Japan’s Shonen Knife are one of the most fun bands you will ever see. They write rockin’ songs about tennis, ramen noodles, cats, robots from hell, fortune cookies and shopping! Perform in colourful, bold stage outfits inspired by painters and pop culture created by one of the members, while kickin’ out jams with super cool vibes that runs the gamut of influence from Ramones to Black Sabbath to The Jam yet with their own unique twist. Guitarist-vocalist, Naoko Yamano recently chatted with me from the band’s hometown, Osaka.
NAOKO YAMANO: Thank you for calling!
BIANCA: It’s my pleasure, thank you for chatting with me. I’ve loved Shone Knife since I was a teen. I saw you play at the 1997 Big Day Out here in Australia.
NY: Wow! That is such a long time ago. Very cool. Great!
B: What made you first pick up a guitar?
NY: I am inspired by The Beatles first and then late 70s punk music bands like, The Buzzcocks and Ramones—I wanted to be like them.
B: You started Shonen Knife with your sister, Atsuko; what was it like growing up together?
NY: When I formed Shonen Knife I wanted to start a band with friends, really close people to me. I asked my school friend Michie [Nakatani] to be the bassist and I asked my younger sister to be the drummer. Atsuko had no experience playing the drums, I don’t know why but, she is very talented and could play the drums from the beginning.
B: You grew up in Osaka and used to go downtown to buy records; what kinds of records did you buy at that time?
NY: I like to go to an imported record vinyl store in Osaka. I bought records of new wave bands and 70s punk, bands like XTC and The Jam. Also Deep Purple and British hard rock. I bought various kinds of albums.
B: What did your parents think of you both being in a band?
NT: My parents were very conservative, especially my mother. She didn’t like me carrying an electric guitar around my neighbourhood. After Shonen Knife had a major label debut, my parents understood. They were supportive then. Many people around me in the music scene was very supportive of me and us.
B: Your latest record, Overdrive, is inspired by a 70s sound and the bands you’ve mentioned…
NY: When I was very young I didn’t like 70s hard rock music but after I grew up in the last four to five years I started listening to 70s British hard rock and 70s American music. I started to enjoy bands like Motorhead, Black Sabbath—they really inspired me because the music has a rock spirit. I started to write songs for Overdrive inspired by them, I wrote them by myself. I got to know those kinds of bands through radio and magazines. I prefer classical rock music.
B: Previously someone asked you about challenges Shonen Knife has faced in your career and you replied that you feel everything has been a challenge; why do you feel this way?
NY: [Laughs] Oh well… I think I have continued Shonen Knife very long time and no band’s like Shonen Knife goes overseas a lot. I think everything is a challenge, a kind of frontier.
B: Congratulations on being a band for 34 years! That’s amazing and such an achievement.
NY: Thank you! I cannot believe it.
B: The song Jet Shot on Overdrive is about tennis and it’s about not giving up; have you always been so positive?
NY: I am trying to be positive. Actually, I am very lazy person. If I can sleep as much as I can, I am happy [laughs]. I should be more positive to continue a rock band.
B: To me Shonen Knife has always been very positive. Your songs are upbeat and you sing about super fun stuff. Your lyrics are very happy.
NY: Of course I am a regular person so sometimes I get depressed and negative – it’s my attitude I’m trying to be positive – I write positive songs to get happy and for the audience to get happy. When they are happy it’s a very happy thing for me too.
B: In the times when you are sad or feeling negative, what other things cheer you up?
NY: I just take a sleep or play tennis [laughs].
B: Have you always played tennis?
NY: I didn’t have much time to play tennis last year because I was traveling a lot but if I have nothing to do I play tennis twice a week. It’s very good for my health.
B: In your recent travels you played in India?
NY: We were invited to play a festival. There were many Asian bands. Many bands were rock and punk. The music there is the same as western countries and the festival is the same vibe too. I think the place it was at Goa, is a very special place. Very different to other cities in India, more westernised. I enjoyed tasty Indian food and the people are so nice to us. It was so fun!
B: While touring the Overdrive album in the US, Shonen Knife played their 1000th show! That’s pretty epic.
NY: Yes! We also toured in Europe this spring. Many Shonen Knife fans are always lovey to us and I enjoy every show a lot.
B: The show you’re playing coming up soon in my hometown of Brisbane will be at the QLD Art Gallery as part of the ‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’ exhibition; what’s one of your favourite stage outfits you’ve rocked? I’ve always loved them!
NY: Our stage costumes are made by my sister Atsuko, she is a professional fashion designer. Our stage costumes are inspired by the 60s or early 70s fashion—Pierre Cardin or Yves Saint Laurent. We have pieces inspired by [artist, Piet] Mondrian. I like that a lot.
B: I saw a photo of the Mondrain-style dress that you posted on twitter yesterday, it’s very cool. When you tour later this year you will been joined by Atsuko again and Shonen Knife will play as a four-piece.
NY: I wanted to tour with my younger sister because it is so fun [laughs]. This March and April she will come back to Japan and we will tour with her in Japan. It is exciting. I am looking forward to it!
For more SHONEN KNIFE.
Shonen Knife’s Australia tour details:
WED 21 JAN Perth ASTOR LOUNGE
Plus ZA! (from Spain) & THE COMMUNITY CHEST
Tickets from www.showticketing.com.au, ph 08 9370 5888, Astor Theatre box office, www.moshtix.com.au, www.heatseeker.com.au and www.oztix.com.au
THUR 22 JAN Adelaide JIVE
Plus ZA! (from Spain) & GLASS SKIES
Tickets from www.moshtix.com.au and the venue.
FRI 23 JAN Brisbane GALLERY OF MODERN ART Future Beauty Up Late
Plus DJ EL NORTO
Tickets from http://qagoma.qtix.com.au/event/Future_Beauty_Up_Late_14
SAT 24 JAN Sydney FACTORY FLOOR
Tickets from www.factorytheatre.com.au, ph (02) 9550 3666 or the Enmore or Metro Theatre Box Office.
SUN 25 JAN Melbourne DING DONG
Plus OUCH MY FACE & ZA! (from Spain)
Tickets from dingdong.oztix.com.au and Box office Mon – Fri, 9am – 5.30pm ph (03) 9514 4599 and Oztix outlets.