Sunday, March 26, 2023

Shonen Knife’s Happy Place: Naoko Yamano Brings the Cheer


Photo courtesy of Reybee, Inc. 

In November 2016—just as Americans began embracing (or, depending on your sensibilities, rejecting) the idea of a Trump presidency—long-running Japanese Punk/Pop legends Shonen Knife hit the stage at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA to deliver the audience from the heaviness of recent times. Now, in 2023, the band’s new album, Our Best Place, is here to relieve our years of pent-up COVID-era fears and frustrations by giving us a much-needed great time.

"People might not be comfortable when hearing other people’s complaints,” singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano observed during our recent conversation. “Music should be a thing that can make people happy."

Released last month on Good Charamel Records (the label founded by Goo Goo Dolls bassist/vocalist Robby Takac), Our Best Place continues the Shonen Knife tradition of insanely catchy tunes that aim to make the world a happier place. Rather than beat the listener over the head with didactic politicizing, the ladies treat us to songs about food (“Spicy Veggie Curry,” “Vamos Taquitos,” “The Story of Baumkuchen"), lovely weather (“Nice Day”), and life’s simple pleasures (“Afternoon Tea”). With “Afternoon Tea” being this writer’s favorite track on the album, I had to ask Naoko for some insight into its creation. Naturally, her response was as simple and to the point as her cheery songwriting.


“I listen to various music. ‘Afternoon Tea’ may be inspired by British Mersey Beat. I don’t have any scheme; melody lines just appear.”

Our Best Place features the talents of Naoko’s younger sister, Atsuko, who returned to the band in 2016 after a 10-year break. Now on bass duties after serving as the group’s drummer for several years, Atsuko continues to have a considerable impact on the Shonen Knife sound


“Her bass lines are getting excellent!” Naoko shares. “Her favorite music is similar to mine, so it’s easy. Without any explanation, she plays well.”

Although Shonen Knife has been a staple in its homeland for nearly 42 years now, the band’s biggest exposure in the United State came in the early ’90s. Already a favorite among adventurous stateside music fans (including the band Redd Kross, which released a song named after them in 1990), Shonen Knife gained near-mainstream success in America via two major label albums (1992’s classic Let’s Knife and 1993’s Rock Animals) and an unforgettable video for the track “Riding on the Rocket.” The ladies even delivered the infamous “Fuck it Up, Pigface!” chant on Pigface’s 1994 album, Notes from thee Underground. Still going after four decades, Naoko remains as enthusiastic to be in the band as she was way back in 1981.

“Being Shonen Knife is very natural, and I don’t have any conscious that so many years have passed. I’m always fresh.”

Shonen Knife, 1982

With 40-plus years behind them, Naoko and the rest of Shonen Knife look to the future with the same smiles and innocent charm they brought to their first release (Minna Tanoshiku, pictured above) in 1982. What is the one thing she feels the band has yet to accomplish after all this time?

“Touring with our private jet!”

Official Shonen Knife Website