A mega delayed translation (attempt) post, mostly for fangirling purposes. Dedicated first and foremost to nano; to anitwitter friends I kind of promised to do this for, @tsukiyo123, @Monocle_Grizzly, and @KaiPercival; to (future) light novel translation expert @frog_kun for helping me on some parts; and to all nanotomo in the world!
Minor comments and disclaimer
First of all, I’m still a self-studying learner of the Japanese language so I can’t guarantee that this translation attempt is of the highest quality you’ll find for this interview–but it’s the only translation available at the time of writing. Most of the time I had to rely on jisho.org and Google translate for words that I encountered for the first time, and for expressions that don’t really make sense or cannot be translated in English. However I have a pretty decent grasp of the grammar, or the “sense” of the language. At the very least, mine’s better than your absolute beginner’s. Please know that despite my lack of credibility, I did try my to convey the thoughts as best I could in English. Of course, I welcome edit suggestions on any part of this translation, so please feel free to correct me. 🙂
Some things I learned about nano from this interview:
- nano has a good companion in WEST GROUND, composer of most of nano’s songs, because of their shared preference in the music they make
- nano doesn’t mind (and apparently likes) being alone. As you’ll notice from their answers, nano is a free-spirited individual.
- Maybe because of (2), nano doesn’t ask people for advice whenever they have problems. They deal with the problems on their own.
- I keep using genderless they/them/their to refer to nano because I think they see themselves as genderless. They don’t see the world as a clear divide between men and women, and seemingly don’t (want to) conform to this classification. You’ll see what I mean in the last part of the interview.
- nano’s a dedicated music artist. And I love them even more~ ❤
Well then, enjoy!
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Published: 2015.10.21 | Interviewer: Oki Sayako
To you, nano-san, how has the interval been—from the release of your 3rd album “Rock on.” until today?
“Rock on.” was a significant page of my life, so it seems like a new journey began from that point. We researched to produce a new nano—to supplement what I’ve been until now. At that time we also had several live performances. Holding one-man concerts in Taiwan and Germany helped me gain skills in my international aspect. The fan chants, which varied according to the countries, moved me in such ways that I was still able to bring forth unique performances. They were all extremely thrilling! With serenity in the live performances and more visions springing up, we realized the parts of detailed production. When one can be composed, then they can also relax. And, I think, that leads to an excellent performance. In the middle of such activities, I thought I’ve been hungry all over again. If one keeps doing new things, more and more of their avarice become apparent—in a good way. “Rock on.” drew out that greed, so I feel it was a great impetus.
Is your latest single “Bull’s Eye” a product of the “research for the birth of new nano”?
Indeed. I also wanted a fresh component in my music, so we intensively researched. I and WEST GROUND, the composer of the songs, pondered together on how to go and investigate new sorts of sounds. Thankfully, the three tracks in this single were decided to be tie-up songs, so we thought of producing different sounds for each of them.
It seems all three songs are brand-new compositions.
In my case, I’d come up with many composition patterns after knowing about the story. At that moment, the sounds that I produce are influenced by the creation, say, anime. I think that the most important thing is when people who the original work feel no discomfort when they hear the songs. If it would make one think, “Why is it this song?” or “This feels… lacking,” then that would be rude to the original work. But because I myself am writing the songs, I should incorporate my own worldview or else they wouldn’t become “nano” songs. So with the song in mind first and foremost, the next important thing I do is put my feelings through my experiences and imagination into my work.
In the opening theme “Bull’s Eye” of TV anime Hidan no Aria (Aria the Scarlet Ammo), the words “scarlet” and “trigger”— which display the worldview of the anime—show up quite often.
I wrote the lyrics based on my impressions on the series after reading the scenario and plot of both seasons. “Bull’s Eye” basically means “the very center of the target” and “right on the spot” in English. I thought it was just perfect as the song’s title as the characters in Aria use guns. The request from the anime production was “this is a work where hope lies ahead of the pain brought by continuous fighting—we hope that will be incorporated into the song”. I then went to write the lyrics, keeping that in mind.
