Real Sound interview with SymaG and Nanahoshi Orchestra on “Gatch’n!”

(Full title: “SymaG × Nanahoshi Orchestra discuss their enthusiasm about their first ‘anime song’: ‘I hope they can grow up with the song and story together as a set'”)

A translation of this interview from June 14, 2017 with vocalist SymaG and composer Nanahoshi Orchestra regarding the release of their single “Gatch’n!” and its B-side “BE MY LIGHT”, which served as the second opening theme song and an insert song respectively for Digimon Universe App Monsters.

On June 14, SymaG released his first single “Gatch’n!”

SymaG gained initial popularity as an indie singer1 on the Internet. Last year, he released his first album Peaceful Final Memory, and his name has been gaining recognition not only on the Internet but also within the mainstream circuit. The subject of this interview, “Gatch’n!”, also serves as the theme song for the anime Digimon Universe App Monsters.

For this interview, we at Real Sound have spoken with SymaG and Nanahoshi Orchestra, the Vocaloid producer who was in charge of producing “Gatch’n!” as a song. As a singer and a songwriter, the two collaborate by recognizing each other’s talents and enhancing each other’s work even further. We talked about how they met, their impressions of each other, the production process for this single, as well as SymaG’s first live show “Peaceful Final Melody”, which will be held at the Akasaka BLITZ on June 16. (Editorial Department)

“SymaG-san is someone who goes above and beyond what the composer has in mind” (Nanahoshi Orchestra)

–Your fans are already long accustomed to you working together, but you’ve mainly been well-known for hard rock, so this anime theme song turned out to be quite surprising. We’d like to ask you more about this single in detail, but before that, please tell us how you came to work together to begin with. How did you first learn about each other?

SymaG: It all started when I came across his song “That Girl’s Secret Service” (2012), and I had the opportunity to sing a cover for it and post it to Nico Nico Douga2. This song was how I was introduced to Nanahoshi-san, and as you’d expect, I definitely got a strong hard-rock impression from it. I listened to the original Vocaloid version and thought “I think it’d be fun to sing this.”

Nanahoshi Orchestra (hereinafter, Nanahoshi): That video was also our first meeting from my perspective. When I made the original song, I was doing whatever I wanted with it and didn’t think anyone would actually sing it, so to be honest, my first impression was “wow, there’s actually someone who can sing that.3 That’s incredible.” (laughs)

–SymaG happens to be someone with a reputation for picking good songs to sing. He sang more and more of Nanahoshi-san’s songs after that, and “MISTAKE” (2013) has now surpassed 1.3 million views on Nico Nico Douga. Did you contact him directly?

SymaG: Not even that, not at all (laughs).

Nanahoshi: Today is pretty much our first time actually speaking with each other.

SymaG: When I requested to have him compose “OVERRIDE” (the sole exclusively new song for Peaceful Final Memory), all I said was “I’d like to request that Nanahoshi-san make this song. Probably something fast.” (laughs) I wanted it to be like how I did covers for his song independently, so I wanted him to make a song first and for me to sing it afterwards, instead of having any particular requests about the song. And as it turned out, the finished product was exactly what I needed.

–What kind of impression did you have of each other as you continued “collaborating” without actually communicating directly?


SymaG: Coming in from having an impression of him as a hard rock composer, when I went back and listened to his older work, Nanahoshi-san’s music had a lot of range. It wasn’t just hard rock, it got across good humor, it was like it was open-minded music that let me do whatever I wanted (laughs).

–Indeed. Nanahoshi-san also is known by the name “Illicit Sexual Relations-P”4, and his adult songs have a lot of appeal. Nanahoshi-san, what was your impression of SymaG’s singing?

Nanahoshi: I think SymaG-san is someone who goes above and beyond what the composer has in mind. Even if I put in some ridiculous melody that I figure nobody should be able to sing, not only will he sing it, he’ll go above and beyond and surpass it. That was the case with “OVERRIDE”, and it’s also the case with this song, “Gatch’n!”.

