Interview: Sawao Yamanaka

January 28, 2023 · 0 comments

By Andrew Osmond.

For the benefit of readers who discovered your band, the pillows, through the music on FLCL, which pillows albums would you especially recommend as a way to understand how your music has changed and evolved over the years? 

How about our best album Fool on the planet? I think that could be a good place to start.

How old were you when you know you wanted to be a rock singer? Do you remember a particular moment when you decided that was what you wanted to be? 

I got hooked on rock music when I was 13. I wanted to be a guitarist at first, but when I formed a band at 16 the vocalist barely showed up to rehearsals, so I had no choice but to become a guitarist-vocalist.

I love the puppets that make a guest appearance on the music video for “Ride on Shooting Star.” Where did that idea come from? 

I have a habit of imagining ideas of cover art or music videos, and we’d try to distribute these ideas among our work. We rarely have budget so I’m always conscious of how to create the biggest impact despite the restraints.

Some reports claims that the name “the pillows” was taken from a British indie compilation album called “Pillows and Prayers.” Is this true, or was the name taken for a different reason? 

It’s true. The vinyl was on the wall of our guitarist Manabe’s house, and somehow, we managed to decide on that name. I wasn’t really a fan of the name at the time.

I’ve read that you recorded your second album in Britain in the 1990s; however, you’ve also said that your early live performances in Britain weren’t well received. Can you say any more about why you first came to Britain, and what were your impressions of the country in the 1990s?  

If I remember correctly, the recording was done in 1992 and the live show performance was in 1997. In the early days, the pillows were influenced by British bands like The Smiths and The Stone Roses. Also, in those early days, Ueda was the leader. He’s since left the band, but at that time the band’s activities were decided by him. I don’t speak English so I was in the studio without much communication, so I can’t say the experience left a positive impression on me. I do remember buying a lot of second-hand clothes though.

Reportedly, you turned down an offer to open for Oasis in Japan, so that you could say that you did turn down that offer. Is that true, and was there any reaction from Oasis? 

Oasis themselves weren’t really involved in the process. If they directly asked us, of course we’d jump at the chance. Instead, it came from the event organiser, who wanted a Japanese band to open for them on their Japan tour. Japanese fans of foreign bands don’t pay much attention to Japanese bands for some reason, so we didn’t feel like they would be fun shows to do.

the pillows have said in the past that they was heavily influenced by British pop. Is that still true now, or has the band left that British influence behind?

I guess that’s true of the past. It’s ingrained in us… I’ve been a fan of American alternative rock since about 1998, I think I’m more of a fan of that. I’ve always loved simple rock and roll.

When you listen to music, do you prefer listening to it on vinyl, or do you prefer other formats? 

I listen using my iPod Classic.

Music from the pillows can be found on the FLCL soundtrack, available from Anime Limited.

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