Final Jeopardy! “Of Shonen Knife, he once said, ‘When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old at a Beatles concert.’” If you answered ‘Kurt Cobain,’ congratulations, you probably just beat Watson.
Seminal Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife celebrates 30 years in the music industry with their current tour, which brings them to Radio Radio next Monday. They bring together an unusual combination of the power-singing of Phil Spector-era girl groups and the rampaging rock of the punk bands who were big in 1981, especially the Ramones. Their most recent album, in fact, is “Osaka Ramones,” a tribute to the work of Joey and company.
They opened for Nirvana during the “Nevermind” tour, though as you can tell from his statement, Cobain probably thought of them as the headliners. They’ve had several successful American tours since then, particularly a spot on Lollapalooza.
Only one founding member, Naoko (guitar/vocals) remains with the band, along with Ritsuko (bass) and Emi (drums) The band members, who go by first name only — unless you count their Ramone names, Naoko Ramone et al — deliver their music with a combination of playful spunk, color-coordinated costumes and just plain enthusiasm that tends to guarantee a pretty good show. (The most subversive thing about the Ramones was how much FUN they were having the entire time.) They’ve been known to describe themselves as “super-eccentric-pop-punk-cult-band-shonen-knife!” which just about sums it all up, and will also make an excellent title for the inevitable comic book adaptation of their lives.
We spoke (well, e-mailed) with Naoko about their current tour, the Ramones covers and what it’s like to still be rocking after 30 years:
NUVO: This is the second American tour for the current lineup; how have you meshed together in that time. How is the Shonen Knife sound of 2011 different from that of 2001 or 1991?
NAOKO: Ritsuko and Emi have nice characters and they are good musicians. We have good relationship, too. Our sound became more powerful than before.
NUVO: What’s it like traveling the United States these days? Over all the times you’ve been here, from the mid-1980s tour to now, is there a difference in the fan reaction?
NAOKO: We play most of everyday and drive a lot. Our first overseas show was 1989 just once in L.A. and the second time was 1991. It wasn’t started from mid -80’s. Anyway, in 90’s we toured in a tour bus and now we are touring in a van. I prefer a van. It’s convenient to go everywhere. The reaction from our fans getting more aggressive. We have a lot of mosh. It’s a little dangerous, though. We always have a great audience.
NUVO: Given the huge influence the Ramones have been on Shonen Knife, what was it like assembling a Ramones tribute album after all this time?
NAOKO: After we recorded Ramones covers, I became to know how their music is great and fun.
NUVO: What’s your take on the Ramones songs you cover? What elements of your own style do you bring to the songs?
NAOKO: Since we are female and our voice are different from Joey. We changed the key of the songs. For the arrangement, we tried to just like the original but without notice, we could make our original style.
NUVO: What music are you listening to these days? Are there any performers that are having an influence on you in the way the Beatles and Ramones influenced the band’s early days?
NAOKO: I like to listen to ‘70’s British hard rock like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Rainbow and so on. I like KISS, too. Their stage performances are fun.
NUVO: Are there are any artists performing right now that you think will still be having an influence 10 or 20 years in the future?
NAOKO: The Rolling Stones?!
NUVO: Are there any bands in America you’d love to perform with that you haven’t already? Given the chance, what Japanese bands would you perform with?
NAOKO: Cheap Trick. Japanese bands… Yellow Machinegun.
NUVO: What’s your relationship like with American fans? How is fandom in America different than in Japan or Europe?
NAOKO: We always have autograph sessions after our show. I can meet and greet with our fans. Everybody is so nice. I also have many messages at Twitter and other social network. There is no difference from other countries.
NUVO: What are some of your fondest memories of touring — whether in America or elsewhere?
NAOKO: The fondest thing for me is meeting with wonderful audience all over the world.
NUVO: Emi: This is your second time on a U.S. tour with Shonen Knife — what did you learn about touring and performing last time you were here? What are you looking forward to this time around?
EMI: America is so huge and I learned how to get sleep in a van. I’m looking forward to see many of our fans in America.
NUVO: What kind of advantages do digital technology, communication, and the always-on world of social media bring that weren’t around in earlier stages of Shonen Knife’s career?
NAOKO: When we started Shonen Knife, snail mail was the only tool to communicate with overseas. Because phone fee was expensive. It became very convenient to announce our information through internet. It is a little sad that the progress of internet got away vinyl and CD, though.
NUVO: What do you feel keeps your popularity high around the worldwide, after three decades?
NAOKO: I never look back and I just keep on rocking.
NUVO: Anything else you’d like to add?
NAOKO: I hope you enjoy our Osaka Ramones album and other albums, too and let’s ROCK at our show!