Shonen Knife are one of a kind. The three-piece band, famous for their pop punk, Ramones-indebted tunes, have spent the last 40 odd years amassing fans and blowing off roofs, and, as the cliché goes, show few signs of slowing down now. Everyone has paid homage to the influential group, from Kurt Cobain (he told Melody Maker that he had “turned into a nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” while watching the band play in LA) to the beloved, sorely-missed English DJ John Peel.
Now the group are heading back to Australia for the first time since 2015 with songs from last year’s Adventure in tow and some great bands ready to support them. It’ll be local firebrands Glitoris who will support them on the Sydney leg of the show, and Shonen Knife’s lead singer and founding member Naoko Yamano couldn’t be more excited.
“The first purpose of our tour is, I will get to meet with Shonen Knife fans – we love to share happy times with them.”
In fact, she couldn’t be more excited full stop. In spite of Yamano’s broken English, you can pretty much hear her smiling face radiate down the phone line, and everything she has to say about the pending tour oozes with delight and love for her fans. She is, in that way, the prototypical indie musician – a performer who doesn’t take to the stage in order to get her face plastered on the front of magazines, or to earn herself a million bucks, but because she loves it; because she loves the people that she plays for.
“I’m so excited,” she says. “The first purpose of our tour is, I will get to meet with Shonen Knife fans – we love to share happy times with them. I [have] only been to Australia three times so far – the next time is the fourth time. I think Australian fans are always very friendly and so cheerful.”
Over their tenure as a band, Shonen Knife have perfected a formula that involves mixing pop melodies with a punk attitude, and they’re like some unholy cross between an entire top ten’s worth of catchy, radio-friendly tunes and the anarchistic, no-nonsense outlook of a band like Black Flag. And yet despite the toe-tapping joy hidden in the centre of every one of their songs, they’ve remained relatively underground and have never enjoyed significant mainstream success.
For her part, Yamano admits that of course, more mainstream success wouldn’t go unwelcome. “Actually, I, of course, want to be on the mainstream radio and touring with our private jet,” she giggles. “Yet I don’t know why, but we are a very DIY band. We play our instruments and we make songs by ourselves… We have even always made our costumes by ourselves – actually our bassist Atsuko makes our costumes.”
But even if Shonen Knife haven’t enjoyed the recognition afforded to so many mainstream bands, they sure as hell have had a raft of incredible opportunities. They’ve played to adoring crowds at London’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, Fuji Rock in Japan, and Lollapalooza – not to mention opening for Nirvana on more than one occasion.
“I think Australian fans are always very friendly and so cheerful.”
“Of course I am so proud of playing at big festivals and touring with Nirvana – I always enjoying playing at big festivals. It is so exciting for me and our band; when we play shows we always play happily.”
Discussion soon turns toward more current endeavours, namely 2016’s Adventure. “I like this album Adventure very much,” Yamano says. “It was released last year and we toured the UK and around America, Canada and Japan. The album is inspired by some ’60s and ’70s classic rock, especially hard rock.
“Our previous album [2014’s] Overdrive was inspired by pop music, and our previous album [2012’s] Pop Tune is inspired by ’70s classic rock too. But for the new album, Adventure I think we were all more improved – we got better and better, I think.”
Certainly, Adventure is one of the most comprehensive and satisfying record of the band’s recent career. Given upbeat and encouraging songs like ‘Jump Into The New World’, not to mention joyous numbers like ‘Rock‘N’Roll T-Shirt’, you might assume Shonen Knife have written about a specific series of adventures that influenced writing of the album. But Yamano happily says otherwise. The album’s title doesn’t refer to a single event as much as it refers to a kind of life philosophy. “No, no, no, no! Adventure every day!” she cries. “Every day of my life is adventure!”
Part of treating every day like an adventure means not micro-managing your future, something Yamano strenuously tries to avoid. So as a result , she’s not sure when the band will next take to the studio. “[I’m] not decided yet because I’m very lazy and I usually start to write songs only when I book studio time. I don’t make music [frequently]; I am too busy having fun! I have to book recording studio and if I’m in the studio I can start writing songs.”
And write songs Shonen Knife do. With a whopping 16 studio albums under their belt and a 36-year stint of extensive global touring, Shonen Knife are a legendary act with a glittering future; not to mention one with assuredly more music to come.
Before Yamano brightly says her farewells, she touches upon that exciting future she envisions for the band. It’s all one day at a time for the performer – her life is one big adventure after another – but if there’s one thing she’s certain she wants for her group, it’s that private jet. “I’d really love it,” she laughs.
Shonen Knife are set to play the Oxford Art Factory on Wednesday September 27. For more information, head here.