pop punk garage/diy - Chiba, Japan

Could you introduce yourselves?
Neko: Usagi is the guitarist, and I'm the drummer, Neko.

How did you choose the name Puffyshoes, and does it have a particular meaning?
Usagi: Puffyshoes means comfortable shoes. When we formed, we were moving ahead without really knowing where we were going, slowly. So we thought Puffyshoes would be a name that went well with us. Plus it has a nice sound to it.

How did you come to make music? Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted to do from the start?
Neko: At first we thought we'd do music devoted to keyboards and programming. Then when we had the chance to do a live, we said it'd be better to play guitar and drums, so it'd be more lively. It was also a question of whether it would be me composing, and whether Usagi would do the arrangements. But we wondered why are we trying to give ourselves defined roles? We decided in the end we'd both compose.

When listening to your pieces, we're reminded of American groups like Vivian Girls, The Girls at Dawn and CocoRosie. What do these groups mean for you?
Neko: I really like Vivian Girls and The Girls at Dawn. On the other hand, I wouldn't say we're influenced by CocoRosie. I've always been into the music of the 70s, like punk, or soul music from the 60s, and female African-American groups, like The Ronettes. I also like The Shangri-Las.
Usagi: Same for me, I like very much Vivian Girls and The Girls at Dawn too. They give an impression of really doing whatever they want, with a lot of energy and no inhibitions. I think these groups get their vitality precisely from the fact that they're exclusively women. That's something I really like.

What's your process for composing, and how do you write the lyrics?
Usagi: It's Neko who writes the lyrics.
Neko: When we compose a new piece, I always ask, what will we be able to sing well out there. Then there's an image or a theme that comes. If it's ice cream, I'll write about ice cream. If it's a ghost, I'll write something about a ghost. There's not necessarily a particular message.
Usagi: And as for the composition, we each work on our part, or we meet each other in the studio and sort of reflect together. And sometimes we completely improvise.

Are there some places or images that inspire you?
Usagi: I like to meet up with friends, in some place. As for images, I like the works of Paul Grimault, Henry Derger, Michel Gondry, things like that.

Could you talk to us a bit about your two albums, Miracle Puffy Shoes are Coming and Something Gold, and how were the recordings for them?
Usagi: We recorded them in a rehearsal studio, using a microphone. The music and the vocals were recorded separately, and then we combined the two tapes.
Neko: We didn't plan to do an album at first, but then we got an opportunity to do a live with Afrirampo in September.
Usagi: And we thought it'd be good to have something to sell for the occasion. So we recorded Miracle Puffy Shoes are Coming, from some pieces we'd already composed in the past. We did this album without even knowing it would become the Puffyshoes sound.
Neko: The sound, the programming, the mixing; nothing was balanced well but that's what we found interesting.
Usagi: We very quickly set our attention on composing after that first release went on sale. Then one day when we were feeling particularly at ease in the studio, we decided to record some new songs. That's how Something Gold came about. I think it's a good album.

There were only a few months between the recordings of these two CDs. Are you always bursting with ideas?
Neko: (laughs) When one of us has a new idea, we rush to the studio to see what that gives us. Also, since our songs are pretty short, we realized early on that, while we're there we never have enough on hand to fill an album, so we try to compose two or three extra songs without a break.
Usagi: We don't give ourselves specific deadlines for new material. It's something that comes naturally, during the rehearsals for the concerts. We compose pretty quickly, yes (laughs). But the speed at which our ideas come can vary. We don't worry too much when the inspiration is late in coming. There's always plenty of ideas that rush out in the end.

Not long after you formed the group, you were already distributing abroad. Was that something you were aiming for from the start?
Usagi: When I met Neko and we decided to start a group like Puffyshoes, we told each other it could be something that would sell overseas.
Neko: We listen to all kinds of Western music, and we get a lot of inspiration from that. Our music doesn't really sound Japanese. That being the case, it's difficult to get the Japanese audience into it.
Usagi: We never wanted to aim for Japan anyway. I guess it was more like I didn't want to make that our target audience.
Neko: Exactly.
Usagi: Exactly. I wanted to sell overseas.

Your concerts seem a bit like a playground. What's the audience reaction like?
Usagi: It's not just that we entertain the audience at our lives. What people like is the way Neko and I interact with each other. That's what we're often told anyway.

Were you anxious about taking the stage for the first time? Do you have some anecdotes you could tell us?
Neko: The first time we did a concert we were particularly stressed. It was only two weeks after we had started learning to play our instruments. We tried to have fun with the crowd but we were too stressed about our playing to be able to appreciate it (laughs).
Usagi: I prefer to play in the studio anyway.
Neko: Yeah, we can play after drinking a lot (laughs).
Usagi: Whatever happens, it doesn't matter. The drum collapses on all sides. We feel sorry for it (laughs).
Neko: As for anecdotes, the concerts now aren't as funny as they used to be.
Usagi: Right, there's no big mistakes like before. I remember, for example, one time when Neko was playing the drum and dropped one of her drum sticks. She stopped playing and then restarted like it was nothing (laughs). We've been told that for certain groups, this kind of thing is unforgivable. But we're just two people, and we don't care about these disagreements. That's also something our fans like. It's the way we interact that pleases the crowd.
Neko: Also, when we first started playing live we didn't really know what to do, so we were throwing stuffed animals at each other.

How did you first get the opportunity to play live?
Usagi: It was a concert in our recording studio, proposed by one of our friends, who insisted we try it. It was less than three months after we started the group, and neither Neko nor I had played a concert before.
Neko: It was around then, not long before the live, that we told each other we had to start learning the guitar and drums.
Usagi: And we've been continuing that way ever since: Neko on drums and me on guitar.

And you'll be coming to play in Europe for the first time in the spring of 2010. Will it be the first time you travel abroad? Do you already know what you'll pack in your suitcase?
Neko: It will be the first time we travel as Puffyshoes. What we'll take there with us? A guitar and my drum sticks.
Usagi: And a change of clothes!

You've already done some notable collaborations with other groups, like Afrirampo. Is there an artist or group you'd especially like to play with?
Usagi: With Vivian Girls! Next?
Neko: That has to be everything (laughs). Actually, I just want to play with groups who have fun on stage and don't get all worked up.

Where do you see Puffyshoes in another ten years?
Neko: We'll probably be mothers with families in ten years (laughs).
Usagi: Puffyshoes won't necessarily be around that long. In fact we don't think about that (laughs). But we're not the kind of group that will continue making CDs for a long period of time.
Neko: We'll play as long as we want to, and when there's nothing more to give we'll just stop.
Usagi: When we get sick of it. Maybe we'll have ideas for ten more years, but we'll definitely slam on the brakes after that.

Do you have a last message for our readers?
Neko: I hope people who have heard enough mainstream music will be ready to hear our CD.
Usagi: I'll be happy if people are curious enough to listen (laughs).

December 2009

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