Japanese rock band the pillows have been a staple for the past three decades, and they made their presence known in the U.S. and beyond when they provided the unforgettable soundtrack to the FLCL anime back in 2000. With the soundtracks to both the original Gainax anime and the recent sequels making their way to record stores and streaming outlets, a wider array of the band’s catalog has been made available, and this gave us the exciting opportunity to speak with vocalist and guitarist Sawao Yamanaka about the band’s history, impressions of U.S. fandom, FLCL and much more.
Otaku USA: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! Can you let our readers know who you and your role within the band?
the pillows: I am Sawao Yamanaka, vocalist and guitarist of the pillows. I write lyrics and I am the leader.
Can you name one band or artist that inspired you so much you knew you had to pursue a life of music?
It’s hard to pick just one… There’s Paul Simon, Kim Deal, Motoharu Sano…
The FLCL soundtrack is a great introduction to the pillows because it has so many classic songs on it from albums like Little Busters, Runners High and Happy Bivouac, and they all fit so well with the spirit of the show. Can you tell us a little about the process of choosing songs for FLCL, or was most of that left up to Gainax?
It was completely their choice, we already had the songs made.
Like many people, I got to know your music when FLCL first came out in the U.S. and immediately dove into the rest of your discography. What were your impressions at the time of traveling to America and being embraced by a totally new fanbase?
It was around 2005, I think? I was so surprised to see so many fans waiting for us on our first U.S. tour. They had so much more enthusiasm and we had ever imagined. We were so happy.
In an interview with adult swim a few years ago you mentioned that you almost missed your big FLCL break because you initially weren’t interested in tie-ins, or didn’t envision that as something you would do as a band. What was it about FLCL that ultimately changed your mind?
If we were given the condition that we had to write a song that they would like, we would have refused. Instead, we gave them “Ride on shooting star,” which was unfinished at that time, to see what they thought, and they went with it.
Have there been other times over the course of your career where you were approached to do some kind of project like that but turned it down?
We were asked to work on Power Rangers and refused because we weren’t feeling it. We also turned down an educational program because they wanted to control the sound of the music.
Between the FLCL sequels, song releases, performances and even a pillows museum, you all have managed to stay especially busy in recent years. What keeps that drive to create and entertain so strong after over 30 years of activity as a band?
I’m not tired of music yet. I can’t understand the mentality of those that still play music even though they’re grown tired of it.
It looks like you have your next Return to Third Movement tour right around the corner in October. What else are you currently working on that you can talk about here?
We’re working on recordings of a new artist we produce.
Now that you have over 20 years of FLCL to reflect on, how do you feel about the series? Is the original something you revisit occasionally?
Sometimes I feel like I want to watch it again. I think the idea is the same as alternative rock, especially the original. The latest ones look interesting too.
And now there’s even more FLCL on the way! It seems there will always be a good opportunity for new fans to discover your work. Do you have a message for fans who have been following you for so many years, and for those who may just now be hearing about you?
Has rock and roll and guitar-based music fallen out of favor in recent years? This is all we know, so we’ll keep on playing with the sound of the guitar. See you soon.