INTERVIEW: Shonen Knife Talks Punk Rock and Ramen

It’s been 36 years since Shonen Knife first formed, but Naoko Yamano, the band’s main vocalist, guitarist, and most loyal participant doesn’t want to talk about that. Her sister, and Shonen Knife’s original drummer-turned-bassist Atsuko Yamano, is officially back with the band after an almost 10 year hiatus. Together with the fresh-faced and eager Risa Kawano on drums, the punk rock trio is taking the US by storm— again. This time, it’s for Adventure, the name of their latest full length album, and a healthy helping of ramen in 28 cities along the way.

We met up with the punk legends ahead their show at Boston’s Japanese tavern, Hojoko, for some of that sweet ambrosia they call ramen, and to talk music before they embarked on what is sure to be the most delicious tour of all time.

Allston Pudding: First of all, why ramen over sushi, tempura or other foods?

Naoko: Sushi is already very popular here and ramen is now getting popular. Ramen is a very creative food because each restaurant has each recipe, so they taste very different. Depends on the restaurant. And ramen is very quick, easy to eat, but very tasty. So we picked ramen.

AP: Did you grow up with music?

Risa (translated from Japanese by Naoko): Risa’s father liked rock music and she was listening to rock music when she was a child.

Naoko: I started listening to rock music when I was a junior high school student and I started to listen to to the Beatles first, and then I was inspired by late 70’s punk bands like Ramones, Buzzcocks—that kind of music.

Atsuko: I’m the younger sister of Naoko so all the things she listened to. I checked her records.

AP: I have an older sister and definitely went through all her CDs when I was young, so I understand. Which was the first band you saw that made you go, ‘I wanna do that?’

Naoko: Actually, my first rock concert was Aerosmith.

AP: You know they’re from Boston?

Naoko: Wow! It was late 70’s and I was a high school student. When Steven Tyler came to Japan, he got cold but played very energetically, enthusiastically.

Risa: Risa went to see Shonen Knife when she was a high school student. It was her first rock concert.

AP: That’s amazing! When did you realize you wanted music to be your life?

Naoko: [humming] I think around 1992 or ’93. We released our albums from big record company in America at that time.

AP: What’s the last song you sang along to? Can you name a couple bands you like to listen to while on tour?

Naoko: Rock and blues musicians like Earth Wind & Fire or Con Funk Shun. Michael Jackson.

Atsuko: Jackson 5!

Naoko: Because I like to listen to the music which I cannot play. R&B is very different from Shonen Knife music, very far. So I like that.

AP: What about everyone else? Do you kinda do your own thing?

Atsuko: I like punk music sometimes. Also in the airplane I listen to hard rock, 70s era.

Risa: 70’s classical rock music like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin.

AP: How did you start playing your instrument?

Naoko: I was a very, very little child I had a piano lessons but my piano teacher was so strict, so I didn’t like to play piano. But it’s useful for me. And then I started to play the guitar when I was a high school student. But my first guitar was acoustic guitar so it’s very hard to put the chords, and I had sore fingers so I quit! And then in early 80’s I started to play electric guitar. And after I formed Shonen Knife, I started to play electric guitar.

AP: How did you pick up the drums, Risa?

Risa: When she was a junior high school student, she formed rock band with her friend. And her friend wanted to make her a drummer. So that’s why she drummed.

Atsuko: Actually, I am the original drummer.

AP: And then you picked up bass, right?

Atsuko: Yes. When we formed Shonen Knife, Naoko played guitar, Michie bass, and then Naoko asked me, “You should play drums.” I go, “O-kay.”

AP: How has touring in the U.S. changed throughout the years?

Naoko: It’s getting more convenient because of internet. For this time, I brought a SIM-free cell phone, you just change the SIM card. It’s very easy. I can search everything through internet so it’s very convenient. Also the number of delicious Japanese restaurant increasing, so very good for us.

AP: Makes sense. What are some of your favorite lyrics from your new album Adventure?

Naoko: It’s very difficult to pick one, but “Rock’n’roll T-Shirt” I think is a good thing because we usually sell our t-shirts as merch and I’m always annoying about t-shirt design. Recently, I started to draw by myself for our t-shirt. It’s really cool. I hope many Shonen Knife fans like my drawing.

AP: Which songs are the most fun to play live in general?

Naoko: Risa likes “Capybarra” and I enjoy songs like “Cobra vs Mongoose” or “Antonio Baka Guy.” Like, heavy metallic songs.

Atsuko: I like to play “Wasabi.”

AP: Thats’s definitely a favorite. So who’s the best new artist out of Japan right now?

Naoko: My favorite is a band called EXTRUDERS.

Atsuko: Convex Level.

AP: Do you have any advice for young women who want to play music?

Naoko: Just keep on rocking, and never quit.

Find photos by Sarah Wilson from dinner and the show below.