The Recording Directors:
Hashimoto Shin (overall direction)
Taisei (ANGERME & Juice=Juice)
Yamao Masato (Country Girls, Kobushi Factory & Tsubaki Factory)
Kamata Koji (Tsunku♂ songs & Morning Musume ’18)
— “Taiki Bansei” was the first single for S/mileage after the group was renamed to ANGERME, making it a big milestone song for them. Did you already feel confident about the song during its production stage?
Hashimoto: Not only was it their first song after being renamed, it was also the first non-Tsunku♂-produced song we were putting out there.
Nakajima Takui’s original (Nakajima’s ska beat-based version of the song was completed earlier, making ANGERME’s version a cover even though it was released before the Nakajima version) was very powerful, and so our focus was to get the H!P version to sound as funky as possible. We ended up giving it one extra chorus, too, compared to Nakajima’s version. We got the arranger, Suzuki Shunsuke, to tweak the arrangement multiple times and it was recorded using as much live instrumentation as possible. We wanted to make it sound as lively as we could. Not having any solo lines in the song aside from the bridge was also another experiment.
Still, we were very worried if the would accept the song or not. Hearing the audience getting fired-up during the song’s first performance at the Hello!Con was such a relief to us… Having nothing to lose, we also submitted it as our entry for the ending song of “Mecha-Mecha Iketeru!” The fact that it was actually chosen was all thanks to the song’s power. So to us it’s a very a memorable song in many ways.
— I understand that it’s quite common for you to be working on a song for one group, only to decide halfway through to give it to another group instead. Could you tell us a bit about what those discussions are like?
Hashimoto: Morning Musume ’16’s “Utakata Saturday Night” for example, that was actually written by its composer/lyricist Tsuno Maisa (Akai Kouen) for °C-ute, a group she loves. It was a strong song from the get-go, but then during a meeting someone said that the song with its disco influence might work better for Morning Musume ’16, as a kind of a return to their roots… So then we had her fix the lyrics a little to make them a better fit for Morning, and the song took the shape that it now has. It ended up being Suzuki Kanon’s last single, perfectly encapsulating her cheerfulness. “This song is going to end in just 58 more seconds!” — that, too, was Tsuno’s idea!
Kobushi Factory’s new song, “Kore Kara da!,” was also first meant for another group. But we started discussing this one during a meeting, too, talking about how the lyrics might make for the perfect comeback song for Kobushi in 2018 with their 5-member lineup. And so we fine-tuned the song into its current form. But to be honest, this kind of thing doesn’t actually happen that often.
— I feel like the singing especially on Kobushi Factory’s early songs is very characteristic of H!P. What sort of vocal direction is needed in order to make someone’s singing have those characteristics?
Hashimoto: We weren’t really thinking about it yet around the time of their indies debut, “Nen ni wa Nen.” But then seeing them actually perform the song at Berryz Koubou’s Ariake Colosseum concert (“Berryz Koubou Matsuri“) and hearing the intensity with which they sang it, that’s what opened our eyes to the possibility of having them take this powerful, almost un-idol-like approach.
We took it a step further on their major debut single, “Dosukoi! Kenkyo ni Daitan.” That one was also driven largely by the melody itself… that is, the song ended up becoming that way almost on its own. (laughs) It then escalated even further with “Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin” and “Osu! Kobushi Tamashii.” The members of Kobushi are amazing for having been able to take that theme and make it their own.
Yamao: During recording we’re not particularly conscious about or directing them to sing in an “H!P-like” way, but as the girls are all ex-members of Hello! Pro Kenshuusei and NICE GIRL Trainee, they’ve received plenty of instruction from Tsunku♂ and thus they must’ve inherited those “Tsunku♂-isms” that way. The rest is just the songs themselves showing us the way and telling us how to direct the members, leading to all these powerful songs like “Nen ni wa Nen” and “Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin.”
By the way, although “Nen ni wa Nen” was Kobushi’s first recording, Inoue Rei was in fact the only member I hadn’t already recorded before. So when we went into recording, me not knowing anything about her, I was sitting there going “I wonder how well she can sing? What type of a voice does she have?” I still remember how surprised I was when I heard how well she could adapt to my instructions and just how cool her voice was. It was a big deal when we heard her sing the “wasurenna umbrella” line. We were going like, “oh damn!” (laughs)
— With Country Girls, on the other hand, I understand that the objective was to have them sing with as little mannerisms as possible. Was this your intention?
Hashimoto: The idea with Country Girls was to use cuteness as their weapon — along with nostalgia. Thus, they inevitably became different from all the other Hello! groups. That choice was based purely on the members’ voices and personalities.
