Behind The Official Demosong – MioDioDaVinci – Interview about “ZOLA Project – BORDERESS (English Version)”

Q1: Please tell us about your profile.

I am an illustrator and cover artist who specializes in using UTAU and VOCALOID. I have been a part of the VOCALOID community since 2010, and began uploading works of my own featuring the ZOLA Project in 2014. I can be found on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/miodiodavinci) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/miodiodavinci), with additional information available on my personal website (https://miodiodavinci.carrd.co/).

Q2: Please tell us about the thoughts and emotions behind the English version of the ZOLA Project's official demo song "BORDERLESS."

I think like most fans of the ZOLA Project, I consider “BORDERLESS” one of the most iconic songs for the trio. It’s a masterfully crafted work that showcases each vocal’s unique traits with a bright, sparkling flair. The song has been a permanent part of my playlist for years now, so understandably, I was deeply honoredto be given the opportunity to create an English cover.

If I’m being fully honest, though, when Mr. Seto (Yamaha Staff) first contacted me to ask about a collaboration, I nearly fainted. I remember having to lay down for several minutes just to convince myself it wasn’t a dream. I so badly wanted to say yes, but also had my final year of university to worry about, during which I’d be taking part in an intensive internship. I contacted Ricedeity to ask for advice, and they offered to join me on the project.

We worked together over the course of a year, coordinating what we could in between my university classes and internship in order to bring this cover to fruition. While I worked on the illustration and audio, Rice planned art assets and constructed the music video. We celebrated each milestone, and eagerly looked forward to being able to showcase our skills and share our love for the ZOLA Project with our fans and friends.

One of the more challenging aspects of this project, however, was knowing the expectations fans would have for this cover. The legendary status of the original song aside, in general, I think a lot of VOCALOID fans have considerable standards when it comes to English covers, and some negative preconceptions about what an English cover entails. I’ve seen comments on many videos that argue that all VOCALOID English covers have muddled pronunciation, awkward timing, and ill-fitting vocals (not true by any means!). At times when I struggled, all I could think about were these comments, and it pushed me to work even harder to prove they were wrong.

What really helped put these fears to rest, however, was Oktavia’s contribution to this project. Oktavia, who wrote the English translyrics featured in the cover, has lyrical composition skills that feel unrivaled in many respects, and I can’t thank her enough for agreeing to work with us. Her translyrics were so rhythmic and well-made, I often couldn’t help but sing them in the car on my way to and from classes.

In all, I feel honored that I got the opportunity to work alongside so many talented and passionate people from around the English-speaking community—and with the support of Mr. Seto, no less. The process of creating the English version of “BORDERLESS” was nothing short of a journey, and I’m glad to have finally arrived at my destination.

Q3: You also drew the illustrations yourself and provided them as official materials. Please share your thoughts on that as well.

Creating official illustrations for the ZOLA Project was like a dream come true. Part of what drew me to the ZOLA Project in the first place was the alternate box arts. I was especially drawn to Carnelian’s artwork for many years, so you can imagine how overwhelming it feels to be able to have my work hosted alongside the work of the artists who inspired me.

Rice and I worked closely together when it came to designing the costumes for the new illustrations. When we first began drafting outfit ideas, we experimented with a number of different themes, hoping to create clear, bold designs that would be fun for any artist to draw.

As we looked closer at the existing illustrations, however, we recognized that there had not yet been a set of costumes that evoked the cyber-tech feel of old VOCALOID designs. We drew inspiration from the V6 interface to create new, futuristic outfits that were full of dynamic elements and small details, like the personalized enamel pins that feature each character’s name in VOCALOID English phonetics.

The final illustrations also drew a considerable amount from the personal ZOLA designs I’d developed over the ten years I had been drawing them. I think WIL is probably the most notable in this regard. Perhaps it was a little self-indulgent, but it felt nice to be able to give the “Mio ZOLAs” an official design and establish them as a distinct costume set.

More than anything, I’m just excited to see ZOLA Project users enjoy and make use of these illustrations. Some part of me wonders if maybe because of my illustrations, someone else might now fall in love with the ZOLA Project the same way I did because of Amano, Carnelian, Ideolo, and the others.

Q4: Please share your impressions of using the "VOCALOID 6 Voicebank ZOLA Project."

After having used the original VOCALOID 3 ZOLA Project libraries for so long, I’ll admit that I had significant expectations for the VOCALOID 6 voicebanks. Initially, the change in tone was a little jarring, but as I used them more and more, I warmed up to them a lot.

