Shonen Knife Interview
Though they are still virtually unknown in the field of popular commercial music, Shonen Knife are legendary among folks into the undercurrents of rock music. These three young Japanese women play upbeat, very American sounding music that is intriguing and refreshing...particularly in a climate where far too many bands rely on volume and shock tactics to gain attention.
Shonen Knife is Naoko Yamano (guitar, vocal), Michi Nakatani (bass, vocal), and Atsuko Yamano (drums, vocal). The band's latest CD is entitled Brand New Knife, and it certainly is the band's best release ever. Whether they are playing happy bubblegum ("Explosion"), pensive pop ("Wind Your Spring"), thought provoking middle-of-the-road stuff ("Fruits and Vegetables"), or skewed, obtuse pop ("E.S.P."), these girls know how to sing and play up a storm. And somehow amidst all the critical acclaim, they manage to come off as sincere, genuine ladies who simply enjoy writing and playing music.
This interview was done Thursday afternoon (February 13, 1997) by telephone while the band was in New York doing a promotional tour of the United States.
Interview with Naoko Yamano
This is Naoko.
How are you?
Very good, thank you.
How is your trip to America going?
It's going really well. We had a show in Los Angeles at the Poptopia festival. The show was packed and many people came to see us and they looked very enjoying and also we were playing with some other bands...Wondermints, Splitsville, Frosted, and even play with Redd Kross.
I think my favorite two songs on the new album are "E.S.P." and "Fruits and Vegetables."
Wow. Yeah, we recorded the video for "E.S.P." also.
Do you mind if I ask how old you are?
It's always a secret so I can tell you. I am 48.
What instruments do you play?
Play guitar and vocal singing and also on the brand new Knife album I play the mellotron on a song "The Perfect World." I don't need much technique for playing mellotron...just push some keys.
Did all three of you grow up in Osaka?
Yes, and we still live in Osaka now.
I read that you have a management company based in Osaka now.
Basically we are managing by ourselves and one person is helping us for domestic. So for overseas we are running it by ourselves.
Do you just have one sister?
Yes, it's the drummer Atsuko. She is only my sister.
What did your parents do for a living when you were growing up?
My father was working at public office as a office worker at Osaka City Hall.
And your mother was a housewife?
Housewife and she had part-time job at bank.
Did you go to college?
Yes, Michie and I met at college.
Did you get a degree?
I don't know much about degree! But Michie and I were learning English at college. Major was English.
What school was that?
It's a junior college. And also the drummer Atsuko graduated college and designer course for clothing design.
What did you do before you started playing in the band?
Did you have previous jobs?
After we formed the Shoken Knife and we graduated the school and we started to work at various kind of job like office worker at machinery company or receptionist at doctor's office and also the drummer Atsuko was working at clothing company as a clothing designer. Also the drummer Atsuko is always making our stage costumes herself.
I love the clothes.
Thank you very much.
Other than playing music now, what do you do with your time?
Now we are full-time musicians and we are very, very busy for music so...we don't have any spare time recently but if I have spare time I like to watch Sumo wrestling on T.V. and also the other day we had half day off in Los Angeles and we played tennis.
Did you like that?
Had you played tennis before?
I've played tennis...the last time was six or seven years ago, so I didn't play tennis these six or seven years but it's very fun.
What is important to you?
Music is most important?
Do you have any pets?
I don't have pets, but at my parents house there are two cats. One cat call Sally.
That's my mother's name.
Really? Wow...and the Sally's daughter is Mayu. "Mayu" means eyebrow. The cat had eyebrows when she was a child...child kitten.
Do you collect anything?
I like to collect things...guitars and junk toys.
Where do you go to buy your junk toys?
Flea market or toy store.
Do you like doing interviews?
Yes, I like to speak with a person never met.
Do you make a lot of friends that way?
What do you see for yourself in the years ahead?
For future? I want to continue Shonen Knife. I want to continue playing music as long as I can. I think I should be the oldest female punk.
At 48 I guess you are.
Yeah...no! I'm 48 even! I'll be 78! I can do head banging on stage...
If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
If I could change something in myself? I want to be beautiful like fashion model. I want to change my appearance.
How would you want to change it?
Change it to...like some top model.
Not with plastic surgery though...
Oh no... I'm not so tall, so if I am tall I can take things above my head or I can...put my luggage to the shelf at airplane easily.
Do you ever wear high heels?
No...I sometimes wear platform shoes but it's very dangerous.
Do you remember your dreams?
This morning...or any time.
Two, three days ago I had a dream and it was that our bassist Michie was taking plastic surgery with her face.
Really. And we were just talking about that.
And Michie was cried "WHAAAAAAA! EEEEEE!"
Was it a bad dream?
Do you have any recurring dreams?
What kind of dream? Pardon?
A dream that happens over and over again.
Recently no, but when I was early teenager I had a dream. I was falling down from top of a building to the bottom.
Do you think that everything has a purpose or that things just happen?
I don't think so. I think everything is just happening without purpose.
How do you feel about the new record? Do you think it will be well received?
Yes, I think so. The Brand New Knife album...I think we could make nice groove sound and we are very serious to music. All songs on Brand New Knife have each character so the album have variety. So, I think the new album will be accepted very well.
Do you all three write songs?
Mainly I write songs. I wrote nine songs on Brand New Knife and Michie wrote three songs and the three of us wrote one song all together.
I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with me.
Oh, you're welcome. So, can I get Michie now? One moment.
Interview with Michie Nakatani
Hello, this is Michie. Nice to speak with you.
How are the interviews going?
It's been going very well. I'm having good time. It's really good that I can talk about our new album because I am very proud of it.
Naoko did not want to give me her age, but I wanted to ask how old you are...
Ummm... It's a mystery!
You wrote the song "Fruits and Vegetables." What is that song about?
One day I was very...I don't know...I was depressed and sad and it was midnight probably. I started to eat fruit and vegetables from the frige...and eating them I felt I am getting better. And I read that fruit and vegetables...those fresh stuff...have a power to make us happy. It's a very direct song, I think. And I wanted the listener to get happier from listening to "Fruits and Vegetables" instead of eating them...
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I'm the only child.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father is working at a company still. He is an accountant...and my mother is a housewife.
What did you do before playing in the band?
I wanted to be a cartoonist so I worked at a cartoonist's studio as an assistant.
How do you like to spend your time?
I spend most of my time reading books and recently I am into Internet. I spend lots of time on chatting too. It's fun. I'm afraid it's very addictive thing and I spend too much time on Internet.
I appreciate you talking with me.
It's very nice to speak with you too.
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