Yamao: Country’s songs are all very fresh and cute, so the vocals follow along those lines pretty much by necessity. The members didn’t have a lot of mannerisms to their singing to begin with, and their innocent way of singing was a great match for their debut songs, “Itooshikutte Gomen ne” and “Koi Dorobou.” I feel that, in a way, that’s what gave those songs this nostalgic sound.
Oh! Also, I’d already been in charge of recording Tsugunaga Momoko from the Berryz Koubou days, and she was just invaluable to the group. She could adjust her singing and her character to fit any song perfectly! She had pretty much completely mastered her craft by then. (laughs)
— I would now like to ask each of you to assess the members themselves. Who has shown improvement? Who was incredible from the get-go? Who is funny? Who is difficult to record? Please tell us about whatever comes to mind.
Hashimoto: Someone who’s improved is Juice=Juice’s Uemura Akari. She wasn’t among the good singers at first, but thanks to Sugai-sensei’s lessons she’s now able to stay on pitch. That, combined with the good quality of her voice that she had from the beginning has now definitely made her one of the better singers. Also, Kobushi Factory’s Nomura Minami. Having been put in the high-pressure atmosphere of Kobushi Factory, she’s become a very strong, steady singer. A difficult member…? I can’t talk about it here. (laughs)
Taisei: Two members that have improved are ANGERME’s Sasaki Rikako and Juice=Juice’s Uemura Akari. These two have both shown remarkable growth as of late. Meanwhile, two members that were amazing from the beginning are ANGERME’s Murota Mizuki and Juice=Juice’s Danbara Ruru. They both had a solid foundation thanks to their time spent in Hello! Pro Kenshuusei. Intervals, rhythm, power of expression… They had all of that down from the get-go.
The member I’ve found the funniest as of late is Haga Akane from Morning Musume, who I sometimes record. During the recording of “Mukidashi de Mukiatte” when she did that spoken line: “suppin no anata de shoubu dekiru?“… You can actually hear in her voice how she had this big self-satisfied look on her face when she said it during recording. (laughs)
As for a member who is difficult to record… The first name that pops into mind is Mano Erina. (laughs) It was so, so difficult to record her when she’d only just debuted. (laughs) But it’s great to see her having become a very busy actress following her graduation from H!P.
Yamao: While all of the members are doing their best and showing improvement, someone who’s surprised me a bit is Yanagawa Nanami. Seeing her singing Juice=Juice songs at the beginning-of-the-year Hello!Con, I realized that she has a completely different character there compared to when she’s singing with Country Girls. She was so cool! It was like… “oh, this girl can now sing this way, too!” Also, I never imagined Kobushi’s Hamaura Ayano becoming this good of a singer back when she was still in Kenshuusei. Tsubaki’s Kishimoto Yumeno is also improving fast!
Kamata: When it comes to Morning Musume ’18, I feel that Fukumura Mizuki has improved quite a bit following Sayashi Riho’s graduation. She inherited many of the solo lines that originally belonged to Sayashi. That in itself must feel like added responsibility, but more importantly, it really just seems to me like she’s reached some sort of an epiphany within herself in regards to singing.
Also, 12th generation member Nonaka Miki‘s singing has gotten better. We’ve been preaching to her about rhythm since she joined Morning Musume, and so perhaps thanks to that… she’s actually now become the member who most understands the length of a musical note. There’s this song called “Daisuki Dakara Zettai ni Yurusanai” that was originally sung by Sayashi and Oda Sakura, and it’s a song where the two are constantly switching between main and chorus melodies. It’s a bit of a tricky one. So then last year at a concert (at the Shinkiba COAST on 2017/9/14), Nonaka and Oda sang the song together with Nonaka taking over Sayashi’s lines. She was actually able to do it, thanks to the teachings of Oda-sensei. (laughs) So she’s become quite promising, that Nonaka.
— Which new singles that you’ve worked on since 2015 have left the biggest impression on you?
Hashimoto: The previously mentioned “Taiki Bansei” by ANGERME is one of course… Others include Country Girls’ “Itooshikutte Gomen ne,” Kobushi Factory’s “Dosukoi! Kenkyo ni Daitan” and Tsubaki Factory’s “Hatsukoi Sunrise” — the major debut songs always leave an impression. Those debut songs are very important in that they determine the group’s style. A lot of passion always goes towards the work on those.
