Back in May, I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with JubyPhonic/Juliet Simmons: under the former name, she records English covers of Vocaloid and anime songs (as well as puts out some original collaborations). Under the latter name, she’s a rising star in the voice acting community who most recently can be heard as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun star Chiyo Sakura.
What did she have to say about the Vocaloid community and working in dubbing? In Part 1 of our interview, we discuss her work under the pseudonym “JubyPhonic.” If you rather listen to everything we discussed in the first part of our interview with her, check out the video below! Read on to see some of the things JubyPhonic had to say about her passion for Vocaloid and the community!
I know you’re not only very much into Vocaloid music [to listen to], but the whole community. When did you first come across Vocaloid music?
So, when I was probably in early middle school, my brother used to kind of be on the “cutting-edge” of technology, and he would show me funny videos, and he was like, “Look at this one! It’s a girl with a leek!” with the “Levan Polka,” and I was like, “Oh my god, this is so cute!” But, the thing is, he watches funny videos, and that’s it. I went downstairs to my parents’ computer and started looking up all of Vocaloid on YouTube, which, there wasn’t any back then. There was, like, Miku doing “Phantom of the Opera,” and I was still like, “Oh my god, this is it!” And there were no videos; there were just static pictures, and it was like “Oh my god, this is the future.”
And then I stopped listening to it for two years because there weren’t a lot of people using it; there weren’t a lot of songs, and I was like, “Oh, okay,” you know? And I’d forgotten about it until my sister, who was in New York, she was like, “I just found this song! Someone posted it. It’s so cool!” And I was like, “What?!” And it was “Meltdown” by Kagamine Rin, and, holy moly, I was back in it. I spent that entire night going through everything. I was like, “Oh my god, ‘Just Be Friends’! Oh my god, this is so deep!” And I haven’t really quit since.
That’s cool, though. So, then, I know that means you’ve at least listened to the Vocaloid singers, like Kagamine Rin, and Gumi, and Miku, but do you listen to, or did you then progress to, utaite, like Reol?
Oh yeah! Holy moly, okay, so back then, there were like, five. There were five singers, and it was kind of like, “Oh, okay, there are some singers, because they have the karaoke and all that.” But it wasn’t a “thing,” because they were already singers online. But then it just became this huge [thing]. There were now groups, there was a wide spectrum of singers after a while, and it just kind of started mixing in with the community. Sometimes you would be like, “Oh, I like that song, but I actually like it when it’s sung by this person more rather than the Vocaloid,” and it just became a thing, much like how videos with each song became like, “Now this is a thing; every song gets a video.” Back then it was like, maybe you get a static picture that’s kind of nice. I feel like it, over time, just slowly grows into whatever the community wants it to be.
One of the things I kind of like about the utaite culture as it is sort of now, or the community, is that aspect of maybe a few different utaite sing this one particular Vocaloid song, and then you can [say], “Oh, maybe I’m into kradness’s version of it one day” and then “Oh, maybe I’m into someone else’s the next day,” just because it has a different feel to it, which… you don’t really get that from any other genre, I want to say.
Yeah, and I can kind of say why that is. Really, the initial reason I got into singing some of these songs was the karaoke was free; the off-vocals were free. They gave it to you encouraging you to sing it, so you could have this wide variety of different people singing the song, and it became really interesting because different people would interpret it differently and you would be like, “Oh my god, I like it this way, but this interpretation is even better.” Then you even get into the fan videos where you have “Hitorinbo Envy” having like six different videos because the original one just had the picture, and it’s crazy. You get into it at midnight and you find yourself the next day like, “Wow, that was wild.”
So who’s your, if I can say, favorite utaite singer, if you have one?
Okay, you know [how] you have one for each category? I have Kashitaro Ito, who’s super good because he has that technical skill but also real emotion, and it’s like “Oh my gosh, if you could just be my boyfriend. If I could marry you…” But then there’s kradness who has this real elasticity to his voice that just makes everything so interesting; you want to hear him sing these songs, ’cause you’re like, “I don’t know what it’s going to sound like.”
