Want to know the secret to maintaining a music career?
How about one that’s almost four decades long, with 22 albums that beam with infectious optimism and bright melodies and harmonies?
I think eating sweets is better than drugs.
Naoko Yamano, Shonen Knife — Don't Look Back
According to Shonen Knife founder and frontwoman Naoko Yamano, it comes down to playing tennis and keeping a positive attitude.
“I just look forward, I never look back, I never feel regret,” she says from her home in Osaka.
“If people can be happy through our music, it’s my pleasure and if people get happy then I get happy too.
“When I started Shonen Knife, I just wanted to do something interesting and fun.”
In time, fans would share stories about how the band’s sunny pop-punk lifted their moods and made them feel better. Naoko came to realise there was a greater purpose to her band’s songs.
“I was very happy to hear about that, so now I think making people happy through our music is kind of our mission,” she says.
The Shonen Knife rainbow shone brightly in the eyes of revered ‘90s rock groups like Nirvana and Sonic Youth too. The Seattle trio were such fans that they asked Shonen Knife to open for them on their first UK tour in 1991. Kurt Cobain openly confessed to being reduced to a blathering mess, standing side of stage watching their set on tour.
“I was an emotional sap the whole time, I cried every night’ he said on MTV in 1994.
Naoko offers a humble explanation for the heightened attention her band received at the time of the tours.
“It’s kind of a biological thing…[that] human beings fall in love with very far people or very opposite. That’s why they like us and we like them.”
Naoko’s song choice for Don’t Look Back perhaps owes something to the ‘opposites attract’ rule too.
The first record she bought was The Beatles ‘Blue Album’, a compilation which featured ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ as its opening track.
“I played the album and put my head very close into the speaker and I compared the sound from the left speaker and the right speaker. [The] vocals came only from the left or right speaker, the sound was very divided, not like nowadays. It was so fun and I felt very good and my brain got very comfortable listening to that.”
For a band that focuses almost exclusively on the upbeat, the positive and the cheerful, what does Naoko Yamano think of the drug culture that was so strongly associated with psychedelic music and with this Beatles classic?
“Of course, we are very far from drugs, we don’t do illegal things, I think eating sweets is better than drugs,” she says.
And, true to a central culinary theme of Shonen Knife’s musical output over their extensive career, she offers further clarity on her motivations for choosing this song.
“I like strawberries, [the] title looks very tasty!”
Shonen Knife play the following dates this September
Thursday 21 September – The Zoo, Brisbane
Friday 22 September NGV, Melbourne
Saturday 23 September – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Sunday 24 September – Wave Rock Weekender, Western Australia
Monday 25 September – Badlands, Perth
Wednesday 27 September – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Thursday 28 September – The Basement, Canberra
Friday 29 September – OzAsia Festival, Adelaide
Saturday 30 September – Republic Bar, Hobart
Sunday 1 October – The Corner, Melbourne