THERE ARE plenty of bands who've stuck it out for three decades. But only a handful who've stayed relevant the whole time.
Shonen Knife is among the latter.
Formed in 1981 in Osaka, Japan, by Naoko Yamano, her sister, and a friend, Shonen Knife—the name literally means “Boy Knife,” ironic for an all-girl outfit —gleefully kept the intersection of punk and pop busy and well-lit in three-minute chunks as the music world lurched from trend to trend in the meantime.
Influencing rock icons like Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth and in turn influenced by icons like Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, Shonen Knife’s kitschy, catchy tunes and lyrics—usually about innocuous, everyday things like bananas and candy and toys and pets—now seem tailor-made for a millennial generation raised on emojis and anime and web video.
Shonen Knife celebrates their discovery by a new generation with a long world tour. We spoke to founding member Naoko Yamano—the only original member in the trio—the night after the band’s 1000th show, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Tell us about the 1000th gig!
Naoko: There were so many people in the audience and everybody congratulated us on the show. Their voices were very, very loud and we're very happy about that!
It seems like you have more college-age fans than ever.
Naoko: Yes, especially last night! There were many young people, and also older ones too. Sometimes they took their children. When it's an all ages show we have various kinds of ages. Sometimes people take their grandchildren!
Young people are really discovering and enjoying '70s rock 'n' roll these days.
Naoko: If so, I'm happy, because '70s music is very fresh. After rock 'n' roll was born, so many years have passed and the pattern of notes is limited. Many patterns have already appeared. But in the '70s everything was fresh.
The ‘70s for me was very important, but it’s important for me to say I didn’t listen to ‘70s music in the ‘70s. I was too young. After I became an adult I started to listen to ‘70s rock and hard rock.
The Ramones are such a big influence on Shonen Knife that you sometimes tour as a cover band called The Osaka Ramones.
Naoko: The Ramones are very important for me. Basically I'm inspired by the Beatles and the Ramones. Generally I'm inspired by '60s music and girl groups. The Ramones wrote punk songs which were also very pop. I like the Buzzcocks too.
The Buzzcocks are still on the road and still kicking ass.
Naoko: Yes, I know! That's great!
In America most rock 'n' roll is about love and romance and sex. But your songs are about very innocent things. Is Japanese culture just more conservative about love and sex and less likely to talk about it?
Naoko: Hmm ... Japanese culture is more conservative, but in folk songs and major music songs most all bands in Japan write songs about love and romance. Sometimes underground bands will write and play songs about social problems or something.
I just want to make people happy. And I write about my favorite things.
I’m ashamed to write about love! But if I fall in love I would write love songs!
Japanese pop music is written with Japanese lyrics. So the phonics are very different. Japanese is very much like this, “Ko-Jo-Gi-So.” One sound has one note. But in English it’s “Hello, everybody.” It’s—how would you call it—a wavy language.
Japanese music has a melody line more suitable to the Japanese language. American or British rock ‘n’ roll is more smooth.
The idea of an all-girl band is sort of commonplace today, but Shonen Knife really pioneered it in hard rock.
Naoko: I didn't have any concept that we were an all-girl band. I just wanted to form a band with friends and my sister.
I am very shy and I can’t go onstage with unknown people. Usually I’m shy, but once onstage not so shy!
This is a huge tour for you. What’s afterward? More touring? Another record?
Naoko: This tour will go home to Japan at the end of October, and we have a plan to go to India in November. We're getting visas now! The naan must be very delicious.
I bet next you'll write a song about naan.
Naoko: Naan is always my favorite.