Left to right: Yoshiaki Manabe, Sawao Yamanaka, Shinichiro Sato.
|Genres||Alternative rock, indie rock, power pop|
|Labels||Captain (1989-1991), Pony Canyon (1991-1994), King (1994-2007, Avex Trax (2007-present)|
|Associated acts||The Predators, Nine Miles, Kenzi & The Trips|
|Past members||Kenji Ueda|
The Pillows (ザ・ピロウズ, stylized as the pillows) are a Japanese alternative rock band formed in 1989. As of 2012, the group has released 18 original studio albums, several EPs and compilations, and over 30 singles. Outside Japan, they are best known as the group responsible for the soundtrack to the FLCL OVA series.
Formation and early years (1989-1994)
In 1989 Kenji Ueda, bassist for Kenzi & The Trips, left the band with former Kenzi's drummer Shinichiro Sato and invited The Coin Locker Babies vocalist Sawao Yamanaka to form a new band. Since Yamanaka was not able to play the guitar well yet, Yoshiaki Manabe, the guitarist of the hair metal band Persia, joined them. The Pillows were formed on September 16, 1989. The story as to where the band's name came about is that allegedly Sawao Yamanaka was hanging out at Yoshiaki Manabe's place and an English post punk compilation record entitled Pillows & Prayers hanging on Manabe's wall inspired him.
In 1992 The Pillows visited England to record their second full-length album, White Incarnation, and filmed the promotional video for their second single, Kanojo wa Shisuta (which has never been officially released, likewise Ame ni Utaeba's clip). Shortly after the release of White Incarnation, Ueda left The Pillows due to disagreements with other members and musical differences.
After a year with no activity or leadership, Sawao Yamanaka took over Ueda's leadership role and recruited Tatsuya Kashima as a replacement on bass, restarting the band. Out of respect for Ueda, Kashima was labeled as a guest musician on releases on which he performed and Ueda's bassist post has never been officially replaced. The extremely rare The Pillows Presents Special CD, released only to The Pillows fanclub, contained their first recordings with Kashima.
In 1994 The Pillows changed to King Records and with Ueda no longer in the band to combat Sawao's eccentric diversity and rapidly changing musical interests, The Pillows' style started drifting away from their style of eclectic pop rock, and the band wildly experimented between varying genres; during this time, the band's style of music could best be described as jazz, but with the ever-present sixties pop rock influence. On July The Pillows released their first album as a trio, Kool Spice and one month later the single Daydream Wonder was released and became a minor hit staying around the top of the chart for three weeks.
Breakthrough and FLCL (1995-2000)
In 1995 The Pillows released their fourth album, Living Field on March. Much like Kool Spice, it is difficult to pin a genre on the album. "Swinger's Night Club" shows shades of Latin jazz influence while tracks like "Something Like a Romance" and "Angel Fish" give off a vibe of the percussion-driven pop funk made popular by Jaco Pastorius and other fusion artists in the seventies. Standout tracks include the reggae song Native World, the sixties-influenced nostalgic rock jam "The Killing Field", and the beautiful single track "Daydream Wonder". Some fans consider the listenability of Living Field its outstanding feature, and superior to The Pillows' later works. The multi-layered acoustic overdubs, Hammond organ samples, brass, upright contrabass, woodwinds, and other various percussion instruments presented listeners with something new every time he or she listened to it. While a musically diverse and intricate album, Living Field was not a commercial success, but their subsequent single, "Girlfriend" was used in the romance movie Love Letter.
In the follow year, after the release of their fifth single "Tiny Boat", The Pillows would release a series of successful singles such as "Strange Chameleon", "Swanky Street", and "Trip Dancer" that were featured on their breakthrough and acclaimed album Please Mr. Lostman, which is still considered to be their best album by many fans. The transitional album somewhat evocative of such American rock bands as Weezer and the Pixies catapulted the band to mainstream success in Japan, and as Sawao remarked in one interview, many fans and critics felt that such style was The Pillows' strongest suit.
In the same year, due to the success of Please Mr. Lostman The Pillows released one of the album's tracks, "Kanojo wa Kyou" as a single on March. Later in that year two new singles were released, "One Life" on June and "Hybrid Rainbow" on November, which became one of The Pillows most recognizable songs, being always featured on concert set lists.
On January,1998 The Pillows released their 12th single "Another Morning" and their first concert DVD "Hello, Welcome to Bubbletown's Happy Zoo". The last three singles were featured on their sixth album Little Busters that came out on February and became one of their most famous records and, for several years, their best-selling album. Little Busters solidly established the band into a more upbeat variation of the "90's Alternative" style, while merging again with British pop sounds of the sixties, strongly reminiscent of The Beatles, (perhaps inspired by the band's trip to England that same year, one of several in their career). Later that year two more singles followed, "Instant Music" and "No Self Control" that would be used on their 1999 album Runners High.