–I see. It’s a relationship where you can each do whatever you want, which creates synergy that makes the work even better. Now, this song “Gatch’n!” happens to be SymaG’s first single, and I imagine it must have come from a different force of will compared to his debut album, which was more of a record of his past work. How did production on this single get started?

SymaG: It all started when I was asked “are you interested in doing a song for an anime?”, and I heard it was Digimon of all things, so I said “yes, please, have me do it!” At the time, I had no idea I’d actually be doing the theme song. Personally, I’d just figured “even if they don’t end up picking my song, I’d at least like the anime production staff to hear and recognize it.” So when I was asked what I wanted to do for it, Nanahoshi-san’s name was the only one that came up in my mind. I suppose I could have picked a different Vocaloid producer or a different composer, but I really did have a certain kind of trust that Nanahoshi-san would be sure to make something good.

–Nanahoshi-san, how did you feel after hearing the request?

Nanahoshi: Something like “I’ve got to do it!” I watched Digimon as it aired, so I was also thinking “no way, they’re actually having me do this?” So I immediately got all the materials I needed to do the work and started expanding my ideas for it.

Nanahoshi Orchestra

SymaG: This was another time when I let him do whatever he wanted, but I had just one tiny thing, because I was singing it, because Nanahoshi-san was making it…I had this vague idea that, instead of having it have anything off or twisted about it, it should really be an actual anime song through and through. I didn’t just want it to be an ordinary single for an anime, I wanted it to be something that was actually closely related to the series. I didn’t care if they didn’t recognize my name, I just wanted it to be something the kids watching the anime could sing along to.

“For this song, I was able to pull out something I normally wouldn’t do very much” (SymaG)

–With the strength of the guitar phrases, the stylish feeling, and the excitement that comes from listening, I think the “characteristics” both of you are known for comes out in each section, but I also was surprised at how much it sounded like “a song made precisely for this anime”, like a conventional song that fit perfectly. SymaG-san, how did you feel when you heard the first draft of the song?

SymaG: I was given two drafts, and one had the title “Gatch’n!”, while the other had a title in proper English, and as soon as I saw those titles, I immediately thought “it has to be this one (= ‘Gatch’n!’)” (laughs). I hadn’t even listened to it yet, but it had a sort of adventurous spirit, like it had to have something that the title alone wasn’t giving away.

–As you can hear from the lyrics and listening to the phrases in the chorus, it’s a very intuitive title. Nanahoshi-san, why did you pick this title?

Nanahoshi: It felt like something was missing if I just had the guitar by itself in the intro, so I decided to add a chorus line. The end of the chorus has the line “the impulse to match and link”, “‘gacchi and’ link shita shoudou“, and the “gatch-‘n!” really stuck in my ears, and I liked it a lot.

–It has a vaguely “heroic” feel to how it sounds, doesn’t it?

Nanahoshi: It does (laughs). There were those kinds of parts where I took direct inspiration from the anime.

SymaG: I did end up actually listening to both drafts, but this really was the one that felt the best. Everyone among the staff also really liked this one.

–The lyrics are the kind made to inspire young children, and the refreshing guitar sound is a good fit for the anime. Had you ever written a song like this before?

Nanahoshi: No, not very much. But in the end, I was very aware that this was an anime made for a morning timeslot, so I made it to feel a little refreshing. It’s for a main target audience of kids, so I thought about making it some kind of phrase that’s fun and catchy, and so it became “Gatch’n!” If a kid were to say it, I’m sure it’d be very cute. But I was making it in a very different way from how I usually would, so I had a lot of things to worry about when making it. I started off with the prototype for the chorus, and I had the line “I’ve surpassed the young boy I was back then”, so I had to have him as a young boy in the first verse. I was a little unsure of what to do, but then I got an idea from a certain scene in the anime, and I tried adding the lines “If you wet the bed with a world map in the sheets, is it real or not? / Nobody will know unless they go on an adventure”. The song I’d wrote for SymaG beforehand, “OVERRIDE”, was a more serious song, so I wasn’t sure if SymaG would be okay singing this.

–You were wondering if an 82-year-old5 should really be singing about bed-wetting (laughs).

