Interview with the pillows in Seattle, USA

interview - 27.09.2011 10:01

JaME caught up with the pillows before their fourth Seattle live.

On an unseasonably hot afternoon in Seattle, USA, the pillows kindly met with JaME to discuss their current US tour and 20th anniversary celebrations while beating the heat.

This is your now fourth time in the US with NAP UTATANE TOUR 2011. Welcome back. Is it good to be back in the States? How are you finding the atmosphere here?

Yamanaka: Wow, it’s the fourth time already? Releasing albums and singles in Japan is very different from the US, so the timing for tours throughout the year is different. I'm genuinely happy to see many fans coming to our show, and that fans in America hadn't forgotten us and came to see us even though there wasn't much promotion. In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying ourselves. San Francisco and LA were fun, but I’m glad to be here in Seattle. I’m very excited to see our fans here tonight.

For readers who are unaware, can you explain what "NAP" stands for, and why did you choose this theme?

Yamanaka: Well, our band manager came up with it. (laughs) The name borrows the first three letters from the three bands: noodles, All Ages and the pillows, which makes “NAP.” In English, you say it as "nap" but in Japanese, it’s "utatane," meaning to nap. (laughs) We used this theme as we’ve all been playing for a long time, and have been together.

What significance is there in the five US cities you have chosen to tour this year?

Yamanaka: There isn’t any real meaning to the five cities, but when we tour, we always pick Seattle and San Francisco because we have friends there and it’s easier to get booked. Plus, we really enjoy being here. In Austin, for the SXSW Festival, many fans go there to see us. We’re really popular at SXSW but actually, we’re kind of nervous as we don't know if we’ll be just as popular outside of that event. (laughs)

You’re currently touring with noodles and All Ages, both of which compliment your sound well. How do you feel about touring with them so far?

Yamanaka: We’re very close with them and we’ve been touring together for more than ten years. In LA, we performed with All Ages and when they went to Japan in the past, we performed with them too. The friendship we have between us is very strong.

A little bit like a family?

Yamanaka: Yes!

Have you done anything special for the pillows’ recent 20th anniversary?

Yamanaka: Yes! (laughs) On the first day we performed, we were at Nippon Budokan and so we made sure to perform there for our 20th anniversary. Also, we released two best-of albums to celebrate as well.

For rookie fans who are new listeners of the pillows, which songs would you recommend them to listen to? Do you have any personal favorites that you enjoy playing?

Yamanaka: I’d recommend our newest song, Comic Sonic. My favourite song to play would be Dance with God which is the first song for our show tonight.
Manabe: It’s always fun to play new songs but for new fans, something fun, probably Little Busters or Hybrid Rainbow. Our American fans really enjoy those two songs and I really enjoy seeing them so happy, so I’d definitely recommend them.
Sato: For new fans... probably Little Busters. It’s one of my favourite songs to play.

Manabe, Hokkaido is your home town. Do past experiences, say growing up in Hokkaido, provide inspiration for the pillows’ compositions?

Manabe: Yes, definitely.

Most US-based fans recognize the song Ride on the Shooting Star as the very catchy ending to "FLCL," and all other music heard in the show. Have you ever read or seen "FLCL" and if so, what are your thoughts on it?

Yamanaka: Yes. Oh, I have the DVD (in English). The first time I saw it, I was surprised at how well our music went with the story. The content of the story was really crazy though and I didn’t understand it at all initially. (laughs) Very crazy! (in English)

What are your thoughts on bands in general achieving fame from contributing to anime openings and endings? Does it make them seem cooler or more interesting?

Yamanaka: It’s not whether they’re cool or not, but rather the anime. If the music in the anime and the anime are both cool, then I think it’s cool. But if neither are really cool and they don’t work with each other well, then it’s not really that interesting. As early as the 1930s, with TV and radio, it’s easier for fans to find information on groups and have access to their music. So for "FLCL", it’s definitely cool. (laughs)

Tell us about your mascot, Buster-kun. How did he come to be such an iconic figure and so popular with fans?

