Interview: Yuki Kajiura
As their producer, Yuki Kajiura has both started and continued to shine down upon the path they walk. How does she look at, communicate with and what expectations does she have of the three songstresses. Things only she can tell, Kalafina up until now and from here on.
- With what kind of outlook did you first start the project that is Kalafina?
Kajiura: Firstly, I remember feeling happy at having the chance to create a so-called musical unit. In the beginning, we only talked about it as being for the movies of ‘Kara no Kyoukai’ however, because the opportunity to create a unit like this does not come often, and because it would also take time to create, I had from the first the desire to make it into something that could continue on afterwards. Since I was able to have such an opportunity, of course I wanted to make it into something good.
- How did it feel at the auditions?
Kajiura: Firstly, when choosing the singers, although of course this would be quite natural, but I wanted to do it properly. I did not want to have to bring someone up from “1”, I wanted to do it with people who were already at level 10 with “5”. Of course when I held the auditions there were quite a few amateurs so I had two (Keiko, Wakana) who were with Space Craft Produce join. I did not have them join because I had planned to choose them from the beginning, the truth is it was because no matter how many tens of thousands of songs from other people I heard, those two would have remained in the end. Truth be told, the difference in level was too high. There were also two others I was interested in out of the singers I had met for the first time and one of them was Hikaru. In the end, it was decided to begin Kalafina with Wakana and Keiko, who also had experience, so I felt happy at being able to begin from “5.”
- So you did not plan to begin Kalafina with those two from the start?
Kajiura: I did not. It is not as if I did not want to do it with them, it was just that while it would have been great to meet amazing singers I did not know at all, it was a shame but it did not happen. I did have the feeling of wanting to do something in earnest with Wakana from before. She has a voice I like, and at the same time, we had still not done much together before so I’ve enjoyed doing Kalafina together with her.
- Did you feel as if you want to bring up new singers with Kalafina?
Kajiura: I don’t really want to do much bringing up (laughs). It’s good to work with people who are already trained.
- So would you say that you want to work with people who can express the 100% you’re looking for?
Kajiura: Of course. I am not a music professor so I do not have the desire to bring up people. I do not want to work in the meaning of ‘bring up’, of looking at someone from above. I want to do things from the beginning as work fellows. However in order to have what I want to be done be done I need to say what I want them to do. I do hand out written music but it’s not as if they will always be able to sing in the way I want. I explain how I want them to sing it, and if that person does not have that skill we have to think together about how they can acquire it. If they cannot find the method to express it, then to a certain degree I give them advice. However I leave it to the person themselves to do as much as possible.
- When it comes to working with a unit with fixed members, I think not just singing ability but the ability to understand what is required is also necessary, however what kind of qualities was Kajiura-san looking for when you were thinking of which singers to choose?
Kajiura: If it is just recordings, then if they have a certain amount of ability, it is easier if they are able to fulfil my requirements to ‘sing it this way.’ There is also time for me to explain and speak more in detail and we can record songs one bar at a time. In the beginning Kalafina recorded choruses that could not be expressed naturally however because we also did things such that we recorded only chorus phrases without listening to the main melody, to begin with I did not plan for the members to do the majority of the harmony and chorus. Truthfully speaking, until they began doing lives my expectations of the members themselves was completely different from now. With live performances, the things the members have to do themselves increase a hundred-fold. If it is simply a recording project, there are many cases where it is goodbye then and there for the song and the singer when the recording is over. The CD comes out under the singer’s name, however if there are no lives or events then the singer may not ever sing that song again. However in a live performance the way the singer deals with the song becomes something that is not half-hearted. The reason Kalafina has begun to walk the path that it has now is because they began live activities. I think that before and after that, my thoughts regarding them, and probably their thoughts regarding music also, as well as our thoughts towards Kalafina were so different there is probably no comparing them.
- Then, in Kajiura-san’s plans for Kalafina there was absolutely no thoughts of the singers conducting lives?
Kajiura: There was not. In the beginning it was planned to be a more fluid unit so that’s why that was the case. If I wanted a person with a high voice I would put one in temporarily, if I wanted a person with a low voice then I would put in a male voice I thought of it as a very open project. However when doing continuous live performances, it would be impossible to do Kalafina’s songs just by gathering people only for that day. I had to create a 180 degree different Kalafina with everyone, not just simply for recording purposes. When it became like that I could not say ‘The members will be always changing.’ I also had to have the members themselves feel a consciousness of being a part of Kalafina, I had to create a “Team Kalafina.” In the beginning I did not agree with there being lives. I said ‘What! We’ll be doing lives with Kalafina? Isn’t it impossible?’ (laughs) However when we tried it, my viewpoint changed and I thought ‘This could be interesting.’ It felt as if I had been taught something. From that point on a lot of things changed.
