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INTERVIEW – NAOKO YAMANO, SHONEN KNIFE – January 2015

| 20 January 2015 | 1 Reply

INTERVIEW – NAOKO YAMANO, SHONEN KNIFE – January 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Shonen Knife 01

Thirty four years into a nineteen album career and Japanese pop-punks Shonen Knife show no sign of slowing down, bringing their new album Overdrive to Australia this month.

JAN 17 Hobart MONA FOMA Faux Mo – special OSAKA RAMONES performance
JAN 18 Hobart MONA FOMA
JAN 21 Perth ASTOR LOUNGE
JAN 22 Adelaide JIVE
JAN 23 Brisbane GALLERY OF MODERN ART Future Beauty Up Late
JAN 24 Sydney THE FACTORY
JAN 25 Melbourne DING DONG

After seventeen studio albums, one covers record and a live album, Amano – the only remaining original member of the all-girl three-piece who formed in 1981 – says she works to more or less the same system with each recording.

“The process of recording is usually the same,” Amano explains. “I’m lazy and I don’t start writing songs until we book recording studio, but once we booked the studio, I can write songs quickly with concentration. Then I send my demo to our members and we rehearse. At the recording studio, we start to record from basic tracks then overdub.”

Overdrive, released in April of last year, has garnered a good reaction from fans with its classic Shonen Knife sound full of pop-punk riffs and sugar-sweet melodies.

“We toured UK/Europe, Japan, North America and India in 2014,” she says, affirming she’s been very happy with the fan response to the record. “At every place, the response of Overdrive was great.”

Shonen Knife 02

Another key element to Shonen Knife’s sound is their lyrics, which often find Amano singing about everyday happy things such as shopping, pets or even their favourite on-the-road snack, Ramen noodles. It’s not the sort of thing you’d hear on a U2 or Bruce Springsteen album.

“I can’t say anything about other bands’ creative activity,” she smiles, “[but] it might be good if there are various kinds of lyrics.”

After 34 years on the road Amano says she still enjoys touring, and has found that the key, for her, is to look after her body.

“Thanks to many people around me who support Shonen Knife, I’ve been keeping touring. I just keep myself healthy. I play tennis – it’s good exercise. I like to eat sweets, though…”

Amano formed the band with her younger sister Atsuko on drums, who actually switched to play bass after almost twenty years. Atsuko eventually quit the band in 2008 to get married and move to Los Angeles, and still makes guest appearances with Shonen Knife when the band tour the area.

“It was a little hard [for me when Atsuko left the band],” Naoko admitted, “but I could find great new members. The bassist Ritsuko [Taneda, who replaced Atsuko in 2008] and the drummer Emi [Morimoto, who joined the band in 2010] are talented musicians and their stage performance are so powerful. It’s comfortable for me to tour with them.”

Listening to any Shonen Knife album and you’d be mistaken for thinking that The Ramones are the girls’ most obvious sonic influence – they even released an album of Ramones covers as The Osaka Ramones in 2012. Amano sets the record straight.

“I think the most influenced band for Shonen Knife is the Beatles!” she exclaims, going so far as to nominate The White Album as the one record she would want to be a part of the recording of if she were magically given the chance. “I want to try to make The Beatles members get well together.

“[But] for the Overdrive album, I’m influenced by 70’s British hard rock and American rock bands like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Bad Company, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Boston, ZZ Top, Doobie Brothers… [bands] like that.

“I can have many chances to discover new music for me,” she continues when I ask if she takes on new influences, “even if the music is an old one, I feel it’s fresh because it’s new for me. Basically I like to listen to classic rock like ‘70s and ‘60s rock but I check various kinds of music like classical music, death metal, Vocaloid (a singing voice synthesiser), underground bands, Anime themes… songs like that.”

Shonen Knife 03

To a Westerner, Japanese culture can seem very ordered and in some ways very strict, and Amano says that while she wasn’t considered a radical, growing up a rock child still wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“From the beginning when I start Shonen Knife, there are many underground bands in Osaka, my hometown. It’s not so special to play in a rock band at that time but my parents were rather conservative. My mother didn’t like me to carry an electric guitar with me in my neighbourhood. After our major debut, she got [to] understand us.

“People around my family were positive for my band,” she reflects. “Usually, I’m a regular city citizen of Osaka. No one can imagine that I’m a rock n’ roller!”

Amano goes on to explain that even as a teenager falling in love with music in the ‘70s, Western rock n’ roll records and concerts were easy enough to find and get to in Japan.

“It was easy for me because I’ve been living in Osaka, the big city. There were imported record stores from the ‘70s [on]. Radio played western rock music a lot. Recently, Japanese young people don’t listen to western rock music so much but Japanese Pop.”

In a society famous for geisha girls and conservatism, it’s perhaps surprising to here Amano say she hasn’t experienced any sexism in rock over the years.

“No, it hasn’t been harder to lead the band to success because I am a woman – being a woman is rather an advantage. All female bands are rare and prominent. Many boy bands asked us to play with them when I started the band – I’ve never booked shows by myself until we major debuted.”

Amano is the undisputed leader of Shonen Knife: she writes the songs, names the albums, decides what is going on, when and where. She agrees this is “a lot of responsibility,” but is quick to add that it means, “and also I can be free.”

Shonen Knife 04

As to Shonen Knife’s place in rock history, she seems happy… mostly, laughing, “if I have a smash hit song, I can be happy more!

“I think I can continue making music as long as I live, but for touring, if I’m not healthy, I can’t do,” she says, agreeing she will eventually have to retire from the road.

That Amano is a cult legend in her own right is undisputed, and her advice to young people wanting to learn to play and start a band is simple and about as rock n’ roll as it gets: “Keep on Rocking and make unique music.”
An edited version of this interview was first published in X-Press Magazine’s 14 January 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Comments (1)

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  1. Bill says:

    Hi.great interview
    This band needs to be in the
    Rockin roll hall of fame
    In a!new catagorybest internal rock punk
    Band if not that category exist
    Bill brown

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