Literature and lo-fi music merge in one of the most unique and exciting music projects launched this year. KATARI’s Shinichiro Kamio and Takehiro Mamiya talk about their formation, passions, their first one man live taking place in August and more.
Tempo estimado de leitura: 24 minutos
This is an exclusive interview for THTFHQ. The logos and official photos in this interview are copyrighted to KATARI and the interview is copyrighted to THTFHQ.
Full reproduction/Translation of the contents of this interview is strictly forbidden.
In June 2021, I had the pleasure of interviewing KATARI for The Hand That Feeds HQ.
What started as a simple interview ended up being a long candid conversation about the group’s origins, the members’ passion for literature, the beauty of a good translation, as well as the lo-fi sound that paints the soundscapes to the duo’s music:
For those that may not know about you, who are KATARI? And does the name have a special meaning?
Shinichiro Kamio (from hereon Kamio): “Special meaning…” Not particularly.
Takehiro Mamiya (from hereon Mamiya): No, not really.
Kamio: The name “KATARI” was something we came up with after the fact, to be clear.
Kamio: Our first objective was to combine “literature” with “lo-fi music.”
Kamio: So, the name “KATARI” was something that we came up with later, thinking about what kind of name might fit this kind of activity. We ended up fixating on the word “katari,” something that would be easy to understand.
Mamiya: That’s how it came about. We came up with the name afterwards. What would you call it in English? “Speaker,” maybe?
Kamio: Right, “kataru” in Japanese means “to tell a story.” But there are a lot of different meanings within that Japanese word.
Mamiya: Japanese words tend to have a lot of different meanings attached to each one, and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the language. I feel like we went with “KATARI” for that reason.
Kamio: Oh, right. We’re supposed to introduce ourselves. I’m Shinichiro Kamio, in charge of editing the literature we use, and the vocals.
Mamiya: I’m Takehiro Mamiya, in charge of the music.
Kamio: You’re doing some vocals, too.
Mamiya: Ah, yeah… that too!
For many fans, the news about Kamio-san and Mamiya-san working as a duo came as surprising and unexpected, yet made everyone excited for what you’d be creating. How did this collaboration come to be? Was it due to having a similar drive to create something different, or did you see each other as an essential part of what you wanted to do in the music industry? Please tell us a bit about how KATARI was formed.
Mamiya: How we got started, yeah?
Kamio: At the beginning…
Mamiya: It was really just a coincidence that we met.
Kamio: A coincidence, yeah. A chance meeting. This got started when I happened to play a track by DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING during a DJ event…
Mamiya: Right… You may know that I also go by the name DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING.
Kamio: Right, your DJ name.
Mamiya: And I’m also a DJ. Kamio-san played one of my tracks.
Kamio: Right, I just played one on a whim. And after that, a certain producer mentioned to me, “Hey, so you know Mamiya-san, then.” And I said, “No, I just like the track, so I played it.” And he said, “Well, I’ll introduce you to him.” So, when we met for the first time, right at the beginning, I said, “So I’ve got this unique voice, would you like to sample my voice and make a track or something?“
Mamiya: Yeah, yeah.
Kamio: And we thought it might be interesting, so as we started to discuss how we’d work together, we felt like this could really work. So, we started wondering what we might do about making lyrics. And I said, well, there’s this body of literature we could use called Aozora Bunko. Ah, that’s genius, you said, it might work well. And so that’s where it started.
Mamiya: Yeah. Though, at the time, poetry reading, or like, a genre I quite like called “poemcore“… To put this kind of narration, to speak over music, I had heard about it, but I was surprised we would use Aozora Bunko’s works. I wouldn’t have thought of putting those works to music. Aozora Bunko is a compilation of literature for which the copyrights have expired…
Kamio: And they’re free.
Mamiya: Right, right.
Kamio: So, with all these pieces of famous literature available–and I do edit them lightly for our purposes–we take these famous pieces of Japanese literature that represent Japanese culture, and in order to make them more accessible–which is something I’m focused on in this project–we take these masterpieces and set them to music, filter them through music, and make them easier to enjoy, and easier to become interested in. Or that’s what I hope will happen for our listeners. It’s a dream of mine that I hope will come true through this musical project, and something that hasn’t really been done before. I think it’s something that is necessary in the present day.