- On what judgement did you think that lives were ‘impossible’?
Kajiura: The biggest one was that I thought that even if they were to try to do a live with such an overlapping chorus it wouldn’t be interesting. I felt reluctant because in the way that I created the CD, the chorus could not be recreated on stage with three people and I didn’t want there to be a live if it seemed as if it would become something mediocre. However when we did try doing one, along with the tenacity of the girls’ singing, though it was certainly different to the CD, there was a fun there that could not be expressed any where but in a live performance. I felt as if I had been taught ‘I might be able to do things I’ve never done before.’ Their progress from there has been tremendous.
- Would you say that the way you think of and perceive lives has changed Kajiura-san?
Kajiura: It has changed. The lives we were doing before “Yuki Kajiura LIVE” were a little more rough. However with Kalafina if we were going to do lives I wanted to do it not roughly but accurately, and I thought that if we couldn’t that then it would be better not to do lives at all. However when we tried doing so in actual practice I thought that what was more important was not things like accurate reproduction but the energy of the live. I thought ‘If it’s these people then maybe we can do something.’ It was not as if I thought that at the beginning. The three of them had a lot of trouble in the first live rehearsal. Firstly, other than Keiko who was used to lives none of them looked at the audience. They didn’t really look so I told Wakana and Hikaru ‘I’m standing in the middle of the audience, so sing one song without looking away from me. That is the way your gaze should be in a basic live.’ The fact that we did such practice feels like a lie now (laughs). Because now it is always me being taught things. The fact that in a live the most important thing is that ‘You are in a place where you are transmitting something to the audience’ is a fundamental thought in me. Good singing might also be important however it is better not to do the live if you do not have the will to transmit something to the audience. I conveyed that in the form of a ‘wish.’ However it is truly an expression of my respect for the speed of everyone’s progress.
- Kalafina are now active to the point that you could say that their activities are focused on live performances.
Kajiura: As expected, I think they are confident. In lives you have to be like ‘Look at me! Listen to my songs!’ and if they didn’t have that confidence they wouldn’t be able to do that. However I think the reason they were able to gain that confidence was due to the audience.
- I think a great part of that must come from the lives and recordings, as well as Kajiura-san’s suggestions and instruction.
Kajiura: I don’t say anything to them now. Although when they first began lives, in the song ‘sprinter’ are the lines ‘kimi ni aitai’, I gave them various advice like ‘This is the long-awaited good part, so make sure you sing it while pointing to one of the audience members.’ ‘So that whoever you point to will be sure to fall in love with Kalafina, do it like that.’ (laughs) I requested, ‘If there are such parts ten times in the space of one song, don’t end the live until you have made ten fans.’ (laughs) If there are such parts in the lyrics now, they carefully think about it and move accordingly so I no longer need to worry on that score.
- Would you say that their growth has been rapid the last three and a half years?
Kajiura: What was lucky for Kalafina was that they were able to go to a big place little by little. I think they were able to learn as they studied the significance of the way in which the amount of audience members gradually increased. If they did not have to come to think of how hard it was to get customers to spend the time and money to come to the live venue, I don’t think they would have been able to feel the true fun of a live event and what a great thing it was to have people come. In that meaning, I think it was a good process for them to experience. For people standing on a stage I don’t think it is necessarily the case that they cannot be confident while also being humble. I think live events are necessary for them. I would like to have them continue doing lives for the sake of the maturation of the artist that is Kalafina also.
- For Kalafina lives are that important.
Kajiura: The one thing I am worrying about though is that it might make them feel like ‘We’ve done it!’ I think that for musicians, lives are largely not for the sake of ‘advancement’ but for ‘reiteration.’ One moves forward by steadfastly gaining practice and properly using one’s head when preparing for lives and recordings. One’s singing will not become better simply from singing in lives. I did say before that with lives singing to create a good mood is more necessary than accuracy. That is why before each live I used to bring up various issues. Like requesting ‘Please sing the pitch perfectly’ and the like. It is still necessary for them to grow as musicians.
- The three of them are still developing.
Kajiura: Kalafina has one weakness, and that is that the three of them can cover up for each other. They don’t have to do things they aren’t good at. I think that is a big obstacle for each of them in maturing as a singer. If they want to mature as singers then they need to become better at the things that are not necessary for them to do in Kalafina. I think that doing many lives with Kalafina is something that may give them a sense of accomplishment, however the truth is it is a tremendously dangerous thing. Because lives are such a big thing it would be quite harsh of me to say not to feel good about them. However a sense of accomplishment and progress are different things, thus if while having that sense of achievement they were to lose the feeling of needing to improve themselves that would be the end of them as artists. I think things such as that are difficult.
