Sound Decision
The Pillows in Hollywood

by Jonathan Mays, Jul 2nd 2006
At the tail end of an ambitious tour that took them from Mexico City to New York and back, The Pillows might have wondered if they would run out of breath long before their Hollywood concert on Tuesday. But when Sawao Yamanaka, Yoshiaki Manabe, and Shinichiro Sato set aside a few minutes for some backstage questions, their enthusiasm made it clear that such questions would never need to be asked.

FLCL has been out for nearly four years in America. Why do you think you are more popular than ever before in the U.S.?
Sawao Yamanaka (Vocals, Guitar): In America? Hmm... we really don't know if we got popular or not because we didn't have a realistic feeling that we were getting popular. We also found out for the first time last year that there were more Pillows fans than we had imagined, and we were very surprised, and we still are this year. So we don't know if we got more popular or not, but we are having lots of fun.

If you run into a fan who only knows your FLCL music, what is the first Pillows album that you will tell him to try?
Yoshiaki Manabe (Guitar): Well, Fooly Cooly is part of The Pillows and as a band, we've been making music for a long time, so it's only part of our history, and of course, we also have other albums released. But the album right now that we're very confident about and put the most passion into would be the new album “MY FOOT.” We're also really happy that this new album is getting released in America because now it's able to be on the same timeline of Japan releases. And we would like to take this opportunity to have fun and go upstream.

I'm trying to figure out this “Buster-kun” thing. He's on some of your shirts, and you have a song called “Little Busters.” Is there a good story behind your mascot? Are “Little Busters” what you call your fans?
(Everyone laughs) Yamanaka: Well, when we planned the album “Little Busters,” we went to London to film a music clip for one of the songs in the album. We did some live performances, but we also took many pictures for the jacket cover and the inside pages of the “Little Busters” album. London was where we got the inspiration for the bear mascot, “Buster-kun.”

The original doll was a pretty grotesque and creepy-looking teddy bear. It was made out of really dirty old leather and had a real-looking eye and tongue, but one of the eyes was a button and it was displayed in a window, shaking like it was being electrocuted.

We still don't know what it was and why it was there, because it wasn't in a store display window and it didn't look like it was for commercial purposes, but it just seemed like someone's idea of a prank or some artist's work that we thought was interesting. So we used it in our jacket booklet and while we were on tour, we thought of placing that bear image on t-shirts, so we sent the picture to a designer to arrange it. At first it looks cute, but once you get up close, it has sharp teeth like it's ready to bite any minute. So that kind-of-cute but kind-of-scary look fits right in with The Pillows music perfectly.

We named it “Buster-kun” because the album that we were making at the time was “Little Busters.” And we sang the song “Little Busters” for the fans, so that is why I think “Buster-kun” is so popular. And yes, “Little Busters” is a way for us to term our fans.

Is it fair to say The Pillows are The Beatles for today's anime fans?
(Everyone laughs) Shinichiro Sato (Drums): Really?! I think only my nose resembles one of The Beatles member. (All jokingly) Haha, well, I guess we are.

What themes do you hit on My Foot?
Yamanaka: There is no actual theme for the lyrics, but for the sound we did have a theme. We mainly focused on the twin guitar and we do enjoy combining sounds when we're recording to make interesting music. This time we subtracted sounds as much as possible and made it very simple but got the best sound out of each instrument and the best performance out for every song.

The album seems more low-key than the FLCL soundtracks were. Was that intentional?
Yamanaka: The soundtrack for Fooly Cooly came out around '98, '99 and right now is 2006, so it's not like it changed all of a sudden, as there were always themes every year. There was a time we really liked the blasting sounds and this time we liked the simple and more calmer sound, so to us, the sounds gradually changed but I guess to some Americans, it may seem like it changed all of a sudden.

We've talked about inspirations before but only vaguely. Is there anything in particular that inspired you on "My Foot?" Is anything inspiring you at this very moment? Yamanaka: I think there were times I was inspired, but there are other times where I sit down and really think hard to make hit songs. In a previous album that wasn't ever released in America called “Good Dreams,” we had a song called “Frontier”, and that song really focused on the twin guitar. I really liked the way it sounded, so it became the next boom. I always get inspired regularly, especially with lyrics, like when a friend would say something funny, or when watching television and movies, and I think about why it was funny or interesting and see how people respond to certain types of situations. Then I analyze how I would've responded to that situation and then try to use an emotional basis to decide if the answer is useable or not for a song.

Where do you come up with the hooks for your songs? Just messing around in the studio? Divine inspiration?
Yamanaka: Well, to be honest, we really don't know. If we knew, then making a good song would be easy, recording would be easy, and having a great live show would be easy. That's why not knowing still allows us to be musicians and not get tired of it.

Let's talk about your tour.
Manabe: Well, last year was our first tour outside of Japan, but there's this band called noodles that's on a record label named “Delicious Label” and it was their third time, so we were pretty much tagging along with them, but we made connections throughout the tour and that's how last year started. From there, we worked hard this year to come to America. As for Mexico, it was unique because there was a really enthusiastic fan that kept sending us mail, pleading for us to come over. We only received the letters and never actually met the person in real life, so it was kind of intimidating to go somewhere you don't even know, so we had to decline. But this year, through a Japanese person who served as an intermediary, we met with them and hammered things out, so it all worked out. It's always scary for musicians to go to a new place because many miscommunications happen. There are times when it looks like a concert has been booked, but in reality it wasn't booked so it's necessary to have an intermediary plan things out for sure between two parties.

I asked you last time for a stage disaster story, and you said it was funny but you couldn't tell. Will you tell now, or do you have a better story?
Yamanaka:  All I can say about this tour is that it was full of "happenings" but also disaster. There was one time when we were flying from Chicago to New York and the plane took off, but there were only two of us on the plane, and rest of the crew was left behind. Usually in Japan, an airline company is nice enough to wait until everyone boards the plane, so rest of the other crew was just waiting to get picked up and realized the plane was gone. The rest of the members had to look for another flight that was open. In the meantime, Sato and I had to unload all the equipment. It was terrible.

What are your favorite rock songs of all time?
Yamanaka: Favorite rock song, huh? That's a hard question... I grew up listening to punk rock, so whoever listens to punk rock can understand and like the music we make. I don't care what kind of music they listen to after punk rock, because as long as they understand punk rock, they can understand our songs. If they didn't grow up with punk, then they can still totally get into our music and understand.

What's next for you guys?
Yamanaka: We would like to make good new albums, and every year we would like to create an album we can truly be proud of and like.

Special thanks to Kazushiro Miura, Masa Nishigawa, and Kenji Okazaki for arranging the interview!

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