So it’s the perfect theme for the hungry-spirited nano-san?
Well, I have only written lyrics that say there’s hope beyond despair. (laughs) I was truly happy that this song was in line with my usual direction. It was a lot of fun to write.
How did you go about the melody composition?
As for the opening, we actually came up with 4 completely unique composition patterns. We’d written all the lyrics, and we also tested prototype songs. The author of the original work has a stronger picture of the work than we do. So he asked us about 3 or 4 times to make new compositions: “Hmm. This is great, but could you please make another pattern?” The very first pattern for “Bull’s Eye” that we submitted got chosen in the end. (laughs) Personally speaking, I was most satisfied with that one—it was something I intuitively made. I was honestly hoping “it would be nice if this gets chosen~” And when it really did, I was overjoyed. We did a fine job making the compositions, if I do say so myself.
Oh, so that’s what happened. I’m curious about the other patterns.
Each one has a completely different feel from the rest. In fact we had composed songs that would make fans go “Eh?!” if they hear them.
It isn’t obvious but within this research period, a new nano was born. Am I right?
Yes. And I might be able to show people the new nano very soon.
I’m looking forward to that! From the start, you formed a mighty tag team with WEST GROUND for the production of the 3-track single “Bull’s Eye”. To you, nano-san, what is WEST GROUND’s appeal?
Anyhow, I think he’s a genius. He’s also the person who can comprehend me best. It’s quite rare for me that a fellow creator who works in a similar style is continuously working with me in producing music. Personally, I feel that as we team up time and again, we gradually understand each other better. It basically goes like this recently—composing the melody, coming up with the lyrics naturally and without any prior discussion, and recording. Thus, production is actually pretty fast. As of late there’s no more thinking “Isn’t this a bit off?” and “I want to… change this a bit”. One word is not enough to say something about the creator called WEST GROUND. But I’m sincerely convinced that he’s a person who has the ambition to “surpass the previous work”. It’d be truly amusing to see in what ways he’ll create his future works.
The melody in “Bull’s Eye” has this dynamic speedy feel to it, thanks to the fast-paced riffs in the song. Is this impression we get from the sound also reflected in the lyrics?
To begin with, we acquire the tune from the demo phase, so it’s not like it’s already completely arranged by that time. And it doesn’t mean that the riffs are put into the song even before the lyrics are added to their corresponding tunes… so in the case of writing the lyrics, the melody must at least be looped. Of course, it’s important to take note of the work’s worldview in the case of writing tie-up songs. Beyond that point, it’s the simple first impressions like “this song is melancholy” and “this is an upbeat song” plus keywords and colors that become sort of like hints. It’s the type of work wherein one can extend the lyrics after jotting down the abovementioned things. That’s why I start with the image of the song-to-be and come up with lyrics based on the song’s melody.
You mentioned colors and, aside from “scarlet”, “dark” and “monochrome” also appear in the lyrics.
I basically like putting contrasts in my own works. Therefore, I used the word “monochrome” to make “red” stand out even more. I strongly feel the meaning in that red is a component in monochrome.
I believe “Bull’s Eye” doesn’t only showcase your naturally powerful vocals but also your dainty voice. It has me wondering if perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the major characters in Aria are female.
Oh! I’m really happy that you felt that way! I have been doing hard rock until this point and, well, I feel good making that kind of music. But with Aria I perceived that being strong isn’t all there is to it. The main characters are all female… but I also wanted to highlight delicateness. So, you see, the lyrics aren’t only about earnestly fighting on. Since I went with a subtle way of expressing them, I was conscious of my vocalization and the nuance it produced. It’s like singing by becoming the main character itself. When I sing for tie-up songs for anime, the sound would fit the work’s worldview and the lyrics, too, would vividly paint a picture of the main character. And that’s how I come to naturally sing as if I am that character.
My heart skipped a beat at the breathing in the end of the song’s climax.
