After over 10 years since their last performance in the US, pop/rock superstars PUFFY AmiYumi finally returned to do 4 shows in different cities across the country, starting with an appearance at the Anime Boston convention.
We had a chance to catch up with them at the show and ask some questions as well as attend various events they were involved in, making for a great PUFFY-filled weekend.
Starting with the Friday of the convention, they held an autograph session for fans early in the day, and then they had to start preparing for the concert on Friday night.
The concert was a special one in many ways, such as firstly, it was the first show of the tour, so their first time performing for a US audience in so many years, and this concert also featured Kouki, the guitarist from fellow Anime Boston guests of honor, OKAMOTO’s, filling in on guitar for PUFFY.
As the lights dimmed and they took the stage, PUFFY began with their most recent single, composed by Hyadain, “PUFFY PiPo Yama,” which has a high-paced dance-y beat in the chorus and got the crowd warmed up.
After a few more newer songs, they got into a set of older classics like “Ai no Shirushi” and “Asia no Junshin” to kick the show into high gear.
Later on they also performed their most recognizable tunes to US audiences, in the theme from “TEEN TITANS” as well as the theme from their own TV show, “HiHi” which went over extremely well with the crowd.
They filled the set with an amazing 12 songs or so, including some fun MCs between them, with Ami speaking very good English when talking to the crowd, and Yumi stumbling along with some written English phrases, laughing and making it fun as she went.
They closed out the show with arguably their most popular early single, “Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Michi,” ending things off on a high note, and it was a perfect close to the show. Everyone took their bows and invited all the fans to come visit at the autograph session the next day
After a few more short activities in the morning on Saturday, we got a chance to sit down and interview the duo and delve deeper into their career and insights than any foreign media outlet had ever done before.
SH: After following the details of your music career for so many years, I’ve also followed the production credits of many of the songs, and you work with many of my favorite producers and songwriters such as Okuda Tamio and Andy Sturmer, and I wanted to know if you actually get to work with them in person during the recording or songwriting process or if much of your vocal recording is done remotely, as a lot of music is today?
P: Yes, most of the time we are actively involved in the recording process and work with the producers in the studio. In the case of Andy, he lives far away, so it’s harder to work together every time, so we often just exchange the recording data to put the song together, but on most occasions we do work directly together.
SH: You’ve been performing since 1996 and very active in playing shows and TV appearances, and we were curious how you deal with having to hear and perform the same songs every day for so many years.
P: (Yumi) Well, I actually like to keep very quiet at home. Having to hear our own songs every day around our rehearsals and tours makes me want to disconnect when I get home, so I don’t listen to much music actively. (Ami) I mostly listen to music in the car, if at all, because I also like to disconnect. I think the last time I really actively listened to lots of music every day was before we really debuted as PUFFY, back in high school.
SH: What was it like having your own cartoon show in English back when HiHi Puffy AmiYumi debuted in the US?
P: (Yumi) Until the actual broadcast, I was kind of in disbelief that it was real, but at one point when I was in New York, I turned on the TV and saw the show and saw the first episode. Until I saw it myself, it seemed unreal.
SH: Who were some of the musicians who inspired you early in your career of becoming a performer?
P: (Ami) back in those days as a teenager, Japan was in a kind of hard rock boom, so I was into a lot of that music back then. (Yumi) Haha, there was no such boom! Back in those days, I was a big fan of the band UNICORN, and I had no idea that once I debuted and started working professionally that I would be working so closely with one of the UNICORN band members, Okuda Tamio, so I was pretty nervous working with him. When we first started, I was really nervous to be working with someone I admired so much, and I have to admit that even though I’m so friendly with Okuda-san now, I’m still a bit nervous when we work together.
SH: I know that PUFFY writes many of the lyrics for their songs, so I’m curious to know more about the writing process for the lyrics and if you sometimes write the lyrics before you receive the music, or if it’s generally done after receiving the music.
