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Go West, PuffyAmiYumi!

by Steve McClure

If you’ve ever seen pop duo Puffy perform live, you know that a key part of their shows is their low-key, slightly ironic between-songs banter. So naturally Yumi Yoshimura is worried that her inability to speak English will make it hard to enjoy that kind of communication with audiences during Puffy’s upcoming North American tour.

“I think we’re in trouble,” she says in an interview at Sony Music’s central Tokyo offices. “I think it’s probably going to be impossible to do it all in English. But I’m sure words such as ‘konnichiwa‘ and ‘arigato‘ are going to get across even in Japanese, so it’ll probably be something of a mix, and we’re going to have to work on it.”

Ami Onuki, the other half of Puffy, adds that the two of them realize that being big in Japan doesn’t necessarily mean anything overseas.

“In Japan, we’re accepted more for our personalities, for our interesting lyrics and, of course, our songs,” Onuki says, “but in America, I don’t think they understand our personalities yet. Nor our lyrics, of course, so I think it’s all up to how good the music itself is.”

“I think the most important thing is to show them what Puffy is, musically,” Yoshimura adds. “We’re thinking of just doing the songs one after another, without a break.”

These worries aside, Yoshimura and Onuki are psyched for the July tour, their first of North America. This will not be their first time performing for foreign audiences, however. They’ve toured Asia and even played two years ago at the South by Southwest music-biz convention in Austin, Texas.

“In Asia, it’s easier for Japanese culture to go in and take hold,” says Onuki. “So we went there imagining that we’d be welcomed with open arms, and, in fact, the welcome was even warmer than we’d imagined so it was very easy.

“But the U.S. was really unexplored territory for us, so we had no idea what to expect,” Onuki recalls of that debut American performance. “Watching movies, we thought that if we gave a bad performance, beer bottles would come flying to hit against chain-link fencing and the shards would hit us and make us bleed. That didn’t happen and the audience enjoyed it, so I think the difference [in how we are approaching the upcoming tour] is only in our mental attitude.”

Yoshimura hopes that this time round Puffy can generate the same kind of enthusiasm the duo did in Austin.

“When we did South by Southwest two years ago, we did it in a bar with a counter,” she recalls. “And when I saw a girl get up on the counter and dance, I thought ‘We did it!’ “

Besides being excited about the prospect of capturing the hearts of North American audiences and avoiding flying beer bottles, the duo are looking forward to traveling the length and breadth of the continent in classic touring fashion: by bus.

“Since the members and the staff are going to be the same for the entire tour, it’s going to be like one big family,” says Onuki. “That’s probably what’s going to make it so much fun. And I heard that a bus can be more convenient.

“We like going to drugstores and supermarkets and buying tons of really cheap stuff,” she continues. “It’s pretty simple really, but fun.”

In advance of Puffy’s North American tour, Hoboken, New Jersey-based Bar None Records is releasing a compilation of the duo’s greatest hits on May 21, including an English version of chart-topper “Asia no Junshin (Pure Heart of Asia).” (Sony Canada will release the album at a later date).

As with last year’s North American release of the album “Spike,” this best-of set will be issued under the name “PuffyAmiYumi.”

“In the U.S., there’s already someone quite famous going by the name of ‘Puffy’ [Sean 'Puffy' Combs, now known as P. Diddy], so we didn’t want there to be any mistakes,” explains Onuki then adds jokingly “but maybe it would be better if they did make a mistake!”