But then you have the women, and that’s even harder, because then you have Reol, who is like the equivalent of kradness, but she also works with Giga a lot and does the lyrics, so you’re like, “Ooh, she really knows what she’s doing,” and she’s got a kind of tomboyish voice. God, I could go on forever, but those three are my main, I would say…Oh! But, okay, I need to mention one other that I’m still like, “Please make more covers!” Do you know KanzentaiCell? I’m trying to remember; he has like two different names, but…oh my god, Kanseru?
Kanseru? I don’t really think he’s made an appearance on our broadcast yet. Now I need to have him there!
Oh my gosh, if you look into him… Okay, he has the sexiest voice in the world. I’m not even kidding; I listened to him by accident, and I was like, “Oh my god…” I don’t he’s put a single out lately, but every time I find him on… somewhere, like, even an album, or something, I’m like, “Please…I need more!” But, yeah, I’m kind of deep into this.
So then, Juby. Where does “Juby” come from? Why “Juby”?
So, my name is Juliet, and I am the youngest of four. So [my family has] a lot of nicknames because, being the baby, you get a lot of those. So it was like, “Boo Boo,” and like “Baby,” and all this. You’ve got “Ju-Boo,” then you get “Juby,” and, yeah, it divulges into that. I think, at that point, I would have used my name, but I was too awkward, so I was like, “You know, let’s just put, like, kind of a fake name, kind of not.” So, it just kind of happened.
A cute nickname; I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I still feel like it doesn’t match, and I’m like, “Ergh, okay…”
You don’t think it matches? Why?
For me, I like it, but I feel like, because when I was a kid I was like, “No, I’m not a baby! I’m not a baby!” and then you go by your baby name, and you’re like, “Okay, now I’m a baby.” So, yeah, it kind of gets me and then it kind of doesn’t, because, it’s like, “This is now my online name.” So, yeah, I have mixed feelings.
I don’t know if this is me bringing up more of your past, but I did see that you used to draw your own comic series, called Juby’s Word of the Day.
Urgh, um, yeah, I did. (laughs)
Is that bringing up something bad?
No, it’s just that, I don’t even know at what point people made the connection, because I did that comic basically on Facebook. And then I was like, “Okay, I’m going to branch out and I’m going to post it to, like, some comic sites.” It was a good way for me to not think about school, because at that point school was really hard, and I was like, “But I want to do art and I want to [do] fun things!” So, I did comics, and that’s how I started learning about some really basic stuff that I later used in the channel, but that’s really technical, like, “Oh, you know, you got to think about Search Engine Optimization. You got to think about cross-posting.” So, yeah, it was great to do, but then it was like, “Oh, got to do one every week,” and then you’re tired one week, and then you’re like, “Urgh, I don’t want to do one…” Yeah…
So, then, how old were you when you were doing that? Middle school? High school?
I think I started it [in my] first year of high school, and it was kind of a joke among my friends at the time. So, I would kind of make comics about my friends, and I think even at one point I was trying to get one of them to fill in for me, because I was like, “I’m so tired! Please! I have homework! I don’t want to do it!” Yeah, I was pretty young at that point.
So you don’t think there will ever be a return to Juby’s Word of the Day?
You would be surprised. I have, on my whiteboard here that I never look at, like, “make a comic.” I swear it’s now like permanent marker because I can’t wipe it off. But, yeah, I mean, I think at some point, if I can better handle my time and organize stuff, I definitely want to try to get back into at least drawing.
Okay, that’s something to look forward to, then. I’m on board for it.
Okay, getting back to more [of] your music, I saw that the oldest cover you have on your channel is “Matryoshka.” I know you’ve said on your website and whatnot that doing the whole YouTube channel thing was kind of spontaneous, but what made you pick “Matryoshka”?