- It seems like having things 100% perfect is quite a difficult thing.
Kajiura: They still have a while to go to mature as singers. The statement ‘They are singing with the three of them because just one person is not enough’ also has that other meaning to it. However because they are doing it together they are able to do something amazing that they could not on their own. They are clever so I think they all understand that. What is left is what they themselves want to do in the future. What happens after this depends on them.
“Wakana has a goddess voice”
- Now then, will Kajiura-san please tell us the various impressions you have of the three from your point of view?
Kajiura: That’s quite difficult… Firstly, for Keiko, although there maybe some cases as an artist where it may not be commended, she is a tremendously hard worker. There is never a need for me to say something twice. In all the work that I have done up until now I have never met such a person. She will without fail fix what I have told her to do and will do more than what I was expecting. I think her skill at lower harmonising is probably the best in Japan. In FictionJunction’s first live she could not read the written music and did not understand the meanings of the chorus phrases. Because of that, there were songs she wasn’t able to do. I think it must have been greatly mortifying for her. Because she began using written music from then, although it has not been so long, when she harmonises she is able to support all of it, the melody, rhythm and emotion of the song. Even if I were to think ‘I think this might be a little lacking in rhythm’ when Keiko harmonises it all comes together. Her harmonising is very musical. Because the feeling she puts into the melody is so strong she could be nothing but a unit member, not simply a ‘chorus person’. I think that the emotion of the song increases five times over just by having Keiko doing the lower harmonising. She not only takes part in harmonising but in making the melody also. Keiko…. she is a formidable girl! (laughs) Without Keiko’s harmonising I would not be able to think up Kalafina’s melodies. Even from the beginning if there is no lower harmony, my melodies are not really feasible. I do not think I could find a better person for the job. I am truly grateful to have found such an ideally talented person.
- Her tremendously strong vocals are also amazing.
Kajiura: Of course I also love her melody and think it is wonderful however what I think is inexcusably unfortunate to her is that to begin with her singing range is quite low so that it doesn’t entirely come out in my melodies that usually have a high tone. When I first had her join Kalafina what I was most worried about was that, so even though from the start I thought she was an amazingly good singer, I was uncertain as to whether or not I could fully utilise her abilities. Wakana’s register was perfect for the melodies that are my speciality however Keiko’s voice was low and didn’t reach. However, now I think Keiko is someone Kalafina cannot do without. Lately the power of her melody has greatly increased and also the amount of songs that I would like to have her sing has also increased. I probably couldn’t continue with Kalafina if she were to quit. Even if I were to search all of Japan I probably could not find someone that could replace the outstanding talent of her harmonising. If one were to say ‘Kalafina has good harmony’ that would be all thanks to her ability. Kalafina really could not do without her. I esteem her. Because I am not such a hard worker as her. I met someone amazing.
- Then, about Wakana-san please.
Kajiura: Coming across her voice was probably where Kalafina began. If not for the resonance of her voice, Kalafina would not have come to be. Although I have had her sing for me many times, it is still a voice I love. A beautiful voice, a goddess voice. There is no one else who has such a voice. I think it is a voice that could travel the world. However, it may not be so suited for bright songs (laughs). She is a girl that, no matter what she sings, it becomes a very dark, tragic sounding song (laughs).
- Although she has such a bright personality (laughs).
Kajiura: Personality-wise she is the mood maker. She is sociable and can become friendly with anyone straight away. Although there are things that may bother her a bit too much, she doesn’t really show that in front of others. She takes on the role of the one being teased, and creates the area’s mood. It’s like she creates a mood in which she is bullied by everyone (laughs). When interacting with the audience at a live, the mood making is important so I think she really pulls everyone in. Although I think there may be times when she gets tired from trying so hard to create the atmosphere of the place. (laughs) When adding those kinds of things together to the things that she is bothered about I think she is a very feminine person. She is different from the other girls, she has a gentle strength. To say that she likes singing in front of others, essentially speaking that may not be the case. The truth is although I would like her to go all out singing on stage, that kind of difficult thing is Wakana’s weak point. However, even if she cannot do it on her own, because the other two are beside her she is able to. I think that the fact that the other two are beside her is connected to her determination. I think that Kalafina is a good stage for her. It is a place where various things are in place in order to utilise Wakana’s voice. In any case her voice is unrivalled. I am glad that I came across that voice. It feels like a destined meeting.
