Japanese Comic Punks Expand Their Sound on New Record
Wow, what to say about a band like Peelander-Z? Over the years, they (or more accurately, their leader Yellow) have tried to convince me that they came to Earth from outer space, that they have their own spaceship and home planet where everyone dresses like Power Rangers, and that if you go to one of their shows, you’ll be met with free steak and ice cream…actually, that last part is true. And who knows, maybe the first few things are true as well. We recently caught up with Peelander Yellow again, after their fun-filled week at SXSW, to discuss the band’s theatricality, their new record, and incorporating New Wave elements into what’s traditionally been a pretty straightforward “comic book punk” sound. Now, a quick technical note – we tried our absolute hardest to transcribe this interview accurately. For starters, there was an unending wave of laughter over the entire recording (from both sides), and to put it respectfully, while Peelander Yellow’s conversational English is perfectly fine, even he won’t claim to be 100% fluent. So we did our best trying to bring out the meaning of his answers even if there were passages that were a tad difficult to decipher. We hope you enjoy this interview (and the band) as much as we do!
How was SXSW for you guys this year?
It was crazy because we played a great show and we had our own festival, like a Peelander festival, which carried like a thousand people, and we chose the bands – you know Math the Band – we played with [them], we played with MC Frontalot, we played with Electric Eel Shock from Japan. We chose the bands and we made the festival.
How did it go?
The festival started Saturday – it was like a Peelander family jamboree, so only kids and family. We turned down the sound because there were so many kids. We got a taco vendor, we got an ice cream vendor, and we played with a kids brass band, like an old-style showcase. We spent a super happy time in Austin, Texas.
On their live show: “So even if you don’t like our music, because it sounds like two chord, three chord, Ramones style, you’ll love our performance.”
Now that’s interesting that you had a family jamboree. A lot of people might not know that you actually put out a punk rock children’s album last year, right?
Yeah, we covered ‘EE-I-EE-I-O.’ You know that song?
Yeah, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
So we had a dance with them, we carried people onto the stage and danced with them and then screamed with them. Kids happy means the parents are happy, and then we’re happy.
So you guys are on tour for a little bit longer?
Yeah after that we come back, there’s a Boston [date], then two months all over the US [in support] of the new album, Space Vacation.
Speaking of the live show, I imagine the kids love it because it’s energetic, and sometimes, from some of the videos I’ve seen, a little TOO energetic – have you ever gotten hurt during a live show doing some of the stunts that you attempt?
Yeah yeah, we’re only playing – you’ve seen the show right?
Yeah, you actually do a little wrestling, and crowd diving, and all sorts of stuff.
Yeah we do the limbo dance, jumping rope, we do baseball because we love baseball. Maybe the Red Sox against Peelander-Z when we play in Boston.
I hate to break it to you, but I think the Red Sox can beat you…
[Laughs] How about just a baseball camp, then?
Are you still doing the wrestling stuff on stage, or not so much anymore?
Yeah, I mean, I want to, ideally, do the wrestling. Do you know our Big Squid? [editor’s note – a giant stage prop]
I’ve seen pictures of the Big Squid, but I haven’t seen it in action.
So he loves moving and listening, and if you come on stage you can chop him, because he’s a nice guy – if you chop at him he’s [still] smiling. He’s a crazy – he loves listening.
For our readers who might not be familiar with the band, could you explain a little about the costumes and the imagery, and why you choose to portray the characters that you do?
I mean, I love music, but we [also] love comics [and] Power Rangers. I want to do something on stage, so music is just 10% and 90% is performance, so we want to bring our favorite things; we want to eat steak, that’s why we made a song called ‘S.T.E.A.K.’ We want to do dancing like Power Rangers, so we choose these colors and the dancing on stage. Our answer is if we want to do the something – if we want to do the music – we bring another something to add to it. So Peelander-Z is a band, but we bring, out of music, we bring everything on stage. That’s our answer. So even if you don’t like our music, because it sounds like two chord, three chord, Ramones style, you’ll love our performance. So we [want to please]. Please come to see our show, and enjoy our show.
You said it’s two or three chord Ramones style music – and I think that’s true to an extent – but you guys do take the music seriously, and I think people should know that. That’s true, right?
Yeah, our songs are just easy songs – like you know the song ‘So Many Mike?’
We just scream, ‘So many Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike,’ because I have a cell phone, [and] inside my cell phone [there are] fourteen Mikes, all over the United States. It’s always [confusing], ‘Oh, which Mike? Mike, Mike.’ That’s why I made a song. Our keyword is very easy, that way even if you don’t know our songs, you come see our show and you can scream, very easily. So bring your parents, bring your kids, bring your pets…but leave your ice cream, because we have ice cream.
Now I know the last time we talked you tried to convince me that the band came from another planet – and both you and I know that’s not true – but you did come to New York from Japan. Was it difficult adjusting to a new environment, to living in a different part of the world?
Yeah that’s one thing… So when we go to tour, we always eat pizza, or hamburgers – I really love pizza and hamburgers – but Japanese people need rice, so we had to carry a rice cooker on tour, and then we made miso soup every day. That’s just one reason it’s very hard: we had to bring a [special] rice cooker from Japan.
