Peter Berkman, founder and guitarist of Anamanaguchi, takes time to talk with City Paper about the band's new album, ENDLESS FANTASY, dance music, and the importance of having fun.
We’re all about the partying. We’re all about the punk music and the dance music kind of living in the same place. We wouldn’t want that to get too out of balance.
I saw you when you were in Pittsburgh last summer at Garfield Artworks and I remember it being the most good-natured moshing I’ve ever been a part of. There was a large bald man giving everyone hugs after every song. It was pretty fantastic.
[laughs] That’s amazing! Fuck yeah.
So as far as the light show, I know in your Kickstarter you said you were ramping up the visual effects. What kind of new things can fans expect?
We built these light cubes. They glow in sync with all the poles we have, and we have these mirror projections on them that kind of work like holograms. Like, they shoot behind and… yeah, it’s all just crazy [laughs]. The cubes are probably the biggest part of the ENDLESS FANTASY tour, since the album art and all that is all about this rainbow cube. So it’s cool to have that as a physical thing.
Is it similar to the cube in the "Endless Fantasy" music video?
Yeah, actually James built that one the day before the video was shot [laughs].
Which, congratulations by the way on the nomination for a best music video award on YouTube.
Yes, cool, thank you! I think it was for an innovation award or something. We’re gonna go to the award show, so hopefully we’ll be able to say hi to Psy or something [laughs].
Also, congratulations on ranking #1 on the Heatseekers chart on release and #2 on the dance chart, right? Higher than will.i.am that week?
Yeah yeah, that’s right. That was absolutely insane.
So would you classify yourself as dance music or was that a category they put you in? What genre do you see yourselves in… or is it kind of a fusion?
It’s definitely a fusion, but I really like the genre “dance” because it’s really vague, ya know? [laughs] A lot of times people are like, “Is this post-hardcore?” or “Is this postmodern-dance?” and I’m just like, “Alright.” When we were asked, we were like “Let’s just call it dance, because that’s what we want people to do.” [laughs]
And we’re influenced by a lot of different dance music as well, and I don’t think there’s a punk chart [laughs], so I guess that’s what dance means for us. But yeah, we’re pretty much just all about emotional dance-and-punk music.
Following up on the Kickstarter: Now that you have more means at your disposal, is there any new musical hardware or software that you’re incorporating into the shows?
Most of the musical software that we use is free, which is great [laughs] but yeah, we’re always looking for new stuff. We’re going on tour with Dillion Francis too, and this next line of shows we’re doing in December we might change the set-up some and use some guitar synths and stuff like that which would be sweet. Just because sometimes when you’re playing a huge club its hard to get the blend of the stuff that’s coming out the amps and the stuff that’s coming out the speakers, so the more electronic we can make the guitars sound, the better. [laughs]
When it comes to concerts, do you have a favorite moment during your shows or things you like to do pre, post, or during?
Getting the WiFi password is really big every gig [laughs] so that we can go on tumbr and stuff before the show. But we always like to go out and get the best food in the area like “Oh, what’s good here?” and find that out. One time a show was sold out in Orlando, and we told people we would guest-list them if they brought an Austin Powers movie on a USB stick [laughs] and six people did it so we got them in. It was awesome. Just whatever to keep stuff fun.
So ENDLESS FANTASY is your first album to add lyrics to songs, which you’d been saying you wanted to do for a while. What did that process look like? Did you write the lyrics, or did those come from your collaborators?
I never really liked writing lyrics ever, but for something like "Japan Air" it was kind of easy because it’s this joke-y and fun atmosphere. I kinda felt I had a band like synth and j-pop band that we aren’t [laughs] so that easy to do. For "Prom Night," Bianca Raquel wrote those lyrics. I had an idea of what I wanted that song to be from the start, and then she just kinda did her own thing and I was like, “You know what, let’s just keep that, because that was… really good.” [laughs]
We like to adapt and not have any set ideas about what we are and what we can do. Writing lyrics for us is kind of just a challenge to meet the song instead of something like us, as a band, would do.
