Anime Corner had an exclusive opportunity to interview Mori Calliope, one of the VTuber talents affiliated with the agency Hololive. With over 2,000,000 YouTube subscribers, Calliope is one of the bigger names in the VTubing scene. She is most known for her rapping skills as well as her wide array of song covers, original songs, and full-blown EPs and albums.
We spoke to Mori Calliope following the release of her latest EP titled “JIGOKU 6“, released on August 17. In it, Mori shared her thoughts on starting her VTuber journey as well as her musical inspirations as an artist.
Q: When you first started off as a VTuber, did you think that you would end up with a music career?
Mori: That was always the goal, but I didn’t know if it’d work out. I was skeptical about sharing my work with wider audience already, but was weirdly immediately welcomed and people actually liked my stuff. I debuted with 4 songs ’cause I wanted people to know I was serious and not here to mess around and sit on my butt doing nothing. A music career was always the goal, but I didn’t know how far I could take it. Additionally, my theme was never “music” as the grim reaper doesn’t exactly NEED to make it…I just wanted to. Way cooler than killing and takes more thought, I guess.
Q: “JIGOKU 6” will be the latest addition to your growing discography. Could you tell us a bit about the EP? How is it different from your previous releases?
Mori: This is a fully consistent rock/rap EP (with the exception of “Future Island”) that explores the levels of my personal hell, falling down a hole to a void you didn’t know existed. By the end, however, when you can’t get any lower, you rise. It’s a journey in and of itself, and it’s also 100% me with no lies, no grandstanding, and only honesty. My fans had been asking for that, so I tried to deliver.
Q: How do you manage your schedule as a Hololive VTuber who regularly needs to go live and a music artist who needs to work on music-related activities from production to performance?
Mori: Made working my hobby (laughs). But seriously, there is no downtime whatsoever, so yeah it’s pretty tough. I just want a day to clean my house, is that so much to ask for?! But yeah, I make it work somehow.
Q: You’re currently signed with Universal Music Group. Has that been a different experience in terms of production values and music direction from when you were releasing your music under Cover Corp.? Do you think there is something that sets apart traditional music artists from those who come into it from other fields like streaming? Is that “gap” (if it exists) slowly becoming less relevant?
Mori: The production value is WAY better. Like, not even close. Before this, I just recorded at my computer with a nice mic and just engineered everything myself. Now, I record in state-of-the-art studios with vocal directors and the top producers in the Japanese industry, something I feel extremely grateful for and pressured to live up to. Additionally, I’m offered opportunities and tie-ups that cannot come to you unless you are signed to a label. That is huge for me and what I want to do.
There were growing pains with my creative vision, as there usually are, but I paid my penance and now it’s my time to do things my way because I’ve proved that’s what my fans want to see and hear, and with some of the opportunities I’ve been offered (several my fans haven’t seen yet) I’m thinking “yeah, okay, that first tough year was completely worth it.”
I think a lot of musical artists are starting to use streaming to supplement their music, give more to their fans and whatnot. I very much view myself in that same vein, to be honest. I care less about stream viewership than I do about music streams, as they are just ways to connect with my community. Maybe this seems strange because I stream almost every day, but that’s just ’cause I like it a lot. I see myself as a musician over streamer, and I’m not the only one in Hololive who does. I’d say it’s not uncommon, especially these days.
Q: This is a tricky question for an artist, but do you have some favorite songs that you have done during your career? Do any of them stand out to you for whatever reason?
Mori: “Wanted, Wasted” and “Black Sheep” for sure. Additionally, “Make ‘Em Afraid” and “You’re Not Special” are up there too. It’s simply because these are the types of songs I gravitate towards when I listen to music myself, but this time, I made them. I like hard and emotional songs that scream from the depths of the soul, which is somewhat where I found the disconnect between myself and modern American rap.
I can’t achieve that while trying to conform to that box (and there IS a box, and you do have to conform to it) so the alternative rock rap sound has pretty much ticked every box for me. It always has, even since high school with bands like Linkin Park and Beastie Boys. After making these songs I just felt dumbfounded that I hadn’t seen the answer to what I wanted to make earlier. It was just so obvious.
Q: Your genre has mostly revolved around hip-hop and electropop. Are there any other music genres you want to explore as an artist?
Mori: Alternative rock rap, for sure. The type of hip-hop I was making was extremely nuanced, inconsistent and experimental, which is fine when you’re growing as an artist but isn’t sustainable in the long term. Making a cohesive record like JIGOKU 6 felt fresh, and it felt right. I think I’ll stick with this direction going forward.
Q: You recently did the theme song “Future Island” for the 106th volume of One Piece. How did that collaboration come to be? What was your level of involvement in the production? How does it tie in with the new volume’s storyline?
Mori: My team got the opportunity for me, to be honest. They told me about it on my birthday, but I kind of didn’t believe it so I brushed it off at first. When it became real, I was elated. I mostly focused on the vocals and developing the style, but Kenmochi Hidefumi made the track specifically with Egghead (island of the future arc) in mind.
The lyrics are also pretty much an explanation of the story and setting for the new ONE PIECE volume, so on its own it may not seem particularly relatable as a piece of music but the song itself is so good and well-written it’s still a fun listen and I personally wouldn’t skip it.
Q: If given a chance, what other anime/manga would you like to collaborate with and why? Do you have a favorite title?
Mori: Gachiakuta is my favorite manga right now. If it ever did get an anime, I’d wanna do that one. I don’t care what it is, OP, ending, insert song. I haven’t been this invested in manga since college so it’s really special to me. Also, since I can tap into a more ethereal and smooth, relaxed style as well I feel like I’d make something really cool and an ending or insert song for Made in Abyss, but that’s a long shot. I’d also love to do something for ONE PIECE again if given the chance.
