Hachi (Kenshi Yonezu) & ryo (supercell): Views on the Vocaloid Scene's Past and Future
As part one of Natalie's "10 Years of Hatsune Miku ~The New Sights She Showed Us~", we had a first-time interview between Hachi (Kenshi Yonezu), who recently released his first new Vocaloid song in 4 years and theme song of Hatsune Miku Magical Mirai 2017 "Sand Planet," and ryo, who has become known for his work as supercell and producing EGOIST.
Both used Hatsune Miku to post songs to NicoNico Douga that would make them known to the world, and now, they're active in a wide variety of ways. To celebrate Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, we asked them about the scene's past and future.
— I believe this is your first time meeting one another.
ryo: It's the first time.
Hachi: We've never once met. From my perspective, ryo is from the previous generation. People from that time feel sort of like legends, or historical figures. I've been curious about like, "What kind of person is he?", and I was definitely influenced by him, so I'd thought for a while how it might be fun to talk with him. It's thanks to the work of people like ryo that the soil was cultivated for me to make Vocaloid songs on it.
— What was your first impression of each other?
Hachi: He wore some of my own merchandise for me, a LOSER T-shirt. So I was like "he's got hospitality out the wazoo!" (laughs) I thought he must be a really great person to do that.
ryo: I was thinking I'd use it as a yardstick, where if you totally ignored I was wearing this T-shirt, I could determine "This guy must be super disagreeable." (laughs) Though I'm a bit of a masochist, so I thought, maybe it'd be okay if it turned out that way...
— Hahaha. (laughs) What's your impression of Hachi, ryo?
ryo: Ever since he showed up on the scene, me and the Vocaloid producers around me, we all loved Hachi. On top of that, everyone loved different songs of his. Even now, when we talk in the recording studio, we talk about Kenshi Yonezu. In that regard, he feels exactly the way I imagined him.
— You touched on it briefly earlier, but could you tell us about the difference between the generations in which ryo and Hachi started Vocaloid?
Hachi: I started making Vocaloid songs and uploading them to NicoNico Douga in 2009. And ryo...
ryo: I was in 2007.
Hachi: About a two-year difference. Those two years in the Vocaloid scene were, like, really, really long - it's a period that practically turned it into a totally different world. ryo's "Melt" was an explosive hit, and at first, I watched that from the sidelines. I learned of Hatsune Miku this way, and thought "So there's cool stuff like that." Maybe if I paid 15,000 yen, I too could enter into that world. There's no doubt ryo's presence played a part in starting the Vocaloid scene.
ryo: But I wasn't active as a Vocaloid producer for very long. I first posted in 2007, and soon had an illustrator telling me "Comiket is in 2 weeks, so let's make a CD!" Ultimately, even though it was my "active period," I only posted about 5 songs, and sure, I was making songs, but there was too much going on, so I didn't really know what I was doing myself. My concise impression is less "I made it here using Vocaloid" and more "Before I knew it, here I was." It's a similar feeling to 10 years passing and saying "Ah, I'm older now." So even now, I still don't really know what's up with myself.
Hachi: True, I guess it was only about 5 songs ryo uploaded. But they were all huge hits, and it felt like he was gone before you knew it - he was almost like a passing mist you weren't sure existed or not. And indeed, I don't remember much about that time myself. It was just that instantaneous. Like ryo says, maybe the most accurate description is "Before I knew it, this is how it was."
— ryo, after you posted "Melt," "Love is War," "World is Mine," and "Black★Rock Shooter" to NicoNico Douga as a Vocaloid producer, you moved to work at a major label. What was the reason behind this?
ryo: I simply wanted to do more music. I wanted to learn about studio work and how songs were made. To do that, I figured I needed to go where there are lots of people. Because you can't be the best in such a narrow place. It was like that.
Hachi: All the Vocaloid producers at the time thought like that. Maybe "made it big" isn't the right word, but those people, in One Piece terms, were all dying to go to the Grand Line. And those who made it big had a bridge laid down to go there, say. These days, there can be kids who have formative experiences with Vocaloid, but our generation didn't have Vocaloid when we were kids, so we had formative experiences with other music, which I think makes us want to take that challenge. I had an aspiration to Japanese rock, and then encountered Vocaloid at age 18. So while of course Vocaloid was interesting, and the scene was a charming place, the moment I saw the bridge to the Grand Line, of course I wanted to go there. But there are Vocaloid producers who return from the Grand Line.
ryo: Even Hachi sometimes returns. He makes a good song and gets everyone on NicoNico Douga fired up, then returns to his own place. That was the case with Donut Hole.
