hololive English VTuber Hakos Baelz on the Confidence She Gained Through Her First Concept Album: Interview

hololive English VTuber Hakos Baelz has released her first full album, ZODIAC. On the album, whose theme is the Chinese zodiac, she has taken on a wide range of musical styles, from rock and ballads to reggaeton and EDM. It provides a glimpse into various facets of this artist, hololive’s self-proclaimed “agent of chaos.” There are also guest appearances by veteran VTubers like Inugami Korone, Usada Pekora, and Tsunomaki Watame, and the entire album is full of little touches that keep listeners engaged to the very end. Billboard Japan talked with Hakos Baelz about the new album, ZODIAC, which represents the culmination of her musical activities.

To start off with, could you tell us a little about how you got started as a VTuber?

Baelz: At first, I didn’t really know that much about VTubers, but I had a few friends who were doing it, and one day, when I happened to be looking into hololive online, I saw that they were holding auditions. I decided to apply on a whim. That’s how it all started.

Were you already interested in performing music?

Baelz: I’ve been listening to music since I was little, and I was always extra fond of music that expressed my own emotions. I’ve always loved J-pop and K-pop, and I listened to Ayumi Hamasaki thanks to the influence of my family. I didn’t understand Japanese at the time, but the emotions came through in the music, which I really liked. But I didn’t have the confidence to write my own music or sing myself. I’ve never liked my own voice. So, to be honest, I didn’t really have my sights set on music back when I debuted. But I just decided, “why not, I’ll give it a shot” and released my first original song, “PLAY DICE!” I got a lot of support from the people around me, so I started thinking that I could make even more music, which turned into discussions about an EP and then an album.

You released “Play Dice!” in February 2022. What did you want to express through this song?

Baelz: It was my very first song, so I wanted to let listeners know what kind of VTuber I was. I met Camellia, who wrote the lyrics and the music, through a friend. He makes really fun music, and I thought he’d be able to create the kind of music I’d like, so I asked him to write the song for me. He’s been involved on all the EP and album work I’ve done since then, and he always creates exactly the kind of song I’m looking for, so I’m super thankful to him.

You’re also credited as a co-writer for the lyrics on “Play Dice!” How did the writing process go?

Baelz: First, I wanted a story. I wanted it to feel like my story. I told Camellia about this, and he wrote the starting lyrics. Then I put out some of my own ideas, and we bounced ideas off each other until we’d written the lyrics for the entire song. The song’s theme is “freedom.” Each time I write music, I pick a one-word theme. I share it with the producer and have them write a song that reflects that theme.

You were a member of the special, exclusive unit of hololive members that performed at the Riot Games ONE 2023 e-sports event held in December. You put on a performance of “K/DA,” a virtual pop group made up of League of Legends characters, right?

Baelz: Last April, I covered K/DA’s “POP/STARS.” The reaction from fans was great, which may have been why I was selected to be part of the Riot Games ONE unit. I had never expected to perform at Riot Games ONE, so I was overjoyed. I’ve always been a big fan of K/DA, and I watched their choreography a lot, so I was happy to be able to practice and learn the choreography myself for the event.

So, moving on to your album, what was your initial idea for how it would be structured?

Baelz: I’m a rat VTuber, so my first thought was that it would be fun to make an album whose theme was the Chinese zodiac. Personally, I find it easier to create an album when there’s a strong theme. When you have a theme to work with, if you ever get stuck while writing music, you can always return to that theme, you know? So that makes writing easier.

The album has all kinds of sounds and aesthetics. Which song do you think is the closest fit for you?

Baelz: The rat song, I’d say. It’s the first song, “RxRxR.” I decided to lead the album with the rat song. On my Pandæmonium EP, which I released last July, I expressed different sides of my personality. With “RxRxR,” I wanted to go with a genre and a message that wasn’t on the EP, so I wrote a pop rock song. It has the powerful spirit that I started out with.

I feel like there’s a chaotic freedom in “RxRxR” and “Play Dice!” and all of Pandæmonium, partly because you’re a rat.

Baelz: I guess so. Most of my songs have something to do with freedom. However, the kind of freedom varies from song to song. In the case of “RxRxR,” the image I had was one of a rebellious high schooler. When I was first talking to ZAQ, that was the story we were using, and the song came out just as I’d envisioned it.

There are also a lot of collaborations on the album. “HIDE & SEEK ~Nakayoku Kenkashina~” features Usada Pekora.

Baelz: Pekora is rodent family, like me. We’ve collaborated many times, and every time it ends up with us playing fun pranks on each other and friendly competition. I thought it would be fun to have a song like that on the album. I also wanted to collaborate on a song that really fit her. A song that didn’t just match her image, but also her voice and the way she sings. In “COLOUR,” I collaborated with Tsunomaki Watame. I love Watame’s voice, because it’s soft but powerful. I wanted to do a song together with her in that style. On “BITE! KAMU! BITE!” I teamed up with Inugami Korone. I wanted to make an electro swing song. I figured it would be a good match for her voice. She has just ungodly strength. I always crack up when I watch her streams. They’re my favorite streams.

Which songs were the hardest to record?

Baelz: Probably “GEKIRIN” and “Ohayo-EST Gozai-MASTER ♡.” The rap part in “GEKIRIN” was hard, both because the lyrics are complex and because it’s so fast. But when I heard the final product, I was happy to have created that a song that I also personally find cool. For “Ohayo-EST Gozai-MASTER ♡,” the lyrics were hard. I wanted to make a song that would fill you full of energy, like a “good morning!” to start your day. While the song was still a work-in-progress, it made a weaker impression than the other songs, but Kris helped out a lot and we made changes during the recording process, so it was a lot of fun to record.

I’m sure writing the album was a big challenge. Do you feel like you yourself grew in any way through the process?

Baelz: It gave me the confidence of knowing I can create good songs. Initially, I didn’t have any interest in making music. Whenever I was making covers, I was always really nervous, so I’d consult with my friends on what to do whether it be singing or mixing. But through the process of completing this album, I feel like I’ve learned to identify what makes a good song, what goes into making a good song, what instruments would work best and other knowledge like that.

In closing, do you have any message you’d like to share with listeners looking forward to hearing the album?

Baelz: Thanks for always listening to my music! I still have a lot to learn, but I hope you enjoy my album!

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