The year of 1999 started with the release of Runners High and to celebrate their 10th anniversary, The Pillows released their first video clips compilation DVD, "We Have a Theme Song", followed by two new singles ("Carnival" and "Rush"), both featured on the second studio album release of that year, Happy Bivouac. This album was considered by many fans to be the band's best rock-oriented project, being remarkable due to its tribute to the Pixies in songs such as "Back Seat Dog" and "Kim Deal" and for introducing new hits like "Funny Bunny" and "Advice". It's the first album to feature the new and current support bassist Jun Suzuki, in replacement of Kashima.
Coincidentally in the same year, The Pillows were approached by the anime studio Gainax, which licensed The Pillows' three previous albums for the soundtrack of the original video animation FLCL. The Pillows also composed two new songs for the show, "Ride on Shooting Star" and "I Think I Can", which were later included on their greatest hits compilation album Fool on the Planet. which like the FLCL's soundtrack cds, sold well.
Due to the participation on FLCL's soundtrack, The Pillows enjoyed a popularity increase, making their western fan base grow. This allowed them to release their "Ride on Shooting Star" single in the United States in 2000 and later tour the country.
Early 2000's and 15th Anniversary (2001-2004)
After the participation on FLCL's soundtrack, The Pillows released their first greatest hits compilation album Fool on the Planet in 2001 and also a live DVD called Busters on The Planet and a new album, Smile, which is considered highly progressive and experimental for the band's style.
In 2002, the FLCL anime became available in the United States, giving the band more notoriety outside of their native country. In October of the same year Thank You, My Twilight, The Pillows' tenth studio album, was released alongside a double CD collection of B-sides entitled Another Morning, Another Pillows, following the promotional single White Summer and Green Bicycle, Red Hair with Black Guitar, the first single release after two years.
In 2003, The Pillows released their second video clips DVD Dead Stock Paradise, one single, "Terminal Heaven's Rock" and one more studio album, Penalty Life, which was later released in the US by Geneon in 2005.
To commemorate the band's 15th anniversary, The Pillows re-released their 90's My Life EP with additional tracks and released a string of new material, including a new EP with re-recorded tracks previously published between 1990 and 1996, Turn Back, one document DVD, Walkin' on The Spiral, one new studio album, Good Dreams, a new single, "Sono Mirai wa Ima" and finally a tribute album, Synchronized Rockers, including covers of The Pillows played by artists such as Mr.Children, Straightener and Noodles.
Late 2000's and 20th Anniversary (2005-2009)
On January,2005 The Pillows released the live DVD "916" which features footage of their 15th anniversary concert of 2004.
In March 2005, The Pillows played their first show in the United States at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, followed by concerts in New York City and San Francisco. On September, the band released a live DVD titled "Delicious Bump Tour in USA" featuring footage of their first tour in America with fellow band Noodles and also a new single, "Non Fiction". On November they released the second single of the year,"The Third Eye". Both singles were used on their upcoming 2006 album, My Foot, which was quite well received by fans (after the criticism about the band's lasting quality since 2001 album Smile) and sold well.
On February, 2006 to help promoting the My Foot tour, one track of the album, "Gazelle City" was released as the album's third single. The album was released in the United States in July of 2006 by Geneon, with a growing international fan-base and growing domestic sales of their albums and singles over the past four years.
In 2007, The Pillows released their 25th single,"Scarecrow" which was used in the anime series Moonlight Mile, being included on their next album, Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up!. This album marks their first release on the Avex Trax label.
On November, the band released a 5 discs single collection, Lostman Go to Yesterday, featuring all the band's singles released under the King Records label and 21 music videos on a DVD in the same collection. On the same day they also released their fifth live DVD, Lostman Go to America featuring footage of their 2006 American tour in support for the album My Foot.
In January, 2008 the band released a live DVD, Wake up! Stand up! and Go! featuring footage of their Wake Up! Tour of 2007 an a single, "Tokyo Bambi". On May a new single came out, "New Animal" and along with their previous two singles, it is featured on their fifteenth studio album, Pied Piper.
The band returned to the US starting with Los Angeles, followed by another appearance at SXSW, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Anime Boston. in which the band played for a crowd of more than 5,000 people.
Still in 2008, legendary English rock band Oasis extended an offer for The Pillows to play as the opening act at their concert in Japan, but frontman Sawao Yamanaka refused their offer. In a January interview for Japanzine, Yamanaka joked that he "turned down the offer in order to have a fun story to tell".
In 2009, in order do celebrate their upcoming 20th anniversary, The Pillows issued a series of releases called "Late Bloomer Series". It includes two DVDs: Pied Piper Go to Yesterday and Blue Song With Blue Poppies, two best-of compilation albums, Rock Stock & Too Smoking the Pillows and Once Upon a Time in the Pillows, a single "Ameagari ni mita Maboroshi" (featured on their 16th studio album OoParts (Out of Place Artifacts)) and later the DVD of their anniversary concert, Lostman Go to Budokan, released in the following year.
