Keina Suda (Balloon) & Ayase - Vocaloid Collection 2020, December 11th, 2020 (Original Article)

The VOCALOID Collection Special Feature #3: Keina Suda & Ayase Discussion: We're the Last Generation That Can Be Called "Net-Famous"

The VOCALOID Collection ~Winter 2020~, an event involving various projects related to Vocaloid, will be held from December 11th to 13th.

To commemorate the start of The VOCALOID Collection, will be posting a series of features putting the spotlight on creators supporting the event. This third article is a discussion between Keina Suda, who started as a Vocaloid producer under the name Balloon and now does work as a singer-songwriter, and Ayase, who's well-known not only for his work as a Vocaloid producer, but also as a composer for YOASOBI. Both having achieved great success in ways that don't use Vocaloid, what thoughts do they have about the internet music scene and the musical tool that is Vocaloid? While they share aspects as creators, the output of the music they create differs; we had them speak about their personal approaches to musical expression.

— Suda-san, on a radio show the other day, you mentioned playing games with Ayase-san...

Keina Suda: Just the other day, we had an opportunity to play some games together. A radio listener sent an email that went like "Ayase-san said you're super good at Smash, Suda-san," and I was like "when'd word of that get out?!" Ayase-kun, where'd you spill the beans?

Ayase: Maybe on a TwitCast? But really, Keina-kun is amazing at Smash.

Suda: When we're playing as fellow creators, I team up with Ayase-kun and fight alongside him.

Ayase: We were strong as a team, weren't we?

Suda: Yeah. Together, we defeated an annoying Pac-Man. (laughs)

— When did you two first meet?

Suda: It was actually pretty recent.

Ayase: About 2 months ago, right? (Takuya) Yao-san introduced us.

Suda: Yao-san was with Ayase-kun as a supporting drummer, and got us to meet. Truth is, both me and Ayase-kun used to play drums.

Ayase: Yeah, yeah. We actually have a really similar history as drummers.

— When you met, what were your first impressions of each other?

Suda: Of course I'd listened to his songs, and I'd seen various bits of information show up on Twitter, so I had an idea like "he's probably this kind of person." But I didn't know his face until I met him. So when we first met, I thought "this guy looks super grim."

Ayase: Hey, hey, hey... (laughs)

Suda: I thought "wow, piercings enlarge your ears that much?" (laughs)

Ayase: My impression had been that Keina-kun was very much a creator-type person. But after actually meeting him, I'd call him more of a band type. He goes to venues, he goes out drinking - I was like, he's a surprisingly active person.

— How do you feel about each other's music?

Suda: In truth, when I learned about YOASOBI's "Running in the Night," I didn't realize its creator Ayase-kun was a Vocaloid producer. I feel like Running in the Night is a song that represents 2020. It was playing everywhere around the start of the year, to the point that I'm not sure there was a day I didn't hear it.

Ayase: Thank you very much.

Suda: So I was shocked when I heard Ayase-kun did Vocaloid. Part of it's that I've been focused on my own work these past few years since I began operating as Keina Suda, so I didn't listen to many Vocaloid songs. But I got introduced to Ayase-kun's music, and lately I've come to know music from new creators like syudou-kun, Niru Kajitsu-san, and john/TOOBOE-san. They had completely different sensibilities from when I was doing Vocaloid, and I noticed anew how there were a lot of people making fantastic music. Since around the start of the year, I've started paying attention to Vocaloid music again, and feel like they're cultivating an updated music culture compared to the era I knew. I listen to Ayase-kun's Vocaloid songs, of course, and I particularly like Ghost City Tokyo and Wanderer.

Ayase: When I started Vocaloid in 2018, I began digging up all kinds of Vocaloid songs all at once. Ones with lots of views, videos with interesting thumbnails - as I powered through listening to them, I found that the person who was best at doing J-pop with Vocaloid was Balloon, AKA Keina-kun.

Suda: I'm glad. (laughs)

Ayase: Out of the first Vocaloid songs I found, "Rain and Peter" in particular I've listened to over and over on loop. Not to leave out songs like Charles and Mabel too, of course. I didn't know anything about the community, so I didn't have a good idea of who was amazing or who had been around a long time, so the impression I got from my musical dig was that this Balloon person was the boss of the Vocaloid world. (laughs) Since his view counts were incredible, and Charles topped the karaoke rankings. Of course, I also learned of his work as a singer-songwriter afterward, so that belief turned into a conviction that he really was an amazing person.

Suda: Pretty unusual to hear you talking about music like this.

Ayase: Yeah. When fellow creators go drinking, they generally don't talk music. It ends up going like "let's not, let's not." (laughs)

Suda: That's true. When the subject turns to music, it makes things too serious. We probably talk more about games and things when we drink.

— What got the two of you to begin using Vocaloid?

