Japanese pop punk band, Shonen Knife, is alive and well after more than thirty years with the “Overdrive” North American tour in support of their new album.
After my interview with Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, he mentioned his record label Good Charamel Records has a signed artist who will be in Chicago soon. The artist in question is all-female band from Osaka, Japan, Shonen Knife, mentioning â€œShonen Knife is one of the hardest working, passionate bands I’ve ever known, I’m very proud to be part of their legacy here in the US.”
The band was formed in 1981 by sisters Naoko (lead vocals/guitar) and Atsuko Yamono (drums). Singer Michie Nakatani joined, and they released their first album “Burning Farm.” Atsuko and Nakatani left the band eventually, and Eimi Morimoto replaced them.
Ten years after founding the band and gaining international recognition, the band was approached by a man who asked if they would open for his band. While the girls had no idea who the man was, you might … his name is Kurt Cobain. Thus Shonen Knife joined Nirvana on a UK tour.
Shonen Knife has recently released Overdrive, their 20th full-length album. Overdrive offers ten tracks that seamlessly combine punk rockâ€™s edgy guitar riffs with psychedelic 70s-esque enchanting nostalgia. The songs are simple, at times whimsical, and perhaps their best album to date. “Dance to the Rock” is my favorite song on the album … the lyrics are simple enough to have you singing along before the song is even finished and the sound forced me to stand up and move. “Green Tea” is bass-heavy, lyrical, and most reminiscent of The Ramones, who the band credits with influencing much of their music. Despite its name, â€œBad Luck Songâ€ is sunny and uplifting. This album, though full of gritty hard rock, contains the same elements Shonen Knife fans have grown to appreciate and be amused by, particularly in mentions of Naokoâ€™s daily life: shopping, noodles, green tea ice cream, dancing, cats, and fortune cookies.
Naoko, now a youthful 53, spent some time with me for an interview, in advance of their show September 18th at Bottom Lounge.
LRK: What was it like being one of the first all-female bands from Osaka? Were there things hard to overcome, because of that? Or do you feel people were more excited/interested BECAUSE of that?
Naoko: I didnâ€™t have any conscious(ness) about that. I just wanted to form a band with people who have been my friends before. Iâ€™m shy and I didnâ€™t want to start band with strangers. As a result, I formed an all – female band.
LRK: What does the name Shonen Knife refer to?
Naoko: â€œShonen Knifeâ€ is an old brand name of a pencil knife. When I saw this knife, I was impressed by the name. Shonen means Boy in Japanese. The image of the words Boy = cute, Knife = dangerous. When cute and dangerous are combined together, itâ€™s the image of our music.
LRK: Thatâ€™s funny. Iâ€™d read that it referred to a knife, but wasnâ€™t sure if that was true! Your music covers quite the range, from pop, to grunge, to 60s … what made you focus Overdrive more on the 70s for inspiration?
Naoko: I recently (have started to) like to listen to 70â€™s rock music like Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Deep Purple … Iâ€™m inspired by them. Our previous albums, â€œFree Timeâ€ is a punk album, â€œPop Tuneâ€ is a pop album. And now itâ€™s time for 70â€™s rock.
LRK: I did catch riffs that reminded me of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath. How did the name â€œOverdriveâ€ come to be?
Naoko: Itâ€™s a name of a guitar effect pedal. Itâ€™s the image of 70â€™s rock sound for me.
LRK: You put quite the emphasis on food, in your songs, in your blog … what started that?
Naoko: Japanese people like food and create many ways of cooking. People in Osaka especially, love to eat delicious food. There are tons of delicious, reasonable restaurants streets in Osaka. I hope you can visit. I also donâ€™t want to write about love because itâ€™s too common for lyrics.
LRK: I hope I can visit too! A trip to Osaka is definitely on my bucket list. Next month youâ€™ll be visiting me, here in Chicago. What do you like most about Chicago? What do you like to do when you are here?
Naoko: There is tasty pizza, popcorn, and tall buildings in Chicago. I love that. Also Chicago and Osaka are sister cities. I like to eat delicious food in Chicago.
LRK: As do I! Where are all the band members currently based?
Naoko: The bassist Ritsuko and I are living in Osaka. The drummer Emi is living in Hyogo Prefecture where is next to Osaka Pref. All of us are living in Kansai area.
LRK: What is your creative process like? you all write the songs together or do you work separately and then bring ideas back to the group?
Naoko: I donâ€™t listen to certain music for inspiration. I just listen to my favorite music at the time. Iâ€™m lazy and I canâ€™t keep writing songs during my daily life. I usually start writing songs after we book the recording studios. I pick up a topic and expand it for lyrics size. I put melody line on it playing the guitar. Then I fix the lyrics for going well with music.
LRK: After 33 years, I would hardly see you as lazy! What has changed for you all as youâ€™ve gotten older? How has touring changed?
Naoko: I got used to touring. I got to know how to get delicious food.
LRK: (laughing) How has your subject matter for songs changed?
Naoko: Nothing is changed but English lyrics are increasing.
LRK: Was it easier earlier on or now?
Naoko: Writing lyrics is always very difficult for me. Making music is easy, though.
LRK: What are the main differences/challenges/excitements between touring in America and back home?
Naoko: Using English or my native language Japanese. Foods are different. Start time of the show is different. In Japan, usually shows start from 7pm. In America, itâ€™s midnight. We donâ€™t have long tours in Japan. We play on weekends.
As I get older, I find myself wishing bands would start their sets at 7pm. Iâ€™m liking Japan more and more! What bands are YOU all listening to these days?
Ritsuko: Ringo Deathstarr.
Emi: None. Classical music.
LRK: After this tour, what is next for Shonen Knife?
Naoko: Weâ€™ll play in India. It will be our first time to go there and we are very excited.
LRK: India â€“ another place on my bucket list. What can fans coming to your show in Chicago expect to see?
Naoko: Our purpose is to play music that makes people happy. Weâ€™d like to play enjoyable, fun shows. Wearing our new costumes, weâ€™ll play some songs from our new album â€œOverdriveâ€ and also from our best hits. Letâ€™s have fun!
LRK: Your music definitely does make me happy! Your lyrics are fun and easy to sing along to. I am looking forward to having fun with your show at the Bottom Lounge!
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