wowaka - Unhappy Refrain

webDICE, May 20th, 2011 (Original Article)

"An Uneasy or Hazy Feeling Without Fail": Hit NicoNico Creator wowaka Portraying the Feelings of Adolescence

Numerous internet creators who center themselves around NicoNico Douga have banded together to establish a new music label of their own, BALLOOM. The first of their releases was an album from wowaka, the man who had already broken records on Nico with numbers like "Rollin' Girl," "World's End Dancehall," and "Two-Faced Lovers."

His May 18th album "Unhappy Refrain" is a production brimming with his music's typical fast-paced feelings, and is saturated in a world view strongly connected to the tremblings in teenage girls' hearts. In the man's own words, along with bringing its own originality, it's symbolic of a link forming between what's begun on the internet via Nico and what's now branching out into CDs. It's surely a work worthy of attention, even from those with an active viewpoint into the music scene.

— You've released independent CDs before this, but I suppose it's your first time with this new label that will bring it to worldwide distribution.

I've always asked friends I know on the net to help with the parts about CD design and illustration I don't personally understand, though the sound absolutely begins and ends with me alone. The second disc here is a remix collection, and those remixers took a totally different approach from me, reconstructing my songs, and also getting involved in all sorts of things like engineering and PR and design. Basically, getting all that kind of stuff together gives me something to be proud of, and satisfied with.

— I feel, in some ways, that your behavior is rather unique for a musician of the 2010s. You're not solely a performing musician, but through the use of the Vocaloid program, also wear the hats of a track maker and a producer, and even a remixer. Did you have any objectives in putting your works up on Nico?

Making music and submitting videos to NicoNico Douga was absolutely a hobby. When I posted my first song, I was only thinking about putting out my own independent CDs, but found this interesting music-making software, and I started on that thinking "well, I suppose I can just do this myself."

I began with Vocaloid and digital music simultaneously, but as I was doing it I got better at the technical aspects of both Vocaloid and music, always telling myself I'd make something cooler next time. Even when I got around to making an independent CD, I learned about these events that were selling Vocaloid CDs and art books and such, and since I figured I was already making this music, I reached out. It all just snowballed, basically.

— Even so, you were suddenly making some catchy songs.

Well, I had already been playing guitar since my third year of middle school. When I uploaded my first song in 2009, I thought up the entire arrangement of a song all on my own, then put it into the computer. I felt very excited when I came across Vocaloid.

— When did you learn about Nico?

Around the tail end of 2008. Initially I just saw a bunch of songs uploaded, and wasn't too interested in who was making them, but as I listened to more and more, I found some very high quality and impactful songs, and I began to wonder. Then I learned it was all individually-made, and it interested me that lone people could accomplish this. So around March or April of 2009, I bought Hatsune Miku and sequencing software and embarked on my digital music journey.

— Compared to other digital music software, what do you feel is the most interesting part about Vocaloid?

Well, singing plays an important part - putting some words to the sounds. Since you'd typically want a girl's voice, you're usually shot down if you want to do it all on your own. The idea that you can handle all the parts of creation in a single computer is really fascinating.

— Is there a difference between making music with lyrics and instrumental songs?

Whether or not you have words along with it changes the implications dramatically, I think. Myself, as a listener, I really like Japanese music, but there's tons of western music that's really cool too. So I find the ones I like and buy the CDs, but since I'm Japanese, what intuitively comes to mind is Japanese.

— Compared to the J-Pop scene, is it a different experience in the world of Vocaloid and Nico, where all these arranged versions are constantly being uploaded?

There's a fair amount of very poppy, high-quality songs that are good at sticking with you, just like in J-Pop. And - though I know this because I've got my foot more in Vocaloid - there's countless underground musician types, and lots of their songs are really cool. So I'm very glad I got to know about these artists and their methods through tampering with Vocaloid.

So, while I think the NicoNico Douga Vocaloid scene is something rather unheard of until now, the truth is, the creators make what they want, and there will be listeners for it. Each producer can make their own kind of thing. And I think it has a certain connection with the existing music scene in that all these countless things are just rolling around.

— What did you think of the sudden massive jump in views on your uploaded songs?

I didn't do any performing prior to doing live shows that attracted thousands, so I guess I'm not really phased by sheer numbers. It was a mysterious feeling of both joy and of me looking in from the outside.

— If you were in a band, in a performance hall, doing a show in front of an audience, you could probably get an understanding of the audience just from their faces. But with you uploading music to Nico and users communicating through comments and other songs, what kind of image do you have of your listeners?

The best part about posting to NicoNico Douga is seeing people's responses through direct comments, and with each comment or email I get, I see a slightly better picture of them. You could probably say this about the whole Vocaloid scene, but there's tons of teens, middle-schoolers, and high-schoolers. It's fantastic that these youths notice the worth in this kind of scene. What's particularly impressive on me is how many of them make their own CDs and bring them to events. And I'm grateful for them lining up to buy my CDs, giving me handshakes... Having that kind of direct contact made me feel for the first time, "Ah, so there definitely are people who listen."

— What were their impressions?

"I'm always listening to this song at school," and stuff. (laughs) When I was in high school, I listened to my favorite bands and singers, so it makes me awfully happy to see nothing's really changed there.

— Objectively speaking, what do you think makes the "wowaka sound"?

