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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife on Why Shows Start Earlier in Japan

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 10:09 AM

  • Courtesy of Good Charamel Records

By Tom Murphy

In the late 1980s, it was nearly unheard of for Japanese underground rock bands to play in the United States. But Shonen Knife, appearing at the Firebird this Saturday, October 18, played a show in Los Angeles in 1989.

By then, the band's music had already spent several years circulating in the U.S., thanks to a 1983 visit to Japan by Beat Happening frontman and K Records founder Calvin Johnson. While overseas, Johnson found Shonen Knife's second album, Burning Farm, on cassette; he reissued the album the following year on his label. The group's original take on punk rock and its surreal, straight-faced send-up of pop culture struck a chord with artists in the English-speaking world, including Sonic Youth, Red Kross and, famously, Kurt Cobain, who invited Shonen Knife to open for Nirvana on the U.K. leg of its tour for Nevermind.

"I don't know why he liked Shonen Knife," says guitarist and singer Naoko Yamano. "But I'm very honored about that. I think his favorite bands were Black Sabbath, ABBA and the Shaggs. I think he liked unique bands."

Shonen Knife played its first show at Hosei University in March of 1982 and released its debut album, Minna Tanoshiku, just months later. What set the band apart from many other Japanese rock bands of the time was that Shonen Knife made its own cassettes, and its all-female membership was very rare outside of pop music.

"I think it was an advantage, because many boys helped us to carry equipment," jokes Yamano, the group's sole original member. "My parents were a little conservative, and they didn't like me playing in a rock band. But after I put out an album, Let's Knife, with a major record company, they understood."

Championed by prominent underground acts, Shonen Knife, like many Japanese bands, became more popular here than in its home country. The group may not have spent the intervening years playing stadiums, but it has maintained a dedicated cult following.

Continue to page two.

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