Yamanaka: Buster-kun came from the song Little Busters from one of our older albums. The song was written for fans and so Buster-kun was made for the fans; our fans are called "little busters." The timing for that album was perfect and now, when we sing Little Busters at our concerts, since the song is for our fans, they adore it. Also, our manager really loves Buster-kun. (laughs)

Many older fans of the pillows often appreciate your indie work, yet others adore your recent releases. How do you achieve a balance between a mainstream and an indie, experimental sound to satisfy a larger amount of fans?

Yamanaka: Well, in America, most fans know us by songs heard in "FLCL" and they love it when we play those songs. We want to play those songs from "FLCL" but we also want them to hear our new songs. In Japan, there are many chances to play at venues, so we are able to but in America, there are less places to perform, so when we do perform here, we have include songs from "FLCL."

the pillows have been around for at least twenty years. How to do you think you’ve matured both musically and as a group since then?

Manabe: It’s very difficult to do that. Over these twenty years, we’ve tried many new things. But we haven’t really tried to stick with one thing but instead, try it all. It might be a little unusual but we try to sound like high school boys who are skilled and have really really good music tastes (laughs)... but aren’t major. We don’t really want to go major.

Some fans have compared the pillows as the Japanese counterpart to the US group, Weezer. Have you heard of this comparison before, and how do you feel about it?

Yamanaka: (in English) I like Weezer! I haven’t really heard that comparison but I want to hear their new album. I wouldn’t mind playing with them at some point. (laughs) Here would be nice. (more laughs)

Then, do you have a favourite Weezer song?

Yamanaka: Yes, I have one, which is Memories. And... (hums the melody, then laughs) It’s the first track of Raditude, (If You're Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You to. That’s my favourite Weezer song. I like them, they sound really simple and always have catchy songs on their albums.

How you decide what songs to feature on an album? What processes do you go through to reach the final product?

Yamanaka: Well, we write a lot of songs, then write lyrics to suit them. But the hardest part is writing lyrics that will match the songs. When the lyrics match well with the album, the album goes well with fans. Sometimes the main song of an album won’t match the rest or the lyrics of a song are off, and then we have to write more songs or rework existing songs to make up for it.

Manabe, you have been said to have drawn influences from reggae artist Bob Marley. What elements of Bob Marley initially attracted you to his music in your solo project, Nine Miles?

Manabe: Bob Marley has definitely inspired me. For Japanese people, reggae music isn’t very popular, and it seems a little weird for Japanese people to play reggae music but I think it was the right time to play it in the solo project.

Yamanaka, you plan to release a new solo album this October, titled Tedious Man. Can you tell us a little about the album? The title is rather odd — what is the meaning behind it?

Yamanaka: I enjoyed making the solo album. I worked with Kuhara from The Birthday, Abe from THE COLLECTORS, and Fukuoka from chatmonchy on the album. I also worked with Jun who supports the pillows as a bassist. The title has two meanings: someone who has a few hobbies, very boring actually and only lives for one thing and nothing else, which in this case is music. The other meaning that I get bored when I don't play any music.

Tonight, the pillows' fans can purchase a very cute, striking shirt with two Buster-kuns on it, decorated with the Japanese and US flags. In your own words, what does this bond represent?

Yamanaka: Usually, our Buster-kun shirts have many flags on it and represent many friends around the world but for this US tour, we only had the Japanese and US Buster-kuns on it. It’s a way to say "thank you" to our friends and fans here, and for all the support America gave to Japan during the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster in March.

Lastly, any final messages for your "little busters"?

Yamanaka: It’s really nice to be here in Seattle, it’s very similar to Hokkaido so I like it very much. Also, Seattle is relatively close to where Nirvana started and is very famous for that. I’m enjoying it a lot here, thank you!

Manabe: For me, Hokkaido and Seattle are very similar and close to me. Here, you can relax and have time to relax. While on tour, we’ve had a very busy schedule but we had a chance to relax, and even went to EMP — lots of Nirvana things to see! Thank you for the opportunity.

Sato: I’m happy to have fans in Seattle and I’m very appreciative of the fans here. Also, I was very surprised that a fan from Alaska came down to Seattle to see us. I’ve really enjoyed seeing our fans having fun.

JaME would like to thank the pillows and their management, avex and interpreter Miho Oishi for making this interview possible.
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