Sunday Spotlight: Puffy Ami Yumi

Across the English-speaking world, the face of Japanese pop is Puffy AmiYumi. For almost four years, Ami Yoshimura and Ami Onuki have sprinkled North America with albums and concert tours, slowly but surely dragging fans onto their pop pastiche bandwagon. These anti-idol idols have made a name for themselves by giving retro rock a spin, but their latest project is something quite revolutionary: the first animated American TV series to feature Japanese pop stars. The show is Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, and it's every bit as bizarre and hyperkinetic as it sounds. It's also a serious ratings hit with the youngsters.

Tour dates:
4/22 - Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom
4/23 - Seattle, WA - The Showbox
4/24 - Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theatre
4/26 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield Theatre
4/29 - Los Angeles, CA - Wiltern Theatre
4/30 - San Diego, CA - SOMA
5/02 - Tempe, AZ - Marquee Theatre

When did music first become important to you?
Yumi Yoshimura: I've always listened to music, and it was always very close to my heart and thoughts. After passing a talent audition and being accepted into my current management agency, they asked me what field I was most interested in, so I said “music.” From there on, it became a career for me, and it became a very important part of my life. I think I was nineteen when it started to become a career for me.

Does "classic rock" cover your realm of music?
Ami Onuki: Sometimes it's rock, sometimes it's pop—it's music from a wide variety of genres. We also chose producers that we like, so our variety expands depending on the producer.

Yumi: There is no particular sound to Puffy AmiYumi because we have no specific style we stick to. We try many different sounds so rather than describing that sound; it's all about how the person listening feels when listening to it.

How about influences?
Ami: I've received a lot of influence from Tamio Okuda. Our producers, Okuda and Andy Sturmer, as well as our co-writers, have been influenced by American pop and rock music. Since Yumi and I grew up in Japan with a different language and culture, the final result is a kind of collision that transforms the music. It's not something we do consciously. It just works out that way.

Yumi: My inspirations when writing lyrics are from personal experiences and dreams.

Your lyrics can be pretty nonsensical.
Yumi: I often like to dream and exaggerate a real situation, but I am very careful about the lyrics so that others can relate to what I write. Emotions are universal and music is about communicating and sharing, I think.

What's the biggest challenge you face as a musician?
Yumi: Perhaps the lyric writing process. But when the final product is done, it makes any difficulties or challenges disappear.

How did your weird dance style evolve?
Yumi: To be honest, we can't dance so we created something that we could manage which ended up being the way it is!

What's on your iPod right now?
Ami: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, Comeback My Daughters, Ken Yokoyama, Keigo Iwase, Hanoi Rocks, and a lot more.

Yumi: Too much to list!

What are a few of your favorite anime series?
Yumi: Detective Conan, Monster, and anything Hayao Miyazaki makes. There are so many that it would take forever to go through them all.

Have you seen the new Puffy AmiYumi action figures?
Yumi: Yeah, they're awesome! I was excited they created my pet cat, too.

What's the funniest thing you've said or misunderstood when dealing with the English language?
Yumi: It's really crazy how the pronunciation of a letter could change the entire meaning of a word. For example, when ordering “rice,” it would be sound like I was saying “lice” or “city” was “shitty.” After I found out the meaning of those other words, I was pretty amused and embarrassed. So now I make an extra effort is made to say those words properly.

Any memorable experiences with fans abroad?
Yumi: I would have to say the first time on tour, it was very overwhelming to actually see the number of people that enjoy our music and support us from all over the world.

Tell us about your Japanese TV show, Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy.
Yumi: It was a fun show that allowed us to meet a lot of people and do a lot of things we would have never done, like go to Poland!

And your new Cartoon Network show, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi.
Ami: Ami and Yumi are the main characters, and they go all over the place on their adventures. They will do the kinds of things that can only happen in a cartoon.

Yumi: They run wild and freely in the cartoon. It's not similar to our real life, but I'd like to use that to our advantage and give the show some more freedom.

With Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi finally off the ground, what is your next goal?
Yumi: There are no particular goals at the moment, but we like to enjoy and have fun with everything we do. Hopefully we can be back to the United States, but nothing is planned at the moment.

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