P: We can’t think of any time where we wrote the lyrics before receiving the music, but for writing, it can be many different scenarios. We usually receive the music and then get together to talk about what kind of song this should become, lyrically, and sometimes we’ll get together in a coffee shop or a private space and start writing together, or sometimes we’ll both write different parts separately and email the parts between us to compare and put them together.
SH: In what ways do you feel like you’ve been able to improve as performers since your debut until now, especially related to some of the overseas touring experiences you’ve had?
P: When we started in Japan, we started by releasing our CDs on a major label and built up a fanbase that way, but when we first came to tour in the US, we realized that we were very pampered in Japan when it came to professional work environment for performing. Touring overseas made us realize things would not always be so easy in touring and it gave us an opportunity to grow and strengthen ourselves to deal with even the rougher conditions or situations that would come our way.
SH: Which of your albums would you say has been the most challenging to produce so far?
P: That would have to be the NICE album. One of the main reasons is because we made it in Los Angeles with Andy Sturmer, who you mentioned earlier, and as you know, he’s known for doing very complex production involving many vocal layers and choruses stacked on top of each other, so it took a lot of time to get those done, but it also helped us learn a lot about music production and become better singers. That album also included the song “HiHi” for our TV show, which became very challenging because we had to sing the song in four different languages so the TV show could be promoted around the world, and it was almost impossible to translate the pronunciation of Portugese using Japanese syllables.
SH: How do you feel about being associated with the TEEN TITANS shows and the songs “K2G” and the theme song for the show?
P: The reality is that these songs are our most popular with the overseas audiences, and even at our live show last night, it got the best reaction from the crowd here. We’re proud of the songs and it’s something that we embrace.
SH: I know you’ve recently done various collaborations with modern Japanese musicians like Maeyamada Kenichi (Hyadain) and Dempagumi.inc, and was wondering if there’s any other musicians in Japan that you relate to right now or that you’d like to work or tour with in the near future?
P: We actually just did another collaboration with a famous Japanese musician named Kohei Doujima, and we wrote the lyrics for the song, and it was used as a popular movie in Japan. There may be other things in the works, but that’s the only thing that we’re able to publicly talk about at this time!
SH: Which part of your career do you enjoy the most, recording and releasing albums, or touring?
P: (Yumi) If this was a while ago, I would have easily said that touring was the best part of the job, but now that we’ve been away from recording for a while, I feel like I miss recording more. Last year was our 20th Anniversary, so we toured all of Japan twice within the year, so I think this year we’d like to get back to recording more.
SH: What would you say are the benefits or the challenges of being in such a small group with one other person, so closely and for so long?
P: Well, we don’t really fight with each other anymore, but of course sometimes when we’re working together creatively on writing songs, there will be times that we disagree, but since it’s been so long, there’s not much real fighting, and we’ve also realized what each other’s strengths are, and that helps us delegate certain creative responsibilities to each other so we can work together best.
SH: Over the 20+ years of your career, can you think of any major changes in the way the Japanese music industry operates that has affected you in any big way? Anything from the touring cycle, promotion cycles, or things like digital distribution nowadays?
P: (Ami) One major change that’s happened is that live music performance TV shows in Japan have really declined over the last number of years, which also may be related to CD sales in general, and that has changed a lot about how things operate in promotion. I think this may actually be more attributed to the rise in social networks and how they have become used more in promotion of creative acts. I believe this can actually be seen as a good thing, since through the mediums like Twitter and Instagram, I think PUFFY has become more directly accessible to fans. So, even though there are positives and negatives, they all balance out in the end and things just change with time.
SH: Thank you for attending Anime Boston and for taking the time to speak with us!
After the interview, PUFFY’s activities for Anime Boston came to an end as they embarked on the other dates of their US tour. Thank you to Anime Boston and PUFFY staff for making this a great experience for everyone who attended and we’re anticipating more activities from the group in the near future.
You can follow PUFFY AmiYumi through their various social media accounts listed below, and hopefully they’ll be back to appear in the US again soon.