Q: Who or what inspired you to become a VTuber/singer? Was it the same influence?
Mori: I started making music after obsessing over Japanese internet rap and how cool it is. I didn’t care that it sounded nothing like modern hip-hop; they made it specially, authentically their own. I loved that so much, it gave me the confidence to try no matter what.
As for singing, when I joined Hololive I didn’t care much for singing at all because I knew I couldn’t compete. But I still wanted to try. Starting from almost nothing, I built my way up to being a good singer and it’s thanks to my community and inspiration from senpai like Hoshimachi Suisei, who lit a fire under me and showed me that it’s worth it to try and shoot for your singing dreams even if the odds are against you.
As for VTubing, everyone already knows it was something I didn’t know much about in the beginning. Just something I wanted to try, but slowly fell in love with. I think I regretted that for a while, but I’ve been doing this too long to care anymore and wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had been savvy to VTubing and the culture, I would have passed up on daring and life-changing opportunities that altered the course of my existence, and so I wouldn’t change that novice attitude I started with. I’m glad I started off unknowledgeable. It’s been way more fun learning these things along the way.
Q: You have changed your model appearance over the years as a Hololive VTuber. Do you have a favorite one of those?
Mori: The best one is yet to come, but for now the pajama outfit is my favorite because that’s really how I stream, just in my pajamas!
Q: As one of the biggest names in the VTubing space, how would you say the VTubing has changed in the past few years?
Mori: It’s still very niche in the West and I think that’s alright, though one thing that’s much different now is how saturated the market is in the West, with indies popping up left and right every day. The market in Japan is also quite saturated but I think it’s by far much more mainstream. You see VTubers everywhere in Japan, they’re huge celebrities now! I want to see if it’ll boom again in the West, especially because the tech is getting so advanced and cool.
Q: Similarly, where do you see the VTubing industry in the next few years? Do you think it will keep expanding into the mainstream music scene? Where would you like it to go?
Mori: I don’t think it will ever be mainstream in the West. I think it would be cool if it was! But the immediate rejection of anything not flesh and blood in music makes it not palatable (Gorillaz being an exception, but their collaboration with human beings helps quite a bit plus everyone widely knows it’s Damon Albarn and his team behind the music). You get a bunch of people who know nothing about anime saying “what is this cartoon stuff?” And letting that affect what their ears hear.
You put a human being in front of the voice, and that bias disappears. VTubers don’t need mainstream approval though, a lot of us are really content to make music for our audiences and let that be it. The VTubing scene isn’t mainstream, but it IS big and it’s enough for a lot of us. I think in Japan though, there will be a complete merge of flesh and blood human and VTubers making it in the mainstream someday, it’ll just take a couple of years.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring VTubers who are looking to follow in your footsteps? How to get started, what to avoid?
Mori: Go in with a plan. Know who you want to be, what you want to do in the next couple of years, and how you’re going to be different. Stay consistent to yourself. I know we change along the way and that’s fine, but consistency is key. Innovate your content and grow with the times.
Lastly, I speak from a place of extreme luck that I got into the biggest VTubing agency in the world. The advice I give you can only go so far, so I think it’s something you have to figure out for yourself. VTubing legends like Ironmouse exist however and DID start from nothing, so it’s possible but it will take time, effort and consistency. Also, don’t let things other people say get to you, and don’t let bystanders mess with your head. Be entertaining, but also be human in your off time to keep it together. Otherwise, you can’t keep working effectively.
Q: What do you think about the #holoADVENT generation? Do you want to join forces with them at some point? Similarly, is there a non-Hololive Vtuber (active or inactive) that you would like to collaborate with?
Mori: Not very interested in collaborating with non-VTuber entertainers right now as I’m zoning in on where I fit in the scene but musicians are an exception. With Universal’s help, there are so many options open to me now…maybe I’d like to make something cool with Japanese artists like Fuji Kaze, or AWICH…that’d be really cool.
As for Advent, I think they’re all extremely talented entertainers! The auditions are getting tougher as more people learn about Hololive, and these girls had to go through a tough bar of entry but they, a lot like the gens before them, each have something special about them making them memorable and they fit together well. There’s something for everyone in their gen and I think they’ll go really far!
Q: Is there a message you would like to send to your fans, especially those waiting for your new EP release?
Mori: Whenever I say “thank you” to you guys it doesn’t feel like enough, so I’m just gonna keep working hard. Watch closely because 2024 is going to be the biggest year for Mori yet and you’ll see why. Everything falls into place at its right time. Things are slow now, and that’s okay because this pace is gonna be treasured someday. Let’s keep taking it slow and having fun. Also listen to “JIGOKU 6” because I’m actually proud of it and the response has been amazing so far, so I think you’ll find something you like in there too (if not everything *laughs*).
Big thanks to Mori Calliope for taking the time to answer our questions. “JIGOKU 6” is currently out across digital streaming platforms Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music. You can also buy a physical copy of the EP via her official website, as well as other distributors such as Rakuten, CDJapan, and Tower Records.
About Mori Calliope
Mori Calliope debuted as part of Hololive English’s first generation “Myth” in September 2020 alongside fellow members Ninomae Ina’nis, Takanashi Kiara, Watson Amelia, and Gawr Gura. Prior to signing with Universal Music Group (UMG), she released two EPs titled Dead Beats and Your Mori and the album UnAlive. She signed as an artist with UMG in April 2022, kicking off with the EP SHINIGAMI NOTE. Her first major label album, titled SINDERELLA, came out in December 2022.
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