So do the lyrics make an appearance in the live shows at all?
Yeah! We play those songs back with just audio-playback for the lyrics and stuff, but eventually we want to film stuff for the cubes so that we can project holograms of the singers.
That would be fantastic.
Yeeeeeaaaaahhh! And we’re gonna do it too. Hopefully we’re have it done by the time we go on tour… I don’t imagine it’ll be that hard. So like… yeah, that’s a fun project, let’s do it. That’s for giving me motivation. [laughs]
Another thing I really like about ENDLESS FANTASY is the variety of its tracks. It spans everything from your punk roots to pure dance and euro-pop. Are there still other styles you’d like to incorporate into your next album, or are you settling into a kind of groove now? I saw in an earlier interview you described your sweet-spot as aiming for something between Wavves and Spice Girls.
[laughs] Yeah! That was definitely a pretty accurate statement for the time. But yeah, I mean, we’re always changing, and the stuff that we’re doing now I definitely couldn’t have imagined us doing before. Some of it’s a lot more straight-forward than it ever was, other tracks are a lot more jazzy than they ever were.
We’re really inspired by a lot of the more complicated stuff happening in music today… Jazz-wise. There’s this band called Dirty Loops that started n YouTube that are starting to write original music and they’re incredible. They’re kinda this jazz-fusion band on YouTube that are these kids from Sweden and they do some shhiiiiiiitttt that’s really cool. They started doing covers of like Justin Bieber and stuff, making an arrangement that’s like incredible, and now they’re writing their own stuff and I think putting out their own album. They put out one song the other day and I was like “Hoooooly shit. So good.” We also really like Lindsay Lowend. He’s this producer from DC who is incredible. We love how he will change styles within a song, so we’re trying to have even less of an attention span [laughs].
You’ve been thinking of releasing a vocal remix album of tracks from ENDLESS FANTASY too. And you’ve already done remixes for the likes of Das Racist, Matt & Kim, FUTURECOP!, Fang Island, and Ra Ra Riot…
Yeah! We actually just did one for Cindy Lauper, which is gonna come out in a couple months on her actual rerelease, which we’re super, super excited about. It’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” We love that song and love Cindy Lauper.
What have those remix experiences looked like? Are more people approaching you/aware of your work after the Kickstarter, or are you reaching out to them?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve kind of had this momentum from that. I guess it was only six months ago that that happened… or I guess five. The momentum’s been insane, like a lot of people had never heard of us and are like “Whoa, this is really interesting what you guys are doing.” And then they see the support of our fans and stuff and are like, “That’s fuckin great!” Pretty much anywhere we go people react to that insanely well, which is cool. It gives us opportunities to be able to do something that people might not have trusted us with before, and it’s all stuff that we’re all really excited about.
And with your own vocal remixes, is there anyone you’d especially like to collaborate with? I mean, like you said with "Prom Night," I imagine a lot of it is going to be finding people who can write something that fits the song.
Yeah, exactly. Someone that we really, really love is CVRCHES, and it would be incredible to work with Lauren Mayberry on a track, that’d be super cool. Maybe on something like "Planet" or "Viridian"… one of our slower, dancier ones.
Oh, and Lil’ B! I also want to collab with Lil’ B a lot [laughs]. I’m not sure what track off ENDLESS FANTASY would be good for him. We’ve been thinking a lot about it though, and there’s stuff we can’t say and stuff that we wanna be able to say, but can’t [laughs].
You sampled Romani singing in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on the Nintendo 64 in a number of the songs too, which makes for a great kind of electronic vibrato. What led you to that decision? I read the KillScreen article about HOW it got sampled, but I didn’t see anything on why you first decided to.