Nanahoshi: It’d make it come off a little differently than intended (laughs).

SymaG: No matter what song I sing, I try to pay close attention to my vocal tone. I try to match the song’s tone as much as possible. No doubt about it, for this song, I was able to pull out something I normally wouldn’t do very much (laughs). Also, it was in a very high key. But I didn’t want to have the key be changed, because it was in the same key as “Butter-Fly” (1999/Kouji Wada), which is considered to be the one song that represents Digimon.

–I see. In terms of tone, it felt very refreshing and welcoming.

SymaG: Right. I wanted to approach this with the perspective a kid would have, but it also has a firm grasp of our “passing perspective” as adults. I sang it many times over until it felt right.

Nanahoshi: I pretty much let him do whatever he wanted when I gave him the song.

SymaG: Personally, I have a much easier time singing based on the first bit of information I get, rather than just working off written directions that say “please sing it this way.” This is something I really like about Vocaloid culture and the indie coverist culture that came with it. Whenever I sing Vocaloid songs, I think it’s more fun when I pick songs that not many other people have sung, because I find it to be more interesting when there isn’t already an image set in place for it. I don’t like the idea of singing the same way as someone else, but I also don’t want to force myself to sing differently…basically, like that.

Nanahoshi: Once I got to actually put his vocals into the song, it had a very bright and youthful feel to it, and it also had pleasant overtones, which really brought out the brightness of the song.

–The B-side for the single is “BE MY LIGHT”, which is used as an insert song for the series’ battle scenes. It’s a song that has a strong message about moving forward because your important friends are with you, and it has a heartrending sound that touches your heart.

SymaG: The original draft for the song was somewhat grittier, but it changed a lot since then, didn’t it?

Nanahoshi: I was asked “please make it have a bit of a digital feel to it.” The song was produced after the anime’s story had progressed to a certain extent, so it was easy to imagine. The theme was “stylish and hot-blooded” (laughs). If “Gatch’n!” is a red flame, this one is a blue flame. And it’s the B-side for “Gatch’n!”, so I thought I’d have it have a bit of a minor key feel to it.

SymaG: It was a very difficult song to sing, but because it has a “minor key feel”, or a bit of heartrending-ness to it, it was another thing I didn’t get to do much before, so singing for it was a relatively smooth process. It was in the sense that I had an easy time expressing the emotions in it.

–And as for the third song, while it may surprise the children who bought the CD, adult fans will be sure to enjoy the song-and-accompaniment version of “Midnight Smile”. The song was released in 2012 and is a popular song among SymaG-san’s cover videos, and it’s a song that depicts love and loneliness with a more sensual feel to it.

SymaG: With only two songs, it felt like something was missing, and we were already going as far as to release a single, so I wanted to include another song that conveyed another aspect of Nanahoshi-san’s charm. So this song was the first one to come to mind. I sang it on a bus tour that we’d offered as a bonus for purchasing Peaceful Final Memory, and it got some very good responses (laughs). But back then, I couldn’t get that last modulation just right. So I came up with a progression where I’d have an a cappella section before the modulation, then have it modulate with a capo (capo tasto), and that’s how we put it on the CD.

Nanahoshi: But it may be a bit of a shock for people listening to the CD, because it’ll suddenly have gone mellow out of nowhere (laughs).

“It’s gotten really fun to be having my first solo act show at Akasaka BLITZ” (SymaG)

–On June 16, you’ll be having your first live show “Peaceful Final Melody” at Akasaka BLITZ, and I wondered if this might be something like a preview trailer for it. In an interview for Peaceful Final Memory, you said that you put your heart and soul into producing each song without assuming that you’d be singing it live later, and that you still hadn’t decided on performing a live show yet. What made you finally decide to go on stage?

SymaG: They made me a very high-quality mask, so I don’t have to show my face, and I thought “if they went that far for me, now I really have to go out.” (laughs) Also, after releasing an album and now a single, my surroundings, feelings, and position have changed, and above all, I feel that I have very high expectations on me now. Peaceful Final Memory had far more listeners than I could have even imagined, so I felt I should hold some kind of festival to express my gratitude. It’s like everyone’s getting this old man to stand up properly now (laughs). I didn’t think I’d actually get my first show at Akasaka BLITZ of all places. At first I even thought “no way, they’re never going to fill enough seats for that.”

