Interview with Perfume: Touring America, ‘Cosmic Explorer’ and Their Future as a Girl Group
Perfume is standing the test of time in a way few modern girl groups have.
After forming in a talent academy 16 years ago and making their major label debut with 2005’s “Linear Motor Girl,” the techno-pop Japanese trio — consisting of Ayano Ōmoto (“Nocchi”), Ayaka Nishiwaki (“A-chan”) and Yuka Kashino (“Kashiyuka”) — have released five No. 1 studio albums (including this year’s Cosmic Explorer) and dozens of blippy, hyper-giddy hit singles, won awards and amassed a massive, adoring fanbase. (Even Pentatonix count themselves as fans.)
The support for Perfume is so widespread, they’ve even had the opportunity to promote and perform stateside — a triumph for any Asian musical act.
The girls recently wrapped a run of showcases at the end of August in America, hitting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City at the beginning of September, along with an an interactive costume exhibit.
Following their latest US mini-tour, the J-pop troupe spoke to PopCrush about their latest experience touring the States, the difference between their fans in Japan and America, and their hopes and dreams for the group in the next decade.
Japanese and English interview questions provided by Tyler Dobshinsky.
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PopCrush: Perfume formed sixteen years ago in Hiroshima as a small, local techno-pop group, and now they’re back in North America in the middle of their World Tour.
Perfume: It’s been 16 years since our formation. But as for our major debut, it’s been 11 years.
This is your second time to America—any culture shock this time in the US?
This might not be a “culture shock,” but we were surprised to find out that the songs people get excited here are different from the ones in Japan. In Japan, fans seem to like “Miracle Worker,” but in the US, they loved “NEXT STAGE WITH YOU.” Even on the same album, people’s taste differ and that’s very interesting.
This time around, you were able to see a couple of new American cities. Was there anything in Chicago or San Francisco that you were really excited to do or see?
We got to visit the Pixar studio in San Francisco. We even got to see [chief creative officer] Mr. John Lasseter’s office, too. It was so much fun. The Pixar staff told us that even Pixar staff don’t get to see his office!
How did you feel when you first realized you had a lot of American fans?
When we visited LA for the Cars 2 movie premiere, we were walking down the red carpet. There were fans calling out “Perfume! Please come to America!” which really surprised us. We simply couldn’t believe that people actually knew about us in America.
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Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Pentatonix covered your songs in a new medley that’s racked up over 4 million views (at time of writing). How did this make you feel?
The arrangement of the songs showed how much respect they have for our songs, and we were just honored. We’re really happy about the cover. Thank you, Pentatonix!
Of course the venues you play and audiences differ in size, but is it totally different playing for American audiences versus Japanese audiences?
US fans are simply really honest with their feelings, so they get excited if they like the songs. But if they don’t, they show that. We learn a lot from it. In Japan, fans seem to look around and see if other fans are getting excited. They probably enjoy the group effort or team spirit. That’s the biggest difference.
I have a question for Nocchilda, Nocchi’s English-professor-alter-ego-from-Canada: Perfume is singing more and more in English recently, and your concerts always include a bit of back-and-forth with the audience in English. Do you get nervous speaking English on stage?
Nocchilda is a character I play for radio. I can’t believe you know so well. LOL. Yes, English gets me nervous, but I also feel that people are understanding my English, too. We practice a lot before getting on stage.
Your latest album, COSMIC EXPLORER, has a newer vibe as compared to your previous albums. You can definitely hear this new sound in “STAR TRAIN,” the theme song from your documentary movie WE ARE Perfume -WORLD TOUR 3rd DOCUMENT., which debuted earlier this year. Do you also feel COSMIC EXPLORER is different from Perfume’s past albums?
This is more of a “dance album” than our past albums, and there are a lot of interludes that we can dance together with the fans at shows! “Baby Face” is about a younger boy and how cute he is. Our love songs are all sung about admiration for someone the same age or older, so singing about a younger boy made us feel mature.
Your producer, Yasutaka Nakata, used to have you record your songs sitting down in a small phone booth to “take the human emotion out of your singing.” Do you still do this?
Yes, Nakata-san’s studio did have a phone booth-like vocal booth. The studio is different now, but we still sit down and sing when we record.
You dance along with projection mapping technology, you’ve danced with drones on NHK’s Kouhaku [like Japan’s version of Rockin’ New Years Eve, but it’s a battle of the sexes singing contest with only famous people], you’ve made a documentary, you do a weekly radio show, you hold an annual international dance contest, you had a TV sitcom—what will Perfume be doing 10 years from now?
We are having the biggest fun ever in our career now. We’ve been together since grade school and we have a lot in common. We went through the same things and watched the same scenery together over a decade. We don’t know how long more Perfume will last, but we hope this relationship will continue forever. Even if the form of the group changes, we feel that this relationship between members will continue. We feel that girl groups with this kind of close relationship are very rare in and outside of Japan.
You’ve had sixteen years of history since your formation at the Hiroshima Actor’s School. If you met an American who had never listened to Perfume, and they could only listen to one song, what song would you play to make them love Perfume?
We would say “Flash”. Our newest song is always the coolest. We want people to see our kung-fu dance, too.
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Keep an eye out for more to come from Perfume, including potential festival performances and footage from the US tour.