Ah, that was exactly what I was aiming for. (laughs)
Hahaha! The riffs blending well together, a new facet can be seen with this song which still retains nano-san’s image up to now. “Mirror, Mirror”—the track included in the nano version of the single—is the opening theme of the PlayStation® VITA game BAD APPLE WARS. The game’s story is quite complex, isn’t it? The protagonist is a “bad girl” who violates the school regulations, seeking freedom and yearning for individuality. So the “disciplinary committee” punishes the bad girl. The “teacher” is the spectator. And the “good girl” lives as if she has no sense of self.
I also thought, “Hm? What’s the meaning of this?” as I took my time reading the material carefully. (laughs) However, I’ve come to think that what is being depicted is a part of reality. Humans, in the end, somewhat have an exterior and an interior. On the outside, we seem to think, “I want to show my strong points”. And inside, we may even have selfish feelings and tell ourselves, “I am awful”. But we mustn’t easily reveal how we truly feel inside. With this, I think the game’s worldview is that humans should not uncover their true nature. That isn’t a particularly bad thing, so I’m utterly fascinated by it.
It’s a story that makes you wonder “What is justice?” It seems that you also used the word “justice” in the lyrics.
I think that it boils down to “justice” having different interpretations as it ultimately depends on each person. And so, I consider the best justice to be “one’s own strength”—to face oneself, to fight oneself. It’s the justice that means “Everything is within me”. We do take influences from our surroundings, but it is us who make the move. Ultimately, it’s only ourselves that we can trust.
I see. The very fast composition utterly fits the thrilling theme.
WEST GROUND writes and composes a lot of fast-paced songs that I’m already kind of numbed by them. (laughs) Such are labeled as “nano’s fastest songs”, but I could only reply, “Ah! They are!?” Whenever I want to relax and listen to songs then tune in to my own songs, I’d surprise myself thinking, “What?! Is this F1?!” (laughs) I also have to be extra careful when I perform live so as not to bite my tongue…
Hahaha. Having grown up in New York and, thus, being bilingual, one of your fortes is utilizing both Japanese and English in your song lyrics. When it comes to your fast songs, the English lines stand out.
I think English is my strong suit rather than Japanese. And it is definitely easier to sing fast in English. Japanese has a lot of clattering sounds that seem to resound. English, however, has a tad better flow and it enables me to manipulate words so I can recite the lines smoothly. (laughs) I always find ways—I may expand or shorten phrases. On the other hand, Japanese is tricky at times. When adding the Japanese lyrics onto the melody, there are words that absolutely don’t fit. At all. But for “Mirror, Mirror”, it was like a god descended from heaven. (laughs) It just went poof! and perfectly fit the tune, and at that moment I was extremely pleased. In spite of that, the use of words is still a day-to-day learning process. For instance, I’ve been deeply aware of the difference between English and Japanese ever since I could write my own lyrics. To begin with, putting emotions into words is utterly different for these two languages.
Oh, I see. One can express something in Japanese in many ways. But with English, nuance can be conveyed, given that the words are kind of straightforward.
English has a good flow and, consequently, feelings are actually easier to convey through words even if they are just casually spoken. How should I put it—there can also be a varying degree of strength in the tone? Or rather, Japanese is relatively plain. Compared to English it’s kind of more difficult to express emotions, so I sometimes fear that my songs might become bland. I always pay attention so it doesn’t have to end up that way.
The words “solitary” and “alone” appear in the lyrics of “Last Refrain”, the insert song of the movie Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio (Arpeggio of Blue Steel) –ARS NOVA- Cadenza. The track will also be included in the anime version of your single along with “Bull’s Eye” and “Mirror, Mirror”. How about it? I was wondering if that could be the background theme in this new single.
Ah, that could be. I guess I simply the word “alone”? (laughs) Like, each of my songs has “alone” in them, and I just have many songs of that kind. Rather, I like being alone… I don’t really consult others when I deal with my problems. Instead, I think it all through by myself and somehow come up with answers that I can accept. So I don’t fully understand the feeling of seeking advice from people. That’s probably why my lyrics turn out like that. I think it’s thanks to my outlook that my personality suits the tie-up song so well.