Gosh, I could talk about this all day. So, at the base of it, I should say that at that point, I had been doing choir and musical theater for almost my entire life up to that point, and, honestly, I was sick of it because… partially I was rebelling, and partially I was like, “I hate these people! I hate them all!” And you’re at that point in high school where no one cares, and you’re still caring, and then you want to not care, and so basically I got out of choir, and my mother was really railing on me at that point. So I was like, “Okay, I got to look useful. I got to look like I’m doing things,” and so I was like, “If I get this mic, maybe things will change.” I didn’t really have a plan at that point.
As I mentioned before, I was going to cover an anime song, actually. I think off the album of Cowboy Bebop. I wanted to cover… ugh, I can never say the name. It’s like “Wo [Qui] Non Coin.” And I love that, but then I was like, “You know, there’s no karaoke for any of this stuff!” But then I was like, “You know, I like Vocaloid, and I know there’s karaoke for that, and there’s off-vocals, and I can get that.” So, actually, “Matryoshka” was not my first song.
I had a channel before this, and… God, it’s like one of those things you do and later you really regret, because I had posted [it] on my personal YouTube [account] that I had since I was twelve. And, so, there’s a lot to explain because that username was something I had chosen when I was twelve, and I still use that account, but the… usagichan501. I was like, “Oh my god, that’s so embarrassing…” And that’s why the bunny thing happened, and I turned it to pink later because I was like, “Oh, I had blue, let’s just go pink, the opposite of that.” When I moved over to a new channel after realizing how embarrassing that was, I had uploaded the videos backwards, so my first one was “Our Let It Be,” because that was the one I was really jamming to at the time. I was like, “Yeah, this is so good. This is like, oh my god, my heart is crying,” and I used JoyDreamer’s lyrics.
By the time I got to “Matryoshka,” I was like, “I can do lyrics,” and I think “Matryoshka,” back to the question, the reason I’d chosen that for the first time I was really getting serious about that, was because I’d talked to my sister about the video, and we were coming up with theories as to what this stuff meant, and I was like, “You know what? Let’s try some lyrics. I know English.” (laughs) And so, those were my first lyrics, and it was kind of embarrassing because I didn’t really put a lot of effort [into it]. I think in the descriptions a few of them I was like, “I did this in a day.” I was like, “Stop it! Stop talking!” Whatever I chose I was really jamming to at the time. I was one of those people in the comments that… well, I never commented, but, that would be like, “Oh, I think it’s this and this and this because that’s my personal interpretation, and blah blah blah.” So yeah, I don’t think there was any real significance at the time. I was just a real big nerd.
That’s perfectly fine, too.
And I still haven’t taken any of those videos down.
On your old channel, then? The usagichan. Do you mean those, too?
So, yeah, I had done that, but then I moved them to a new channel, and I was like, “I’m gonna be JubyPhonic, because I have the ‘Juby’ name from the comics and I’ll rhyme it because I’m witty, and we’ll do something that has to do with sound, so ‘phonics.'” So, yeah, I deleted off my older account but because some people still know that that’s my original one, which I keep all my favorites on, which is, like, 5000. I’ll randomly post stuff that I don’t want people on the main channel to see, like, I think there’s a video of me video recording myself recording. It’s like a smaller group of people that I know aren’t going to be hating on me, like instantly, you know? (laughs) So yeah, I still have that one.
So then, what’s your favorite cover that you’ve done so far?
