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Shonen Knife

Background information
Origin Osaka, Japan
Genres Pop-punk, alternative rock, indie pop, post-punk
Years active 1981–present
Labels Virgin Records
K Records
Good Charamel Records
Website shonenknife.net
Members
Naoko Yamano
Etsuko Nakanishi
Ritsuko Taneda
Former members
Michie Nakatani
Atsuko Yamano
Mana Nishiura

Shonen Knife (少年ナイフ, Shōnen Naifu; lit. "Boy knife") is an influential all-female Japanese pop-punk band formed in Osaka, Japan, in 1981.[1] Heavily influenced by 1960s girl groups, pop bands, The Beach Boys, and early punk rock acts, such as The Ramones, the trio crafts stripped-down songs expressing infectious melodies and simplistic, exuberant lyrics sung both in Japanese and English.[2]

Despite their pop-oriented nature, the trio maintains a distinctly underground garage rock sound rooted in edgy instrumentation and D.I.Y. aesthetics, which over the course of their 27-year career has earned them a solid, worldwide cult following and made avid fans out of seminal '90s alternative rock acts such as Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Redd Kross.[3] The band has been credited with making "the international pop underground more international" by "opening it up to bands from Japan".[4] They have also performed as a Ramones tribute band under the name The Osaka Ramones.

Contents

Formation

Shonen Knife was formed in December of 1981 in Osaka, Japan with sisters Naoko Yamano and Atsuko Yamano and their friend Michie Nakatani.[1][2] Naoko sang lead and played guitar, Nakatani was also a lead singer and played bass and keyboards, and Atsuko sang backup, played drums, and designed their stage outfits.[5] The group was something of an anomaly when they started, as they were coming in at a time where all-female bands were quite scarce. Influenced by 1970s punk rock/new wave bands such as The Ramones and Buzzcocks while ignoring the then-rising, early J-Pop movement, the trio began crafting energetic rock songs rooted in rough instrumentation and do-it-yourself ethos. However, unlike traditional rebellious punk rockers, the trio emphasized on positivity using catchy, upbeat melodies and frivolous, carefree lyrics that often touched on sweets and animals.[2][4] The group eventually came to describe their music as, "oo-oo-ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band-shonen-knife!"[5] Shonen Knife performed their very first gig on March 14, 1982 at Studio One, a club in Osaka, before an small audience of thirty-six who paid one hundred yen each. Later that August, they released their first independent album, Minna Tanoshiku on cassette.[1]

Following their first Tokyo gig at Hosei University, Shonen Knife released their debut album Burning Farm on Zero Records on July 21, 1983.[1] They then contributed to the Zero Record compilation album AURA MUSIC which included three of their songs,"Watchin' Girl", "Banana Fish", "Parrot Polynesia", and was released on November 15th.[1] Their second album, Yama-no Attchan, was released by Zero on May 25, 1984.[1] Named after drummer Atsuko, the album saw the band slightly improving their musicianship and give way to broader musical influences, ranging from Motown to heavy metal, while maintaining their penchant for lighthearted lyrical topics like bikeriding and insect collecting. At the end of the year, Shonen Knife contributed to another compilation, Huddle No Trouble with the two songs "Parrot Polynesia" and "Elephant Pao Pao" for Balcony Records.[1]

Success

Theoretically, any band that writes songs with lyrics such as "Banana chips for you!/Banana chips for me!/ In the afternoon, banana chips and tea" should have a life span no longer than that of a grasshopper. But something oddly spellbinding occurs when deceivingly silly lyrics are sandwiched between a buoyant guitar and a rapid-fire, pop-punk drum kit. Which perhaps explains why the Japanese female rock duo Shonen Knife is still singing songs about cookies, sushi, jelly beans, and, of course, banana chips, nearly 25 years after its inception. - The Boston Globe[4]

