Shonen Knife's Naoko Yamano: 'I'm Ashamed to Write Songs About Love'
It's been three decades since beloved all-female Japanese pop-punk trio Shonen Knife formed, and although they have only one remaining original member, singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano, they still pump out an endearing mixture of pop, punk, food and fantasy that has attracted fans all over the world, including members of heavier bands such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Red Kross. We spoke to founder Naoko a couple of weeks before the band hit the road for their 30th-anniversary tour of North America.
Naoko Yamano: In the early '80s, I was bored with my daily life, and I wanted to start something interesting. I liked punk pop bands like Ramones and Buzzcocks at that time, and I wanted to start band like them. Then I put the name Shonen Knife for my band. It was a brand name of pencil knife in Japan. "Shonen" means "boy" in Japanese. The word has the image of "cute." And the word "knife" has the image of dangerous. When "cute" and "dangerous" are combined together, it's our band. A man who owned a record label saw our gig by accident, and we got an offer from him to release a record on his label, Zero Records.
When Shonen Knife first started making music, were there many other female rock bands in Japan?
Not so many, but there were some. We sometimes had a gig together. Each band played their unique music. I especially like all-female bands. Being an all-female band has been an advantage because we can be prominent, and many boys bands helped us a lot.
How did growing up in Osaka affect the music you make?
In Japan, everything is gathered in Tokyo. The major music scene is in Tokyo. Osaka is the second-largest city in Japan, but we have our own spirit. It is good for growing underground bands.
Do you remember the first time you heard a song by the Ramones? What was it like to meet them later on?
When I was a teenager, Ramones songs were aired on the radio. I rushed to a record shop and purchased their album. Their songs were very pop, and Joey's voice was so sweet. In 1998, we opened up for their farewell shows in Osaka. We went to Hard Rock Café in Osaka after the show. I was very excited to meet my longtime heroes. Every member was so kind to us.
You've said you don't need any politics in your music, but the Ramones and a lot of other bands you cite as influences got political, so how do you still relate to them?
I sometimes write about social problem in songs like "Economic Crisis" from our album Free Time, but our melody line is fun. I sing a little about serious problems with funny music, and I believe people can laugh away the problems.
Why does Shonen Knife write songs about food rather than more common rock/pop themes, like love and heartbreak?
I'm ashamed to write songs about love. I'd like to be different from other bands. Doing [things] different is rock, isn't it? I don't want to write negative songs because if people listen to such songs, they must be sad. I want people to be happy through our music. That's why I write songs about our favorite things, like food or animals. My favorite foods are delicious Japanese cakes, cookies, nuts, chocolate, noodles, bread, cheese, ice cream and more.