Suda: I started Vocaloid around 2013, but the whole time until then, I was the drummer for the same guitar player/vocalist. Probably for about 5 years. It wouldn't really be an exaggeration to say I played drums for that person's sake, and I took it seriously - our approach was for said guitar player/vocalist to make songs and me to add the beat. Even though I knew nothing outside of drums, I proposed melody ideas and chord progressions, but they went entirely unused. Even when I first made a song in GarageBand - and they meant this as a joke, but - I was told "I'll consider some part of the garbage you made." While I was building up ideas, I was frustrated by my lack of places to output them, and just then is when I learned about the platform of NicoNico Douga. The first song I heard on NicoNico wasn't Vocaloid, but a song called RAINBOW GIRL sung by a game Let's Player, and I went watching various other videos from there. On NicoNico Douga, lots of people freely published their works, which ranged from high-quality to not-so-high quality yet brimming with love. Finding this even ground for expression with no barriers of ability, I thought, maybe this is where I can output these things I haven't been able to find a place for before.

Ayase: I had a similar experience to Keina-kun. I was in a band doing vocals before encountering Vocaloid, but that band ceased activity. While I was at home, I got interested in the music my little sister was listening to. I believe the first song I heard was Neru-san's Jailbreak. I was informed that it was apparently an "utattemita," and the original song was sung by a Vocaloid. I looked that up and found it kind of appealing in that it's music you could make all by yourself, so I became a Vocaloid producer called Ayase. But I didn't know much about computers, and I still don't feel like I'm exactly a master with them. I've only just recently become able to use samplers.

Suda: What, really? I thought you'd be using them a ton.

Ayase: I didn't know the technical skill of how to cut a release, so I cut up the exported data manually...

Suda: Amazing. You've been doing it like a craftsman. (laughs)

Ayase: A little while ago, Neru-san asked me "Ayase-kun, what interface do you use?" I really didn't know anything, so I replied "what's an interface?" (laughs)

Suda: For real?!

Ayase: Neru-san was shocked too. "That's nuts, man!" (laughs) He promptly sent me the interface he used to use after that. But I had no clue how to use it, so I questioned him about every little thing, like "Neru-san, how do you use this?"... He marveled at my cluelessness, asking "how have you been mixing up to now?"

Suda: I mean, he's right.

Ayase: If you plug headphones into a computer, sound comes out. That's all you need.

Suda: How'd you record vocals and stuff?

Ayase: I don't use many live sounds, it's almost all digital. When I sing for YOASOBI, I go to a studio, and I've used a studio for my self-covers too.

Suda: Ah, I see. In that case, I guess you could've managed...?

Ayase: If you're just making instrumentals, as long as you have a computer and the software, you can manage, I think.

Suda: Still, Ayase-kun, you're pretty bizarre.

Ayase: Of course I know I need to gain more knowledge, but studying new things and learning how to use equipment is such a pain that I don't... When you can make something even if it's time-consuming, you can get kind of get attached to the work because of how long it takes. Even though I bought a MIDI keyboard, I haven't plugged it in once, and just keep putting in notes one by one.

Suda: You've got a real dauntless spirit. (laughs)

— Part of the now-in-session VOCALOID Collection event is a project that puts a spotlight on fanworks, encouraging the posting of both vocal and instrumental cover videos. As the creators who are having these fanworks made, how do you feel about your work spreading in that way?

Ayase: I'm very welcome to fanworks.

Suda: I'm also genuinely happy about them.

Ayase: This year, I think performers and other people not connected to music have had more opportunities to upload videos of them singing to YouTube and TikTok, though that was a culture that was already popular overseas. In fact, that culture had already taken root on NicoNico. The trend of sharing music through secondary works feels like an absolutely ideal way to spread. Music is something anybody's free to sing.

Suda: I think "utattemita" cover culture has a lot in common with jazz. When various singers cover the song in their own ways, the same music can sound completely different. With regular artists, there's a sense of "the song is made for these vocals," but in the case of Vocaloid, the song alone is purely evaluated, and it feels like everyone can sing it.

Ayase: I truly think it's a good thing for just the song to be looked at purely. The Vocaloid software can sing anything, so it can be applied to any song of any genre, be it rock or R&B or shuffle jazz. I think that high level of freedom is a major appeal of Vocaloid culture. There isn't a single piece of music that'd be like "this song isn't a good fit for this community," everything's freeform, and if you don't like it, you can just stop. I think that air of freedom is a good aspect of video culture.

— I've asked you about things related to Vocaloid, but something you both have in common is that you're focusing on work that doesn't use Vocaloid. Suda-san, why did you shift toward work as a singer-songwriter?