See, like, it always changes. Like, you know, you rewrite your past; you’re like, “Oh, you know, I loved doing that one,” but then you remember “Oh my god, the stupid thing crashed and I had to redo everything.” Recording-wise and lyric-wise, I really enjoyed “Yuukei Yesterday,” mostly because, when the video came out, everyone was so excited; it was like, “Oh my god, there’s a new video for the Kagerou Project!” And it was so well done, and it was so cute, and it was so tsundere, and I was like, “I can totally do this! These are lyrics I can definitely write,” because, you know, they’re so relatable. They’re not something that takes place in outer space, you know? You know those songs where it’s like you can’t really quite understand it, ’cause it’s all really philosophical and-ah, god, that word-you know when you get a song that’s like narration and like funny, it’s like “Yeah, that’s me! Yeah, yeah, get into that groove!” So, when I had done that song, I was on a high; I was like “Yeah, this is some good stuff, good stuff!” But then, I actually had to catch a plane in the early morning and I stayed up, like really late, and I was editing it on the plane. So yeah, enjoyable times. I think it was the most memorable one. (chuckles)
So now, what cover do you MOST want to do that you haven’t gotten around to just yet?
Oh god… Like, there are covers that I know I can’t do, just because of, you know, copyright reasons and all that, which is a pain in the butt. But one that I CAN do but I haven’t gotten to yet… like, there are so many. I think just yesterday I was thinking to myself, ’cause I was playing it, there’s “Persecution Complex Cellphone Girl (LOL)” by Giga-P. And, just, like, that song-oh my gosh-I was like, “This is it! This is the height of Vocaloid pop music, ’cause I feel like it’s accessible by people who aren’t into Vocaloid, but then it’s also really accessible by the Vocaloid people,” and for some reason I feel that’s, like, a point that I had to make in my mind to kind of justify me wanting to sing a song about like, you know, dark pop club stuff.
Like, honestly, that must be one of my deep desires, is just to do all the really dark, dark songs. Not like, you know, gosh… not like the ones where it’s about children, you know, killing each other, but more like, you know, Facebook-oh gosh, what’s it called? There’s one about Facebook where, you know, it’s all about getting likes and getting that validation, and like, part of it is in English, and I love everything about it ’cause it’s like, you know, the chorus is like “Help me out, help me out,” but by the end it’s, you know, saying “No way out, no way out,” and it’s all in English, and I’m like “THIS! Bless this!” That’s my secret love, so, at some point I’d like to do those songs.
So you mentioned copyright issues, and I know that lately there have been a number of YouTubers in general, and in the anime community in particular, that have had videos flagged, taken down, due to copyright claims, so I imagine this means that you’ve had similar issues with videos of your covers.
Okay, I have like a real problem talking about this because sometimes I will go on for a very long time, so I apologize, ’cause I feel very strongly, obviously, about copyright and all that. Because really the initial purpose and the initial spark for this community was, you know, a lot of these things were Creative Commons License, meaning you can do all this; you just can’t make money. You can use it for remixes, you can use it for the covers, you can use it, just, you know, make something creative, and that’s what I think really got a bunch of people into this, ’cause it’s like “I can do anything; the resources are there.” With the copyright and the claims recently, it’s become so much harder and so much less accessible. I feel like someone like me, if I were starting my channel today, I would have a few reservations, ’cause, you know, you don’t want to get hit by a claim, you don’t want to get hit by these companies or groups that you can’t actually talk to at all.
So, just some explanation: when you get a third-party copyright claim, it means this third-party, being a group that may claim “Oh, this composition is ours,” which, apparently, they can do, or you know, “This entire video is ours,” but they’re gonna let you use it, but what they’re going to do is they’re gonna put ads on it so that they can make money. And you’re like, “Okay, whatever, as long as I have the video up, you know, whatever,” and that’s fine, but then you can get these claims that’ll really tick you off, by groups that a lot times won’t be correct, and they will take down the video. You don’t always get a strike; it just depends on how angry they are that day, I don’t know.
For me, it’ll be blocked in Germany a lot of times or it’ll say blocked worldwide, meaning, basically, no one can see the video. Those are the worst, I would say, because at that point, you know, already with the third-party claims, you’re not gonna make any money, you’re not gonna do anything with that, but with these, you can’t really go to that group, you can’t really e-mail that group and be like, “Hey, this is wrong.” So, what do you do? You fight the claim, and people say, you know, all different things: they’re like, “No, don’t fight the claims, you know, blah blah blah.” I, personally, have fought almost every claim. I will write to them, I will do my research, I will do what I can and I would say 80% of the time they’ll relent and be like “Okay, you can keep the video up.”