Hachi: It's something like my hometown. It's not like I've ever really said "I'm taking a break from Vocaloid." Often people say "So you quit, huh?", but it's not like that. It's more like, "I'm keeping it as a place where I can do it when I feel like doing it."
ryo: I understand the feeling of it being "like a hometown." Frankly, my favorite people are those who sing with their own voices, who speak with their own words. In that sense, Vocaloid is a tool to help us become that. If I sang, definitely nobody would listen, but if I keep my own words and melody and just have Vocaloid imitate my quirks and way of singing, everyone will listen to it and sing it for me. Even with the songs I make now, I put in my own temporary vocals when I hand them over to the singer. Even if it's a stupidly cute song, I sing it with my own voice, albeit thinking "Boy, I hope this never sees the light of day." (laughs) Nobody tells me my temporary vocals are good, but when Vocaloids sing, they'll say "cute" or "I like it." When I observe that, I start to wonder if I should resign myself to just being an unseen stagehand. (laughs)
— ryo, did you ever feel like you "quit" or "took a break from" making Vocaloid songs? Or like Hachi, is it still there as "a place where I can do it when I feel like it"?
ryo: In my case, I simply can't be satisfied if I don't get a perfect 100 in every category, so when I do something, I do it all the way. If I''m making a Vocaloid song, I first make temporary vocals, convert that to data, take out the consonants, import it again and edit the pitch, connect it together neatly, and if it's no good, I start again from scratch - I repeat those tasks over and over again. At this point, if I were to try and surpass the limits of my ability, just setting up the Vocaloid would take a whole month. That's rather spirit-breaking. Also, it would cause RSI. So I hold the mouse in a really unique way. I had to think about how I could avoid getting RSI when working for hours on end. I adjust the height of my armrest, stretch out my right arm, and work in that fixed position. That way I can bear the agony. (laughs)
— Wow. Sort of like an athlete.
ryo: One could certainly see it as stupid, but this is a really important part. Because, I mean, you can't feel like saying "Let's make music!" if your tooth hurts. When you work for hours every day, you really do start hurting all over your body. Then you start asking yourself, "Just who or what am I making this for...?" Because I endured such pains, after I was done, I'd think "That's enough of Vocaloid." But about a year would pass, and I'd be like, "I mean, it WAS kind of fun..." (laughs)
Hachi: I feel that deeply. It wasn't a Vocaloid song, but I drew all the animation for Eine Kleine's video by myself. Doing that, I actually did get RSI. Toward the end, I was even getting chills, so I thought "I'll never do this again," but one or two years later, I thought "Hey, that was pretty fun."
— I wonder why. What was it that made you both forget about the hardship and think "Let's do that again"?
ryo: Well, making music is lonely work, even on an emotional level. For example, in a normal job, you work for fixed hours and get paid for the time you work. But those who make music like us are selling our way of life, so we can't make any compromises. There can be people who go "My arm hurts from RSI, so I'm quitting," but that tends to mean that even if you make it to the Grand Line, you're gonna die. To survive there, no matter how ugly and uncool it looks, you have to put up your sails, and whatever winds come, even if you're stopped by a lull, you need to have the tenacity to keep going from there. That's how it feels. When you finish a piece in that way, it hurts right after you finish it, but years later, it should feel like "Ah, that was fun."
Hachi: Sort of feels like we're held prisoner by our work. Though it all began with such a trivial "I guess I'll give it a try."
ryo: Indeed. "Why in the world did I say "I can do this!" back then?" (laughs) But there's no way you can say "I'm sorry, I can't do it."
Hachi: The more I do it, the more irritated I become with my past self who was like "I can do it no problem!" (laughs)
— How do you two think finding Vocaloid and going down that path has affected your lives as musicians?
Hachi: I was in a band in middle school, and it didn't work out at all. I was profoundly bad at making a singular thing with other people. We did it through middle school and high school, and I dreamed of doing it past that too, but it was totally hopeless. As I was thinking that, people like ryo appeared. So I think "Well, of course I met Vocaloid." The Vocaloid scene at the time had tons of people like that. People whose bands fell through, or wanted to be in bands but it wasn't working out, did Vocaloid as an alternative option. It served like a receptacle for scum, and I was one of the scum. We luckily found something we could do there, something that suited us perfectly. That was Vocaloid, I feel like. It was really just coincidental. So I'm very grateful, and think I am who I am now thanks to Vocaloid.
ryo: I was also in a band. Although I was on drums. As a teen, I appeared at some venues, and in a contest at the time called TEENS' MUSIC FESTIVAL, so I got to a pretty good place. But still, it's hard to work well with a singer. Then I left college and went to do work in electrical-related industries for about 6 years. But I still liked music all the while. I thought I'd first work by myself, then buy the tools to make music. Afterward, as I was thinking "I really want to quit this job already," I met Hatsune Miku. She'd just started getting popular on NicoNico Douga, and I looked on at it, thinking "This looks neat, it'd be nice to take part in such a dazzling thing." It was simple to me: "If I pay 15,000 yen, I can take part!" Just around that time, a company who did sound effects was looking for engineers, and I made an original song to apply there. And that led all the way to now.