The timbre of KYO V6, I’ve found, is incredibly appealing. His English is arguable the most native sounding out of the three and by far the most fun to work with. I was so thrilled with how the voicebank operated that I couldn’t help but work on some smaller projects as warm-ups in between creating the English version of “BORDERLESS” and completing my coursework. While he, like YUU and WIL, struggles to keep up with some of the more rapid-fire lyrics characteristic of some VOCALOID songs, the rich, expressive dynamics of his voice more than make up for it.

In contrast, I found that YUU and WIL V6 handled much like their V3 counterparts. While YUU’s voice had become somewhat softer in his V6 library, it seemed that his new tone ultimately still lent itself well to stylistically husky vocals. I did have some trouble creating native-sounding English with his voicebank following the editor update, but by combining Japanese and English phonetics, I was able to clarify his pronunciation and reintroduce some of the natural brightness characteristic of his V3. Overall, I feel that his voice offers a lot of opportunity for experimentation, and could be made to fit multiple genres so long as one is willing to put the work in.

WIL maintains the delicate articulation and airy timbre characteristic of his V3, and responded well to most tuning. His English was easier to work with than YUU’s and required relatively little adjustment outside of very short notes, and overall felt like a relief to use with after years of trying to force non-native English out of his V3. I did find myself missing some of the crispness from his V3, but not enough that I considered it an immediate downgrade. His voice was easy to mix, and gave me the least trouble out of the three. I could see myself using his English again in the future.

I think in all, I came away from ZOLA Project V6 relatively pleased. The ease of creating fluent, natural-sounding English vocals has me excited to make more English covers in the future, especially considering I’d always wanted to make more after the positive response to my “Monster” cover. The possibility had always been there, but I’d avoided it for a long while on account of how taxing it is to create English using a Japanese voicebank (and how little I liked using English in VOCALOID 4). It feels much more achievable now, and with far less effort.

Q5: Tell us about how you encountered VOCALOID and the ZOLA Project, including any episodes that served as a catalyst.

I think I ran into VOCALOID a few times before I was properly introduced. I remember being recommended a music video for “Kokoro” at some point, but I didn’t understand it at the time and thought it was strange. I don’t know if I could find the specific upload again if I tried.

My first real exposure to VOCALOID, however, was through “Black Rock Shooter.” I stumbled across a reupload of “7 Colors of Nico Nico Douga” on Youtube (I was in the habit of watching Touhou videos at the time) and was enchanted by the opening melody. When I eventually found the original song, there was something about Miku’s husky, processed tone that I just couldn’t get enough of. I must have listened to it on loop for a month straight. I just so happened to have a friend who was active in the overseas UTAU community, so when she heard I was listening to VOCALOID, she quickly introduced me to the rest.

Within about two months, I recorded my very first UTAU and began creating covers of my own. I think the joy I felt over being able to hear my favorite songs sung again with brand new vocals is what started me down my current path. When I bought my first VOCALOID in 2013, it changed my whole perspective. I wasn’t just a casual listener anymore—I was a participant, and I was eager to contribute.

In terms of the ZOLA Project, I actually followed the VOCALOID tenth anniversary project very closely! From the moment it was announced, I began reading countless forum threads of speculation of what the project would entail and checked for news on a regular basis. I still vividly remember sharing my excitement with a friend over lunch, completely awash with theories of my own. The day the project was set to unveil itself, I practically didn’t leave my computer.

“BORDERLESS” was the first ZOLA Project demo I heard, and needless to say, I was instantly enchanted. The vocals seemed natural and expressive in a way that I hadn’t yet heard from a VOCALOID. I’d been saving up to buy Utatane Piko for a while, but “BORDERLESS” single-handedly changed that decision (though it helped that buying three vocalists for the price of one seemed more fiscally responsible in the end).

Q6: What is your favorite part of VOCALOID and the ZOLA Project?

My favorite part of VOCALOID has always been its ability to foster and support a creative community. While often, there is a hierarchy between official works and fan works, in VOCALOID, the boundary often ceases to exist. No one contribution is any more “official” than the rest.

It’s exhilarating to be a part of a music culture that completely blurs the line between fan, listener, and artist in this way. The fact that the collective body of work known as VOCALOID is composed by not just one, but hundreds upon thousands of creators stirs more than a few strong emotions in me. So many people, all captivated by the idea of a singer in a box. Over and over, they’ve taken little pieces of themselves and asked, “Can you sing this for me?” It’s hard not to feel something, right?

