Monday, July 18, 2011

Interview: Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife, Osaka Ramones)

by Damien

It's been 30 years since Naoko Yamano formed Shonen Knife in Osaka, Japan with her sister Atsuko and friend Michie Nakatani, and in that time the band has left an indelible impression on the world of indie rock with their blend of punk riffs and happy, pop-leaning, and often pastry-focused lyrics. Within ten years of their first gig in their hometown venue Studio One in front of 36 people, their catchy and unique songs had gained Shonen Knife a loyal following worldwide. Some of their most diehard supporters included bands like Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, and Nirvana, whose frontman Kurt Cobain became famously smitten with the band after seeing them in LA in 1991 and invited them on the UK tour in support of the now-classic album Nevermind.   

With these achievements and many more under their belts, Shonen Knife (with its current lineup of Naoko Yamano on guitar / lead vocals,  Ritsuko Taneda on bass / vocals, and Emi Morimoto on drums / vocals) will be celebrating this momentous anniversary by returning to their roots and releasing Osaka Ramones, a 13-track LP consisting entirely of covers of songs originally created by their "all-time idols" The Ramones. The legendary NYC punk band was instrumental in the evolution of Shonen Knife, who have often covered Ramones tracks under the Osaka Ramones moniker throughout their career. Osaka Ramones will come out tomorrow (7/19) here in the States, and the band will be touring North America this fall starting at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on October 20. 

In advance of the release of the album, I spoke with Yamano-san via email about her love of both the The Ramones and sweets, Shonen Knife's cult following among audiences and the indie rock community half a world away, and the band's future beyond its 30th anniversary. 


First of all, congratulations on your 30th anniversary! Our readers are big fans of yours, and we're looking forward to hearing Osaka Ramones and seeing you here in NYC in the fall. How do you feel the worlds of both pop and punk music have changed since you first started out?

Naoko Yamano: Thank you very much!  Pop and punk music haven’t changed.  It always fun.

You mentioned that you wanted to record an album under your Osaka Ramones namesake for this anniversary in honor of The Ramones. What were your first memorable experiences listening to The Ramones and other punk bands like Buzzcocks, and what drew you to them over the more localized J-Pop movement of the time?

NY: American and British rock were popular in Japan in 1970’s 80’s and ’90.  I naturally became to listen to rock music when I was a teenager.  I became a fan of The Beatles first.  At that time, of course the Beatles were broken up, though.  Then I started to read music magazines and listen to radio to get information about rock bands.  I liked KISS, Aerosmith, Queen and Cheap Trick. One day I heard Ramones songs from radio and I rushed to the record shop.  For Buzzcocks, I read a review of their album Love Bites in a magazine and I thought it looked interesting. Then I went to buy their records.  I don’t know why I don’t listen to Japanese bands but my basic is the Beatles and English lyrics was attractive for me.

From "I Wanna Eat Chocobars" on Pretty Little Baka Guy to "Rock 'N Roll Cake" on Free Time, food has clearly been an integral part of your songs. There seems to be a growing, or at least more visible, connection between food and music nowadays, with many famous rockers now sharing recipes or favorite restaurants or even entered the restaurant business  themselves. Have you dabbled in making the kinds of pastries and sweets that are present in your songs, and do you have any favorite pastry shops you've been to in your travels?

NY: I always like sweets.  Japanese pastries shops are great.  You can find many sweets shops at the basement of department stores in Japan.  Every sweet is so delicious.  I like cakes very much.  In U.S., I sometimes buy See’s candies’ Tofee-ettes at the airport in California. I like nuts and chocolate.

As you're about to release Osaka Ramones as a tribute album to The Ramones, you yourselves have been the subject of a tribute album - 1989's Everybody Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them. That's an incredible accomplishment considering Shonen Knife had only existed for eight years at the time. How did that album come about, and how did you feel about your reception by the international underground music community at the time?

NY: In 1989, I didn’t know even the word ‘tribute album’.  In 1985, we first released our cassette album from K Records in Olympia, Washington.  And we released some albums in U.S.  Then a man who owns a record label called Gasatanka Records made that project.  I was very honored about it.  Every band plays Shonen Knife songs very well.

Shannon and the Clams are slated to join you for your fall tour around North America - what contemporary / new bands are you fond of, and what have been your favorite shows to attend recently?

NY: I went to see High on Fire and Melvins show.  They are great. I saw Ozzy Osbourne, Motor Head last fall.  They are not new bands but I like hard rock bands.  Since the big earthquake in this March, many shows were cancelled and I didn’t have many chance to see foreign bands show.

With your 2010 album Free Time being released in Europe this week, do you have any other new songs in the works at the moment? What are your plans following the fall tour in support of Osaka Ramones?

NY: I have just a few new songs.  I have to write more songs.  We might play Ramones cover songs and our original songs for the fall tour.  I’d like to make a set list under our fan’s requests.

Thanks again for the opportunity and your time!!   

NY: Arigato!  Thank you.


Osaka Ramones is out tomorrow (7/19) on Good Charamel Records. Check out the latest fall tour dates after the jump, including a stop at Brooklyn's Public Assembly as part of the 2011 CMJ Showcase, and a video of Shonen Knife rocking through "Ramones Forever" and "I Wanna Be Sedated."

Shonen Knife Tour Dates
with opener, Shannon and the Clams

20- Toronto, ONT- Horseshoe Tavern
21- Montreal- QC- II Motore
22- Brooklyn, NY- Public Assembly (CMJ)
24- Baltimore, MD- Otto Bar
25- Durham, NC- The Pinhook
26- Atlanta, GA- Masquerade
27- Mobile, AL- Alabama Music Box
28- Houston, TX- GroundHall
29- Austin, TX- Red 7

1- Los Angeles, CA- TBA
2- San Diego, CA - Casbah
3- Long Beach, CA – Alex’s Bar
4- San Francisco, CA- Bottom of the Hill
5- Portland, OR- Dante’s
7- Vancouver, BC- Biltmore Cabaret
8- Seattle, WA- Tractor Tavern
11- Minneapolis, MN- First Ave.
12- Chicago, IL- Empty Bottle
13- Kalamazoo, MI- The Strutt
14- Indianpolis, IN- Radio, Radio
17- Pittsburgh, PA- 31st Pub
18- Brooklyn, NY- The Bellhouse
19- Buffalo, NY- Mohawk Palace

Additional dates to be added.