- Kajiura-san, do you give Wakana-san a lot of advice?
Kajiura: I say the most severe things to Wakana. On those occasions she cries anguishedly. However there have been times when three days later I think she has forgotten as though it never happened…. that might be discourteous (laughs). That is why all the more, I think she is able to properly overcome many difficult things. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage (laughs). She is quite simple-minded. However, even if that were not her true nature, wanting to make people think that is certainly not a bad thing. Because it is easier to draw out valuable advice that is truly meant. As I thought, it is an advantage (laughs). Because she has parts of her that are somewhat lacking in objectivity (laughs), there might be various things but to compensate for that she has an exceptional voice. Truthfully speaking, Kalafina began because of her. Added to her personality, she is an irreplaceable existence.
- Lastly, about Hikaru-san please.
Kajiura: Hikaru is a formidable girl in a different meaning. As expected I think that Kalafina is kind of like ‘three as one’, however I think she as the strongest viewpoint of ‘one as one.’ She has many qualities to her that make her a very cool-headed sort of girl. I think she is the type to not be tied down by the things before her eyes in the present, even if her hand were to reach what she was aiming for. I think that might be because she is focused on Kalafina in the future. Because she is maturing rapidly, the possibility of her standing alone as a solo singer are not zero, and although she still has many weaknesses, she is overcoming them as little by little her hard work steadily accumulates. She has the desire to express herself, which is more important than anything for a singer. It’s a firm desire of ‘I want to sing like this.’ There are still some areas where the power of her singing isn’t quite together, however ‘desire’ is the starting point for all when it comes to singing ability. It is in that meaning that I value her highly as a singer.
- She has a soothing atmosphere and a strong interior, doesn’t she?
Kajiura: At first in proportion to her long time as an amateur there were some areas were she was not quite so confident. I think I may have caused Hikaru herself to experience some difficult emotions, however once she overcame that her figure on-stage had presence. To have confidence as a singer is a formidable thing. On stage, everything comes out on your face. Lately her face has truly become that of a ‘singer’, not just when singing during recording, she proactively deals with the desire to express herself. She still has many challenges. However little by little she is overcoming them through working hard. I think maybe having Kalafina as a start line is a good thing for her. Not only is she is able to perform on a big stage, being able to experience things is also important. The depth of her expression has increased tremendously in a short period of time. That is not something she is able to do from being told, it is something she obtained by singing in various ways herself. I think that is a really wonderful thing. The three of them might have different abilities, but they are all truly good singers.
I’m relieved when the members like the songs
- In addition to the balance between live and recording activities, I think that Kalafina has an ideal lifestyle however, how do you see it Kajiura-san?
Kajiura: I do think it is ideal. Regarding their level of activity also, it is not so busy that I have no time to develop my songs but just right, I think. It is also such that I don’t have the spare time to think up unnecessary things (laughs). I think that the best time for Kalafina is now. I would like them to try their best because I think now is a very good time for them to improve themselves.
- Do you think there have been changes in Kalafina’s concept from the start as compared to the way they are now?
Kajiura: I don’t really think up concepts. Because I live with no plans (laughs). If I were to say what has fundamentally changed the most was that when Kalafina first began it was just Yuki Kajiura. However when I make songs now, Keiko, Wakana and Hikaru are there for certain in Kalafina. Inside my mind, that is the greatest change. At the start, if I were to say it a bit extremely, I would have been happy no matter who sang as long as they could express my world and they could sing beautifully. I liked Wakana’s voice a lot, however I never felt ‘I have this voice, so let’s make a song like this.’ However because those three are definitely in Kalafina now, I want to do things that they can express. Even now I wish to create my own world, but on the other hand, when I am making songs I am always thinking how to create songs that the three of them can sing attractively. That is because, as expected, the figures of the three of them when singing on stage is dazzling. Having begun lives, I think, had an effect on the making of the songs. In any case I write the songs, wanting to try them out with Kalafina. Because of that I think the proportion of cool songs being created increased. Their comprehension ability has also increased and they have also obtained experience.
- ‘After Eden’ is overflowing with novel musicianship, I think that it breaks out of many different shells.
Kajiura: I’m happy if that is the case (laughs). This time around I ‘did not stop’ along the way. With ‘Red Moon’, I dare say I made it rather narrowly. When making the 1st album ‘Seventh Heaven’, I wanted to do it so that when one thinks ‘Then, just what is Kalafina?’ it would be very easy to understand. When creating Kalafina’s sound for ‘Red Moon’ I dug and dug a deep canal, the work was kind of like to deepen that. With the previous work I had stopped thinking ‘let’s try doing a song like this too’, however this time around it felt a bit like I was trying to dig around the boundaries of Kalafina. There are also the parts that became a life-like Kalafina.