Towards the end of the decade and the beginning of the next, Shonen Knife would earn recognition by members of the burgeoning alternative rock scene. By June of the following year, the Burning Farm cassette had made its way from its Kyoto imprint to K Records of Olympia, Washington, who decided to release the cassette to the United States.[1][6] A year later, Shonen Knife released a their third album Pretty Little Baka Guy on June 20, 1986. Four months later, the album was re-released with three additional live tracks.[1] While their records had previously been available to the U.S. solely through import, in 1986, Shonen Knife managed to strike a chord with the American underground rock scene when one of their tracks, "One Day of the Factory," appeared on a Sub Pop 100 compilation.[3] The album was released on November 1, 1986 by the independent record label Sub Pop.[1] Soon after, Shonen Knife began receiving lucrative offers from a range of US labels. By this time, many alternative rock groups had began citing Shonen Knife as a favorite of theirs, and the resulting word-of-mouth gained significant exposure for the band. On March 26, 1987, the trio's songs begin receiving spins on BBC radio from the legendary English disc jockey John Peel.[1] After spending the following concentrating on their live performances, had the opportunity to join Sonic Youth as guests at the Muse Hall in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. The two bands even shared a jam session as an encore.[1] They then embarked on their very first abroad gig, playing at 2nd Coming in Los Angeles with the support of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Jeff and Steven McDonald of Redd Kross.[1][6] Shonen Knife's presence within eyes of the alt-rock musicians was perhaps best expressed in 1989, when over twenty different bands came together to record renditions of their favorite Shonen Knife songs for a tribute album entitled Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them.

The trio's cult following by the international audiences flourished during the early 1990s. After releasing a self-titled compilation album comprising tracks from their first two albums to the US market, the trio began touring America on a somewhat regular basis and released their fourth album 712 on July 1, 1991 in Japan on Nippon Crown.[1] That same July, Sub Pop released "Neon Zebra" as a single in the US. Shortly after, a slightly different version of 712 was released in America by Rockville Records.[1] In August, Shonen Knife was featured on CNN News during its This Week In Japan special. On September 25, Pretty Little Baka Guy was re-released to the US by Tokuma Japan. The 1991 US re-release of the album was coupled with eight live recordings from 1982 and 1990.[1] The trio performed with Fugazi at the Sun Hall in Shinsaibashi, Osaka on November 14. Days later, the Christmas-themed single "Space Christmas" was released to British and American audiences by Seminal Twang and Rockville Records, respectively.

It was in 1991 that Shonen Knife came to find their biggest fan in the form of Kurt Cobain. Cobain had seen them play in LA and had come to deeply enjoy their music:

"When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert."[2]

Nirvana asked Shonen Knife to serve as their opening act for their UK tour, just prior to the release of their breakthrough album, Nevermind.[2] Yamano later admitted that when Cobain asked them to open for his band, they had no idea what Nirvana was.

"So I went to a record store, and I bought their CD. And when I saw their photograph, I thought they might be scary persons, because their hairstyles and their clothes were very grunge. But once the tour had started, I noticed that all the members were nice, good persons. And because this was our first experience of a long tour, the drummer Dave [Grohl] helped us with setting up the drum kit."[2]

Furthermore, despite Cobain's reputation for being difficult, Yamano states working with him was a friendly experience, describing Cobain as "quiet, but very nice".[6] From November 24 to December 11, Shonen Knife toured with Nirvana and Eugenious all over the UK for a total of nine shows.[1] On December 6, Shonen Knife headlined at Camden Underworld in London, England. During their stay in the UK, the trio recorded a John Peel Session with BBC radio.[1]

On February 22, 1992, Shonen Knife performed on a Valentine's Day concert sponsored by JA. At the time, Nirvana was touring Japan and was able to come to the venue, much to the delight of their Japanese audience. After touring through the US and signing onto Capitol Records, the trio released their major-label debut, Let's Knife, on August 26. They then embarked on a brief three-show tour through the UK. While on tour, the trio appeared at the 20th Reading Festival alongside bands such as Nirvana and Mudhoney. They also recorded another John Peel Session and filmed a music video for "Riding On The Rocket" in London. On December 2, the group released the mini-album Do The Knife on MCA Victor before going on another, longer UK tour with BMX Bandits as their opening act.

