Japanese electro-pop trio Perfume has had a very busy three years. After releasing their album Level3 in 2013, Ayaka Nishiwaki (a-chan), Ayano Omoto (NOCCHi) and Yuka Kashino (KASHIYUKA) toured extensively. They traveled across Asia and Europe, and eventually performed their first shows in the United States ever, including a buzzed-about stop at the SXSW music conference and festival in March 2015. Later that year, they celebrated their 15th year with a domestic tour.
Now Perfume is looking forward with Cosmic Explorer, their sixth full-length album out globally on April 6th. It finds the three navigating into new territory, both sonically and as a group trying to reach new audiences all over the world. Ahead of Cosmic Explorer’s release, Perfume talked about the new album, their experiences over the last few years and more.
Your last album, Level3, came out near the end of 2013. Your new album, Cosmic Explorer, comes out about two and a half years later. What has changed from Level3 to Cosmic Explorer?
NOCCHi: Sound wise, I think Cosmic Explorer is more of a dance album compared to our last one. Since it has been awhile between full lengths, we put out a lot of singles. Nakata had to figure out a balance between all the singles we had released and the new songs, but he did do album mixes of those numbers. That gives Cosmic Explorer a good balance.
a-chan: Visually, I’ve noticed that as we get older… even if we are doing familiar poses or facial expressions…I feel much more mature now. For me, that has been the biggest change.
Where did the title Cosmic Explorer come from?
NOCCHi: At the recording session, “Cosmic Explorer” was the last song we recorded. After that, we were trying to come up with a title for the album, and Nakata suggested Cosmic Explorer, which we agreed sounded good.
KASHIYUKA: The literal definition of that would be “someone who explores the cosmos,” but I see it more as representing our career as a whole. It reflects our attitude of approaching new challenges and finding new things to do.
a-chan, you said in the video announcing the new album that Cosmic Explorer is “very friendly for new Perfume fans.” Why is that?
a-chan: Each song has a personality all its own. The first song on the album is actually called “Navigate,” but I think every number here navigates into the world we’ve created on this album very well. Each song here opens with somewhat of an intro — in the past, we’ve had songs that jump right into the chorus or start with a breath. But we wanted to have intros to help people navigate into the songs. And all the song titles are in English, which means less of a language barrier.
Going off of that a bit, if each of you could choose one song from this album to play for someone who has never heard Perfume’s music before, which would you choose?
NOCCHi: For me, it’s “Pick Me Up” because it’s a really easy song to sing along with, especially the phrase “pick me up” that loops a bit. I also think our dance synchronization for this song is really good, so it shows that side of Perfume as well.
KASHIYUKA: I’d go with “Story,” because it really captures the current state of Perfume. It’s the first song we did at SXSW last year, and it’s a great combination of high-tech performance and sound. There are not many lyrics in it, but the words that are there deliver a lot of messages to our fans.
a-chan: Ahhh, that’s a tough one. I’d say “Cosmic Explorer.” I think it represents Perfume in the future, it’s the next step forward. When we finished recording it, we could really feel the producer’s enthusiasm for it coming through.
You guys have toured a lot of different places over the last couple of years — all around Asia, Europe and the United States. What are your favourite memories from these trips?
a-chan: At SXSW, we went out to eat Texas-style BBQ with the entire team. We usually don’t get the chance to do that together, since everyone is busy all the time while we tour. It was nice to be in a restaurant where half the people were part of our crew. Oh, and at one point, some Texas police officers came in wearing cowboy hats and holding guns. I took a photo with them. It was so Texas!
KASHIYUKA: For me, it was our show in Los Angeles. That was our first U.S. show ever, and hearing the loud voices of the audience wowed me. Up until we went, everyone had told me that people in LA are more laid back, they don’t cheer super loud. So I was prepared for a more subdued reaction. But even by the time we just took our positions behind the curtain, I felt blown away.
NOCCHi: We visited a lot of theaters and musicals to prepare us for our U.S. tour dates, it was a learning experience for us. We went to see Sleep No More, which is a play where they use the whole building and you run around following the actors around yourself, in the dark, while wearing masks. It was a really exciting experience.
