By Julijana Capone
CALGARY – The last time Naoko Yamano played in Calgary may have been in 1994. But it’s a foggy, distant memory at this point.
“It was a long time ago and I don’t remember so much,” says Shonen Knife’s affable founder and lead singer-songwriter/guitarist.
“In these few years, we have had no chance to play in Canada and I miss it.”
After a lengthy hiatus from touring the Great White North, she says she’s keen on seeing her Canadian fans and “having a great moment together.”
She adds, “I’m looking forward to eating delicious food, too.”
In Shonen Knife’s 36 years of rocking and pioneering, what has remained unchanged is their regard for adorable, lighthearted rock about having fun! fun! fun! and, of course, tasty grub.
Nearly four decades after forming in Osaka, Japan and 19 albums later, the Shonen Knife legacy lives on, though in a new incarnation. As the band’s members grew up, became wives and mothers; priorities shifted and, over time, the original lineup did as well.
Naoko’s younger sister, Atsuko, also a founding member of the power trio, left the band in 2006 after getting married and moving to Los Angeles. She still plays bass on their North American dates with new members Ritsuko Taneda and Naru Ishizuka rotating on bass duties for dates in Japan. Risa Kawano (also of Japanese punk band Brinky) is the group’s current drummer.
For the Yamano sisters, rock ‘n’ roll has been both a way of life and business. But it’s one that may not endure another generation. Naoko’s now 16-year-old daughter, Emma, has less interest in carrying on her family’s musical torch.
“She is kind of shy,” says Naoko. “She doesn’t like rock ‘n’ roll. She prefers anime and art.”
Adventure, Shonen Knife’s latest effort from 2016, is an amalgamation of where they’ve been and where they’re headed. Opener “Jump into the New World” is sprinkled with characteristic hook-heavy pop-rock sweetness, while “Wasabi” is a cutsie ode to the spicy green paste that offers some pairing advice: “I like the pungent taste. Good match with roast beef. I like the pungent taste. Don’t you agree with me?”
Yes, we do.
Elsewhere, “Rock ’n’ roll T-shirt” and “Calabash” deliver some hefty ‘70s-influneced riffage—an era and sound that’s been of particular interest to Naoko, of late.
“I think that ’70s is the best era of rock ‘n’ roll music,” she says.
“Rock was born in ‘50s, grow up in ‘60s, and completed in ’70s. I didn’t notice when l only listened to punk-pop, because I was too young.”
Any favourite Canucks during that period of rock? The Canadian kings of prog, evidently.
“I love Rush a lot,” she says. “I often listen to their albums in our tour van.”
Nevertheless, it was American proto-punks the Ramones that provided the biggest influence on their own infectious, bare-bones tunes early on; they even released a tribute album in 2011, called Osaka Ramones, which is also the name of their cover band side project.
In ‘98, during the Ramones’ farewell tour in Osaka, they had a chance to meet their rock ‘n’ roll heroes. It was an encounter Naoko still remembers clearly.
“We opened up for the Ramones two days and covered one song per a night,” she says. “Joey said that our cover was excellent. Ramones is my long-time idol and I was so happy. After show, we went to Hard Rock Cafe in Osaka with them. They were kind and gentlemen.”
But the Ramones weren’t the only ones to be won over by Shonen Knife’s endearing qualities. They made adoring fans of, and formed friendships with, the who’s who of the indie rock scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The late Kurt Cobain is famously quoted as saying that he was “transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” after seeing them live, and asked the band to join Nirvana on tour through the U.K. in 1991. A few years earlier, a myriad of bands like Sonic Youth, L7, and Redd Kross covered their tunes for the 1989 tribute album, Every Band Has A Shonen Knife.
Despite time and distance, they still manage to keep in touch with some of the artists that supported them all those years ago.
“Jeff [McDonald] from Redd Kross came to our show several times in Los Angeles, and I went to their in-store show a few years ago,” Naoko says.
After 36 years of rock ‘n’ roll adventures, time has flown by faster than the frontwoman cares to admit.
“I never look back and I didn’t notice such a long time has passed,” Naoko says.
“Anyway, keep on rocking is the best!”
Shonen Knife perform at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 on June 23 as part of Sled Island. For more information on Shonen Knife and to purchase their latest album, visit shonenknife.net.Royal Canadian Legion #1, Shonen Knife, Sled Island, Sled Island 2017