Among all users of Hatsune Miku, Furukawa-P stands out as one of the most unique.
His novel ways of playing with sound, influenced by electronica and post rock, certainly make for unexpected kinds of songs. For this, he's become extremely popular. Since posting "Piano Lesson" on NicoNico Douga, he's steadily gotten more and more views, and one of his most famous songs, "Alice," has nearly passed 200,000 views.
Naturally, other Vocaloid artists can't help but wonder what kind of person he is, and neither could we. We were having considerable trouble getting in touch with Furukawa given his job, but we finally managed to interview him.
Furukawa-P was born in Kansai and played in a band. For the debut of their CD, they went to Tokyo with much fanfare, but the band was then dissolved. He stayed in Tokyo, and now works as a designer. He's a rather handsome man, but refuses to let out photographs or his real name. He seems to worry about hardships with his band, but is undoubtedly a stylish fellow.
To be honest, he struck me as quite different from the prior impression his ephemeral music gave me, but I grew used to it as we spoke. He talked of an experience of frustration with his band, his ability to work with Vocaloids while managing his job, and some unexpectedly bold ideas.
— Let's see, where shall we begin... How old are you now?
Furukawa: I'm 29.
— Where did the alias "Furukawa-P" come from?
Furukawa: There's a parking lot in my area called "Furukawa Parking." I was like, "well, it's better than "Whatever-P.""
— When did you get into music?
Furukawa: Ever since I was around 14, when I got into a band. I couldn't play a single sport, and I wasn't particularly good in any of my subjects. I just really wanted to start a band. Like baseball players looking to play pro baseball, it was also sort of future job planning. I figured I couldn't make half the steps toward going to college and getting a job, so I'd rather be some kind of musician so I could have a job I'd want to work hard at. Not that it exactly went that way, but yeah.
— Well, I think that's a reasonable motive. What kind of music did you do back then?
Furukawa: I was into visual key, but lots of visual kei guys either stressed technique or came from a metal background. So it was either "fast" or "heavy." I figured one of those two would be satisfying. Also, the people around me seemed to know more songs than anybody else, so I kept going to some fanatical CD shop to try and keep up.
— Metal! Well, that's unexpected!
Furukawa: When I joined a light music club at university, I finally broadened my horizons. Shibuya style, Swedish pop, European stuff. And when I heard European equal metal, I was like, "oh, so they've got this too!" There had been live shows going on in my area until around halfway through the 20th century.
— By the way, what style did your band play then?
Furukawa: Guitar rock. When the band fell apart due to a fair bit of trouble, I figured I couldn't meddle with this stuff anymore. I pretty much just... had to stop.
— You sound like you might be reluctant to say, but may I ask what kind of trouble?
Furukawa: Just, difficulties between the members. Things were getting a bit scary, let's say. We'd even decided to release a CD, but... we haven't done anything since then.
— So you stopped just like that?
Furukawa: We didn't stop. But we weren't in any position to go back. I still wonder sometimes if we couldn't do anything in the future. I'd always liked doing design, so I wondered if I could possibly do something given that, and then I entered this world.
— So you became a designer. ...Um, what's the matter?
Furukawa: (Laying head on desk and flapping hands) Uhhh, sorry. I'm not good. At talking about this. I'm not some anime character, okay.
— So how did you get back to music with Hatsune Miku?
Furukawa: A superior from my band days gifted it to me for my birthday. But while I was happy to get it, my home computer was an old Mac. So for a while, it sat unused.
— Yeah, doesn't run on Macs...
Furukawa: Until then I'd never looked at anything on NicoNico besides the Cooking category, but I happened to see [a Hatsune Miku video] and found it interesting. At the time I thought Hatsune Miku was just a thing backed by, I dunno, five or six people at Crypton. I had no idea there were a lot of regular people behind it like I know now. After that, I replaced my computer with a new Windows one and began. That was around June of last year.
— Only been about half a year, huh. You've already built up a firm Furukawa-P brand. What was it like switching from the band to Hatsune Miku and digital?
Furukawa: I'd never dealt with female vocals before. I'm not the most personable guy in the first place, so I hadn't had much chance at all to get a female vocalist, so being able to do that, I thought "this was MADE for me!"
— What parts were you playing in the band?
Furukawa: Guitar. Not as if I'm much better now, but at the time I was totally unable to sing while playing. I didn't do choruses, and as an MC I wasted a lot of time, so the rest of the band would never put a microphone in front of me.
— Really liked to talk, huh? So how did your style shift from guitar rock to electronica?