On future tours, to the United States, Europe and Asia, what do you want to do differently?
KASHIYUKA: The big difference moving forward with our future tours — including our summer stops in the United States — is that they are album tours, not world tours. First we have the album tour in Japan, and the U.S. portion is just a leg of that. We are going to be performing a lot of songs from Cosmic Explorer this time around. It’s fun, but it makes me a little nervous. So on previous tours, we used to make set lists aimed at international fans, of music that was popular outside of Japan. But this set list will be a bit different, it places the emphasis on the new songs.
a-chan: Ultimately, we want to do what we are doing in Japan and bring it overseas. We want to show the world that there are artists like this, doing amazing stuff, in Japan. But right now we have to do scaled-down versions of the show, because here in Japan they happen in much larger venues. First, I think we need to gain more popularity abroad, just gradually try to build up to that.
One of the things Perfume is most well known for internationally is the way technology is integrated into your act, from live shows to music videos to special performances. What are the challenges of incorporating technology into Perfume?
NOCCHi: Bringing in high technology could potentially feel very cold and mechanical. But what we try to do is bring in the technology and bring out our human warmth through them. In the past, we got all these messages on Twitter, and we projected them onto our dresses while performing live. So it’s high-tech, but also there is something very human to it — these are messages, it’s like having team spirit. That’s the important thing we keep in mind.
What image of Japan — and Japanese music — do you want to share specifically?
KASHIYUKA: The cuteness and the beauty of the Japanese language to people’s ears, that’s something I want to convey.
a-chan: The sensibility of Japanese culture and its people. I think in the world of girl groups, there aren’t any outfits like us, especially in the West. There, I get the sense it is more about showing off their sexiness or how strong women should be. But for us, it’s more about being sensitive to other people and about precision, through our dancing. Some of our music leans towards EDM, but we have a reserved sensitivity in our music too.
What are you planning to do fashion-wise in the coming months?
NOCCHi: We are still talking about it, so we don’t have anything too specific worked out at the moment. But like the photo we released recently, where each of us is wearing different, bright-colored dresses, we think that idea is worth exploring.
a-chan: The colorful dresses, along with the dresses we wore on the kaleidoscopic album cover — the one where I’m wearing all black — are actually the same pattern. For example, NOOCHi has these things on her shoulders, but they fold down too. And my skirt sort of opens up on the album cover, but it also folds down into something different. Every time we make outfits, there’s always a background or some sort of meaning to it. If fans are interested in it, they should try to dig in to what the meaning might be behind it.
What song from Cosmic Explorer was most challenging to record?
KASHIYUKA: “Flash” for me. I had to sing in a choppy style, every word. With the melody of that song, I basically had to sing two words at once.
a-chan: “Cosmic Explorer.” There’s a part where I’m singing a wordless section — “awooo awoo awoooo” — and Nakata told me to imagine I was singing it with the audience. It kept escalating, I started out soft but by the end I was really loud and, like, waving my hands around. I’m still embarrassed about it. I heard the recording and I couldn’t believe he used it. That said, I think it represents the ups and downs of our career, before we had our big break and so forth. Also I think he did it as a way to build up the audience’s reaction.
NOCCHi: When we do harmonies, Nakata plays the harmony part and we just have to do it on the spot. We do one, he plays another, we memorize it and keep going. That was especially challenging on the song “Hold Your Hand.” Oh, and on the song “Baby Face,” instead of a harmony, we had to do the whole chorus with just our breath. I went out of breath.
Last year was the 15th anniversary of Perfume being together, and that involved a lot of looking back. With Cosmic Explorer, where do you want Perfume to go in the future?
NOCCHi: Last year, we recorded a song called “Star Train,” which was an anniversary song. But it was also like a push in our backs to go forward, like there were no tracks in front of us. Well, I thought, if there aren’t any tracks in front of us, we just went to space with this song. It was a big jump. I want to keep evolving and embracing new challenges.
Cosmic Explorer will be released on 6th April, 2016