–You looked at it objectively and thought there must be plenty of empty seats left, and in fact the tickets sold out almost immediately.

Nanahoshi: We thought there’d be tons of empty seats, too (laughs).

SymaG: No, but you see, back when I was in a band, I was thrilled if we even got 100 people for our solo act. And now I have ten times as many. No matter how many Twitter followers I get, I still can’t feel the weight of that. But because of that, I think it’s gotten really fun to be having my first solo act show at Akasaka BLITZ.

–Nanahoshi-san, you have a reputation for your guitar-playing skills, so did you rush in to support him…?

Nanahoshi: Well, I don’t know about that (laughs). But I hope the show can have the kind of momentum you’d only get at a first solo show, or better said, instead of just going smoothly from beginning to end, I hope it’ll be filled with tons of passion.

SymaG: Whenever I posted cover videos to the Internet, I’d sing it over and over again testing how far I could go, so you can hear my way of approaching art. But during live performances, I go off-tune a little, and my voice goes in the wrong direction, so I hope that part also lets you see a bit of my personality (laughs). Because that’s where the sense of being “alive” is. I felt I was getting too much praise for my Internet videos, and I just didn’t feel right about letting it end like this. “You wouldn’t believe how many takes I had to do to get this! If I sang it live, it’d be more like this!” (laughs)

–It seems like your live concert will be a new way to “express” yourself, rather than “reproduce” your videos.

SymaG: Right. I have no desire to play or sing perfectly. At times I end up angry at my past self, thing “why’d I have to pick so many difficult songs to sing…?”, but I’m also looking forward to taking another new step. I’ve always been someone who works behind the scenes, so even back when I was in a band, I hated live performances (laughs). I’ll do my best not to get overwhelmed by such a huge crowd of people.

–We’re looking forward to the concert. Finally, please tell us how you’d like people to enjoy this single.

SymaG: Anime songs are a very special thing, and when I look back on the songs I used to listen to as a kid, everything would come out from the melody, so much that I almost couldn’t even remember who sang it or who wrote it. I want “Gatch’n!” to be that kind of song.

Nanahoshi: Right. It’s not meant to be just our song.

SymaG: So I hope they can grow up together with the song and the story together as a set, and I hope it’s so memorable that you can sing along even if you don’t know who sang it, one that really leaves itself in your heart.

(Interview and transcript: Yoshihiro Hashikawa; photography: Hisako Hagi)

Translator's notes
  1. SymaG is referred to as an utaite (歌い手), a term used for indie singers who gained an audience through singing covers of songs and posting videos of them to the Internet, usually tagged with the phrase “I tried to sing” (歌ってみた, “utatte mita“). In particular, utaite are associated with covers of songs originally made using the Vocaloid software, also independently posted to the Internet by indie music producers such as Nanahoshi Orchestra. Since these covers also often help promote the producer’s work as well, this kind of mutually beneficial relationship often results in a producer and utaite working together even on original songs, including when both start professionally working in the industry. []
  2. Nico Nico Douga = A Japanese video sharing site known for its indie creator culture. Vocaloid music culture is known to have its roots in the site. []
  3. It’s a fairly common phenomenon for Vocaloid producers to make melodies that are difficult or impossible for real human singers to sing. The original version of “That Girl’s Secret Service” is no exception. []
  4. “Illicit Sexual Relations-P” (不純異性交遊P, “Fujun-Isei-Kouyuu-P“)= Referring to Nanahoshi’s “P name”, a nickname often given to or used by Vocaloid producers, with a tendency to be distinct from their online handle or artist name. In this case, Nanahoshi was given the nickname based on the risqué nature of his lyrics, especially in his early work. []
  5. Part of SymaG’s persona involves repeatedly claiming to be 82 years old (regardless of what year it is). []

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