With seven No. 1 albums (including their current release, Future Pop) and 21 consecutive top 10 hits in their native Japan, Perfume has been the leading J-Pop girl group for over a decade, and now the rest of the world is paying attention. After a brief Cosmic Explorer American tour in 2016 that brought the trio to New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, Perfume is returning to the U.S. at the end of March for performances in six cities, plus two weekend shows at Coachella, where they will be the first J-Pop girl group to perform at the festival. Billboard checked in with NOCCHi, a-chan and KASHIYUKA about their previous American experiences, their personal histories and their anticipation for this latest U.S. trek.
You’ve toured some of America’s largest cities, but what are your thoughts about performing at Coachella for the first time?
a-chan: So nervous and so excited at the same time.
You performed at the Wiltern in Los Angeles in 2016, but have you been to the California desert before?
KASHIYUKA: It’s our first time and I can’t wait! I didn’t know there was desert so close to the city in America. It’s my first time in a desert, anywhere.
a-chan: When we went to Grand Canyon together, didn’t we drive through places that were super dry and kind of looked like a desert?
NOCCHi: Yeah. We did.
a-chan: So maybe, we’ve been to a desert or at least drove through one.
The daily attendance at Coachella is capped at 126,000 people. How does this compare to your performances at Tokyo Dome with 50,000 people and other arenas or festivals?
All: What?! 126,000 people?
NOCCHi: Everything is different.
KASHIYUKA: Festivals, especially international ones, and our tour, where our fans come to see us, are completely different. We will be performing for an international audience that has no idea who Perfume are. It’ll be a bit of a challenge.
Are you already thinking of which songs you will perform at Coachella? And what will you do differently for the festival than you would do at other American venues? Will you sing in Japanese or English or both?
KASHIYUKA: It’s a special setlist just for the festival. We don’t know how much production we can actually do at Coachella, but we’re ready to put on the coolest show, whatever the condition! In terms of a language to sing in, we will sing in Japanese because we want the Coachella audience to hear the beauty of the original Japanese lyrics.
NOCCHi: But we also chose songs with English lyrics, too.
How would you compare American audiences to Japanese audiences?
NOCCHi: American audiences are more honest with their feelings. Japanese fans are all about teamwork. They try to get excited and support us as a team. But American fans are individuals. If they like the song, they get excited but if they don’t care about the song, they don’t care even if the people around them are getting excited. It’s simple and very helpful for us to know what they like.
KASHIYUKA: U.S. fans seem to know a lot of old material and our history, beyond our expectations. Some of them also speak Japanese very well. I was amazed by that enthusiasm.
Are you surprised how passionate your American audiences are?
KASHIYUKA: Yes. When we did a meet and greet during the last U.S. shows, this gay male couple came. One of them said to me, “Hey, my boyfriend really likes you and wants to marry you. We’re engaged but when I asked him if he wants to marry me or you, he said you! What do you think about that?” I didn’t know how to respond but their love for me was overwhelming.
This will be your latest trip to the U.S. What do you like to do while you’re in America, especially in terms of eating, sightseeing and shopping? Those things must be difficult to do in Japan, where everyone recognizes you.
NOCCHi: We don’t get recognized as much when we’re alone but when three of us get together, they recognize us 100 percent. So you are right, we cannot go shopping together in Japan. In the U.S., we can go wherever we want and try clothes on and dine out. Everything is fine and it’s so much fun. Just to be able to walk around with the three of us together without any disguise is exciting for us. So I want to go shopping together.
a-chan: I do, too! We also love organic food and products so we’ll be going to various organic shops all around America, like Whole Foods.
What have been the most memorable moments of your previous trips to America?
a-chan: I remember eating Chicago pizza, the deep dish pizza.
KASHIYUKA: We had various kinds of pizzas from different places.
a-chan: That Chicago pizza was shocking but amazing. We had it before the show and my excitement just spiked up! I think there was something in that pizza (laughs). That was a magical food.
KASHIYUKA: From the show, the memorable moment was when everyone sang along to the English part of the songs so loud.
We don’t really know you very well in America yet, so let’s talk about some personal history. What is your earliest memory of music – whether it was listening to the radio, or listening to your parents’ music collection or watching TV, or…?
a-chan: I remember my dad playing Maki Oguro’s “Natsugakuru” on his guitar. Since that was the first time I heard that song, I thought it was a male song. But I heard the original version in the car and it was a woman singing! My dad actually sang in the original key, too, and I was surprised by his wide vocal range [laughs].
KASHIYUKA: My first memory of encountering music is the SMAP song my family played in the car. Until I joined the Actor’s School, I thought music was something to listen to, not sing, so it was something I listened in the car or in the house.
NOCCHi: My mom liked Lenny Kravitz and she took me to his concert when I was really little.
When did you first think you would have a career in music?
KASHIYUKA: When I first moved to Tokyo with a-chan and NOCCHi.
NOCCHi: When I joined Actor’s School Hiroshima at the age of 10.
a-chan: When we had our break with the hit of “Polyrhythm” [in 2007].
Anyone who has seen your live shows or your videos knows that you are not only singers, but outstanding dancers. Which came first, your interest in being a singer or a dancer?
NOCCHi: For me, it was definitely dancing.
KASHIYUKA: I started taking singing and dancing lessons at the same time, but I liked dance first.
a-chan: I liked both from the beginning.
Who are your musical influences, either Japanese or international?
NOCCHi: I’ve been influenced by Ringo Sheena. She was the music producer of the flag hand-over ceremony [closing ceremony] at the Rio Olympic Games. For international, I like to listen to Arctic Monkeys.
a-chan: I’ve always liked Aiko and admired her music. I’ve also been influenced by OK Go. I like their music but also their approach to music videos. They’re a band but they have a policy not to hold any instruments in the video. I think it’s really interesting.
KASHIYUKA: I grew up listening to Namie Amuro. It’s amazing that after all these years, she’s still fresh and big in the music industry. As for international music, I love Bruno Mars and his good relationship with his band members. They dance together and seem to have so much fun together on stage.
Have you already started working on the follow-up to your current album, Future Pop?
NOCCHi: Little by little. Yes, we are starting to gather ideas. I hope you look forward to it.
Perfume U.S. tour dates 2019:
March 30 New York City: Manhattan Center, Hammerstein Ballroom
April 5 Chicago: The Chicago Theatre
April 7 Dallas: The Bomb Factory
April 10 Seattle: Paramount Theatre
April 14 Coachella
April 17 San Jose, Calif.: City National Civic
April 19 Los Angeles: Ace Hotel
April 21 Coachella