Furukawa: My reason was simply the quality of Hatsune Miku's voice. At the time I saw it as something like a Daft Punk-esque digital voice, so I figured making the song all bleepy bloopy would be best. Those songs didn't work out, so I didn't end up making them, but... Even though I make songs you'd never see at a show, and I was held back because I knew my office was getting mad, I can now make songs of various genres without worrying about it.
— So you felt more free to express yourself without the constraints of the band?
Furukawa: That's what I thought, but I found I was surprisingly constrained. I thought I could do just about anything, but I just can't seem to make anything band-esque. But for now, I don't bother trying to bring out those things from inside me.
— You seem to have quite a way with words, so... favorite authors?
Furukawa: Chuya Nakahara-san. I like him and Hiromi Kawakami-san. Though both have different color hair. And if you're talking lyrics, I love Gendi Ootsuki-san.
— Do you put a lot of thought into your lyrics?
Furukawa: I put more time into them than the song. How beautifully do these read? How do they sound aloud? Put alongside the melody, do they evoke good feelings? That's the stuff I mainly focus on. And if I have to change the melody for their sake, then so be it.
— Is it difficult balancing your music and your work?
Furukawa: The theme of each day is "I have to finish up enough that I'll have free time and commuting time for tomorrow." I have to make sure I make the train and lunch, write myself memos about things that are on my mind, take care of things at home, and so on. I generally get to bed at three, so I have seven hours to use after I finish work and get home. I can manage with that.
— How many hours of sleep do you...?
— Isn't that stressful?
Furukawa: You'd be surprised what you can get used to. I'm fine with it. But there are times when I'm... not.
— I figure it impacts more than just what you make, but what do you listen to these days?
Furukawa: Lately... mum, Haruka Nakamura, and DoF are pretty sweet. I love Sigur Rós. I don't think I feel too strongly about music either way these days. Maybe I was a lot more opinionated when I was in the band, I forget. If I don't think it has some relation to what I output, I haven't listened to it much.
— If so, then you can do anything now.
Furukawa: I do have the choice of "don't output." To make an extreme example, I could say that starting tomorrow I'll never make a song again. Because my life isn't founded upon that. I could stop anytime I wanted if I really wanted to.
— But you won't?
Furukawa: I won't. Because it's fun.
— What about it, exactly?
Furukawa: In the band, there was a severe lag between the completion of a song and it actually going out to anybody, and the tension just died down in the interim. But now I have a place where I can get a song I just finished to be heard by tens, hundreds of thousands of people. I can shoot off a "doing a show!" email to friends without the drudgery of car loans and so forth. I find that environment interesting.
— Must be far more comforting than the band, huh.
Furukawa: But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. In an environment where your songs can be easily heard, it can be hard to decide for yourself if people are judging you harshly or not. Also, the framework of NicoNico and Vocaloid made me notice for the first time, "huh, am I too gloomy?" I'm always conscious of that about myself. As free as I am, it doesn't really mean everything's all good.
— What about relying on Miku's character?
Furukawa: I don't think relying on a character is so bad. Some people use that as a reason to listen to my songs. Take away the character, and I get overlooked for all the plainly-superior other stuff in the plaza, so it's rough being the creator. I'll never have the strength to refute those people if I don't do it and they say, "well, THEY'VE got Hatsune Miku."
— You need to hold up to a standard.
— Do you feel you exaggerate your ability to yourself?
Furukawa: I don't think my songs are bad at all, but I do think I overestimate my skill. I mean, aren't the vocals the most important part of making music with vocals? As soon as someone says "I don't like this voice," I'm screwed. It's a hurdle that rises above music that uses Hatsune Miku. I don't need to put myself down for it, but I do think it's important to keep that in mind as I create.
— What do you think about having other creators alongside you?
Furukawa: I simply enjoy it. It was much more strained back with the band. It's like, man, how is it so peaceful now?
— There were some pressing matters back then.
Furukawa: With the band, even if we got excited over finishing something up, as soon as someone said "we're making a major debut," the room froze in an instant.
— The realm of Vocaloid isn't like that?
Furukawa: Well, it's the internet, anything can happen. But everyone's generally nice and can work together. Or maybe things were just that bloodthirsty before, I don't know.
— Now, a major debut is one of a number of choices you have.
Furukawa: The conclusive difference between now and back in the band is probably that a major debut isn't something to aspire to anymore. Why come to hate it, though? A major debut used to be a cause for celebration...
— Why do you think that is?