Take HoneyWorks, for example: HoneyWorks is a really popular composer in the community, but because they’re now under a label that is I guess on YouTube claiming videos, which, you know, just makes you so frustrated ’cause you know it’s under Creative Commons License; you can go and point to it, and I know that HoneyWorks themselves don’t want this to happen, but they don’t really know what’s going on in the YouTube community or really do they have the time.
But this group will, like, constantly–I’ve even had covers that I’ve had up for quite a while, like a year, and now they’re coming back at me like “Oh, well you can’t have that up ’cause it’s ours.” And so you’ll fight the claim and you’ll go through the, you know, process and being like “Look, this is Creative Commons.” But the issue here is not that, you know, there’s this mistake made; it’s that, you know, it shouldn’t be there in the first place, but also when you post a video, especially when you’re in my position, the first day, the first week, is what counts. And for the video to be blocked in that amount of time is so damaging; it’s so damaging. I’ve talked with people about this and I feel like there’s kind of this air of “what can we do, we’re just singers on YouTube, we’re not business people.”
And, so, constantly, you know, I’ll get upset and I’ll look online, and you know, write down some ideas that I have for the future on how to again make this more accessible, ’cause that’s what the community was built upon. I mean, I could go on to YouTube Red and all that, but (laughs) it’s a mess, I think. Hopefully in the future, at least, we’ll have some things figured out, or at least have a better conversation with the Japanese. Because now, you know, you’ve got a lot more singers and a lot more producers on YouTube where, historically, they’ve just been on Nico: they live on Nico, they breed there. But now they’re like “Oh my god look at this, there are so many people on YouTube who love us!” And now they put like big letters “DO NOT REPOST!”
And I’m like “Okay, I get that.” But, yeah, it’s all very interesting, but, yeah, there’s a big issue; there’s that whole “Where’s the Fair Use?” hashtag going around, but because Vocaloid is such a specific issue, I feel like there are going to be some big issues to start with, but I think, knowing the community as they are, we’ll kind of stick to Creative Commons and all that. So…I’ll stop talking there! (laughs) ‘Cause there’s so much.
So, aside from your Vocaloid stuff and your anime covers as well, you do some original stuff […] on your SoundCloud profile. Have you ever thought of releasing that onto YouTube or do you just want to keep that separate?
So, kind of the original stuff that I’ve kind of been experimenting with, I’ve done kind of favors for people ’cause, you know, they’re like “Hey, we really need a voice on this. You know, we’ve got a track,” and it’s really great on SoundCloud ’cause you have a lot of people who are composers. I would say that in the Vocaloid community there are few, at least that speak English, but I would say that, for the most part, there’s kind of this fringe of composers that both love EDM, electronic dance music, and also Vocaloid. So, that’s kind of where I experiment with stuff ’cause I’m like, you know, they know me, they know the kind of stuff I like, and I’d like to think at some point I could kind of mix the two, but until I kind of think it’s quality stuff, I don’t know.
I gotcha, I gotcha. Any plans maybe for an album in the future?
Ooooooooh, I think so! I can’t really say anything specifically, again, with having to go and hunt down rights and try to say what’s within our power to do. They’re slow-moving projects, but I think once we have something that’s going to be like “Oh, that’s so good, let’s release it now,” then I’ll definitely make a big hubbub about it! [I’ll] be like, “Buy my stuff!”
Okay, so let’s talk a bit about Miss Hatsune Miku. She seems to be the one that really started this whole thing for you and many people, really, with Vocaloid, [and] to be honest, she’s become quite famous to more people than just those into Vocaloid or anime or Japanese culture. I mean, she ended up performing on David Letterman, and of course she had that fitting with that fashion designer.