Kamio: And I’m relying on you, Yuppe-kun.
Mamiya: (laughs) No, for me, I genuinely just wanted to try something new, and you know that I was a serious metalhead growing up as well. I’ve written music for others for a long time now, maybe about 10 years or more, but in those 10 years I’ve also done DJ work and learned quite a lot. But I’ve always been thinking about how to make new music, make it into a new kind of experience, and here comes Kamio-san with this new “KATARI” genre. This has been really big for me.
Kamio: Yeah, exactly.
Mamiya: Right, that’s how this all got started, and I’m really happy we did this.
Kamio: Me, too.
KATARI has a unique concept at its core “musical poetry”. This is the first time a project like that is launched, at least one with a seiyuu part of it. What made you want to mix music with poetry?
Kamio: This goes back over what we just talked about a little, but we talked about this a bit when we first met and discussed what to do about the lyrical content.
Kamio: For the poetry we’d use… For performers, or lyricists, they have some kind of life experience to draw on when they write lyrics, but I’m a voice actor, and I don’t believe I’m really skilled at creating these kinds of things myself. But I thought, there are definitely famous poems and works that are world-class, right?
Mamiya: Exactly, yeah.
Kamio: And they’re free! No copyright!
Mamiya: Yeah, yeah.
Kamio: And that’s where we got the poetry part of it.
Mamiya: Another thing that was interesting at the start was, well, for me, I can only write music, and for Kamio-san, it’s not like he’s particularly fond of singing specifically, but he’s got an amazing voice, and he’s an amazing narrator.
Kamio: Yeah, yeah. I’m not an outstanding singer, so I’m always asking Yuppe-kun to fix up my vocals.
Mamiya: But you know, just like that, we both have our strengths, and when we put them together, this is what we came up with.
Kamio: Right. We’ve got the division of labor down pat.
Mamiya: Yeah. So that’s what got this started, or rather, how it ended up.
Kamio: Without realizing it, it just kind of came together like that. At the beginning, we made some really long tracks, Kamio-san narrating forever and ever…
Kamio: We did, yeah.
Mamiya: Though we haven’t released any of that.
Kamio: No, they’re unreleased, but we do have this eleven-minute-long narration that we made a backing track for. With a little trial-and-error, eventually it ended up the way you hear it now.
Mamiya: Right, that’s how.
Kamio: Just like that.
Mamiya: We thought, well, putting it in some kind of clear musical format would help it actually become popular, right?
Kamio: Right, it would have a stronger impact on the listeners.
Mamiya: When we put a melody to it, suddenly it sounded great.
Kamio: Just like we wanted it to.
Mamiya: Kamio-san says he’s bad at singing, but he’s got that amazing voice of his. His singing is actually great, you know.
Kamio: Well, at least it doesn’t sound awful. That’s just thanks to how my voice sounds, though. I’m grateful for it.
Mamiya: No, I think it’s great. So, rather than there being something that pushed us to mix poetry with music, it just sort of came together like this.
Kamio: And it came together well!
In the recently released video “Yume to Genjitsu”, Shinichiro Kamio-san gives life to a poem by Akiko Yosano. In a way, international fans are being exposed for the very first time to most of the poets you’re performing works from. Thanks to KATARI’s performances, many fans look forward to discovering “new” poets and poems to inspire them. How has poetry inspired you (in your life or even as artists)? Do you intend to write original poetry for your songs or will you continue to feature poems by authors/poets that are inspiring and fit KATARI’s aesthetic?
Kamio: So first of all, for me, as the editor of the poems we use, I read a lot of “pure literature,” poetry, novels, and the like. And a lot of the authors that I read, a lot of them died quite young, at 32, 33 years old, in their thirties. But, in their short time on this earth, they created something that has been recorded in history. They had that level of talent. And I feel like literature, this KATARI project, it gives me a certain kind of power, a desire to live up to those talented authors.
Mamiya: I really feel that way, too. I do like to read, but I haven’t really spent much time with literature as a whole. But through the KATARI project, something I’ve come to realize is quite important is letters… My answer might get a bit long here.