“Hatsukoi Sunrise” was especially memorable. When it was still in the demo stage, that one was actually supposed to have a completely different melody at first. The lyrics were already written, too, and the staff was all “alright, let’s go with this!” as we prepared to record it. But then we were suddenly contacted by the office of the songwriter. “You can’t use this song!” What happened is, the original composition had previously been submitted to a competition and it was now going to be released as a song by another artist. So now, in a huge rush, we kept Izutsu Himi’s lyrics almost completely unchanged and basically had the music composed around the words. Thanks to that, we got to incorporate a bunch of new ideas into the song, like the opening’s super-high “sunriiiiise!” and the “sunrise jump.” It ended up becoming an overwhelmingly good song. I guess you might call it a fortunate accident.
Of the more recent songs, “Ai no Tane (20th Anniversary Ver.)” is one I can’t talk about without tearing up… (laughs) I was involved as a director on the original version 20 years ago, so even just getting those five people of the first generation together again was deeply emotional.
Taisei: ANGERME’s “Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku.” Our paths with this song crossed just as we were thinking about which direction to take ANGERME in next. It was already a very strong song from the start, but I remember having many discussions about it with the composer/arranger, Hirata Shoichiro, trying to see if there was some way we could make it even more powerful yet. When the lyricist, Kodama Ameko, managed to find a great way to fit the phrase “tsugitsugi zokuzoku” into the chorus, that was when everything clicked into place.
Also, Juice=Juice’s “Wonderful World.” I think this was the first single I worked on as the director. My intention with the song was to make it sound like a declaration of happiness to the whole world. In order to do that, I had to be rather “insistent” with the lyricist/songwriter Iijima Ken and the main arranger Sumikama Tomohiro. I think the two of them must’ve been afraid of any phone calls coming from me around this time. (laughs) But it was worth it: the song ended up becoming something very close to my image of how I wanted it to be.
Yamao: I’ll give you my choices for each year individually.
2015. First off: Country Girls’ “Itooshikutte Gomen ne.” It was their debut song and many of the members were recording something for the first time in their lives, obviously making them very nervous. Their voices were so very quiet… (laughs) It was seriously like listening to a mosquito buzzing. I feel like the only things I really said to them at that recording was to sing louder and to try and do so with more energy. We did lots and lots of overdubbing and retakes so it took a long time, but that made it all the more memorable for me.
2016. My pick is Kobushi Factory’s “Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin.” The composition and the arrangement are both fantastic. I remember when we were recording the demo vocals, I was already excitedly thinking “oh man… this is going to be one hell of a song!” The brass ensemble by Takegami Yoshinari’s team, Komatsu Hideyuki’s groovy bass, and Suzuki Shunsuke’s transcendental guitar technique was all spot-on as usual, but what really set this one apart for me was the organ. Kawai Daisuke’s performance when we recorded the Hammond organ was so godly, I remember sitting there next to him just staring at him with my mouth open. (laughs)
There’s footage of this up on YouTube and I’ll still often go back to re-watch it. (laughs)
2017. This one has to be °C-ute’s “Final Squall.” I’d been in charge of °C-ute ever since their indies days so of course I already have a strong emotional attachment to the song just because of that, but really: the string arrangement is so great! Even now I’m overcome with emotion when I listen to it. There’s just something about it that moves me. (laughs) I wonder if it’s just me…?
Kamata: When I first heard the Tsunku♂-composed demo for Kudo Haruka’s graduation song, Morning Musume ’17’s “Wakain da shi!,” I remember thinking about how it had such a wide range in the melody and how it was obviously in a key which indicated that a lot of it would have to be sung in falsetto. I was worried if Kudo would actually be able to sing it. But despite my doubts about her during the time we were working on the arrangement in preparation for the recordings, it turned out that Kudo prior to her graduation was on an even bigger roll than usual. While I’m sure she isn’t very confident about her falsetto singing, she threw all caution to the wind during recording and gave us a strong take. So to me, this was a song that let me see Kudo’s growth in a tangible way.
— Please let us in on some confidential production or recording session stories!
Kamata: The lyrics to Morning Musume ’15’s “One and Only” are in all-English, and while Nonaka might’ve had no problem with them as she can speak English, we were worried about how all the other members would do in recording. But somehow… it actually worked out rather nicely. (laughs) There was an English-speaking person present there during recording to check the members’ pronunciation, and surprisingly — although saying that it’s “surprising” might be rude of me — Haga Akane especially received praise for her pronunciation.
Taisei: After we’d already finished recording all of Kobushi Factory’s members for “Shalala! Yareru Hazu sa,” we decided to raise the key of the song and so we had to record everyone all over again. (laughs) I’m sure it was a lot of extra work for the members and directors alike, but I believe it really paid off.