Suda: I find people singing my songs to be a wonderful thing, so I make Vocaloid songs with a considerable awareness from the early stages that people are going to cover them. As Balloon, I write Vocaloid songs aiming to make them cool no matter who sings them, but I like singing myself as well, so I've also had a perspective of "how pleasing could I make this for me to sing?" Around the time I posted Charles and Mabel, there were moments that the line between those two got very fuzzy. When I start making a song, it should be clear-cut whether I'm making a Vocaloid song or a song under my name, and yet those got to be mixed up. To sweep away that gross feeling, I prepared the separate names of Balloon and Keina Suda.

— It seems you've been focusing on your work as Keina Suda recently as a result. Is there a reason for that?

Suda: It's simply that I've never been good at doing two things at the same time. Essentially, I've been thinking for now that I'll focus on the things I'd like to express under this name, so my work as Balloon will be on hold for a while. However, Ayase-kun and other Vocaloid-involved people have stimulated me, so a feeling's starting to bud of "that just looks plain fun, I want to get back to that again." I've been faintly thinking about how I want to have my songs sung by a Vocaloid again.

— The unit YOASOBI was started as part of a project, but how do you perceive non-Vocaloid work, Ayase-san?

Ayase: Similar to how I started Vocaloid "because it seemed fun," when I was talked to about the YOASOBI project, I just thought it sounded really fun and got to it. As such, I've just always gone in the direction I'm most interested in.

— You've also posted self-covers doing your own vocals. As you release music on a variety of levels - inviting vocalists, or singing yourself - why do you continue to make Vocaloid songs in parallel?

Ayase: Simply enough, I like Hatsune Miku's voice. (laughs)

Suda: Her voice, huh.

Ayase: Before I started Vocaloid, I didn't feel anything about it especially, but when I first bought the software, put on headphones, and had her sing "aaa," I thought "hey, this is stupid-cute!" (laughs) If you type "good morning," she'll say "good morning"; it's really fun having her sing whatever you want. So I'm still flirting with Miku even now.

Suda: Having used a variety, I think maybe I've fallen for v flower. (laughs)

Ayase: I've used v flower only once, but I think I end up using Miku just because I like Miku. I like v flower for what she is, but it's not like you can get away with cheating "just a little." (laughs)

Suda: I think affinity with your music is part of it too. I've tried out many Vocaloids, including Miku and Gumi, and v flower has been the one who best suits my music. v flower may be a girl, but shamefully, I do things like make her sing a forced-masculine key in a high octave. But that's just what sounds coolest.

Ayase: It's also about impressions. I think v flower just feels like she makes sense with Balloon as a creator.

Suda: At any rate, I think it's amazing you're making music as YOASOBI while also uploading Vocaloid songs.

Ayase: It's because it's fun. There are people who tell me things like "I'm happy you aren't giving up Vocaloid even though you're doing YOASOBI," but that's not out of a sense of duty, it's just because it's fun to do. Even if YOASOBI continues on, even if I start another band, I definitely think there are things I can only do in Vocaloid. There are absolutely times I make music that's like "a human could never sing this, right?", and to me, the expression allowed by Vocaloid is something that allows me to me fulfill certain desires of things I want to make.

Ayase: This might be getting a bit off-topic from today's project, but I feel like the line between "the online scene" and "the non-online scene" has been steadily going away.

Suda: Yeah.

Ayase: I feel like our generation or so might end up being the last one to be called things like "net-famous." Because all artists are releasing their things on the internet now.

Suda: Yeah, yeah. I think that's wild.

Ayase: I imagine terms like that will vanish within a year or two.

Suda: That process might have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ayase: When that happens, I imagine preconceptions like "online-style music is like this, major-style music is like this" will disappear too. Artists from both groups are fighting on the same field now.

Suda: It already feels like the arena has expanded a ton.

Ayase: 2020 might be a year that's laid the groundwork for moving in that sort of direction.

— For the VOCALOID Collection event, there are many experiments being held to put a spotlight on a new generation of creators, such as a remix competition with publicized stem data, and a ranking only new Vocaloid producers can participate in. If you could give any advice to new creators, what would it be?

Suda: As a message for people messing with stem data to do remixes: it's fine to wreck the stem data with love and make a new song. I think it's a good place to express yourself freely without worrying about what others think.

Ayase: Right, right. Flattery will get you nowhere. (laughs) Affectations like that are a false show in place of skill, and they'll fall away immediately. As a message for people looking to start in Vocaloid now, I want to tell them "don't focus entirely on equipment." Stuff like "you need good equipment or else" is completely false. It's absolutely better to think clever and figure out what you can do with your current environment than to spend a bunch of money. You can't mistake the sense of relief new hardware gives you for actual improvement in your work. I get the feeling of wanting to put together a cool setup, and it can have the benefit of giving you motivation, so I won't say it's an outright bad thing. But you can absolutely make a good song without having anything at all.

Suda: That means something coming from you, Ayase-kun. (laughs)

Ayase: If you have motivation and resourcefulness, you can make anything. I hope people don't forget that.

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