Kamio: Go for it.
Mamiya: So, letters, they exist in a sort of flat plane, right? You look at them with your eyes, and the act of reading them translates them into emotions. If you think of it in terms of music, that plane becomes a dimension in time. The letters go on horizontally across the page. So, in the timeline of these letters, at this point in the poem, what was the author’s state of mind? How does that change over the course of the work? I think this KATARI project has really improved my ability to think about these things.
Kamio: That’s really important. Of course, if a hundred people read the same poem, they’ll come up with a hundred different explanations for its meaning, and so our understanding and reading of the poems in the KATARI project is just our way of expressing them through music. But I hope our listeners will learn more about the poetry if they can access it in this way.
Kamio: About doing some original writing, I think even if we did write some original lyrics, it would likely end up being an addition to something else–“feat. KATARI” or something like that. We’re not thinking of deviating from our current style as of yet, so if we did something original it would very likely be an author “feat. KATARI“.
Mamiya: I think so, too.
Kamio: There are so many different poets, authors to choose from, so I want to keep showcasing them going forward.
Mamiya: We’re going to end up showcasing them all, aren’t we?
Kamio: We are. If you take a look at the titles of the tracks we’ve done so far, of course there are many more tracks we could make based on the same authors.
Mamiya: Definitely, yeah.
Kamio: And at least, for example with Akiko Yosano’s track, which came out recently, that one was made quite close to its release.
Mamiya: Right, it was released pretty quickly.
Kamio: We’ve got another five or six tracks like that that are just waiting to be released now.
Kamio: So, in terms of the order in which we release them, it might be completely different from the order in which we made them. You might enjoy the sense of not being able to see any rhyme or reason to the order in which we release them.
Mamiya: Yeah, exactly. Kamio-san’s editing skills make it much easier for me…
Kamio: No, no…
Mamiya: … much easier for me to get into the literature. Makes me want to learn more about different authors in the future.
What are the themes you enjoy most in poetry? Which authors/poets do you particularly enjoy and would like to recommend to our readers?
Kamio: So out of all the literature I’ve read, the ones that have the most weight to them tend to touch on themes of life and death. Authors who write a lot about death, they also sometimes write about what makes them live; for example, Akiko Yosano has this image of being quite troubled, perhaps, having to send her brother off to war, et cetera, so you tend to think of her as being in that genre. But when you take a deeper look at her work, you find that she actually does have some more positive themes in her writings. You can enjoy finding these different themes in the authors’ works–living, life and death, existence, and so on.
Kamio: An author or poet I would recommend? I’d say Shiki Masaoka, Soseki Natsume… We haven’t started on any of their works yet, but at least at the moment with how we are doing one track per artist for now, I think there’s quite a bit we can do with those two.
Mamiya: I’m excited for what we can do with them in the future.
Kamio: Shiki Masaoka, Soseki Natsume, of course, other aesthetic writers like Ranpo Edogawa, or Michizo Tachihara, who died so young… Those are some I would recommend.
Mamiya: Ah, I’m looking forward to learning more about them.
The music that KATARI features as a background to the beautiful poems performed by Shinichiro Kamio-san takes the listener on a dreamy journey, it’s almost ethereal while embracing a smooth chillout/lo-fi hip-hop sound. Did this type of sound or those specific music genres come as something natural for KATARI’s aesthetic, or was it intentional to fit with the tone of the poems chosen for each track? And will the sound change depending on the tone of the poems read?
Kamio: This question’s for you, Yuppe-kun.
Mamiya: When we set out to start making the tracks for KATARI, first of all, this certainly wasn’t all thought up by me alone.
Kamio: No, no.
Mamiya: I made sure to ask Kamio-san each time what these artists, these poems, really mean; I had him explain it all to me. It all starts with a blank slate like that.
Kamio: Right, you’re coming up with everything from scratch.
Kamio: I’ll explain what the author was thinking, and so on. Recently we did “Yagi no Uta” by Chuya Nakahara; this is a good example here. He died young, and never had the chance to grow old. In this particular poem, his thinking is that of an old man, but it seems to get “younger” as the poem goes on. That’s how we wanted it to look in the track.