Thanks! Yeah, it was definitely early in the process of writing the album where I realized that I wanted to have some kind of vocal element and I was trying to think back on ways to do it. And then I was playing some Majora’s Mask at the time, and I was like that… is… awesome. I loved how that voice sounds… it’s part human but mostly digital. In the tracks in the game, you don’t hear any voices, and that’s the time when you hear a human voice and it has so much impact. And so it really struck me as something I really wanted to do when I heard it.
Was there anything else specific you sampled in the album to create new sounds?
Ummmm… I’m trying to think. Well, there’s a lot of weird samples in there… but there’s also more basic stuff like Yamaha DX7 kinda digital bass. I’m sure there are other ones, but I’d have to go through the files to find them. MilkyTracker, this one program that we use, operates free of samples too. A lot of it is just about getting it to be like “Oh, let’s get some rain sounds” and then try to come up with a way to do it.
I have this app on my phone too called Sir Sampleton and it was made by Paul Slocum. He used to be in a chiptune group called Tree Wave, or maybe still is, I’m not sure. But yeah, I use that a bit too. You can just walk around and stuff and record something by holding a button down for however long and then it turns it into a sample you can play on a keyboard. It’s really awesome.
I also hear what I’m pretty sure is part of the Final Fantasy theme in "John Hughes" right around the 25 second mark?
Yeah, yeah! That was definitely a bit of a musical quote.
Were there any other games or songs you pay tribute to on the album?
That’s kind of the only example I think, but the song "Pastel Flags" I had written all out and then someone told me it sounded like that Nellie song "Dilemma," and I was like shiiiiiiiiiiiiit. I was very inspired by this band called Flipper’s Guitar from Japan. There’s this guy named Cornelius in Japan, and this was his band, and they kind of were sounding like all these 80’s Scottish post-punk bands. I was just trying to write a song like that, and it turned out like "Dilemma" by Nellie. [laughs] So yeah, you know, whatever. [laughs] You win some you lose some, it’s all good.
You said in a past interview that “touring the world is the closest thing in real life to playing Final Fantasy VII… having a band with a mission.” What would you say Anamanaguchi’s mission is? You mention being “positive energy” in the final track of the album.
Dude, exactly. That’s pretty much it. Going places and making people feel excited about life, you know. Basically the only thing we can ever hope to do is make music that we think is beautiful, share it with people who hopefully think it’s beautiful too, and then inspire them to do whatever it is they want to. But also there’s smaller things where like you’re hurt after so much playing so much and you’re fatigued and your back hurts and all of a sudden you go to a gas station in the middle of nowhere after you’ve driven for like eight hours and you find this white powder you put into water that’s basically a potion. That’s when it hit me, I was like whoa.
Speaking of, what do you refer to that last track, (T-Tb), as? Thumbs up?
Well it’s an emoticon, and it’s like a crying happy face or whatever, but Ary originally had the file, and the emoticon was capital T lowercase t capital T (TtT) so I thought he had just called it “tuh.” I was like… alright, sounds good.
But yeah, going back back to the mission thing, I think kind of like Final Fantasy VII, to use that again, each of us are kind of in it for our own reasons. You know there’s that moment in that game where everyone’s on that plane and they’re like “Alright, everyone leave and if you feel like coming back, come back.” That’s kind of like us. We all have our own reasons for doing it, but we’re united by this idea that, like, “let’s just have some fuckin fun.”
Back to the videos, both "Endless Fantasy" and "MEOW" really knocked it out of the park in terms of fun and originality. Any idea what you’d like to do next? I know you had the same editors, but I especially love Meow’s Tim & Eric vibe.
Yeah! We actually had editors from Tim & Eric on that video. So yeah.
Every time I watch that video, my favorite part is when Hot Sugar tries to flick his knife and fails, and Luke looks away, and then looks back and Hot Sugar finally gets it.