On September 16, The Pillows gave their first concert in the legendary Nippon Budokan arena commemorating their 20th anniversary. The footage of the concert was later released in 2010 as their ninth live DVD, Lostman Go to Budokan, which came out in both regular and limited edition. The limited edition included the concert, a documentary DVD and a special 60-page photo album of the band.
Current activities (2010-present)
In June, The Pillows released their 10th live DVD, "Parts of OOParts" including footage of their 2010 OOParts tour. Then in December, the single, "Movement", was released.
In January of 2011 The Pillows released their 17th studio album Horn Again with both previously released singles were included. In February The Pillows released their first single of the year, "Tabasco Disco", which was only available for purchase to concert attenders.
In September The Pillows and fellow band Noodles toured America for the second time together in the NAP Tour. They toured in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Austin,Texas.
In October they released one live DVD, Born Again, containing footage of their 2011 Horn Again Tour and in December, they released the single, "Energia".
On January 18th, 2012 The Pillows released their latest album, Trial and, on the same day, a live DVD titled "We Are Friends" which included footage of their 2011 NAP Tour in America with Noodles. In June, following their Trial tour, the band released the dvd "Real Trial" containing the last live performance of the tour at Zepp Tokyo.
Logo and mascot
Buster-kun has been The Pillows' mascot since about 1998, when on a visit to London, the band saw a doll of a "grotesque and creepy-looking teddy bear" on a shop window. Since then it has been constantly used in promotional videos, album artworks and goods such as t-shirts and bracelets. Buster-kun was named after the Little Busters album and the group also uses the term "little busters" for its fans. The original doll can be seen on the promotional video for the song Hybrid Rainbow and on the DVD video and artwork cover of the Hello, Welcome to Bubbletown's Happy Zoo (Instant Show) DVD.
In an interview Sawao commented the reason why they adopted Buster-kun and what it represents to the band's music: "The original doll was made out of really dirty old leather and had a real-looking eye and tongue, but one of the eyes was a button and it was displayed in a window, shaking like it was being electrocuted. We still don't know what it was and why it was there, because it wasn't in a store display window and it didn't look like it was for commercial purposes, but it just seemed like someone's idea of a prank or some artist's work that we thought was interesting. So we used it in our jacket booklet and while we were on tour, we thought of placing that bear image on t-shirts, so we sent the picture to a designer to arrange it. At first it looks cute, but once you get up close, it has sharp teeth like it's ready to bite any minute. So that kind-of-cute but kind-of-scary look fits right in with The Pillows music perfectly.".
Musical style and influences
From their initial releases until 1995 Living Field album, The Pillows music was categorized as a blend of alternative rock and jazz experimentation under the influence of British bands such as The Smiths and The Stone Roses. The Please Mr. Lostman album is considered to be a transition from a soft jazz oriented style to a more fast-paced sound with fuzzier guitars. Since 1998 Little Busters album, The Pillows developed a harder sound with extense use of more distorted guitars to create more lively and catchy songs in the like of bands such as Weezer, Supergrass and Pixies, the last one being clearly of big importance to songwriter Sawao Yamanaka who wrote a song named "Kim Deal" (the Pixies bassist) in the 1999 Happy Bivouac album (in the album's booklet Sawao wears a t-shirt with a Kim Deal stamp).
- Sawao Yamanaka (山中さわお Yamanaka Sawao ) – vocals, rhythm guitar
- Yoshiaki Manabe (真鍋吉明 Manabe Yoshiaki ) – lead guitar
- Shinichiro Sato (佐藤シンイチロウ Satō Shin’ichirō ) – drums
- Support members
- Jun Suzuki (鈴木淳 Suzuki Jun ) – bass (1999–present)
- Tatsuya Kashima (鹿島達也 Kashima Tatsuya ) – bass (1993–1999)
- Former members
- Kenji Ueda (上田ケンジ Ueda Kenji ) – bass (1989–1992)
- Studio albums
- Moon Gold (1991)
- White Incarnation (1992)
- Kool Spice (1994)
- Living Field (1995)
- Please Mr. Lostman (1997)
- Little Busters (1998)
- Runners High (1999)
- Happy Bivouac (1999)
- Smile (2001)
- Thank You, My Twilight (2002)
- Penalty Life(2003)
- Good Dreams (2004)
- My Foot (2006)
- Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up! (2007)
- Pied Piper (2008)
- OOPArts (2009)
- Horn Again (2011)
- Trial (2012)
- Osueke, Austin (2006-07-07). "J-Pop Is the Quiet Storm in American Culture". asianweek.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
- "SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artists: The Pillows". sxsw.com. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- "More Pillows Concerts". animenewsnetwork.com. 2005-02-28. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
- "The Pillows Tour North America in June". animenewsnetwork.com. 2006-05-24. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
- "SXSW 2008 Showcasing Artists: The Pillows". sxsw.com. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
- "Japanzine Interview, January 10th". carterwittmedia.com. 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2011-01-05.
- Mays, Jonathan (2006-07-02). "Sound Decision". animenewsnetwork.com. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
- "The Pillows profile". pillows.jp. Retrieved 2007-08-05.