Mamiya: Right. I listen to all this explanation, and then–well, you might think this is silly, but–I try to bring the letters on the page to life with music, to change the letters, their echoes, into sound. I feel like I’ve discovered a new talent in myself recently.
Kamio: You’re a true genius at it, I think.
Mamiya: (laughs) You have to imagine the emotions that are embedded in the letters, but to transform those emotions into sound… I’ve worked with a lot of genres of music in my career, but out of all of them, I just think about which one Kamio-san is going to be most excited about.
Kamio: This guy, he’s like a chef, bringing out all these new dishes to try. And they’re all delicious.
Mamiya: So, I don’t really say, “Let’s make the track in this genre,” or with this kind of sound, or this rhythm, I just go with what Kamio-san approves of. (laughs)
Kamio: You say that, but basically every time you suggest something, I say, “You’re a genius!” I don’t think I’ve ever said your suggestions were mistaken or anything up to now.
Mamiya: I kind of change the beat or the sound based on how Kamio-san reacts. And I try really hard to change the poem’s world into sound when I make the track. That’s why I can’t say if all the tracks are going to continue with this lo-fi hip-hop sound. I just don’t know yet.
Kamio: Right, it depends on the poems.
Mamiya: But if you have any specific requests, please let me know.
Kamio: We’ll try anything.
Mamiya: Definitely let us know.
Do you intend to collaborate with other artists or even voice actors that love poetry/literature for your next tracks? If yes, who would you like to collaborate with and why?
Mamiya: I actually do think about working together with other artists sometimes. Since it’s just the two of us, we’re limited in what we can do.
Kamio: That’s true.
Mamiya: So, perhaps in the future, when we do a live concert or another event. I only have two hands, I’m only one person, so I think I’ll be a bit limited in what I can do on stage. It might be nice to have a cool band to collaborate with, or that’s what I’ve been thinking about, myself. But I don’t know who we might ask, I’ve just been thinking about it now and then.
Kamio: Rather than asking a musical artist, if we think about asking a voice actor or actress, of course the expression in the track will change based on the person who reads it, who sings it. It will end up being a unique version of that track based on that person. But if it’s someone who really likes literature, I think it would be wonderful to collaborate with them. For example, in my management agency [81 Produce], there’s Soma Saito. He loves literature, and we talk a lot about it together. If he sang one of the tracks, it would have a different feeling to it, a different expression, even if it’s the same track. But, you’d get a brand-new work of art that way, too.
Mamiya: That’d be interesting. I could imagine, for example, if we made a bunch of tracks, and had a voice actor, or a narrator collaborate with us, we could do it in a way like you see on all the music charts: KATARI feat. someone else, right? We could do that with this musical literature.
Kamio: For example, maybe our greatest achievement would be, KATARI feat. Hitoshi Kubota, you know.
Mamiya: That’d be really intense!
Kamio: It’d be really crazy if we did get Hitoshi Kubota to work with us. I think that’d be great.
Mamiya: Yeah, let’s think about who we might work with.
KATARI is an independent project, currently fan-powered via Fanbox subscriptions. Please tell us a bit about why you’ve chosen to be independent, and what are your plans for future content as well as what fans can expect when they subscribe to KATARI’s Fanbox page.
Kamio: Because it’s just our little hobby.
Mamiya: Yeah, our little hobby.
Kamio: We just wanted to do this on the side, as a hobby, I think.
Mamiya: Right, and our fans and staff are kind of helping to support this hobby through FANBOX…
Kamio: We didn’t come up with the FANBOX idea on our own; rather, it was suggested to us, and we said, “Oh, ah, let’s do it!”
Mamiya: “Sounds good!”
Kamio: But thanks to that, we’re track-making machines these days.
Kamio: It’s thanks to the “adults” around us who are helping us out with things like the music videos, too.
Mamiya: Making the music videos and so on, the FANBOX helps out with paying for that kind of work, for the staff needed for that. Of course, the higher the quality of work we want to create, the more it’s going to cost, so… You know… If you’re enjoying the work and want to see it get even bigger and better, please consider helping out through the FANBOX…
Kamio: Please do.
Mamiya: We’d really appreciate it!
Kamio: The staff and fans, it’s more like we’re all members of the same hobby group.