You certainly have a number of songs about self-sufficiency, nano-san. In that case, “Last Refrain” is something new in that it depicts the existence of a second party.
Yes, that’s right. It has been quite the challenge because prior to this I hadn’t written lyrics like those in “Last Refrain”. It really was something new. It is an insert song… and insert songs, after all, are played within the works that feature them. Thus, I write them in a way that they are more faithful to the movie than the theme song. Insert songs are commonly played in the most crucial scenes. So the lyrics would completely be based on the character that appears in that particular scene. At the time of writing the lyrics I began with character building: “If I were this character what sort of emotions would I harbor for the other party?” Then I wrote down more detail—Character 2 would take this course of action; in this kind of situation, which emotions would I bestow them? I wanted to write “Last Refrain” like a story from start to finish.
I also found it to be pretty impressive that “gray” is sung in contrast with “blue” in “Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio (Arpeggio of Blue Steel)”.
When I pondered “What’s the most forlorn color?” I thought that it could be gray. Neither white nor black—a color that doesn’t seem to belong anywhere.
The instrumental track having been done in strings and piano, it’s a calming, splendid composition.
It’s an incredibly pleasant sound, wouldn’t you say? Actually, I personally didn’t think that ballads are my strong suit. I think, only singing as gently as possible doesn’t automatically make song a ballad… although one can properly convey feelings by doing that. Yet I ask myself, “Calmness is undoubtedly important, so how else should I go and carry the emotions?” and “I am always pumped up when I sing, so how do I lower my usual excitement level?” In my recent recording session, I went to the studio about two hours prior the scheduled time and did some meditation inside the vocal booth. I had the lighting dropped until it was just enough for me to dimly read the lyrics, and I asked the sound engineer, “for the meantime please play the instrumental on loop”. There are cameras and a window in the vocal booth, so what happens inside is clearly visible from the outside. But I didn’t pay attention to all of that. I focused on creating the mood to sing with, doing things in the way I hadn’t done until now.
As expected of nano-san, “image” is of utmost importance to you, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. First of all, I come up with and assemble the images which would become the raw ingredients. “What should I make from here on?” “What kind of dish should I cook using these ingredients, and which seasonings should I add?” or so I would ask myself. It really feels just like cooking.
This time a never-been-seen-before expression of nano will be revealed. I’m sure the fans will be surprised.
Yes, hopefully. I deeply want people to hear “Last Refrain” in the theatres. I only have a handful of tie-up songs similar to it. And when I imagine how my fans would feel when they finally get to hear it… my heart pounds in excitement. In relation to this composition, I didn’t want my own voice to stand out but, rather, wanted it to be added as if it’s one of the instruments being played. It’s a new singing style that, when played in the middle of the city, the fans themselves might not even recognize.
You totally aren’t afraid to take on a challenge like that.
Not at all. But, to be honest, we have questioned ourselves, like “Huh? Nano is going to perform this? It isn’t like anything we’ve done before!” However, I didn’t think of not wanting to do it—not even once. I see it as an opportunity to add another skill at my disposal, and I don’t think I’m at a loss for trying to find my new self. Because of that, I’m grateful that I get to explore my voice even more. I’ll do anything bar singing after inhaling helium! (laughs)
Manly or ladylike… upon singing it’s the number one thing that I don’t consider at all. Ever since I was young, listening to music, I didn’t classify my favorite songs according to whether they’re by male or female artists. And even with things outside music—men’s or women’s—that sort of distinction is the thing that matters least to me, and I go on with life with this thinking. Do I like this or not? Do I want to do this or not? …That’s how I’ve always dealt with everything including music. I want to live my life, matching the atmosphere of a particular time. I think I can only give myself challenges, so I want to go and challenge even more preconceptions.