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SHONEN KNIFE Ramen Adventure down under

Shonen Knife

Japanese pop-punk trio Shonen Knife are about to bring their riotous joy to a stage near you as part of their Adventure album tour. It’s a rare chance to catch a group that’s as fun as they are groundbreaking, having launched their music in the early 80s at a time where all-girl punk bands were scarce. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke with the band’s original and longest standing member, guitarist-vocalist Naoko Yamano, as she enjoys well-deserved down time in her home-town of Osaka after a massive North American tour. Catch Shonen Knife at Badlands on Monday, September 25 with support from Boat Show and Community Chest or take a road-trip to Wave Rock Weekender from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, September 24.

Shonen Knife’s fun take on punk rock and dazzling stage costumes saw them rise from humble beginnings to a worldwide fan-base, having performed 1200 shows, released 18 studio albums and toured with era-defining superstars like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Original members and sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano, with their latest drummer Risa Kawano, are still rocking their unique fusion of garage band instrumentation and syrupy-sweet lyrics.

You’ll be here pretty soon heading through New Zealand and Australia on this tour. You’ve been to a lot of places so far on this tour through USA and Europe on your Ramen Adventure tour. What’s been the highlight so far?

I like seeing so many nice fans across so many cities. It’s the best thing for me. Also, I like to eat the delicious food in so many cities as well. It’s my other favourite thing.

When you first started Shonen Knife in the early 80s there weren’t many bands like you. Being an all-girl punk band from Japan, how did it occur to you that you wanted to make a band like this?

I liked to listen to western rock music and especially late 70s punk rock bands like the Buzzcocks and the Ramones when I was in high school. It was something interesting and I was bored with daily life so I started a rock band. And there were some all-female bands around the scene in my home town of Osaka so I thought it wasn’t too special to be an all-girl band.

Shonen Knife
You talk about your influences like the Buzzcocks and the Ramones but I feel Shonen Knife are quite different from them in that your lyrics are a bit more positive than most punk bands. You like to write songs about food, animals and other fun things like that. There’s no obvious musical influence for these kinds of things so where do you get your ideas for what you write your songs about?

I like to write positive things. Many punk bands write about things like politics but if people want to talk about politics I say go be a politician. I want to express a more fun and positive thing through our music. I’m also so ashamed to sing about love. Because I’m so sad and didn’t have much experience about love at that time so it was impossible for me to write about that as well. So I looked around and found that many topics from my daily life like delicious food or cute animals were very important for me.

We’re known for our animals in Australia. Is there any chance one of them might make there way into a Shonen Knife song?

It already has! I have a song called Tasmanian Devil. I saw these little animals at the Brisbane Zoo last time we toured Australia. The Tasmanian Devil was eating a mouse. It was so scary for me. But they’re a very cute animal despite being so wild and it was easy for it to find its way into my lyrics.

You’re doing a number of shows across Australia that are well outside the major cities like Ballarat and the Wave Rock Weekender in Hyden. There can be a lot of long drives involved with these kinds of places and you’ll see a lot of the country that most touring artists wouldn’t. What kind of music do you like listening to nowadays to get you through those long road trips?

Nowadays I like to listen to music that I couldn’t make myself. I like to listen to funk music or disco music or death metal music. I enjoy listening to everything from Michael Jackson to Cannibal Corpse or High on Fire.

Shonen Knife
Through the late eighties and early nineties you played with some of the biggest and most iconic acts of the era like Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Nirvana. What were Nirvana like in person when you toured and traveled with them?

We got an offer to tour with Nirvana in 1991. At the time I didn’t know the band at all. When I saw the photographs of the band they looked really wild and I didn’t want to go on tour with them. But after we were on tour I found they were really kind and real gentlemen. The tour went very well and at the time they were just breaking on an international level so it became a really good experience for us.

So to bring it back home then, what about punk music in Japan in particular? As someone who has traveled around the world a lot how do you feel the music scene and especially the punk music scene in Japan is different from the rest of the world?

I don’t feel like the Japanese music scene is all that different from anywhere else. In America or Britain or Australia there are a lot of places to play but in Japan it’s only the big cities that have those kinds of clubs. Of course there a many music clubs in the countryside but it’s only young people that ever go to them. But for example in America or the UK people of all ages go to the music clubs and enjoy the music and drinking beer and dancing. In Japan it seems like it’s only the young people that go out to music clubs.

What are the plans for Shonen Knife after this tour are you looking at recording another album straight away or having a bit of a break for a while?

We might have some shows in Japan soon after we get back from Australia. I have to start writing songs for the new album. I can sometimes get lazy I don’t write songs every day but if I book the recording studio it helps motivate me to get to work finishing the songs.


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