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Dec 19

[interview] Shonen Knife carves out its spot in J-rock history

s12Shonen Knife may be a veteran of American shows, but new bassist Ritsuko Taneda had never traveled outside of Japan before the overseas tour this fall. She made her U.S. debut at New York City’s Santos Party House on Oct. 16, and she was clearly ecstatic: headbanging enthusiastically, throwing metal horns with a gleeful smile, and waving wildly at the crowd of dedicated fans. This contrasted with drummer Etsuko Nakanishi’s energetic but seasoned vibe and founding member Naoko Yamano’s calm, cool demeanor from 28 years of performing in the band.

You J-rock lovers have Shonen Knife to thank for your fandom. This all-girl trio was one of the bands to establish Japan as a source of cool, cutting-edge music. The girls debuted in 1981, playing 70’s style punk with chirpy melodys and whimsical, bilingual lyrics. After landing a track on a Sub Pop compilation and an opening gig for Nirvana—Kurt Cobain was an outspoken fan— in 1991, Shonen Knife turned music lovers’ heads toward the Far East and set the stage for more Japanese bands to tour the U.S. Shonen Knife’s resume boasts a jam session with Sonic Youth, popular music videos on MTV, an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and a set at Lollapalooza in 1994.

Though Shonen Knife spawned a whole genre of cutesy Japanese punk groups, the original remains one of the most distinctive and least jaded. Shonen Knife’s music is heavily rooted in American and British rock, compared to the J-pop sound of many of their peers. “I think we are a little bit different, maybe strange for Japanese people,” Yamano laughs. The band’s lineup has changed over the years, and the new members’ individual influences keep the songwriting fresh. While Yamano—the only original member left—is a diehard fan of classic bands like the Ramones and Eagles, Nakanishi incorporates the strong drumming of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Taneda brings her taste for Liverpool bands. And while fame and longevity mar some artists’ output, these girls feel pressure-free and passionate about music. “We just like to rock,” Yamano says.

s04And the trio still draws a huge crowd. The audience at Santos was remarkably diverse in age and race, but united by a singular love for these petite rockers. People shouted requests for songs across the band’s catalogue to the band’s apparent surprise and delight.

Shonen Knife toured to promote the U.S. release of their album Super Group (Good Charamel Records). This was their first overseas tour since 2007 and their first with Taneda, who joined the group officially last year after touring for two years as a support member. She was a diehard fan growing up and applied to the band—now, she’s living her dream.

Yamano is humble about her band’s success and influence in America. “I’m just honored,” she says. “I was influenced by American and British rock, so I’m happy to play in a rock country.”

Shonen Knife will release a new album, Free Time, on Jan.6. Yamano promises the album will include a variety of influences including punk, country and heavy metal, like usual. It’s typical of Shonen Knife, but that’s never a bad thing.

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Shonen Knife Official Website – http://www.shonenknife.net/