OTAQUEST supporter and performer EXILE NESMITH recently sat down with recording artist Eir Aoi for a one on one chat about a wide range of topics including getting started in music, influences, and even taking care of your health as an artist! Eir Aoi is renowned by fans worldwide for her work providing songs to some of the biggest hit anime since her debut in 2011. She counts series like Fate, Kill la Kill, and Sword Art Online amongst her body of work, along with 5 studio albums and a plethora of singles. Her seventeenth single was released this past October and also happens to be the ending theme song for Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia. Being a fan of anime himself, NESMITH was excited for this opportunity to sit down and talk with her candidly in the interview. We present their conversation below, translated in English, provided in collaboration with Monthly EXILE magazine!
NESMITH: I didn’t think we’d end up talking so much about video games having only just met. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: I had already heard you were a gamer, so… (laughs)
NESMITH: And from our conversation, I can tell you really love games.
Eir Aoi: I sure do. Enough to deprive myself of sleep to get more hours in.
NESMITH: Sounds like me. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: What title have you been playing the most lately?
Eir Aoi: Which is your favorite “Monster Hunter”?
NESMITH: Now then, let’s get the interview back on track! I happen to be a big fan of your opening theme that you sung for the anime “Kill la Kill.” It’s a real full-throttle series, and your music matched it so well, I remember being astounded and left wondering what the song was.
Eir Aoi: Kill la Kill, that would be “Sirius.” I’m glad you like it!
NESMITH: I remember how it seemed to synchronize with the series more and more with every episode. Even now, listening to it brings up memories of the anime.
Eir Aoi: It was my first time working with a project that was an original anime, without a prior manga or novel. I had to wonder what kind of ending they were heading for. That legendary ending, where everyone’s freed of their clothing, was quite something. (laughs)
NESMITH: It sure was! (laughs) Incidentally, was “Sirius” written for this anime specifically?
Eir Aoi: It’s often the case that I draw from my stock of demos to find a melody that would match the anime I’m asked to work on and propose a selection to the producers. Once the melody is determined, someone writes the lyrics. For “Sirius,” we asked “meg rock” to write, but I write the lyrics in most productions.
NESMITH: I introduced Sirius over and over again on my radio show. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: Thank you very much. (laughs)
NESMITH: And one thing I was saying on the radio show, was that there were a lot of songs in the 90s and further back that were made specifically for anime. Often, the lyrics would have the title of the anime or the names of its characters, so the song and anime were entirely linked. As I see it, titles like “Sobakasu” (Judy and Mary / 1996) and “1/3 no Junjō na Kanjō” (SIAM SHADE / 1997) brought big change to anime music, where people increasingly would apply pre existing songs from artists to anime. That evolved even further in the 2010s, where we have singers like you whose creativity is both preserved and applied to get music that aligns with anime titles. I’ve always wanted to know what an insider thinks about this transition in “anime songs.”
Eir Aoi: I think the progenitor to my line of “anime songs” comes from May’n with “Macross F” (2008). Just as you said, songs in the 90s like that of “Rurouni Kenshin” felt a lot like J-Pop, but in the latter part of the 2000s, artists like May’n began to change people’s impression of anime music. I think that they started increasing the track layers to better link the music to the anime.
NESMITH: You debuted not much later in 2011, Eir– how did that come about?
Eir Aoi: Like you, I’ve always liked music since I was young, but I experienced a big setback. I was rejected from all kinds of auditions. It felt like my dream of becoming a singer would only ever be a dream, so I changed course and entered nursing school. But I still couldn’t give up. I uploaded a song to Nico Nico Douga, and somebody from a record company reached out to me. That’s how I first got a CD of my own in magazines, and that led to my professional debut.
NESMITH: You never know when you’ll get your big chance. I myself was just lucky.
Eir Aoi: Oh, please. (laughs) Pure luck doesn’t get you on television!
NESMITH: No really, I went to all kinds of auditions when I was in middle school, but of course, nobody took me in. It was luck that when I was in high school, I had an “ASAYAN” audition come to my home prefecture of Kumamoto. If it had been in neighboring Fukuoka, it would have been difficult for a high schooler like myself to get all the way over there… Or so I probably would have felt. The internet wasn’t as big of a thing back then, so auditions were the only way to get my name out. But there were a lot of auditions I couldn’t attend. That’s how I figure my breakthrough was largely circumstance.
Eir Aoi: Speaking of ASAYAN, it was always the hot topic at my school after its weekly broadcast.
NESMITH: I’m pleased to hear that. (laughs) By the way, was the song you uploaded to Nico Nico Douga a cover?
Eir Aoi: Yes, it was a song called “Story” by Pico, another singer who got their major debut through Nico Nico Douga. I actually rerecorded a “Story” cover for my new single album. The single’s theme is “one’s roots,” so it only made sense to express my thanks to Pico for letting me sing “Story,” the song that helped me debut.
NESMITH: Our roots are indeed important.
Eir Aoi: Speaking of roots, I’ve always been a big fan of Do As Infinity. I looked up to [Tomiko] Van. I believe she’s also a Kumamoto native, is she not?
NESMITH: Well hey, I just had her as a guest on my local show in Kumamoto the other day. We talked about our past songs. I have to say, it changes how you listen to somebody’s music when you’ve heard from them directly. What do you emphasize in your singing, Eir?
