--First of all, why don’t you tell us about the circumstances that lead you to release “Ura Utabaka?”
Hirai Ken: I wanted to do something for my 15th anniversary and had a lot of ideas. I was thinking of maybe a compilation or a tribute album, but in the end I decided on this. I’ve been talking about a compilation album of B-side singles for a long time. I was really happy when the day came to gather the songs for it, because I was heartbroken that there were a lot of songs that I couldn’t include on “Utabaka.” I don’t have the constraints of a single, for instance, so I’ve included a lot of songs that frankly express my emotions right now. This disc is even more personal than “Utabaka,” and the songs on it face the future. In terms of the A-sides… Although there weren’t a lot of tie-up songs included in the initial planning of those singles, there were a lot from the middle planning stages and onward. I got some feedback on what would be suitable, and wrote quite a lot on commission. But I wasn’t in the same situation for the B-sides, so I created a lot of music of my own. Although it’s a little cocky to say so, I personally feel that I can transmit a greater density of feeling when I don’t have time constraints.
--So considering the types of songs that are on this album, what did you think when you first heard it?
H: When I first heard it, I thought… At first, it was… Well, I was embarrassed. (laugh) I was embarrassed… Just embarrassed. Yeah. Embarrassed. Yep.
--How many times are you going to say it? (laugh)
H: (laugh) I guess I also felt like I could cry. The songs are so dear to my heart. It was surprising: the feelings I had when I wrote those B-side tracks came back even more clearly than they had for A-side songs. I remembered little things like the color of my desk, the mechanical pencil I was using, things like that. All the memories came flooding back. When I realized that, I sort of wanted to cry. Then I remembered everything about past these fifteen years… I’ve been berating myself this whole time. Of course when I’m recording I give it all I’ve got, so doing that has come along with making some beautiful pieces. It’s more like, although I’ve been chiding myself this entire time, I’m always doing my best, which is why I wanted to cry.
--So you wanted to cry both for the songs that made it onto the album, as well as those that didn’t.
H: That’s right. Only about a quarter of what I wanted made it onto the album.
--When you were sorting these B-sides to determine which would go onto the album and which would stay off, how did you know what to choose?
H: It was just intuition. It was about the balance of the album as a whole. It wasn’t a matter of “I have to include this one” and “And I have to leave this one off.” It was more like, “I’d like to include this one, but there are already a lot of ballads so I should leave it off” and “This one’s technically an A-side, but it would be good to include it anyway.” That was how it went with each song. But really, it wasn’t just about creating a solid core for the album – I mean, there isn’t really anyone who would say, “Oh, I’ve heard all this music before, I don’t want to hear it again.” Even I’ve forgotten the songs a little bit. (laugh) I also included a lot of songs that I’ve never sung in a live.
--You also include some songs that aren’t B-sides, but are still rare.
H: That’s right. “One Love Wonderful World” was released on a remix album, but I wrote it without another artist, so I didn’t include any from that album except that one song.
--There’s also “Kimi ga Warattara,” which is from the only time in your career in which you played the drums.
H: That’s right. That song is a bit of a novelty. That marks the first – and last – time I did a stint as a drummer. It’s unique because I played drums in a TV drama called “TOKYO HEART BREAK Setsunai” (1998, TV Asashi, starring in episode #20). I was the singer as well, so this is the song that I wrote to play and sing in the show. Because of that it was produced by a different record company than my normal one, and only appears on the soundtrack for the show. It’s a straightforward love ballad.
-- I should imagine quite a lot of people approached you about drumming after you really broke into the market with “Rakuen.” I assume that, since you haven’t come out with anything else where you drum, you’ve refused to do anything further with it.
H: That’s right. (laugh)
--Is that because you had a bad experience working on the show?
H: No, it wasn’t bad, I was just really naive. I just did what I was told without knowing whether it was good or bad. At that time I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not I was a good actor. When you watch movies and dramas, you usually think, “Oh, that actor’s good,” or “Oh, that actor’s bad,” right? But I didn’t think things like that back then. Recently I’ve been getting interested in the actors in shows and plays, and I’ve been building a store of knowledge about what’s good and bad. When I did the drama, though, I didn’t know anything and thought I’d be able to do the show without a problem, but now that I’m getting interested in the craft… I don’t think I could do it again. (laugh)
--(laugh) Is it scary?
H: Yeah. And even though I don’t want to, I have the potential to get back into it. Creators have offered me roles on their shows, but when they do I just hand them the video of that drama and say, “You mean, something like this?” (laugh)
--There are plenty of musicians who decline offers until producers give up, but there are also many that decide to take the offers.
H: That’s true, there are a lot that decide to do shows. Well, I guess I might be able to do it… But I don’t really feel like an actor. No matter what people say, I just don’t feel like I should go along with these requests. They say “Isn’t this video clip from a drama?” and it’s true that it is. But at the same time, it’s not. And… Well, I guess I’m afraid of the opportunity. The risk.
--Ah ha, I suppose there is risk involved.
H: There really is. But, honestly, when I get offers, each time I’m very lost. When I turn them down, it’s like I’m apologizing, and I just can’t stop talking… Uh… Maybe the next time they talk to me, I’ll actually try it out. But there’s still the risk. …Ah, maybe I’d do an overseas movie. Something that Japanese people will never go to see. That I’d do… But I suppose that kind of offer isn’t coming my way. (laugh)