Interviews

Tasmanian Devils and 70s rock: A chat with legendary Japanese rock powerhouse Shonen Knife

Japanese rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse Shonen Knife are gearing up to hit Australian shores this September for what’s to be their fourth tour here since playing Big Day Out back in ’97.

Since their DIY beginnings back in 1981, Shoenen Knife have had a relentless career spanning 36 years, over a thousand gigs and 18 studio albums. Having shared stages with the likes of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Redd Kross, and played major festivals around the world, from Fuij Rock at home, to London’s All Tomorrow’s Festival, the trio are one of Japan’s most enduring and beloved rock ‘n’ roll exports.

The band just released Adventure, an album described by frontwoman Naoko Yamano as “passing through the 70’s, born of influences such as Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and The Ramones with a touch of The Supremes.” 

The album’s ten tracks are pumping with the same tireless riffage and upbeat rhythms that Shonen Knife have built their loyal follow around for almost 40 years, and we can’t wait to catch them getting the live treatment this September.

We had a quick chat to the lovely Noako – mastermind behind Shonen Knife – about the upcoming tour, the new record and about the time she watched a Tasmania Devil eat a bunch of rats and wrote a song about it.

Shonen Knife

Ahead of their fourth Australian tour since first playing Big Day Out back in 1997, we chat to Japanese rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse Shonen Knife.

HAPPY: Hey Naoko! What are you up at the moment? I see you’ve been doing some travelling?

NAOKO: I’m in my hometown Osaka now and preparing for Australia and New Zealand Tour.

HAPPY: We’re super excited to see Shonen Knife back on Australian shores. This will be your fourth time back since first playing Big Day Out in ’97 – what keeps you coming back to Australia?

NAOKO: Because I want to see our Australian fans again. We have very good fan base there We could have good opportunity to come back to Australia this time.

HAPPY: In your experience, how do you find Australian audiences differ from other international audiences you’ve played for?

NAOKO: Australian audiences are cheerful, energetic and friendly.

HAPPY: There are references to places and cultural icons from all over the world on Adventure (Tasmanian Devil, Hawaii, Wasabi) – how does your experience travelling around the world influence your music?

NAOKO: Most of my lyrics are inspired by my daily life. I write down some key words in my notebook when I experienced or I saw interesting things. Especially during tours, I can find many interesting topics. The lyrics of Tasmanian Devil was born when I visited Brisbane Zoo in 2009 and saw Tasmanian Devil. They were eating rats. I was so scared to see it and made lyrics.

HAPPY: With 1200 shows under your belt and 36 years of continuous international touring, it’s clear Shonen Knife takes up a massive part of your life. How do you balance tour life with friends, family and home life?

NAOKO: We are touring mostly 3 months a year for overseas. I think it is not so much. Many of major bands are touring most of all year, though. During I’m in my hometown Osaka, I spend regular life with my family and friends.

HAPPY: You’ve got some AWESOME supports locked in for your Aussie tour – Parsnip, Boat Show and I Heart Hiroshima are particular favourites of ours. Were these handpicked by yourselves?

NAOKO: Our record label picked up these supports. I think they are awesome, too!

HAPPY: Are there any bands you’re really digging at the moment?

NAOKO: Last month, it was ASIA but now it’s PILOT, which is a 70’s Scottish band.

HAPPY: Your new album Adventure references classic rockers like Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead and Deep Purple – are these enduring influences for Shonen Knife, or have you only recently started revisiting 70s rock?

NAOKO: I like 70’s Hard Rock. When I started Shonen Knife, I liked late 70’s punk pop bands like Buzzcocks, Ramones or the JAM, and I didn’t like hard rock very much. But in these few years, I started to listen to 70’s hard rock bands and I found how cool they are.

HAPPY: And your sister Atsuko is back after retiring from Shonen Knife in 2006, right?

NAOKO: I’m happy that she can re-join the band. I can be relax with her during tours.

HAPPY: Does the rotating roster of band members influence Shonen Knife sonically?

NAOKO: Of course player’s character appear on recording and shows sonically. Even if two different bass players played the same phrases, the sound became different. I think it’s interesting.

HAPPY: Risa is your newest member on drums and vocals. How did she join?

NAOKO: She plays at a band called BRINKY which is formed with her sister and father. It’s a family band. Her band opened up for Shonen Knife once. BRINKY is a big fan of Shonen Knife and they covers many Shonen Knife songs. When our former drummer Emi left the band, Risa immediately came to mind.

HAPPY: Can you tell us a bit more about the READY! SET!! GO!!! compilation? Where did this idea come from?

NAOKO: We talked with our record label person and making a compilation of vinyl must be cool. We have many albums so the compilation will become good start for listening to Shonen Knife.

HAPPY: Thanks for the chat! Any words to your Aussie fans ahead of the tour?

NAOKO: I hope you enjoy our latest album Adventure and Shonen Knife music and please come to our show. You can be happy through our music. Let’s have fun!

Listen to Adventure here.

Adventure Australia tour 2017

SEPT 21, Brisbane, THE ZOO plus guests I Heart Hiroshima & The Stress of Leisure – Tickets 

SEPT 22, Melbourne, NGV FRIDAY NIGHTS at The House of Dior – Tickets

SEPT 23, Ballarat KAROVA LOUNGE plus guests Parsnip & Ben Ely (Regurgitator) – Ticket

SEPT 24, WAVE ROCK WEEKENDER – Tickets

SEPT 25, Perth BADLANDS plus guests Boat Show & Community Chest – Tickets

SEPT 27, Sydney OXFORD ART FACTORY plus guests Senyawa & Glitoris – Tickets

SEPT 28, Canberra THE BASEMENT plus guests Glitoris & Senyawa – Tickets

SEPT 29, Adelaide OZASIA FESTIVAL – Tickets

SEPT 30, Hobart REPUBLIC BAR – Tickets

OCT 1, Melbourne THE CORNER plus guests: Senyawa & Parsnip – Tickets