- Their humanity comes out, doesn’t it?
Kajiura: Humanity, that’s right. I think it might. With the previous work, when I did ‘I have a dream’ I thought, ‘Ah, this too is possible.’ Joined with the tie-up movie, although it is a song that has no elements of the fantastical, mysterious style Kalafina had worked out, even when I put it in the album I think it fit unexpectedly well. With ‘storia’ as well, although it has a bright melody that Kalafina up until then had not had before, it was song where I thought ‘It’s alright for me to make things like this, too.’ After that there is ‘Hikari no Senritsu’, I think it of as my once in a decade masterpiece (laughs). These songs digress from the usual Kalafina, and there are elements that also connect to this time’s album. What I created while thinking to further loosen the frame that these three songs expanded was ‘After Eden.’
- I get the feeling that you took various approaches to the sound to match with the growth of the Kalafina members as well as the band.
Kajiura: That was definitely a big part of it. The band butted in with the parts that surpassed my intentions. (laughs). There were truly many times when I said ‘I’ll use that!’ It was a really fun time. Because we have had so many lives, they give me ideas more proactively compared to at the beginning. Particularly Korenaga (Koichi)-san who plays guitar, he is a treasure trove of ideas. Stirred by that, the songs became good. I enjoy listening to the three of them sing but creating the sound is also good fun.
- It is complex while being pop music, in the areas that have different elements interposed, I think there is a depth in the charm of Kajiura-san’s sound, as well as in Kalafina.
Kajiura: There aren’t many boundaries genre-wise. However the genres I like are only about 3 or 4, a great deep river flows in the space between those genres and others (laughs). There is no chance of there being any jazz or R&B. On the other hand, I am in the habit of taking the boundaries between world music, classical and pop and sweeping them away.
- I think the reason they are able to take on new challenges is because you have accepted the growth of the three of them.
Kajiura: They have truly gained in expressive ability. I don’t think they would have been able to do this time’s album two years ago. Also, because it seems the three of them are very pleased with the completed album, that’s probably the thing I feel the most relieved about. This feeling is also a result of having begun doing lives. The reason being is when I make songs, even when it isn’t an interesting song, I can still enjoy myself, however, from here on they will have to sing the songs countless times. Even so if they didn’t like the songs I think that would be hellish for them, I don’t want them to have to go through that. I don’t think this unit can continue to exist if the members don’t like the songs and think ‘I want to sing this song’ from themselves. I am a producer so I am one musician, the girls are also musicians so our standing is equal. I don’t really order them to do anything, and although I don’t think we could work together if the songs they sang weren’t good ones, if even the girls themselves did not think I could write good songs I don’t think we would be able to do it together. That’s why when they like the songs I make, I am truly relieved and happy. I must make it so they say so again next time. That is why Kalafina is not something that can be done with a half-hearted resolution. I’ll have to build up my physical strength for next time.
- Now, please tell us about Kalafina hereafter.
Kajiura: I think genre-wise Kalafina is not a comparatively ‘narrow’ unit. A unit with that tendency begins to do things differently at about the third or fourth album (laughs). The bands I loved became like that and I felt let down countless times. Even if someone were to say that Kalafina is ‘always the same’ I wouldn’t want to change it. I don’t want to betray the songs people have listened to. I feel as if I was able to find out how far I could extend that with ‘After Eden.’ However, that is the seed that becomes Kalafina, remaining after the change wrought when leaving behind the fantasy-like element. People may say it is a mannerism however I am always thinking that how to keep the Kalafina sound while still broadening it is a big problem. I think a new Kalafina might emerge little by little there, however I have no intention of changing the direction and flow of the river we have begun to dig. Fundamentally I want to go straight. I don’t think it matters how many times we branch off, however as for the river itself there will not be any sudden complete turns. I think that maintaining the Kalafina-ness is a very important thing.
- In that way, Kalafina will continue being Kalafina.
Kajiura: I am truly taking care that the music will ‘not deviate from pop.’ Pop, simply told, is when the melody is easy to understand. Kalafina’s songs are unexpectedly easy to understand and easy to remember. I wish to be particular on that point. If I just did it as I pleased it might become something maniacal and I can’t think that there would be anyone who would want to hear that (laughs). I am a simple and unsophisticated human so I want to hear people say ‘That was good!’ Not just so a small number of people will nod in approval but so that as many as possible will do so, I would like to do something maniacal with it like that.