International

J-pop Trio Perfume Talk New Single, Look Back on Coachella Performance & More

Perfume
Courtesy Photo

Perfume

J-pop dance trio Perfume is celebrating multiple milestones this year, as 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the group’s formation and the 15th of its major label debut.

On Sept. 16, the trio dropped “Time Warp,” its first new single in two and half years. Along with the coupled track called “Saisei,” the release explores the years that the three women and their longtime collaborator Yasutaka Nakata have spent working together to perfect their art, and their current state of mind as they take a new step forward.

Members a-chan, KASHIYUKA, and NOCCHi met with Takayuki Okamoto for Billboard Japan and spoke about their new release, looked back on their eventful past year — which included their fourth world tour and a groundbreaking performance at Coachella — and shared their thoughts on where the group is headed as live music is forced to re-examine its norms due to the global pandemic.

Your new single and the title song feature the word “time.” Looking back, how do you feel about the time you spent this past year?

NOCCHi: We released a greatest hits album to coincide with the start of 15th anniversary year of our major label debut, and that meant a lot to us. At the same time, we released our entire catalog on streaming platforms, so people who used to listen to our music long ago and younger people who couldn’t afford to buy our CDs can now stream our works, which has led to some new encounters. It was a great year.

KASHIYUKA: We all had a say in what songs to include in the greatest hits collection, but found that all of our songs were just so good. Being able to say, “it’s too bad we can’t include all of them” is something we can be proud about. We pared the choices down to 52 tracks, but had to prune them again for our anniversary dome tour set list. We put so much effort into choosing the first round of songs, so we were like, “We can’t decide!” [laughs] We fashioned the tour around requests from fans, and were able to celebrate together with them. It was like a “thanks-giving” festival for us and it was a really fulfilling year.

a-chan: Yasutaka Nakata writes all of our songs, and every single one is so cool. The more we look back on our history, the more I feel how truly amazing our songs are, so this past year I realized again how grateful I am that we met such a producer, and felt happy we can continue working together from now on as well.

I got the impression that the title and lyrics of “Time Warp” symbolizes your anniversary year, and that it reflects upon the years that Perfume and Yasutaka Nakata have collaborated together and your current state of mind.

KASHIYUKA: I think it’s full of that sense of, “We’ve been doing this for so long, it’s hard to experience the same kind of excitement as the first time we did anything.” The first time is always shocking, with that feeling of extreme tension and nervousness, but that same sensation isn’t there anymore for the second and third times. I think “Time Warp” is about how much we can still enjoy things in spite of that. Mr. Nakata always writes about concepts that are one step ahead of where Perfume is currently situated.  

He always gives us lyrics that look towards the future from where we are. When we first performed at the Nippon Budokan, he encouraged us with “Dream Fighter” (2008), telling us that we’ll “face forward and keep walking,” and with “STAR TRAIN” (2015) he reminisced our journey together and said, “but this is always the starting line.” When we’re about to become content with our present state, he shows us what lies ahead.

Before you performed “Saisei” at the Tokyo Dome show on Feb. 25, all the names of your past tours since your major label debut were read out loud, and the list included your 2019 world tour and Coachella. Looking back, could you share how you feel about that Coachella performance?

a-chan: I think it was incredible. We knew about it, of course, but when we got there, we saw people who really love music listening to it however they like, and I thought, “Wow, I really love this festival!” But it’s also very uncompromising in that sense, so when we got out on stage and the crowd was sparse and far from full, we were like, “Oh no,” but also felt fired up, “No, we got this! It’s the three of us!”

We witnessed the audience growing as the set went on, to the point where we couldn’t see the end in the back, and felt that Mr. Nakata’s music can reach people around the world. Seeing more and more people take interest in us like that reminded me of our first-ever summer festival in 2007, the Summer Sonic in Japan. But the stage was slippery as heck [laughs] and the tension made it feel like it was over instantly.

NOCCHi: We’re always so inspired whenever we perform overseas. Things I don’t understand pile up each time we go, and I enjoy that. And no matter where we go, there are people waiting to see Perfume, which makes it really worthwhile being in this group.

KASHIYUKA: When “Polyrhythm” was included in the soundtrack for Cars 2, we were invited to the world premiere of the movie in Hollywood, and there we met people who told us, “Come here to do a show!” for the first time, which surprised us. We started thinking that if there are people out there who want to see us, then we want to go, so we gradually started touring outside of Japan in Asia.

Last year, when we toured in North America, it really hit home that we’ve become relatively known. We stopped in cities like Dallas and Seattle and San Jose, but were kind of worried, like, “Are there really people here who know about us?” But we met folks who told us they’d been listening to our music for seven years, waiting for us to come, and there was a lot of enthusiasm in those places we visited for the first time. We were so glad we made the decision to do that tour.

Festivals are places where you discover artists you didn’t know about, right? I strongly felt that (Coachella) was an opportunity, a challenge, to make ourselves known to people in America who didn’t know us before. Being given a stage where we can take on something unknown, where we might not succeed, is really gratifying.

Perfume has put on various groundbreaking and challenging stage productions in the past. I imagine people expect you to come up with something incredible for virtual shows. How do you plan on sharing your music from now on?

a-chan: When you’re watching us through a screen, it might feel like the distance between us has grown, but we feel like it’s actually become closer. Kind of like our choices have increased because some of the boundaries that prevented us from doing certain things have disappeared. Our style of entertainment has always been experimental, and we enjoy being in a place where there’s nothing but ambition there. So I just hope we can continue doing what we feel is cool in our own unique way. If we can keep doing that, then, I think Perfume will last a long time. I hope our fans can enjoy that together with us. 

NOCCHi: I’ve been spending a lot of time at home, and often find myself thinking, “Wow, entertainment is so amazing!” I think this is an opportunity for various types of entertainment to evolve, and since there are people who have ideas for new things they want to try with Perfume, we hope to present something new as well.

KASHIYUKA: We were reminded that we like people. We do what we do for people, it’s a strong incentive for us. I hope we can maintain the emotions and meanings we want to get across and continue to do interesting things, even though the format might be different. We can’t exist without those who listen to us and those who help us create our art, so together with them, we hope to keep changing while maintaining the parts that are important.

Interview and text by Takayuki Okamoto, translation by Billboard Japan