I saw that! I was like “What?!” I sent that to my sister so quickly, I was like, “You have to see this!” For me, because I kind of am on that fence of being so into this that it’s disgusting and then on the fence of being a normal person, you kind of have to take both sides, because you’re looking at the David Letterman show, you know, you’re sitting there, recording it, and you’re like “Oh my god, this is so cool, ’cause Miku’s there, and like look at that!” But then the other side of you is like “Oh man, I wish they had done this song or had done that and I wish they had pulled that more,” so it’s never like a relaxing “Oh my gosh, I love this and everything’s great!” It’s always a “I wish I could have been there and helped them see what is really cool about this,” you know? ‘Cause, gosh, I’m going to my second Vocaloid concert May 28th in New York, to meet up, actually, with some other people in the community. Uh… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say. (laughs) But, let’s just say that one of them is really stoked about this show because it’s gonna be really personal to him.
So, it’s gonna be something and, gosh, last time I went it was so crazy seeing the amount of people going to the show, for one, because with Vocaloid, you don’t really have conventions specifically for Vocaloid; you don’t have these kinds of gatherings, so the concerts have become like the place to go, which kind of sucks ’cause it’s dark in there. (laughs)
So, yeah, I’m super stoked, and I kind of want Miku to become this really… I don’t want to say “household name,” ’cause you kind of want it to stay a small, niche community, but then the other side of you is “Wow, I really wish we had the resources to do this and that,” so I’m kind of leaning more towards “I would like to share this technology with the world,” because I can see how exciting it can be to producers, to composers, and the like.
I’ll just tell this really quick story: my sister was in New York, and she had to go in to record something. And so she borrowed a studio from a friend, and an engineer was there that she hadn’t met. And let me just tell you, he was this big, buff black guy who, you know, records artists all the time. After my sister was done recording, it was for an anime… but that’s besides the point. When she was talking with him, he was like, “Oh, so you’re into anime?” and she’s like “Yeah! I know this and that,” and for some reason they got on the topic of Vocaloid, and he had never heard of this before. This was around the time that “Cyber Diva” had just put out some demos.
And my sister really quick calls me; she’s like “Please, send me some Vocaloid songs that are just really impressive in whatever ways. If it has rap, that’s even better,” and so I sent her some–like, there were even some Reol songs in there and I was like, “I don’t know what she wants, but okay, I’m just gonna send her my stuff, ’cause she’s never interested.” Apparently, he was blown away; he was like, “This is amazing! You’re telling me that they’re singing and I can use this program? I am downloading Cyber Diva.” And it was funny because he asked, “Where do these people meet up? Where do they talk? I want to get into this,” and I really wish I could have said there was a place but it’s kind of like, “Eh, YouTube? Uh, Twitter?” So, yeah, it’s really interesting, and I’d like to see Miku become something that more producers and music writers could be excited about.
How do you think you’ve grown as a musician in general, including all of the Vocaloid covers, anime covers, original collaborations [etc.]?
Part of me is like, “You’re not a musician.” To sum it up, though, I feel like there has been a lot of hurdles that I’ve had to overcome, and it’s not just music-wise; it’s technology-wise, and learning about the community and what you can and can’t do. The way I’ve grown is probably in my perseverance, because every time that I’m faced with a giant hurdle, I think I’ve given up three times at least, like really given up, and I swear to you a week later I’m back there and I’m like, “You know what? I’ve got nothing to lose.”
I think there was a point in there where I kind of disappeared for two or three months, after a point where I was like, “I gotta get myself together here.” Kind of since then, I feel like now there’s this stronger kind of body armor that I’ve had to develop. So I think perseverance-wise and at least the know-how. Music-wise, I mean, you’re always learning something new, like “You can hit those really high notes if you scream!” (laughs)
That’s it for Part 1 of our interview with JubyPhonic / Juliet Simmons! Look out for Part 2 to be released on July 15th, where we discuss her background in acting and how she broke into voice acting in anime!
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