This February, Yuki Kajiura (52) became independent from the agency she had belonged to for more than 20 years. She has composed the background music for popular anime like “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” and “Sword Art Online”, served as Kalafina’s producer for 10 years ever since their debut, and captured the hearts of many fans both in Japan as well as overseas. Taking the chance to become independent, she has currently resigned from her position as Kalafina’s producer. What are Ms. Kajiura’s thoughts towards the girls? In the first interview since her independence, we talk about the mutual connection between “composer and singer”, and the respect which is born from the earnest clashing of professional spirits.
Kalafina is a unit that was established as a project to perform the theme songs to the theatrical anime “Kara no Kyōkai”. Kajiura has worked on all musical compositions, lyrics and direction, since the group’s debut in 2008. At the end of March, Keiko, who was in charge of lower registers, left the agency due to contract expiration.
――You had the position of Kalafina’s “producer”, is there any distinct difference to your previous works as composer or your solo activities?
[Kajiura] I don’t do the so-called “producer” things. I just write the tunes that I like. That’s why if I refer to myself as a producer, I would feel sorry for the real producers out there since I started out by utilizing the girls’ voices for songs instead of writing songs for the girls.
However, to make the best and the most beautiful version of each song, the three of them in their role as singers have to focus on making the melody and lyrics shine ever so brightly. Therefore, thinking about how the girls will shine in the final product, I thought each song through thoroughly: if, when singing, it didn’t come together, I withdrew it instantly, no matter how good it was. It’s difficult to understand, even if I were called a “producer”, I don’t think I should be called a producer since I consistently based my lyrics, compositions and arrangements on the song itself and not on the girls.
――Kajiura-san takes on solo projects, including activities using the name of FictionJunction. You also viewed Kalafina as a derivation of those activities, right?
[Kajiura] (Regarding Kalafina) I think that “walking alongside each other” is closer to the feeling I have. Although it’s true that things may possibly have been different if it ended with “Kara no Kyōkai”, the group quickly became more acknowledged, and, after that, myself and the members worried about how Kalafina should exist going forward.Thus, I was at last also brought on as Kalafina’s producer for the past 10 years – I’d say I may have a feeling like that.
――When composing Kalafina’s songs, what types of things do you typically fixate on?
[Kajiura] I’m the type of person who can’t write a song until I know which singers will feature, so to write a song and say “please, sing this” won’t work, especially not with Kalafina. Although it sounds obvious to say, but because those three have such greatly alluring voices, I have to be able to reliably hear that allure in a song. I want to make appealing voices! (laughs) As the voices of three people are glittering, if there’s no feeling of, “when you sing, it’ll sound something like “thi~s”!”, then I can’t stand it. Even though the song already exists, when I think about the end product, I come to feel like we made it together. Since all three people have unique voices in this world, is it not interesting to listen to the person flourishing the most?
● Creator and Singer Respect Born from A “Battle”
――Were you doing much to share your music production process with the members?
[Kajiura] To tell you the truth, I’ve never asked for the Kalafina members’ opinions when writing songs, and the three of them have never requested input, either. Because of that, I had this vector (method of thinking) in which, from my direction towards the girls, I greedily decided how they’d express themselves through their vocals. Then, in a cyclical way, I’d find inspiration in the way their expressions manifested, and a new song would be born. Through this neat synergy, I accomplished what I did in the past 10 years.I suppose, after all, relationships like that can’t be built up without a long time to allow for it.
――As the creator, you’re on a different level to the three singers; however, it feels like you stand eye to eye with each other, there’s a strong sense of equality.
[Kajiura] That’s right. It’s because the things the girls are capable of have steadily increased, and, with that, the horizon of Kalafina’s music has naturally extended. In the beginning, the range of things they could do was comparatively small, so at that time I think I was writing songs that all felt more or less the same no matter who was singing them and regardless of which genre or which kind of sound they were meant for. But, gradually, the three of them each developed a unique voice and trademark singing style. “This part won’t sound good unless Wakana is singing it.” “I can’t write this song unless Keiko and Hikaru are singing it.” It’s things like that which progressively changed; everything ended up being completely different. In later years, the number of songs that could never have come to life if someone else had sung them increased considerably. That’s proof of their growth: the more progress they made, the more my song writing process changed – it happened naturally. It’s like a battle. A battle between myself and the girls.
―― Up until now, you have had various projects going on side-by-side: band work, solo work, composer work, etc. Among all of this, what does Kalafina mean to you?
[Kajiura] Kalafina is the culmination of my dreams. I have always loved opera and chorus work, even when I was still an amateur, I would often write a capella songs for a group of six girls; I just really loved female voices being layered over each other. But, back in the day, I wasn’t really able to write music in that genre no matter how much I wanted to; I also wasn’t able to do any arrangements. I dare say that, at the time of my debut, I definitely wouldn’t have thought myself capable of doing something like that even if I had gotten the chance to do a project like Kalafina.
When “Kara no Kyōkai” came along, it ended up being the perfect timing. It was all about female voices but it wasn’t just chorus work; I wondered what would happen if those three strong, unique and seemingly opposing voices came together – in many ways it was the result of fortunate circumstances; it was perfect timing: I finally got the chance to do what I had been dreaming of for about 20 years. I was also at a point in my career where I was given free rein – I was able to do what I wanted. I can’t do this kind of major soundtrack unless everyone involved trusts me completely with it. I really was blessed with various fortunate circumstances.
――After becoming independent from your agency, you have distanced yourself in your role as Kalafina’s producer. What do you think of your ten years working together?
[Kajiura]I feel nothing but gratitude towards them for continuing to sing so well for me up until now. Being stuck as part of the same unit, not being able to express a single wish (regarding songs), not able to do anything except sing the songs they are given with all their strength. Under conditions that are extremely inconvenient for a singer, they have been singing for ten years, not once getting the chance to sing the songs they wanted to sing. They are so easy to work with…” “They are really amazing…”For ten years straight, they have always taken their work seriously and their singing has become progressively better. I am sure it was difficult for them to sing genres they had never listened to before. On top of that, I have treated the three of them mercilessly with all my demands; I think my demanding nature caused quite the internal struggle for them.
Even now, I feel it was almost like a miracle, with all odds in my favour, meeting these amazing singers, deciding to do this together with all of our strength.