Artist Interviews

Q&A: Perfume

By | Published on Tuesday 8 October 2013


Formed in 2000 while its members were still at school, Japanese pop group Perfume released their debut single in 2002. Though it wasn’t until 2008 that they put out their first studio album, ‘Game’, which went straight to number one and marked the beginning of their rise to become Japan’s biggest girl group. The first single from that album also made it onto the soundtrack of Pixar film ‘Cars’, bringing their sound to a Western audience too.

Since the beginning, they have worked with producer Yasutaka Nakata, one half of electro duo Capsule and the man behind the sound of many J-Pop acts, including the highly popular Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. But it’s Perfume who are his defining project in many ways, and arguably it is them who receive his best songs, which helps to keep their success in ascension.

The group released their fourth album, ‘Level 3’, through Universal Music Japan last week, and it will make its way to the UK through indie label Wrasse Records on 28 Oct. Their first proper international release, it follows their first European live shows, which took place in Paris, Cologne and London in July. The shows were also beamed back live to cinemas across Japan.

Known for their high-tech performances, Perfume’s next live shows will take place at the 50,000 capacity Kyocera Dome Osaka and 45,000 capacity Tokyo Dome in December. Ahead of the album release and rehearsals for those performances, CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with the trio – A-Chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka – to find out more about the new album, their live performances, and more.

AM: Your new album sounds great and is upbeat even by your own standards. Was this a fun record to make?
AC: It was as lot of fun! I enjoyed recording different types of songs. Different types of rhythms and atmosphere.

K: I enjoy recording our albums more than standalone singles because we get more songs! The diversity of the songs makes me excited, like I’m one of the listeners.

AM: This seems like a particularly dancefloor-focussed record. How do you think ‘Level 3’ compares to your previous albums, and what do you think your fans will think of it?
N: Yasutaka Nakata, our producer, writes all our songs and I think ‘dance album’ was what he had in mind for where Perfume stands right now. This is the result of him thinking what kind of music makes Perfume cool in 2013.

AC: We see each album as being like a concept album. So Perfume right now is at a dance music stage [more than straight pop]. This doesn’t mean we’re going in this direction from here but this is just one of our aspects. Please don’t see this like “so Perfume is going into dance music direction, so I don’t have to follow them anymore…” If you don’t like this type of music, just let it go and come back to us when we release our next album.

AM: I read in another interview that Yasutaka Nakata doesn’t let you hear the songs he’s written for you until the day before you go into the studio. Do you ever worry you won’t like them? And do you like working in this way?
K: I never worry that we won’t like the songs. It’s so much fun to get new material, and getting it on the day of the recording ensures a good tension. We prefer not to practice too much in advance. If we listen too much, or practice too much, before the recording, our habits tend to overcome the freshness. I like how we get the songs at the last minute and go straight into recording. I think this style is good.

N: But when we got the rap song, that freaked me out a bit! [Laughs]

AM: Given the way in which you hear your music, would you class yourselves fans of Perfume? What music do you tend to listen to in your daily lives?
N: Yes, we’re our biggest fans! We are huge fans of Yasutaka Nakata songs, so we are proud to deliver them to our fans, and we proudly perform them at our shows. Though in my daily life, I listen to different kinds of music. Before I go to sleep, I have a playlist for that. If I want to get hyped up, I listen to dance music. I listen to whatever suits my feelings at the time. I listen to rock too.

K: I don’t listen to much Japanese music to be honest. I listen more of international music. When I listen to Japanese music, I tend to pay too much attention to the lyrics, so to listen to music as background music, non-Japanese music is better for me.

AM: ‘Level 3’ has your first fully English language song on it, ‘Spending All My Time’. Was it strange to sing in another language? Was it unexpected when the song was presented to you?
N: Yes, it was unexpected and I was surprised. We generally prefer to sing in Japanese, so when [‘Spending All My Time’] was first presented to us, it was difficult at first. But when we played abroad, everyone sang along with that song, and seeing that made me feel so glad that we recorded this track!

AM: You recently played your first European shows. What was that like?
AC: It seemed like fans in Europe really enjoyed our show. Japanese audiences tend to send us messages like “we’re having fun”, but in Europe, they were just enjoying in their own ways.

AM: It’s quite unusual for big J-pop acts to come over to Europe, but Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also made the journey over the London earlier this year. Do you think we’ll see more J-pop acts over here in the future? And will we see you again?
AC: I don’t know if more J-pop acts will go to Europe in the future, but it makes us happy that a lot of Japanese artists are going abroad to promote Japan. We’re just simply happy that we got to go play at the home of techno music and we hope that there will be more demand for us in Europe.

K: We definitely want to go back to Europe and do shows!

AM: Your performances often feature very high-tech elements. What has your favourite innovation been? Is there anything you don’t use in performances anymore that you’d like to bring back?
AC: I liked the projection mapping performance we did at [the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity, where the group won a design award for their website] and on the European tour. It’s a high-tech performance where projection moves with our dances and it’s only projected on our body and dresses, nowhere else. It’s so high-tech that I really don’t know how to explain it!

K: We have been playing at smaller venues recently so we haven’t been able to use a lifting platform. But when we play big venues again, I want to bring that back. I want to get on the lifter and perform from high up! This allows people in the back to see us in big venues.

AM: As well as the technical side, your dancing is always extremely precise and tightly synchronised. How long do you rehearse before each show?
N: Probably about a month, including choreography.

K: For big shows, we spend about a month but smaller shows like the recent European tour, we only rehearsed for about a week.

AM: What happens if something goes wrong on stage?
AC: If something happens on stage, we continue like nothing happened. If our shoe falls off, we immediately put it back on. If I forget the dance, I look to other members. If the lights went out, I try to speak to the audience and let our voices be heard. Anything can happen in live shows and we try to enjoy that moment.

AM: How involved with the choreography and design of your shows are you?
K: We let [long-time collaborator] Mikiko take charge in terms of choreography, though for live arrangements we do tell her our ideas.

N: We put together the setlist, and we tell our stage director brief ideas like “we want to get close to audience”.

AC: We tell them our dreams like we want to fly or we want this kind of stage.

K: And then we leave it to the technical team to tell us if that’s possible or not.

AM: You’ve been together since 2000. Do you still get the same excitement from being in Perfume? What are you favourite parts of the job?
K: Yes, we’re still excited because we’re tackling new things all the time, including the latest technology.

N: The best part of being an artist is that we can share our happiness and experiences with so many people. There are a lot of fans out there who like what we like. I think that’s the best part.