Furukawa: Maybe a major debut just seems uglier now compared to an individual effort. Obviously there are only things that could be achieved in a major debut, but going it alone sounds more interesting to me. Identifying what the main difference between them is, that's the first problem. If it's no different from going it alone, then I'll be inclined to purposefully keep my songs to myself. Perhaps if it were made perfectly clear what "things" could only be achieved in a major debut, I would long for them again.
— By what routes do you sell your works?
Furukawa: Vocaloid Master. I've barely done any mail order yet.
— Why did you choose that?
Furukawa: Though it's pretty tedious, I'm always checking my video comments and views, but those aren't perfectly accurate. 100,000 views doesn't mean 100,000 people watched it. It could've just been one guy reloading 100,000 times.
— Hahaha... Well, I suppose I didn't think of that one.
Furukawa: I thought that because I couldn't see guests in real time. But if you go to an event like Vocaloid Master, oh are there guests. Making lines upon lines. I wondered if all those people were there for themselves or for someone else. So I wanted to see that.
— You wanted to see who was coming to buy from and to see Furukawa-P. But it's nothing like a performance hall, right?
Furukawa: Not at all. Oh, well, perhaps it seemed like it for those younger and more popular than I, but then again, I don't have much connection to such things at this age. But I got to see the flanks of cosplayers for free, and people coming to buy my CD exhilarated me.
— Exhilaration by flanks...?
Furukawa: I was just kidding. But seriously, back in the band, I got evaluated by about four people. And stuff like "the vocalist sounds pretty good," "one of your members looks cool" - maybe not even an assessment of my work at all. But, as I'm fundamentally alone in Vocaloid, I of course get the evaluation directed at me. An ordinary salaryman can come to tell me "I'm a fan!" And I feel like I can shave a little more time off my sleep schedule.
— You don't have any opposition to otaku culture, like cosplayers?
Furukawa: Not at all. I have an older brother who's like, an elite otaku. Really into Gundam, idolizies voice actresses and Morning Musume. As for cosplay, I see it as like a magnificent kind of real-life class change. Maybe I only say that because I have those kinds of people close to me, but I watch quite a bit of anime too.
— Even now, people who do regular music have no reason to turn up their nose at Hatsune Miku.
Furukawa: Even if one were opposed to the character, that wouldn't be fair. I doubt it's possible to make new things without allowing consideration of new techniques. It's not often you get to see developing technology evolving up close.
— Recently, you've been having singers sing your songs as part of an "I Was Asked To Sing" series...
Furukawa: That began with people saying to post the karaoke, so I did. But I was quite opposed to them singing it and saying "new song!" "Um, you're very good and all, but... It's my song..." I know, it's just a figure of speech. I figured, singers get to choose which songs they sing. So what if I did the choosing, huh? So that was how that started.
— And what if the versions sung by people become more popular?
Furukawa: The way I see it, Vocaloid songs and "Asked To Sing"s both involve something that I created, so when either is positively received I can think "I'm awesome, whooooo!" So there's no real problem. Though I am frightened that perhaps someone will go off the deep end and hunt me down as a Vocaloid traitor.
— What do you mean, hunt you down?!
Furukawa: If Vocaloids weren't a recognized icon, my songs probably wouldn't get heard. I'm building on a foundation, and switching to human vocals would be like betrayal, or so some people think. Well, I think they should be able to co-exist, but yeah.
— Dealing with all this between work must be rough.
Furukawa: It's a hobby, and it's fun. If it got boring on the way, I'd stop immediately.
— Isn't it a little difficult keeping it a hobby?
Furukawa: When I look around, I see new music coming out day after day. Whenever I listen to it, it can make me either joyful or distressed. Like, why didn't I think of this? Someday I want to make something for which I can say "I did this first!" I want to prove myself through my creating. I'll keep going until I accomplish that. Though the hurdles will keep going higher all my life.
— You might not be able to do it until you die. So... you'll do it until you die.
Furukawa: I'd say so.
— It seems to me that the future will hold more musicians like you who do it on the side. What kind of advice do you have to those young people?
Furukawa: In terms of the realm of Vocaloid, I want them to recognize that this world we live in now, where they have a video site that lets them publicize things for free or nearly free as a "producer," is unique indeed. With all the works circulating, it's hard to decide an unconditional price to set, but at this rate, it seems music is moving closer and closer to being free.
— You mean the way we view the relationship between listener and musician? I suppose it's simply a matter of manners.
Furukawa: Much like the realm of Vocaloid, it's a small world for authors and customers, so as you exchange opinions, you might want to look for a better business model. At this rate, I think the choice to take the musician's job you long for might soon vanish, and so too will any music that lacks aspiration go obsolete.