Hachi: Most Vocaloid producers were like that. It was like an assembly of all these people who couldn't have achieved such things if it were a generation earlier. Tons of people who may have had the talent to make music, but they'd have been buried if it weren't for Vocaloid, and would die without anyone ever unearthing them. When you talk with them, you can tell they were all like that. So I guess we were lucky.
ryo: Lucky indeed. Maybe that can be the heading for this article. (laughs)
— ryo, when did you become aware of Hachi?
ryo: Around 2009. Hachi, you had a time where you uploaded songs with you singing, right? I want to say you were making those around high school. I started listening at the time when there were about six of them.
Hachi: That's right. At first, there were about 20 or 30, actually, but those were deleted, leaving only about six. Though later those six were also deleted.
ryo: I listened to those and thought "Ah, this person's a singer."
— ryo, which of Hachi's songs is your favorite?
ryo: Accounting for the video, WORLD'S END UMBRELLA. cosMo@Bousou-P, and Yuuyu, all the other Vocaloid producers said "I want to make a song like this too." So I listened to it, and thought "Yeah, this really is good." It's very unusual, but a good song. It's chaotic yet makes you cry, and simply gets you good. The arrangement was totally different from the previous version, THE WORLD END UMBRELLA. It was like something that had been monochrome suddenly turning color. I thought "Why did it go from this to this?"... So like, what was that all about?
Hachi: I don't remember. (laughs) But I think I probably remade it because I wasn't satisfied with it. Because back then, I really wasn't thinking anything as I created. I didn't know a thing about music theory either, so I just clicked around the piano roll of my sequencing software, went ahead with it as soon as I thought "Oh, this feels good," and that's how it came to be. I suppose I wanted to try it again using everything I'd picked up since then.
ryo: But THE WORLD END UMBRELLA was posted in June 2009, and WORLD'S END UMBRELLA in February 2010, so there was only about half a year there. That's so short. So like, what DID you pick up in that time...? (laughs)
Hachi: It was an extremely stimulating span of time. I had an environment where I could meet people I definitely couldn't have if it weren't for Vocaloid. There were lots of songs that made me go "Whoa, what is this music?!" As if I'd jumped into a melting pot of discoveries, I was like "There's stuff like this, and stuff like this..." I was so stimulated that I couldn't stop. I guess it was a result of that influence.
— So, what's your favorite ryo song, Hachi?
Hachi: I listened to Melt first. The melody was good, the words were good, and the snare drum parts that go "da-da-dan!" felt really good, so it was a super good proper pop song. But it's more than that - there's something else to it, unmeasurable. It's hard to put it in words, but take Mr. Children or Southern All Stars - they're called "the standard greats." However, if you unwind Mr. Children's or Southern All Stars' music, they do some really complex stuff, so they're not "just normal good songs." I thought when I first listened to ryo's music that it might be constructed in a similar way. So there's a simple intensity in the music. It really influenced me.
ryo: Intensity is important. Making something that doesn't elicit emotion is the greatest evil. Most people generally live their lives thinking "FML, my life is the worst." You need to have enough intensity to save the lives of people who listen, or there's no point in making it. I think intensity so great it can snatch away people's time is crucial. I thought the way to achieve that was through the power of information, so I included the sound of raw drums from England. I simply wanted people to hear that.
— What do you think is distinctive and unique about Hatsune Miku, the Vocaloid software? Although there are many different Vocaloids.
Hachi: Well, Hatsune Miku was the first one I picked up... I wonder. I guess she's cute.
ryo: Yes, people did say she was cute. Some article was like "We made this because we wanted a cute girl to sing cute songs."
Hachi: I think people see different charms in Hatsune Miku, but what 18-year-old me thought at a glance was, there was a cute girl there, and if I paid 15,000 yen I could have her sing however I wanted. Huh, I wonder if I should say it that casually.
ryo: I knew a lot of people who did art, and they often said "Miku is easy to draw." If you quickly drew her in a sketchbook and handed it over, even grade-school kids would happily go "Oh, it's Miku!"
Hachi: That might be true. Because you just draw blue hair and long pigtails, and there you go.
ryo: A lot of the illustrators I knew also really loved Hachi. They've also followed him to this day as Kenshi Yonezu, buy his CDs and listen to the songs, and tell me their thoughts. And I'm like, "Uh, you know I'm not Hachi..." (laughs) They entered through art, and came to like Vocaloid and music from there. That "reverse" flow of fans is also important.
