There has always been something a little weird and wonderful about Shonen Knife. Music fans with a fetish for self-important bands with a message would likely pick up a Shonen Knife album, with titles like Flying Jelly Attack, Muddy Bubbles Hell, or Giant Kitty, scratch their heads, and move on. For others, Shonen Knife’s upbeat music, brimming with a unique whimsy and wit, is musical crack.
Now in its twenty-eighth year, with Naoko Yamano the only original remaining member, Shonen Knife has released its sixteenth album, Super Group. Yamano kindly took some time to answer some questions from the road in anticipation of the band's performance this Sunday at Mango's.
29-95: Shonen Knife’s music has always been a lot of fun, in particular because of the lyrics. What inspires your particular lyrical style?
Naoko: I pick up the topic of my lyrics from my daily life. I think music should be fun like the band KISS. I don’t want to listen to serious sad songs. I want to get happy. Also, I want to make people happy through our music.
29-95: I have to admit listening to the new album and hearing you cover Paul McCartney’s JET immediately brought a smile on my face; Wings is a guilty pleasure of mine. Who suggested you cover that song and why? Also, what ever happened to your Ramones cover band, The Osaka Ramones?
Naoko: I picked up the song Jet because I like Paul McCartney’s songs a lot. I don’t do Osaka Ramones now but I’d like to do it soon. If we can, we’d like to make a cover album of the Ramones as Osaka Ramones.
29-95: Not to be intrusive, but how are Michie and Atsuko doing since they retired from Shonen Knife? Why do you think, despite the change in members over the years, the band has kept what makes it unique?
Naoko: Michie left the band in the end of 1999 and she wanted to do other things than band. Atsuko left the band 3 years ago because she moved to Los Angeles. Etsuko, our drummer became an official member from 3 years ago and I have a new bassist Ritsuko. She joined the band last year. I’m keeping myself fresh and continuing to make songs. New members are very talented. It’s helpful.
29-95: Two of my favorite songs from the new album are Slug and Muddy Bubbles Hell because the guitar rocks! I know that most Shonen Knife fans generally follow the vocal melody, but I was curious about your guitar style, who influenced you, and how you approach it when writing a song. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Naoko: Recently I like to listen to ‘70’s British hard rock music like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Rainbow and so on. My favorite guitarists are Tony Iomi and Jimmy Page. I also like DIO’s vocal.
29-95: Na Na Na is a classic example of Shonen Knife songwriting where you can break down the melody and the chord changes and, while it’s not anything particularly complex or a reinvention of the wheel, when you add all the pieces together it’s the kind of song you can’t help but play over and over and over in the car. What do you think makes your songs so catchy and instantly recognizable?
Naoko: Even me, I don’t know why but I’m happy if you think it is catchy. I also inspired by ‘70s American Rock like Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Boston and so on. I love their beautiful melody lines and harmony. I think these bands are very catchy.
29-95: Are there any Japanese bands you admire that we here in the states should seek out?
Naoko: I like Acid Mother Temple.
29-95: Lastly, given the fact that you have been doing Shonen Knife for over a quarter century, what keeps you engaged and excited after so many years both in the studio and when on tour?
Naoko: I play tennis for my spare time. It makes me healthy.
Listen to Shonen Knife's newest album, Super Group, courtesy of LaLa.com