Eir Aoi: As for me, I mostly sing the theme music for anime and games, so my goal is to blend in with the world of the title and reach out to its fans. Still, I’m the one who’s singing, so I make sure it feels unique to me. In particular, I emphasize speaking with my own words when I write lyrics. I keep a journal of things I think about or feel, and when an offer comes, I try to work some things from my journal into lyrics. So in singing, I place importance on both blending in with a title’s world, and conveying my own feelings.
NESMITH: Two worldviews for one song: finding a central keyword for a production that aligns with your own world. Interesting… I’d like to try something like that. I feel a lot of love from your music for the titles they appear in, but each song has good independence. Some people sniff at the idea of listening to anime songs or game songs, but the quality of your music is high enough to break those barriers, so I’d like for people reading this article to learn about your music and listen to it.
Eir Aoi: Both anime and video games are a form of culture appreciated around the world, so I’d love for more people to lend me their ear. (laughs)
NESMITH: I understand completely! (laughs) There’s a lot you can learn from anime and games! Also, EXILE has never written a song for anime. This despite the fact I’ve always talked about how songs attached to anime go out to the world alongside them… We really ought to get in on that. Anybody listening? (laughs) Anyway, that just goes to show how much I respect you.
Eir Aoi: I have my own respect for EXILE’s songs. Everyone in the group has their own unique way of singing. EXILE does a lot of singing in the “vocal fry” register. I can only wish I could do the same.
NESMITH: I know how that is. My own singing is more like rock, the opposite of Atsushi, Takahiro, and Shokichi in EXILE. Listening to your music, I wish I could sound like I’m enjoying singing as much as you do. I’d love to sing more songs in your style. (laughs) Speaking of which, what do you do to take care of your throat?
Eir Aoi: I always make sure the humidity stays above 50% when I’m indoors. It helps my throat, and keeps me from catching a cold. I often bring a couple of humidifiers when I’m on tour.
NESMITH: I’ve done all kinds of things. I had a mist sprayer that’s meant to moisturize skin, but I had it at my bedside, aimed at my face.
Eir Aoi: Ah, I’ve heard of that. (laughs)
NESMITH: I suppose you would. I always found it annoying to wear a mask while sleeping, so I thought I’d give it a try, but… I gave up on it after two or three months. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: Really? I always thought it sounded like a good idea.
NESMITH: The equipment is bulky, so it really gets in the way when we’re on tour. (laughs) I figured that if it was this much of a pain to pack, there ought to be a better way. I considered making it a pre-performance routine, but it was still tough. What do you do before a performance?
Eir Aoi: Before each performance, my band members and I cheer “Ei-Eir!” We need it to get pumped up. My voice training teacher also taught me that singing while blowing up a balloon can help strengthen my voice. I always do that before recording.
NESMITH: I see. Putting the throat aside, what about the rest of your body?
Eir Aoi: I don’t know if you’d call it “body care,” but I’m very careful about my posture. Training your back muscles can help your posture, so I do a lot of muscle training.
NESMITH: As gamers, we tend to forget our posture. (laughs) The other day, my chiropractor was massaging my back, and asked “Hey Nes, what’d you do to your back?” (laughs)
Eir Aoi: Yes, it’s easy to fall into the habit of slouching when you play video games. That’s why I play video games on a balance ball, these days.
NESMITH: Whoa… That’s perfect! I’ll do that too! (laughs) Posture is important for professional gaming, so e-sports competitors really obsess over their chairs. I guess it must be to straighten their backs for long periods of gaming… Hey, wait a moment. We were supposed to be talking about music. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: Playing video games, you tend to raise your shoulders, too.
NESMITH: Yeah, definitely.
Eir Aoi: Raising your shoulders constricts your throat, so posture really is important. I spent a whole year after getting sick in 2016 to rethink my body, and I redid my voice training from scratch. One thing I was told then was to watch my “axis.” You imagine a thread of string falling through you from the top of your head. I started doing yoga recently, and now I can finally understand it. I feel it’s helped create my current method of singing.
NESMITH: I’ve done some trial and error in search of the best way of singing myself, but I still haven’t found the perfect way. Every time I think I have it down, age brings change to my body, and I’m facing tours and recording sessions from zero.
Eir Aoi: I see… That’s kind of surprising.
NESMITH: I can’t replicate the way I sang when I was younger. I wish I could always enjoy singing, but I can’t help but get negative at times.
Eir Aoi: They all say that one’s throat will eventually wear out. The more you use it, the more you wear it down. That’s why it’s key that you treat it nicely.
NESMITH: It really makes you think how you’ve got to treasure it. Nobody has the same voice– each one is a unique instrument. That’s why I need to figure out how to treat it right, before it rusts… Or so I tell my friends over drinks. (laughs)
Eir Aoi: Over drinks! (laughs)
NESMITH: Well now, we’ve had a good long chat. Let’s hope we see more cultural crossover between anime and games. There are a lot of opinions out there on how LDH artists and writers get assertive in scenes like this, but personally, I think it’s my best way forward.
Eir Aoi: I kind of feel like people judge the “genre” or “field” of our music without our input, but fans, at least, know what music they like and the artists they love. It’s a wonderful thing to find something you like, so I think we’d all be happier if we could listen to music without having to categorize everything.
NESMITH: Very true. In this series of articles, I often see responses from fans of artists I interview. It’s what makes me think this is all worthwhile.
We would like to thank Eir Aoi for participating in this interview, and to Monthly EXILE magazine and EXILE NESMITH for conducting it! You can hear Eir Aoi’s latest single “星が降るユメ (Hoshi ga Furu Yume)” as the ending theme of Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia on FunimationNOW, or check it out on YouTube!