Personally, I don't try to establish that intentionally, but there are of course things that crop up no matter what. I like songs with fast tempos, so I've made lots of songs on the fast side, and there's often tunes that assault you with words. You can say that's because it's all from the same creator. I have very definite habits about how I arrange my sound, but I wonder if that could just be blamed on the way I am.

— Has that style of song spontaneously emerged since you began making music?

I'll make a slow song, I'll make a ballad of sorts, I'll try all sorts of things. But when I'm thinking to myself about what songs I like most, I don't want to simply say "fast!", but I do like songs with lots of words in them best.

— What's the most common way you make music? Does it start from a rhythm track?

I like music that focuses on riffs, so I often try to come up with a catchy riff first, then build everything else from there. But even that's been changing slightly lately. I've played guitar for a long time, but I'm not familiar with how to do it well in digital music, so I don't use my guitar much in making the song. I'll wail on a MIDI keyboard searching for phrases, and that's how the chords come along. Once the intro is ready, I feel like the song is nearly complete. Then I think about how I can have the pattern I've established develop over the course of the song. And I make the backing track as I'm humming the melody to myself. It's not a strict order, like "first I make the instrumental track and put stuff on top of it, then last I make the melody and lyrics." It all slowly progresses together.

— So by the time the planning for a song is done, you've already established more or less what you'll be hearing in the end.

I first decide what I want to hear the very most - the catchy part - and consider how to best use that and proceed from it. Lately my guitar has been coming into play more when it comes to creating those riffs.

— So I suppose these recent changes can be seen in the new songs on the album?

The new songs, yes, but since I also did retakes of all the songs, the arranged portions have changed as well. I put guitar in all the songs, and there were lots of parts from when I was just getting started that were plain clumsy, so I brushed them up.

— Did any major thoughts go into the way the album was organized?

A given song isn't just comprised of its characteristics and qualities. The very fact of it being uploaded as a video gives a certain nuance, so putting together all those uploaded songs into one thing was a really big deal.

And naturally, considering the tone and lyrics and everything for each song, I absolutely agonized over the ordering. Priorly they were just made as songs in their own separate places, and their individual sounds didn't have to be compatible with one another. So I had the idea that by rerecording those parts and rearranging the songs, I could sort them out into something more like an album.

— Hasn't there been negativity from fans about selling CDs?

I felt this at the time, too, but there are tons of people who want to have my songs as material "things," which I'm very grateful for. Of course, they could just listen to it on the net, and if they wanted, download the MP3 and listen to that. But some come to events saying "I'm always listening, and I want this CD, so I came to buy it." I like to believe that CDs have that kind of power. And of course, this is an opinion from an independent creator, but I really, really like CDs. I feel there's worth in them, and so do the listeners who come to buy them, whether at events or by mail order. And I think that this time around I've made a worthy product, so I'd like anyone who watches my videos to get it if they can.

— This release coincidences with the establishing of the BALLOOM label. I assume it's a good work environment for you?

I participated because it seemed like a place where you could do things thoroughly thanks to the collaboration of various others toward making music, being a creator in general, and furthermore, doing what you want to do. There are things you just can't reach working independently, and this lets you accomplish those things without feeling like you've lost your liberty. Even looking at solely the artists that participated in this, we're all jealous of each other's songs... (laughs) Everyone has their good qualities, but they also have their "nobody's gonna beat me at this!" skills, and that's a good situation to be in.

— Your music is decidely different from other musicians on Nico, and I wonder if it has to do with the power of your lyrics. The listeners certainly do listen to them carefully. It's never just a straightforward love song; there can be painful feelings, things about how you connect with the world, things to think about. I felt that even moreso listening to it as an album.

When I make a song, I'm always preparing a heroine... or protagonist, at least. I decide a major theme for each song, and make the lyrics such that the theme can be extracted. Every time, without fail, I make sure there's something: a sense of loss, a sense of uneasiness, a hazy feeling. I always picture in my head the girl propped up against a wall between her and the world, and from there I write. In that way, I suppose the album has a single thread of consistency.

— It's always a girl?

Well, Vocaloid has female voices, so why not.

— As if you had a female singer singing a song, then?

It's not quite like that... I dunno how to say it. Yes, in my case, it's female vocals, but I also think Hatsune Miku singing gives it a certain bit of persuasiveness. But even if I were to temporarily sing for myself, I think the same kind of world view would remain. There's influences from the music I listen to; for the feminine parts, I kind of like feelings that tie into puberty and rebellion, so I create along those lines. I try to put the haziness of an "I'm all by myself in the world" feeling into the lyrics.

— You can read into it too much, or you can read between the lines. Are there lots of comments from listeners who sympathize with the lyrics?

Yes. People making interpretations like "Is it just me, or do these lyrics have this hidden meaning?" is a common trend. It's very interesting - I get emails like "I'm certain this part of the lyrics is about a person like this!", even though they're completely off... (laughs) But it's a way for listeners to understand and enjoy the song in their own ways, which is a happy thing for me.

But the truth is, when I write them, to me the important part is the sense of the language. I think of the lyrics as I hum the melody, and ultimately I really just choose words with the proper intonation, or words that sound good to the ear... as long as it doesn't make it sound too bad. So there's no such deep interpretation... to speak of. (laughs) Still, I'm happy you're willing to interpret even what I didn't think about too much myself.

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