[laughs] Yes! [laughs] That moment was totally unscripted. Originally we just had it as “Alright, so the goth will flick the knife, and Luke will be like oooo I don’t wanna be here,” but instead he tried to do it and just fucked up. And we were like… that’s so fuckin good. [laughs] Like, they’re the worst, he can’t even do it! They’re not even scary goths, they’re just pathetic. [laughs]. Yeah, we thought that was awesome.
Do you have any idea of what you’d like to do next?
Yeah, I think we’re going to do a video for "Japan Air," we’ve already started shooting it, and we’re gonna do one for "Prom Night." And we’ve had this idea for an animated video for "U n ME" for a long, long time and we’ve gotta find the right people to do it. The right level of talent and not too busy [laughs]. So yeah, hopefully we’ll get all those done. I’d be very, very happy if we got them all done in a year or so.
Another thing I like about Endless Fantasy is the interludes. I know you’ve commented before that the album isn’t really meant to be consumed in one sitting, but they break up the action transition in a really cool way. Was there a specific intention in including those in the album, or was it just another beat you wanted to take and explore a new mode?
I think it’s just that all of our favorite albums have just kind of like breather moments, you know? Like, one of my favorite punk albums is Mediocre Generica by Leftöver Crack and they have this part right before one of the craziest higher energy parts of the album that’s just "Pachelbel’s Canon" playing on piano for a while and it’s recorded in like a faraway place. I was interested in doing something like that, and we had all this stuff that was written, but I had already done a cover of "Gymnopedie" by Satie so we put that in and it was like, perfect. We were totally down.
We had all these other shorter ideas too that weren’t full fleshed out and we didn’t think we could ever fully flush them out, but we have a lot more, so maybe one day we’ll release an interludes album [laughs].
I especially love the bark in "Total Tea Time."
Oh dude yeah! I love that sound. Yeah, Luke wrote that. It was the only song he wrote for the album and he gave it to us on the final day and we were just like… ”Dude, damnit, that’s like the best song on the album.” [laughs]. Like, why didn’t you write more? [laughs] So hopefully we’ll get more from Luke in the future.
Another kickstarter reward was a game jam you’ll be putting on. Has there been any progress with that.
There’s been a lot of progress, there’s been a lot of talks about what we want it to be, and we’re really, really fucking pumped for it. Like, we could have done like a normal thing and just been like let’s have it… here. Like, this time, this day, just do it. But we want to have a space for it, we want to have an event, and we’re working on planning it and making it something really special. So hopefully that will come sooner than later, but there’s a lot of moving interest in the kind of thing we want to do.
Yeah, it sounds super fun, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who’d be really interested in it. Is there a kind of genre or style you think an Anamanaguchi game would be suited to, or do you just want to wait and see what happens?
I want to see a lot of dating sims. [laughs] Stuff that looks like Phoenix Wright basically. Also racing games… anything man. I just want to see how people react to the songs themselves. So the less developed that can be the better.
Any lasting memories of Pittsburgh? Are you excited to come back and play a larger venue?
Oh yeah, absolutely! Garfield Artworks had such a cool vibe. It reminded me of all the DIY venues we used to play in Brooklyn, and we don’t get to play those kind of shows too often, so it was really incredible. But yeah, I’m really excited to play at Mr. Small’s. Just the idea of not doing the same thing twice ever. So yeah, excited for some new shit.
It should be great, it’s a really cool space. It’s an old converted church. I think your light show especially will do really well in there.
Awesome! I don’t know much about it, but that has me extra excited.
One last thing… while I was brushing up for the interview, I read different things in different sources about the name of the band?
Like, one place I read that you’d interned at Armani, Prada, and Gucci and went to parties and it was slurred into a name.
And one was like they had a friend who used to do Jabba the Hutt voices and used to go ANAMANAGUCHI and stuff like that.
[laughs] Yeah. [laughs]
I was like, well, these are all fairly reputable sources, but they’re definitely not agreeing with each other.
[laughs] Yeah. [laughs]. I WILL say one of those is true.
That’s good enough.