [and] I understand music really well. After watching interviews with him, he seems like a guy who really is going with the flow, rather than thinking of things musically. Sometimes he has these moments of genius. I think he's an underrated guitar player for that because he is extremely proficient. He gets more praise for his rhythm work than his solo work.
Yeah, "Limelight." The kinds of chord structures he uses and creates—he doesn't get as much praise for his solo work. Some of his solos, I think, are absolutely brilliant but for the vast majority of them, I'm like, "What are you doing, Alex!? I wanna go with you, man." Geddy and Neil are my two guys. Now that Neil Peart is doing more on-camera interviews—here's a weird philosophical concept: I've been into Rush since the sixth grade. My personality, the way I talk, and the way I am are [are similar] to the way Peart speaks. I wonder if [his music] has influenced me that much? It's not like I've emulated him through interviews because I couldn't [watch them] until recently. Can you be influenced by music in a way that would make you similar to the person who wrote it?
Probably? What's the greatest Rush album?
I love the new records; I love what they're doing but it lacks those [older] textures. All those textures in the synth work—even those early synthesizers in the 80s still hold up. But Power Windows. I was probably 15 or 16 and I related to that, being a restless teenager. Especially "The Big Money," that bass work—
Schemmel sings the bass guitar line from "The Big Money"
The reason I like their music, and what is great about Neil Peart, is their music matches my mind. My mind is electrified like that. I channel that for Goku every day. Rush lives in Goku. That power? [The album] Hold Your Fire? I will tell kids that, "Hold your fire." That is about what it means to be an artist. It's the very essence of Neil Peart's work. It permeates my philosophy as an artist. Abso-fucking-lutely.
When I go to work, and when I go big or go home, it's absolutely because of Rush's influence on me. When I do kamehamehas, it's Rush. Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson do not fuck around. And they're not doing drugs. And they're not doing a bunch of crazy shit—although Alex Lifeson had that drunken debacle. I probably don't blame him because he probably got shit from a fan, but I love Alex.
What are some underrated Rush pieces?
Presto is an underrated record. Rupert Hine produced the shit out of that. One of my favourite songs is "The Pass" on that.
Great song. I relate to that as someone who's suffered from an existential crisis and wondering what your power is and what you're going to do with your life. Neil Peart was my guide. Rush was my guide. I was a three-year, all-state French horn player and I was the best in the state of Texas because I was in my room playing my horn over and over and I was listening to ["Marathon"]. That song inspired me to practice my horn for hours a day until my lips bled. I was just going and going. I just picture Neil [Peart] on his bicycle just huffing and puffing—because he's a heavy bicycler. And I'm so glad he survived that tragedy [when his son was killed in a car accident in 1997 and his wife passed away from cancer soon after]. I cry when I think about it. And our hearts went out to him and how he's affected us, and how he got remarried and stuff—
Schemmel breaks down crying.
We were just happy he got a second chance.
Whoa, are you crying?
Oh yeah. I'm a huge Rush fan. I wouldn't be doing the art I do today if it wasn't for those guys. It spoke to my mind in a way that no other band did. Their words [told me], "Fuck everybody else, do your own thing. Do what you believe in. Don't listen to the haters." It's all in the lyrics. And I listened. I found my purpose through their music as a voice actor, actor, and through Goku.
I feel like you, Goku—Sean—are speaking directly to 14-year-old me. It's trippy.
It is trippy.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Devin Pacholik is a total Gohan. Follow him on Twitter.