Pioneering Japanese act return to Calgary with their Rock ‘n’ Roll T-shirts and loveable, hard ‘n’ sweet sound.
For 35 years, Shonen Knife has been cutting through the cute and cuddly of the girl group genre with an edge sharpened by a love of the Ramones and other punk and hard rock heroes.
Last year, to celebrate that three-and-a-half decade mark, the Osaka trio — founded by sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano — released its 16th album Adventure, a tasty, crunchy concoction that celebrates everything from Wasabi and Hawaii to a love of rock band T-shirts.
On Friday night, the three-piece, which features Naoko and Atsuko — the latter of whom just returned to the fold full time after almost a decade of being a touring only member — along with new drummer Risa Kawano, hits Calgary for a Sled Island show at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1.
It will be their first local date since the ’90s, when they were championed by the alt rock heavyweights of the day, including Redd Kross, Sonic Youth and, most notably, Nirvana, who tapped them as support for early tours.
Prior to their Sled Island date, Naoko conducted an email interview with theYYSCENE.
Q: Hi, Naoko. Thank you very much for doing this. It’s been a long time since you were last in Calgary — almost 20 years, I think. Are you looking forward to the show? And do you remember anything about the last time you were here?
A: Wow! So many years have passed! I’ve been hoping to go back to Calgary for a long time because we had good response at the show. People are friendly and the town is beautiful.
Q: Congratulations on your latest record, Adventure. It sounds as if you’re refreshed, as if you’re more excited about doing this than ever. Is part of that due to your sister coming back into the band? Or is there another reason?
A: Of course it is great that my sister is coming back into the band but I’m always excited and refreshed. I think I wrote more fun, enjoyable songs than ever for the latest album Adventure. I was inspired by ’60s and ’70s rock and hard rock music when I wrote songs. I hope many people like this album.
Q: Is there something about this current lineup of the band that you’re most excited about?
A: Our bassist Atsuko understands the band without saying. I can be relaxed to share a hotel room with her during tours. Our drummer Risa is a young powerful drummer. Her drum sound is loud. I like that.
Q: Maybe this is a tough question, but what do you think makes Shonen Knife Shonen Knife, no matter who is in it?
A: Yes, I think it keeps a similar sound, but the groove is different when players change. Anyway, I can say Shonen Knife is a very unique band.
Q: After 35 years, is it difficult to still be inspired or are you always writing, always looking forward to the next album?
A: It’s always been difficult since our second album Yama-no Attchan was released in 1983 because I’m a lazy bone.
Q: My favourite track on the album is Rock’n’Roll T-shirt, which leads to the obvious question: What’s the favourite rock ‘n’ roll T-shirt you own?
A: Thanks a lot! My favourite is Judas Priest’s British Steel T-shirt.
Q: Back in the ’90s you achieved a remarkable level of success in North America and in Europe, thanks in part to other bands such as Nirvana championing you, getting the word out about your music. Do you remember that time fondly?
A: I look forward and never look back. It was long time ago and I only remember fragmentary. It became a great experience for me, though. Since internet improved, everything became convenient and borderless. It’s very easy for bands who are active overseas now. The present days are better than ’90s.
Q: What do you remember about that tour with Nirvana? Were there other tours that you remember fondly from back then?
A: We toured with them twice. The first one was November 1991 in the UK for three weeks. It was the first long tour for us. All members and crew of Nirvana were very kind to us. Feb. 14, 1992, Nirvana played in Osaka. The band and crew arrived Osaka the day before. We took them to a restaurant and had dinner together. The second tour was in 1993, the USA tour. They became very big and played at arenas. The dressing rooms of Shonen Knife and Nirvana was far and we didn’t have chance to see them so much.
Q: How is Shonen Knife viewed back in Japan? Are you considered pioneers? Do you still have a high level of popularity? And are there acts who have told you that you influenced them over the years?
A: What should I say. Shonen Knife might be an underground band in Japan but we sometimes appear in major media. Shonen Knife is a very rare band. There are some Japanese bands who are active overseas now but most of all are experimental or instrumental bands. The genre is different from us. Shonen Knife is an only Japanese active overseas band who has pop melody lines with catchy lyrics. I think there are many artist who have told me that we influenced them.
Q: How much longer do you think you can keep Shonen Knife going, or how much longer do you plan on keeping Shonen Knife going?
A: “As long as there are people who want to come to see our show, I would like to keep on rockin’.” Is this a model answer?
Q: This is not a question, but a thank you. The last time you were in Calgary you were on a university radio show, and the host had a special version of your album Let’s Knife that included a karaoke CD of a few tracks. You were kind enough to sing one of those songs live on the show. It was greatly appreciated and remembered to this day. So thank you. And we’ll see you in a few days.
A: Thank you very much! I can’t wait to play in Calgary!
Shonen Knife perform Friday at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 as part of this year’s Sled Island.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.