— Hachi, you released a song called Sand Planet as the theme song for this Magical Mirai. How did you start making it?
Hachi: When I received the request, I was just thinking "What should I even do...?" So, I kept looking at present-day NicoNico Douga. I looked at the rankings, went backward through the popular videos since I stopped looking there. I'm not sure how to say it, but it's clearly a different landscape from when I was posting there. An image formed of NicoNico Douga itself slowly turning into a desert. Once I had that thought, I realized it might be interesting to make a song that depicted the hometown of sorts I once dwelled in becoming a desert. It felt I should depict the current state of NicoNico Douga... or at least, it'd be fine if someone did that. I thought there would be meaning to me doing the song in that case, so I accepted the request.
ryo: I haven't listened to it yet. (This interview was done in mid-July, before the public release of the music video.) Can I listen now?
— Yes, let's put it on right away.
(The song plays.)
Hachi: Oh man, I really don't like how this feels. (laughs)
ryo: (After listening to the end) This is great. I like it. I want to sing it, and I can see the Hachi parts, and there's also a modern aspect. The way the chorus just blows up is cool, too. How did you do that?
Hachi: Well, I'm also singing in the chorus.
ryo: Ah, right. No wonder. It really doesn't let you down. Like "This is one of the big-time producers!" (laughs) Of course, everyone's going to listen to it with expectations. You have to not betray those expectations, as well as bring the unexpected. That's the requirement for a good song. I imagined it would have a faster tempo, but it wasn't like that.
— This song is fairly slow at 95 BPM.
Hachi: Right. I think it's around there. 180 or 200 BPM is a sort of standard for Vocaloid songs. I even made songs like that myself, which is why when I came back after so long, I definitely didn't want people going "Geez, that again?" But it's not like I'm doing something totally unrelated either. I struggled quite a bit with where to settle on that.
ryo: But you don't get the feeling like the melody is fast then slow. Once the singing starts, it just keeps going, like Ed Sheeran.
— The latter half especially uses triplets that make it feel like trap hip hop.
ryo: Right, right. The vocals keep pulling it along. Also, all the consonants standing out so clearly is amazing. It's rough making those consonants distinctly audible in Vocaloid. On top of that, your own voice in the chorus makes it even easier to hear. The guitar is cool too, and the rhythm is a lot like modern Kenshi Yonezu. What a good song.
Hachi: Thank you very much. There's hardly any trap or hip hop happening on NicoNico Douga, so I thought it'd be fun to put that in there.
— The lyrics also mention "the life born of the Melt sensation."
ryo: I'm personally very grateful for the use of the phrase "Melt sensation." But I thought "wow, the sarcasm is intense." (laughs) The lyrics also have phrases from Hachi's old songs, so people who know them will go "Huh? Is this from that part in that song?" You do that, but also say "it's an obsolete desert." You make a song like this, and it feels like "well, then what's next?"
— But Hachi, I'm sure it isn't simply cynicism, but also shows a desire to continue into the future. Correct?
Hachi: Right. I'm saying "please, lead it to the future." It's out of my hands now.
— Which is why you say in the lyrics, "after this, someone else can do as they will."
Hachi: That is to say, "it's surely not me who's going to do it." I hope that Sand Planet can be an explosive trigger, but I'm simply not thinking "I'M going to turn everything on its head!" at all. Rather, I want more and more new people to appear. Let this be a chance for someone to plant another tree in the desert. If someone could till new soil around that tree, plant rice or something, and have that grow, that'd be nice.
ryo: But when you release such a quality song, I think all anyone can do is just fall silent. There's so little room for criticism of this song, everyone else will be like "Ah, excuse me, pardon me..." (laughs) It made me feel like you're quite the sadist, Hachi.
Hachi: Well, I think it'd be good if some cheeky fellows would show up. Like "Pfft, forget Hachi, I'm gonna change everything myself!" That's the sort of thing the scene could use.
ryo: Good point. To write a response to this song, you need somebody who's like "Hachi who?"
— So you want to see young talent from a new generation.
ryo: You have to be persuasive, after all. The worst thing of all is people thinking "He says some great things, but his songs are no good at all." It may be rather difficult to find new Vocaloid producers who can surmount such a huge hurdle. But I also share the feeling of "Come on, guys!"
Hachi: Right, I hope there can be people like that. Like Balloon, Nayutalien, n-buna - there's a new generation appearing, and I want those people to do their absolute best. And for there to then be younger kids who were influenced by those guys... I really want it to continue on and on in that way.