“I think the most influenced band for Shonen Knife is the Beatles!”
Some 34 years into a 19-album career and Japanese pop-punks Shonen Knife show no sign of slowing down, bringing their latest album, Overdrive, to the Astor Lounge on Wednesday, January 21. SHANE PINNEGAR gets the story from singer/guitarist, Naoko Yamano.
After 17 studio albums, one covers record and a live LP, singer/guitarist, Naoko Yamano – the only remaining original member of the all-girl three-piece – says she works to more or less the same system with each recording.
“The process of recording is usually the same,” Yamano explains. “I’m lazy and I don’t start writing songs until we book recording studio, but once we booked the studio, I can write songs quickly with concentration. Then I send my demo to our members and we rehearse. At the recording studio, we start to record from basic tracks then overdub.”
Overdrive, released in April of last year, has garnered a good reaction from fans with its classic Shonen Knife sound full of pop-punk riffs and sugar-sweet melodies.
“We toured UK/Europe, Japan, North America and India in 2014,” she says, “at every place, the response of Overdrive was great.”
Another key element to Shonen Knife’s sound is their lyrics, which often find Yamano singing about everyday happy things such as shopping, pets or even their favourite on-the-road snack, ramen noodles. It’s not the sort of thing you’d hear on a U2 or Springsteen album.
“I can’t say anything about other band’s creative activity,” she laughs, “but it might be good if there are various kinds of lyrics.”
Listen to any Shonen Knife album and you’d be mistaken for thinking that The Ramones are the girls’ most obvious sonic influence – they even released an album of Ramones covers as The Osaka Ramones in 2012. Yamano sets the record straight.
“I think the most influenced band for Shonen Knife is the Beatles!” she exclaims, “but for the Overdrive album, I’m influenced by ’70s British hard rock and American rock bands like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Bad Company, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, ZZ Top… bands like that.
“I can have many chances to discover new music for me,” she continues asked if she takes on new influences, “even if the music is an old one, I feel it’s fresh because it’s new for me. Basically I like to listen to classic rock like ‘70s and ‘60s rock but I check various kinds of music like classical music, death metal, Vocaloid (singing voice synthesiser), underground bands, Anime themes… songs like that.”
To a Westerner, Japanese culture can seem very ordered and in some ways very strict, and Yamano says that while she wasn’t considered a radical, growing up a rock child still wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“From the beginning when I start Shonen Knife, there are many underground bands in Osaka, my hometown. It’s not so special to play in a rock band at that time but my parents were rather conservative. My mother didn’t like me to carry an electric guitar with me in my neighbourhood. After our major debut, she got to understand us.
“People around my family were positive for my band,” she reflects. “Usually, I’m a regular city citizen of Osaka. No one can imagine that I’m a rock’n’roller!”