While there are plenty of other collaborative creative communities out there, VOCALOID alone stands out to me for the way it combines music and art. It’s not secret that I love getting to make new illustrations, design new costumes, and experiment with new programs and mediums each time I make a cover. I feel like the VOCALOID formula provides an exceptional canvas for artists of all kinds to work with, and makes it easy for fans to dive in.

Out of everything, however, my absolute favorite part of VOCALOID has to be how whole-heartedly it welcomes reinterpretation, if not encourages it outright. I think that’s also the reason why I’ve fallen for the ZOLAs as hard as I have. Each new cover has always been an opportunity to reinterpret the ZOLAs into something new—and each time I’ve reinterpreted them, I’ve fallen in love with them all over again.

Q7: Please share the works you have created with the ZOLA Project so far and the stories behind them.

Over the nearly 10 years that I’ve owned and used the ZOLA Project, I’ve made a number of covers that I’ve posted online. Many of these covers I made as a way of sharing my love for older VOCALOID songs that I felt had gone unnoticed by newer fans (like “One of Repetition” or “WAVEFILE”), or as a means to reimagine the ZOLA Project into something new and personal (like I did in “Monster”). My first cover was of niki’s “Plane Theory” in 2014, and I almost didn’t post it. I’d seen harsh comments online before and was afraid that people would look down on it and say something dismissive. In the end, a lot of people ended up sharing really kind words, and I was proud of it for many years. In many ways, I still am.

My KYO cover of Hachi’s “Donut Hole” was a cover that ended up becoming much more popular than I expected. I initially made it in an attempt to express my thanks for the sudden surge of support I’d gotten on my “My Crush was a Monster Boy” cover, but I think “Donut Hole” eclipsed it entirely. I originally chose the song because I felt it aligned with the kind of person I imagined KYO to be at the time—someone who was missing something he didn’t even know. Little did I know, the cover would quickly establish my place as “the person who makes KYO covers.”

The covers I made of “Crime and Punishment,” “Rotten Heresy and Chocolate,” and “The WANDERLAST” in celebration of the 7 year ZOLA Project anniversary really illustrate my preoccupation with older songs. In a time that was deeply uncertain, I found myself returning to a lot of classic songs as an escape. I had a lot of fun envisioning the sorts of derivative characters that would accompany each cover, and the work helped take my mind off the anxieties that ran rampant during the pandemic. I also thought that the surprise of uploading three covers at once might lift everyone’s spirits, even if only for a little while.

But more than nostalgia, I am moved by the chance to view the ZOLAs through a new lens. While I was working on my cover of Hachi’s “Wonderland and the Sheep’s Song,” I got really invested in the lore and the characters. The hand-drawn video for the song had always captivated me, so it was easy to get lost exploring the world. I made plans to create an animated video of my own in order to convey the reimagined ZOLAs I had envisioned, but had to scrap it for the sake of my health. I still have the storyboards and animatic saved on my computer, though.

Q8: If you have any goals or dreams of things you would like to achieve using VOCALOID or the ZOLA Project in the future, please let us know.

I can definitively say that it’s always been a dream of mine to write original songs, or at least collaborate with a song writer to create an original. For the longest time, I’d given up on the thought on account of not having a reliable English vocal to work with and only a meager bit of music theory under my belt. Having now experienced what VOCALOID 6 and the new ZOLA Project are capable of, however, I feel much more emboldened to try. With any luck, one day I’ll be able to post a video with the words “original song” somewhere in the title.

Q9: What are your expectations for VOCALOID in the future?

In terms of the software, I’m excited to see how VOCALOID AI grows and improves. Even just the simple addition of the character parameter changed how I tuned immensely and allowed me to create much more dynamic vocals. If in the future, I were able to control all the standard VOCALOID parameters in addition to the tools available for AI libraries, I think I would be exceptionally satisfied.

As for the community that has grown up surrounding it, I look forward to how it will continue to change. I feel as though we are going through a renaissance of kinds, and nothing has me more excited than the thought of where it might go next.

Q10: Please give us a message to your fans.

To my fans, I just want to say: thank you so much for all your support! Legitimately, this dream would not have been able to come true were it not for all the people who loved my work and shared that love with me. You’ve made me laugh, you’ve made me cry, and you’ve filled me to the brim with excitement to be a part of this community, and really, that’s more than any creator could ever ask for. I know I’m not the fastest artist in the world, but you’ve persisted with me nevertheless, and for that, I am exceptionally thankful.

I hope what we’ve accomplished across the course of this collaboration inspires you to create vocal synth works of your own. I hope you have fun with it, and I wish you the best of luck in all your future VOCALOID endeavors!