Kamio: We’re all relying on the members of our little hobby group to get this done.
Mamiya: Yeah, it’s not just the two of us doing everything on our own.
Kamio: We’ve got a really talented team, this KATARI team.
Mamiya: It’s really amazing.
Kamio: It’s full of people who… aren’t too fond of stuffy rules and procedures.
Kamio: People who don’t care too much for “organizations” and such. That’s why we really have no idea what, for example, the perks for subscribing to the FANBOX are going to be going forward.
Mamiya: We haven’t thought too much about it… (laughs)
Kamio: I’m pretty sure we’ll just stumble across some good idea, like, “How about this!?” and go with it. That’s how the perks will increase.
Mamiya: Yeah, yeah. That’s what I think. Well… We’ll probably be sharing some drinks with the staff…
Kamio: Yeah, it’ll all get worked out over some drinks some time. But if there’s a perk or benefit you’d like to see in the FANBOX, please do contact us on Twitter or somewhere, and we’ll see it.
Mamiya: (laughs) Please do.
Kamio-san, you’ve got a lot of experience performing music for 2D groups (for example, Akatsuki and SwingCATS) and rap crew (MAD TRIGGER CREW). There are some quirks and unique performance styles in those however, in KATARI’s performances, you appear in the simplest, purest form as a performer. It’s almost like narration-meets-hip-hop and it works incredibly well as an end product. How different are your performances in KATARI in comparison to your work in those projects? Did you bring any specific skills you’ve learned performing for those groups to KATARI? If yes, which things did you bring to your performances?
Kamio: For the KATARI project, I’m quite clear about completely separating this from the work I’ve done as a voice actor or the work I’ve done as a rapper. The skills I’m using for this are my skills in narration, in storytelling, so it’s more like a live reading or a play. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a lot of live readings and plays over the years, but what we’re doing in the KATARI project makes full use of the skills I’ve picked up in reading and narration. Of course, my experience with singing has some part to play in it, but I feel that it’s my storytelling ability, my narration ability, that is being used the most here.
Mamiya: You know, Kamio-san usually doesn’t need to do more than three takes at the most. (laughs)
Kamio: No, not usually.
Mamiya: But they’re all good takes. He tells me to use whichever one I like. Narrating, especially live, is a make-or-break thing; you only get one shot at doing it right, but Kamio-san has that experience. He’s really making full use of those skills, I feel.
Kamio: But that’s just normal, I think.
Kamio: The way you narrate it has to be good the first time.
Mamiya: So, you have to be amazing, yeah.
Kamio: If you do two takes, and you hear the second one and it’s great, then you might end up tossing out the first take. So, you’re better off just getting it right the first time.
Mamiya: (laughs) Right. In general, you need to get it right the first time. So really, everyone, just imagine you’re hearing Kamio-san’s first take every time.
Kamio: I’m usually fine on the first take, so do enjoy it.
Mamiya: Listen carefully!
Mamiya-san, your music as DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING is intense; however, for KATARI, you’ve approached music more softly, bringing lo-fi and chillout to the spotlight with a touch of hip-hop in a punchy beat. How was the creative process behind the creation of the ethereal instrumentals serving as a backdrop for KATARI’s tracks? And what kind of music/sound would you like to create next for KATARI?
Mamiya: I see… This might be another long-winded answer, but… Personally, I think that there’s nothing different between the music I make as DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING and the music I’m making for KATARI. Seriously. Music is just music to me. Honestly, I see music as numbers. In math, there’s a correct answer, you know? Like… it’s hard to explain, but for every note in music there is an overtone that you can derive from it, and you make sounds based on those. And in the end, loud, impressive sounds, and soft, understated sounds are all the same to me. What’s important is the act of putting meaning into each sound. Of course, yes, there are “little” sounds and “big” sounds, “gentle” sounds and “rough” sounds, “violent” sounds, and so on, but in the case of KATARI, I think it’s pretty violent, in my opinion. You might think it sounds quite gentle, but in reality, I’m pumping the low notes and tones even more than I do in my music as DJ’TEKINA//SOMETHING. I think about it quite carefully while I’m working on each track, but it’s all the same workflow to me. I’m not really focused on any particular point, to be honest. I’m not really thinking about making any one particular sound, either. Not at the moment.