So let’s get back to the music – I know you have the new record, Space Vacation. Could you tell us a little bit about the songwriting process? Is it collaborative, or do you do it yourself?
I make [each song] myself first, singing, singing, singing, and then I bring everyone together. My style is always [based upon when] I’m on tour and I see something. If really want to eat tacos, I make a taco song.
I’m familiar with the taco song [‘Taco Taco Tacos’], yes.
Yeah I really love [that one]. I really like [sunglasses] and then I want to scream, ‘Glasses, go!’ and, ‘Glass, glass, glass’ so I also made a new song, ‘Get Glasses.’ My ideas are pretty easy. Space Vacation is all about space, so basically the story is Peelander promised to the Earth we get a space vacation.
Yeah, so all the songs are about space vacations, stuff that happens inside the Peelander starship, and then we come to the Earth and fall in love with someone, then we’re back to our planet. All the songs are pretty and happy.
When you’re in the studio do you guys spend a lot of time recording?
Not really. We recorded last year in Austin, Texas. It’s a new kind of album because we used electronic drums and a spacey keyboard. So all of the songs have kind of a New Wave style.
That’s a little bit different for you guys.
Yeah, [it's] different from the last [record]. Yeah, all the songs are about space; there’s a ‘Big Bang’ song, ‘Under Zero Gravity,’ there’s a galaxy song…
So there’s a theme – it’s a concept album.
Yeah, all the songs are about space.
Why am I not surprised?
[Laughs] And then also like a cover, ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun.’
Yeah that’s an interesting choice for a cover. Why did you choose that song?
We wanted a happy song from the early ’80s – Pink [editor’s note – the Peelander-Z band member, not the pop singer] really wanted to sing the same song – and we chose [it] because it’s about partying and [being] happy, and everyone knows it. We made a more spacey sound; we picked this song because it’s [really literal] and [fits our style].
It seems very appropriate, somehow. So Pink sings vocals on that track?
Yeah yeah, this is the best one. It’s a single, for sure.
So you’re still on tour, you’ve got the new record out – what do you see for the future of the band?
We’re thinking the next recording [session will be] soon, maybe July. This tour was a long tour, two months, and now we’re back in New York, so we’ll do the next recording, I hope. Then, in the fall we have another tour.
So you guys are keeping busy?
We are real tuna fish, because if we stop, we die.
Will you be releasing that on Chicken Ranch as well?
Yeah we’re going through Chicken Ranch again, we love Chicken Ranch.
Tell us about your relationship with the label. Do they pretty much let you do whatever you want, creatively?
Yeah they help a lot, that’s why we want to work with them. Chicken Ranch, they are not a [greedy] label, they’re thinking of our future, always. So we’re [going to record with them in Austin]. I have tons of friends over there and they help us in [any way] they can. [On] the new album [they suggested] we write a ballad song, I think you would love it, it’s called, ‘Love Love Peelander-Z.’ We have friends over there, so we’re happy recording over there [in Austin].
You’ve really invented your own genre of comic book punk rock. Do you see yourselves staying with that sort of music, or maybe experimenting more with the New Wave stuff?
We are Japanese-action-comic-entertainment. It’s a little funny, that’s why I say comic. Actually we made a comic, like a real Peelander comic book – the front page is like a Ramones jacket.
On adding new elements to their sound: “It’s a new kind of album because we used electronic drums and a spacey keyboard. So all of the songs have kind of a New Wave style.”
The front looks like a Ramones cover?
Yeah, John Holmstrom [did the art] – he really loves us and works with us right now. So yeah, we have a comic book and animation. I love Pokémon and that’s why I chose yellow [for my costume]. Somebody had to choose Pokémon and I chose Pokémon because I love yellow.
I see. Now last year when you and I spoke, the earthquake in Japan had just happened. How is your family doing and how is everything over there now?
Actually, my family lost their house in the Kobe earthquake [years ago] so this time [they] were OK, they’re more West – everyone in my family is fine over there, but [many people] over there lost something, so I’m sad. I can’t do anything from here, that’s why I want to do a good show, a beautiful show, here. I want to send my energy to them. We are very small, [but we're trying] to be very big so we can say something [that reaches them].
I that know you’re touring the States for the next couple months, and you’ll be on tour again in the fall. Do you ever get a chance to go back and perform in Japan at all?
Yeah I really want to go. But we want to be famous here and then go back to Japan and play a big, big show in Japan. That’s one of our dreams: I want to bring everybody to Japan, including you.
I’ll come! If you pay for my ticket, I will come on tour with you in Japan – we’ll have a great time.
It’ll be a big show; I want to bring everybody from here to there.
Is there anything else that you want to say to our readers?
Peelander-Z plays very hard; please, please come to see what happens at our show, come to see by your eyes and then you can hear something from me. It’s weird but if you come to see our show you’ll understand what I want to say. So Peelander-Z needs you, and you need us. I’m so happy with Performer Magazine, baby!
Photos by Chase Guthrie