Legendary Japanese all-girl punk band Shonen Knife will be back on Aussie soil this month performing shows all over the country.
Speaking to us from cold and rainy Osaka, lead singer and founding member of the band, Naoko can’t wait to get back down under.
“I am looking forward to going to Adelaide,” she says. “I think we have been to Australia in 1997 and 2009. Maybe we came to Australia in 90s twice so this may be our fourth time. For Adelaide I have been just once before.”
“The cities are very beautiful and the people are so kind and nice, and the Shonen Knife fans are very enthusiastic for us during the show so I like that. They are very cheerful.”
Shonen Knife formed in 1981 with sisters Naoko Yamano (guitar/vocals) and Atsuko Yamano (drums), and their friend Michie Nakatani (bass).
Thirty four years later, the current line up is Naoko Yamano (guitar/lead vocals), Ritsuko Taneda (bass/backing vocals) and Emi Morimoto (drums/backing vocals) which Naoko says she’s keen to show off when she’s here.
“New bassist and drummer are very powerful musicians. The present line up is very rock, so people can enjoy our very rock state,” she says.
Throughout the years, Shonen Knife have developed a reputation for being unique and fun, making punk positive, which has earned them some very famous fans.
Kurt Cobain asked the girls to open for Nirvana on their UK tour, just before the release of the hugely successful album, Nevermind; and CJ Ramone joined them onstage during one of their Ramones tribute shows: Osaka Ramones.
Currently touring their 19th studio album, Overdrive, Naoko attributes Shonen Knife’s longevity in a fickle industry to the fans that give her the drive to continue rocking.
“I get energy from our fans. Many Shonen Knife fans are having fun during our show and I get happy and I get energy from them so it’s a resource of my energy,” she says.
Naoko writes songs in English, despite her first language being Japanese, and although this can prove challenging, it’s her preferred writing style.
“In the beginning I am trying to write lyrics in English because my vocabulary is very poor. If I write in Japanese first it is very difficult to translate so I write in English using very simple words and then I translate into Japanese lyrics,” she says.
“For Overdrive album there are only three songs with Japanese and English lyrics. All songs have English lyrics and only three have Japanese lyrics.”
Overdrive, which was released in April last year, was inspired by the rock bands of the 70s, which Naoko says are some of her favourite musicians of all time.
“When I write songs for Overdrive album, I have sounds of Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Bad Company, Deep Purple and Judas Priest. Mostly British hard rock bands and also 70s American bands like Boston or something like that. I like 70s music and fashion clothing too,” she says.
“I am also inspired by The Beatles the most, and I like to listen to British hard rock and heavy metal. And recently I watched the movie Jersey Boys, which is about the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli so I like their music very much.”
Through Naoko’s upbeat lyrics and solid riffs, Shonen Knife are an unusual recipe of adorable punk rock.
But they have the ability to lure you in and make you fall in love with them, which is why they’ve received constant rave reviews with Rolling Stone magazine being among some of the most complimentary.
Citing her favourite topics to write about as being food and cute animals, Naoko will be looking for inspiration for the band’s 20th album when she’s in Australia, just maybe not from certain species of our wildlife.
“In the 90s when I went to the zoo in Adelaide I hugged a koala bear, but koala nails are so sharp and it was so painful,” she laughs.
After their trip to Australia, Shonen Knife will be heading back to Japan to take part in some festivals with a special reunion on stage with Naoko’s sister and fellow founding member Atsuko.
“We will have Japan tour in spring and for this tour our original member Atsuko will join. She is living in Los Angeles now but this spring she will come to Osaka and we will do a four-piece Shonen Knife tour in Japan. It’s a very special one,” Naoko says.
Once those shows are complete, the band hope to begin work on their 20th album, but Naoko admits it may take a while to produce.
“Actually I am very lazy and I write songs very slowly. I usually start writing songs after we book studios. I am a very slow starter. I have to start to write songs but I need some good topics for lyrics, so I think I can find some good topics in Australia.”
Shonen Knife will perform across Australia appearing as special guests of MONA FOMA 2015 and Brisbane’s GOMA Future Beauty Up Late.
As a special inclusion, MONA FOMA will present a rare performance of their Ramones Tribute Osaka Ramones.
Shonen Knife, the band who brought us “Banana Chips”, “Bad Luck Song” and the theme song for the PowerPuff Girls will rock Jive on 22nd January.
Grab your tickets from Moshtix or from the venue.
Story by Libby Parker (originally published in BSide Magazine)
Photos courtesy of Shonen Knife