Kamio: I listen to this, and I always think that we’re talking about this in the abstract, but that’s something we share in common, the two of us. We think and talk about these works in the abstract, but Yuppe-kun turns those abstract thoughts into real music. Thanks to that, we’re quite quick to develop new tracks.
Mamiya: Who knows, some day we might be making heavy metal tracks.
Kamio: It’s definitely possible.
Mamiya: We just don’t know what will come next.
Kamio: It’s all up to the authors we sample.
Mamiya: I’ll do my best!
Kamio: Me too.
And KATARI is going to hold a solo live concert this summer! Please tell us more about it.
Mamiya: Ah, about the concert announcement.
Kamio: Yeah, about that.
Mamiya: August 30th.
Kamio: The 30th, yeah. At least at the time of giving this interview, we haven’t thought at all about what we’re going to do. Haven’t decided anything at all, really.
Mamiya: (laughs) What are we going to do? Seriously.
Kamio: Well, at a minimum, I know I don’t want to have any breaks between songs.
Mamiya: No, we won’t have any. I was thinking the same thing.
Kamio: No breaks between songs, and I think the venue will probably be quite dark inside.
Kamio: That’s about all we’ve got so far.
Mamiya: For me, I know I’m going to have a bunch of equipment all around me…
Kamio: (laughs) Ah, I see.
Mamiya: It’s going to be pretty crazy, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Kamio: We might need to call in some backup for this.
Mamiya: But I think for our first stage, I want it to be just the two of us standing there.
Kamio: Ah, definitely.
Mamiya: So I’ll figure out a way to handle all the equipment by myself; just, you can expect to see a lot of equipment all around me on the day.
Kamio: You’ll be swimming in it.
Kamio: Though, it’s not just the venue itself, but we’re going to be streaming on YouTube. For free, right? For free.
Mamiya: For free, yeah. (laughs)
Kamio: It’ll be a free livestream.
Mamiya: That’s a big deal.
Kamio: Yeah, a big deal.
Kamio: It’s thanks to the fans and staff supporting us that we can do something like this.
Kamio: Yeah. It’s not about making a profit, nothing like that. We just hope that many people will tune in and find a love for the content. Even for people who aren’t too interested in Japanese literature, I hope they’ll listen in and feel more able to enjoy it through the medium of music.
Mamiya: Please check it out!
Please leave a message for our readers.
Kamio: I think that, for Japanese literature and overseas fans, just how well the beauty of the Japanese language comes across depends heavily on the quality of the translation. And that beauty can be quite difficult to experience through translation. I think there are quite a few authors whose works would be like that. But the reverse can be true as well: You hear that Haruki Murakami’s works are extremely popular in China because the translation of them is exquisite, the translation adds some extra quality to it. For KATARI, we aren’t doing these works in translation, of course, but in the original, and so I hope you all will experience the beauty of the Japanese language, of Japanese literature, through its rhythms, and so on. And, I hope you will develop an interest in both through our music. Please keep supporting us from now on.
Mamiya: As for me, I can’t really do much other than making music, I’m really just a super-NEET that watches YouTube all day…
Kamio: (laughs) That’s pretty deep, a super-NEET.
Mamiya: I don’t have the kind of big goals that Kamio-san has. I don’t really go around saying I want to do this or that, but as long as Kamio-san keeps snapping his fingers and saying “Nice idea!” to me…
Kamio: That’s all I’m doing, really.
Mamiya: I’ll keep doing my best, so I’d be happy if everyone keeps supporting our work.
Special thanks to KATARI’s Shinichiro Kamio and Takehiro Mamiya for allowing me to interview them for The Hand That Feeds HQ, as well as a big thank you to Brandon C. Schindewolf (Twitter: @brandon_jpn) and KATARI’s management for being awesome throughout!
A special podcast video covering KATARI’s formation, music analysis, some tidbits of music history, and Japanese literature will drop this Friday (August 13, 2021) at 3 PM WET on THTFHQ’s official YouTube channel!
Make sure to hit the bell icon in the video below so that you don’t miss it!
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