PERFUME IN AMERICA
With six No. 1 albums (including their current release, Cosmic Explorer) and 18 consecutive top 10 hits in their native Japan, Perfume has been the leading J-Pop girl group for 10 years, and now the trio is ready for the rest of the world to pay attention. They wound up a brief Cosmic Explorer American tour Sunday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, after performing live in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. I caught up with the three women backstage after their initial U.S. show at the Wiltern in L.A. and later had a chance to interview Nocchi, a-chan and Kashiyuka about their American experience and their personal histories.
Before you arrived in America for this current tour, what were your thoughts about performing in the U.S.?
Nocchi: Last time we played in L.A., someone told us that we should do a U.S. tour, so I really wanted to come back as soon as possible. It took us a while but we’re back and really excited.
Are audiences different in Japan and America?
a-chan: Yes. For example, Japanese audiences seem to really like “Miracle Worker” on the album and their reactions when we do this song is awesome. Here in the U.S., people really seem to like “Next Stage With You.” Everyone does the driving choreo with us.
Have you had a chance to interact with your American fans? Do they react differently than fans in Japan?
Kashiyuka: U.S. fans seem to know a lot of old material and our history, beyond our expectations. Some of them also speak Japanese very well. I was amazed by that enthusiasm.
Are you surprised how passionate your American audiences are?
Kashiyuka: Yes. When we did a meet and greet during the last U.S. shows, this gay male couple came. One of them said to me, “Hey, my boyfriend really likes you and wants to marry you. We’re engaged but when I asked him if he wants to marry me or you, he said you! What do you think about that?” I didn’t know how to respond but their love for me was overwhelming.
You have played such large arenas in Japan. How does it feel to play more intimate venues in America, such as the Wiltern in Los Angeles and the Warfield in San Francisco?
Kashiyuka: It’s so intimate that the audience is much closer to us. We directly feel their energy coming at us. You don’t feel that in big venues. In a city where you visit for the first time and you don’t know what to expect, feeling that enthusiasm with my whole entire body is assuring and it really makes me happy.
I would imagine it is difficult for you to walk around in Japan – to go to stores or restaurants, for example – without being recognized. How do you handle that? And what is it like to be able to walk around in Los Angeles or San Francisco as opposed to Tokyo?
a-chan: Shopping and walking around in Los Angeles and San Francisco was so much fun.
Nocchi: Sure was. We don’t get recognized as much when we’re alone but when three of us get together, they recognize us 100%. So you are right, we cannot go shopping together in Japan. In the U.S., we can go wherever we want and try clothes on and dine out. Everything is fine and it’s so much fun!
I don’t know if you have had any free time while you’re in America but if you have, what have you been doing? Any time for sightseeing? Or have you done any things that a tourist might do?
Kashiyuka: Yes! We did something special! We went to the Pixar studio and also visited the company which invented Pokémon Go.
Nocchi: At Pixar, they let us visit John Lasseter’s office!
a-chan: We saw so much [Studio] Ghibli stuff there. His office was full of his friendship with [director] Hayao Miyazaki and we saw tons of rare goods that we can’t even see in Japan.
Kashiyuka: Even the Pixar staff doesn’t get to go into his office so it was very special.
You’ve done so many things already – recording, touring, television – what else would you like to accomplish, if anything?
a-chan: To be honest, we are very fortunate that most of our dreams in Japan have come true at this point. Now we are hoping to deliver our music to the world and play a sold-out show in Madison Square Garden. If we can do that, that would be the first for a Japanese act. That’s our dream. [Japanese acts have played at Madison Square Garden before but as far as Perfume knows, none of them had sold out shows].
What is next for Perfume? And are you working on the next album yet? Have you done any recording in America, either this time or in the past?
Kashiyuka: We’ve never done any recording in the U.S. We don’t play instruments so everything comes from [producer Yasutaka] Nakata’s computer. That means it’ll probably sound the same anywhere we record [laugh]. But it will probably feel different to record here so let’s ask Nakata to come with us and record in the U.S.
a-chan: No plans for the next album yet.
Kashiyuka: We will start thinking about it after the tour is over.
We don’t really know you very well in America yet, so let’s talk about some personal history. What is your earliest memory of music – whether it was listening to the radio, or listening to your parents’ music collection, or watching TV, or…?
a-chan: I remember my dad playing Maki Oguro’s “Natsugakuru” on his guitar. Since that was the first time I heard that song, I thought it was a male song. But I heard the original version in the car and it was a woman singing! My dad actually sang in the original key, too, and I was surprised by his wide vocal range [laugh].
Kashiyuka: My first memory of encountering music is the SMAP song my family played in the car. Until I joined the Actor’s School, I thought music was something to listen to, not sing, so it was something I listened in the car or in the house.
Nocchi: My mom liked Lenny Kravitz and she took me to his concert when I was really little.
When did you first think you would have a career in music?
Kashiyuka: When I first moved to Tokyo with a-chan and Nocchi.
Nocchi: When I joined Actor’s School Hiroshima at the age of 10.
a-Chan: When we had our break with the hit of “Polyrhythm” [in 2007].
Anyone who has seen your live shows or your videos know that you are not only singers, but outstanding dancers. Which came first, your interest in being a singer or a dancer?
Nocchi: For me, it was definitely dancing.
Kashiyuka: I started taking singing and dancing lessons at the same time, but I liked dance first.
a-chan: I liked both from the beginning.
Who are your musical influences, either Japanese or international?
Nocchi: I’ve been influenced by Ringo Sheena. She was the music producer of the flag hand-over ceremony [closing ceremony] at the Rio Olympic Games. For international, I like to listen to Arctic Monkeys.
a-chan: I’ve always liked Aiko and admired her music. I’ve also been influenced by OK Go. I like their music but also their approach to music videos. They’re a band but they have a policy not to hold any instruments in the video. I think it’s really interesting.
Kashiyuka: I grew up listening to Namie Amuro. It’s amazing that after all these years, she’s still fresh and big in the music industry. As for international music, I love Bruno Mars and his good relationship with his band members. They dance together and seem to have so much fun together on stage.
If you had to choose one absolute highlight of your career so far, what would it be?
Kashiyuka: It was a “Polyrhythm” tour and a show at Liquid Room [a club in Tokyo]. We were still trying really hard to get our name out there and I didn’t expect that many people in the audience. When the curtain dropped and I saw a full house, that moment was my highlight.
Nocchi: When we played a show in Tokyo Dome in front of 50,000 people.
a-chan: For me, it was after that Tokyo Dome show in the dressing room when we saw MIKIKO [Perfume’s choreographer and director]. We all cried with happiness for the successful show. We had no words but were so fulfilled.
When I arrived at the Wiltern to see your show, there were lines around the block in both directions and the marquee said: PERFUME – SOLD OUT. Did you have a chance to see that, and if so, what was your reaction?
Here is a video of “Star Train,” the final song in Perfume’s set for their American shows:
And here is a video of the American group Pentatonix paying tribute to Perfume with an a cappella medley of their songs:
And if you’re new to Perfume, here are a few of their best songs: