POP Montreal 2010 review and interview: Shonen Knife

Megan Mericle / October 5, 2010

Shonen Knife 少年ナイフ @ Cabaret du Mile End | 09/30/2010

Shonen Knife opened their set with their heart-thumping punk anthem "Konnichiwa" last Thursday at Cabaret du Mile End for POP Montréal 2010. (All photos by: Megan Mericle)

I had the privilege to interview and photograph the Japanese punk-pop band Shonen Knife (SK) who graced Montreal with their presence last Thursday night for an all night rock and roll party. Formed in December of 1981 in Osaka, Japan with original members Naoko Yamano (guitar and vocals), Atsuko Yamano, and Michie Nakatani, the current line up includes veteran Naoko still on guitar and lead vocals, Emi Morimoto on drums and vocals, and Ritsuko Taneda on bass and vocals. In the early nineties SK found a fan in Kurt Cobain who invited them to tour as an opening act for Nirvana in November of 1991, giving them the break they needed to get their first major record deal and recognition in the emerging international indie/punk scene with 1992’s Let’s Knife.

At the concert the audience bopped, danced and shook their fists to the thumping beats and Ramones-esque riffs of “Perfect Freedom,” “Capybara,” “Do You Happen to Know,” “P.Y.O,” and “Love Song” from their new album Free Time, and to older ultra-sugary garage punk-pop gems such as “Banana Chips,” “Cat Nip Dream,” “Explosion,” and “Twist Barbie.” It was a treat to hear them perform their edgy, adrenaline-infused covers of “Boys,” and “Top of the World” (the Carpenters).  SK just released the concert DVD Live at the Mohawk Place 2009, (available at the Good Charamel Record Store) and they have no plans of stopping anytime soon.

Check out the fun interview I had with them before the show and the photographs I took during the concert, a difficult feat considering the infectious dance-ability of their music!

Megan: Welcome to Montréal! We are so happy to have you here!

Shonen Knife: Thank you, we are happy to be here too!

Megan: Of all of your songs that have the name of a food item in the song title, which do you like the best? For example the songs “Sushi Bar,” “Gyoza,” “Wonder Wine,” “Fruits and Vegetables,” “Strawberry Cream Puff,” “I Wanna Eat Choco Bars,” “Ice Cream City,” “Cookie Day,” “Brown Mushrooms,” Rock n Roll Cake,” “Tomato Head,” really…there are so many. Which do you prefer (for both the food and the song)?

Naoko: I like “Sushi Bar.”

Emi: “Tomato Head!”

Ritsuko: “Strawberry Cream Puff!”

Megan: And as a follow up to that, what is your favourite food in real life?

Ritsuko: Anything sweet.

Emi: BBQ.

Naoko: Macaroni gratin. It tastes like alfredo sauce, and it has mushrooms, chicken, onions and parmesan cheese, all baked in an oven.

Megan: Mmm, that all sounds good to me. I like all of those things. What made you title your new album Free Time? Is it a new outlook on life? A comment on the capitalist metaphor that “time is money,” and it’s getting harder and harder for people to find free time? Is free time elusive and hard to find because of Shonen Knife’s busy touring and recording schedule?

Naoko: No, we want people to listen to our music when they have free time so that they can have a chance to really enjoy the music.

Megan: What is the craziest thing a fan has ever done to you? Have you received anything strange or spectacular from fans at your shows?

Naoko: For a good surprise, a fan made dolls that looked like us a lot.

Emi: I received a giant flower from a fan for my birthday. It was very tall.

Megan: It’s obvious that you’re a supergroup, well…to me anyways, but also in reference to your album Super Group released in Japan in 2008 and in North America from Good Charamel records in 2009. You have a huge catalog of albums and having played for over 28 years and probably thousands of shows, you are still not very well known in North America despite touring here numerous times. In comparison, what is the level of fame that you experience in Japan? Do people treat you differently back home?

Naoko: We spend all day as usual people do. People notice me in the subway sometimes. It was similar here in the 90s when Shonen Knife released an album with a big record company as an underground punk band. Many people at home are surprised that we tour a lot overseas, we are still very underground.

Megan: Do you have any plans to work on new music for an upcoming album after your North American tour?

Naoko: At the end of this tour, we will have a recording session in Buffalo, New York with Robby [Takac], the bassist from the Goo Goo Dolls. We will also have a recording session in Osaka, Japan. We will record one cover song. And we may record a new album or create some compilation album for our 30th anniversary.

Megan: What is your favourite activity to do to get rid of your stress? What about things like playing music, dancing, eating, or running, for example?

Naoko: I like to play tennis. On one of our only days off during the tour I had a chance to play in Los Angeles!

Megan: Wow, it sounds like it has been a busy tour for you.

Ritsuko: I like to sit in an internet café and read Manga comics!

Emi: I like to eat, and I like to go driving.

Megan: What musician, songwriter or band do you dream of playing on the same stage with? Somebody that you respect highly?

Naoko: Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, and Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple.

Ritsuko: Paul McCartney.

Emi: Anyone is okay with me if they’re very punk! But I love the Beatles and Paul McCartney.

Megan: Shonen Knife’s sound is characterized by heavier garage rock sounds, but your lyrics are so opposite in terms of their positivity and subject matter. The Beatles have songs that have a rock sound with happy-go-lucky lyrics, but also sad, bittersweet lyrics sung in a happier tone. What do you set out to do with your own unique combination of music and lyrics?

Naoko: We like to always play happy music. We are punk-pop and sometimes hard rock, and we are inspired by the Beatles. But the lyrics should always be happy because we want people to be happy through our music.

Megan: Thank you so much for the interview today, those are all of my questions. I appreciate your time and patience!

Shonen Knife: No problem it was our pleasure!

“Perfect Freedom” from Free Time, 2010. Good Charamel Records.

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