As the early to mid-90s were the peak years of alternative rock, so were they to Shonen Knife's commercial success. After releasing Rock Animals to the UK on Creation-August Records, the trio once again enlisted the BMX Bandits for another eighteen-show tour through the UK. They followed it up by releasing the album to America on Virgin, along with the EP Favorites on March 2, 1994. From March 9 to 16, Shonen Knife shot the music video for "Tomato Head" in LA. The video came to be a quite popular on MTV, eventually landing a spot on the station's hit animated series Beavis & Butthead.[6] Shonen Knife then launched a twenty-nine-gig tour through the United States and Canada spanning April 14 to May 25. Over the course of the tour, the trio appeared on myriad radio programs and television shows such as MTV's 120 minutes and Conan O'Brien. From August 17 through September 8, Shonen Knife joined in the traveling alternative rock festival Lollapalooza. They ended the year by contributing a cover of "Top of the World" to the Carpenters tribute album, If I Were A Carpenter.[1]

Michie Nakatani left the band in December 1999, with Atsuko Yamano moving to bass. Mana Nishiura took over on drums, but never officially joined the band. Nishiura played her first live show with the band in May 2001; she left in 2004. She died in a New Jersey highway accident November 4, 2005 while touring the U.S. with DMBQ.[7]

While Mana was on an earlier tour with DMBQ in 2003, the group used drummer Etsuko "Ettchan" Nakanishi, who was eventually named the official, permanent drummer. On July 8, 2006, bassist Atsuko announced that, due to her marriage and subsequent move to Los Angeles, she had retired from Shonen Knife.[8] However, Atsuko joined in the band's late-2007 tour.[9] In October 2008, Shonen Knife announced that Ritsuko Taneda, who had been the band's touring bass player for two years, had been promoted to full member. Ritsuko was a member of the group Denki Candy along with her female cousin.[10]

The group had a song called "Buttercup (I'm a Supergirl)" that appeared on the Powerpuff Girls soundtrack Heroes and Villains. A Shonen Knife cover of The Carpenters' hit "Top of the World" was used in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, a US television commercial for Microsoft, the credits music for the documentary Double Dare, as the ending song for the movie The Last Supper and in summer 2006 by the BBC in UK TV trailers for a season of nature programmes.

In 2009 Shonen Knife released the CD "Super Group" and signed in North America to Good Charamel Records followed by a headline tour of the US and Canada in support of the release including performances on MTVU and a headline performance at the Fun Fun Fun Festival in Austin TX.

Tributes/References in Pop Culture

Band members

Current members

  • Naoko Yamano – lead vocals, guitar (1981-present)
  • Ritsuko Taneda – bass, backing vocals (2006-present)
  • Etsuko Nakanishi – drums, backing vocals (2005-present)

Former members

  • Atsuko Yamano – drums, backing vocals, bass (1981-2006; drums from 1981-1999, full-time bassist from 1999-2006; North American touring support bassist, 2006-2008)
  • Michie Nakatani – bass, keyboards, backing vocals (1981-1999)
  • Mana Nishiura – touring drummer (2001-2004)

Discography

Albums

EPs

  • 1991: We Are Very Happy You Came
  • 1992: Do the Knife
  • 1994: Knife Collectors
  • 1994: Favorites
  • 1997: Explosion!
  • 1997: It's A New Find

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Shonen Knife – Bio". shonenknife.net. Shonen Knife. 2007. http://www.shonenknife.net/english/bio/index.html. Retrieved 2009-03-25.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mar, Alex (2005-03-01). "Shonen Knife Bring Sweets". Rolling Stone. RealNetworks, Inc. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/7069216/shonen_knife_bring_sweets. Retrieved 2005-03-01.  
  3. ^ a b Prato, Greg. "Shonen Knife – Biography". Allmusic. Macrovision Corporation. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:djfuxqe5ldae~T1. Retrieved 2009-03-16.  
  4. ^ a b c Murther, Christopher (2005-03-09). "Shonen Knife Makes Its Point With Positive Punk". Boston Globe. The New York Times Company. http://www.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2005/03/09/shonen_knife_makes_its_point_with_positive_punk/. Retrieved 2005-03-09.  
  5. ^ a b McKenzie, Brian (1997-01-24). "Frequently Asked Questions About Shonen Knife". The Shonen Knife Freaks. Brian K. McKenzie. http://walden.mo.net/~mckenzie/faq.html. Retrieved 2009-03-25.  
  6. ^ a b c d Grunebaum, Dan. "Shonen Knife". Metropolis Tokyo. Metropolis KK. http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/560/music_beat.asp. Retrieved 2009-03-25.  
  7. ^ Punk News
  8. ^ Shonen Knife Site
  9. ^ report on 2007 tour date, with photos and video
  10. ^ J-Pop World interview

External links








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