shonen knife rock out about the important things in life
The Japanese three-piece who wowed Kurt Cobain really want their music to make you happy.
When Kurt Cobain first heard Shonen Knife play he said "I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert." He wasn't the only heavy hitting fan won by the Osaka-based pop punk trio. The Shonen Knife blend of power-pop, super kawaii positivity and hard rock edge worked its way into the heart of Redd Kross and Sonic Youth, who they toured with in the 80s and 90s.
It's been 34 years since they first formed, but Shonen Knife have lost none of that magic.
Right now, they're touring Australia as part of MOFO festival, where for the first time in Australia, they'll also perform as a Ramones tribute band, Osaka Ramones. We spoke to front woman Nanako Yamano about stage costumes, delicious food and why she'd rather write about ramen than romance.
It's so rare to see a musician who has been dedicated to the same band for over three decades. What is it about Shonen Knife that has kept you so committed?
I don't have consciousness that I play so long. I never look back and I just look forward. I think it's because of that I'm lazy. Actually, I have to look back and reconsider but just looking forward keeps me fresh.
Your 2012 release Pop Tune was a little more melancholic than your usual sound, but Overdrive is overwhelmingly upbeat. Where did this new positivity come from?
The theme of Pop Tune was "POP". I wrote songs for Overdrive inspired by 70s British hard rock and American rock. When I started the band, I liked to listen to late 70s punk new wave bands and was thinking hard rock was out of fashion but in these years, I got to know how they are cool. I'm inspired by Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Bad Company and so on for Overdrive album. Your lyrics have always had this weird, playful cuteness. How do you get into the headspace to write something like 'Ramen Rock'? Do you have to be in an especially whimsical mood?
I like to be "unique" because it's artistic, right? Many bands are writing about love or social problems but I don't want to stay in common themes. I like to write about delicious food and cute animals. They are my favourites. Eating delicious food is very important for human beings. I think my lyrics are written about important things. This is the first time you've toured Australia in five years. Is there anything you're particularly looking forward to doing this visit?
Last time was 2009. We had 4 shows in 4 days and there was no time to see around. I'd like to enjoy the beautiful scenery and have delicious food. Since Overdrive was released you all seem to be wearing a lot of black and silver. Do you define a particular fashion look for each album?
Yes, I do. The image of Overdrive is metallic. I picked up the cloth at a dress material store and send them to Atsuko, my younger sister and the original member of Shonen Knife, then she designs and makes the costumes. She is living in Los Angeles and left the band in 2006 but she still cooperates with us. She's toured with us in USA and Europe in these few years as merch staff, too. How do you decide what to wear on stage?
We usually make new costumes for each album. We wear them for the release tour. Recently we make our costumes with dry-fit cloth like sportswear. Because we sweat a lot on stage but need to stay comfortable. We take two kinds of costumes and wear [them] in turn. You're going to be doing a special performance as Osaka Ramones at Faux Mo this week. Can you tell me what you thought the first time you ever heard the Ramones?
When I was a teenager, I listened to the Ramones through the radio. Joey's voice was so sweet and the songs were pop. I got to be their fan very quickly. I went to buy their albums at the record store. In 1998, we had a chance to open up for their farewell tour in Osaka for 2 days. It was like a dream. And how does it feel to be playing the Ramones again now? Has your attitude to their music changed at all?
I always enjoy playing cover songs of my favourite bands. Just listening and covering and playing their songs are very different. Actually, it's difficult to play. I need to practice more. What do you do to prepare before you go on stage?
I check my makeup but right after I've played one song, I got sweat on my face. There's a whole new generation of people who are only just discovering your music now. What sort of first impression do you hope to make?
I don't have any hope. I just want people get happy through our music. Shonen Knife play MOFO 2015 on Sunday Jan 18, 8pm at PW1, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Text Sylvia Margoulis