It was the warmest night of NYC of the past few weeks. Not even close to the door time, long lines of Mohawk-hairstyled punks and innocent-looking college age kids have already formed alongside of the dark-red brick wall of Sunnyvale. Even seemed to have no intersection points with each other’s lives, these people were indeed all waiting together for a show from Shonen Knife, one of the most significant girl rock bands in the world.
After greeted by their tour manager, I was led to the backstage of where they were staying before the show started. They seemed incredibly nice, easy to talk to, and even a little shy. I first asked what was it that kept them going forward for 36 years – It was apparently not something that this band had been thinking of at all. Naoko, guitarist and lead singer, one of the original members of the band, told me she did not even realize they have gone this far. “All of a sudden”, she said,” We are already here.” They never thought about what it meant to be a band. Why does it matter after all? They played for this long, had a lot of fun, and are just not yet ready to move onto anything else.
They have not listened to any Japanese music for quite a while. When asked about what they thought of Japanese music, Naoko explained to me how songwriting was so different when singing in language with discrete syllables for example, Japanese. The notes flow with incoherence. The language impacts the music style, and in turn the music style limits the choice of the language. This is such a standardized answer for all Japanese bands who sing in English, and at the same time is a commonly-heard comment from western musicians on Japanese music. To not isolate Japanese pop music from the rest of the world, young musicians need to think out of box and push their way into international market. In this sense, Shonen Knife are one of the pioneers with no doubt.
Atsuko, Naoko’s sister, the bassist, expressed her admiration of Miyavi and Dir en Grey. She also pointed out their alteration in music styles and attributed their success in America to their continuous effort of developing more modernized sounds. She especially praised Miyavi’s guitar skills and was “so impressed” by his fast speed and powerful riffs.
Talking about their album “Adventure” which was released last year, they told me it was a fusion of 70s dance music and hard rock. “We played punk music all the time and we wanted to try something harder.” They never stopped digging other genres of music. Naoko specially remarked this American band called Earth, Wind and Fire. She had been listening to this band a lot and was inspired by the multiplicity of their music. “They are a little bit of everything. It’s hard to define.” She said.
As a big fan of Nirvana and Sonic Youth of course I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of asking how it felt to work with them even these questions must have been asked a thousand times. I guess I just needed to hear directly from the girls themselves about Kurt Cobain’s bluest purest melancholiest eyes and their super cool collaboration project with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. That was the golden time of all genres and all cultures clashing, mingling, and breeding. Shonen Knife apparently, are such an inevitable piece of the glamorous, tolerant, revitalizing and embracing 90s.
Shonen Knife showed great humor when answering the question “Which musician do you wish to collaborate with next?” Their initial answer turned out to be THE one and only Justin Bieber! Right after spitting the name of the Canadian Teen Idol they immediately regretted and crossed their arms in front of their chest to show the resistance. Naoko was still trying to defend him, “But isn’t him ‘Kawaii, Kakoii and Sugoi’?” If you say so Naoko, only if you say so.
It has only been 6 months since they last played Brooklyn on Halloween night. People were acting like this was their first time coming to America. The crowd went wild as soon as the first note hit the ground. Mosh pits were immediately formed in the middle of the venue. The air was filled with merrily jolliness and smitten infatuation. For an hour or so there was no time elapsing in the venue. Everyone became Peter Pans and floated freely in the rock universe. It’s not hard to explain why. Look at the three girls of Shonen Knife. They remained in their Shonen Jidai (Time of youth) and growing old had never been an option.
After this tour, Shonen Knife will get back to songwriting again. Although with no plans of a new album yet, these three big girls were already so thrilled about what is ahead of them. Yes, life carries on while what doesn’t change remains. That is the passion towards music and a life forever young.
Jump into the New World
All you can eat
Fruits and Vegetables
Sushi Bar Song
Buttercup (I’m A Super Girl)
(John Stewart cover)