“When I finally got to see them live,” said Kurt Cobain, “I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.” Over three decades since their very first show in Osaka’s Studio One, the legendary indie pop trio Shonen Knife has shared tours with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Redd Kross. Now promoting their latest album, Overdrive on their North American tour, the band is on the verge of playing their 1000th show, which will take place September 16th in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Though they’re most famed for defying the early J-pop craze with their DIY garage rock aesthetics (and more importantly, songs about snacking, cats and boring desk jobs), the band takes a grittier turn in Overdrive. They make a detour down Route 1975 on their new single, “Bad Luck Song.” Vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano revs it up with some Joan Jett riffs, but serves up her vocals with the same sugar-coated simplicity she’s maintained for years.
Naoko says her actual Bad Luck Song is “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. “Every time I hear it something bad happens,” she says, “It’s not so serious, I just have minor bad luck– like missing the train.” She adds, “I went to see Robert Plant last week, at the Summer Sonic Music Festival in Osaka. I was happy he didn’t play ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ But he did play ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ I like that one.”
It may be a little strange to think the lead of a band like Shonen Knife would take an interest in classic rock, but she would beg to differ. “Their melodies are pop,” says Naoko, “It’s just hard.” And it’s a formula that works for her. After all, it was the band’s juxtaposition of twee and toughness that won the West over thirty years ago, when their debut album Burning Farm first charmed the gatekeepers of American indie stronghold, K Records. And despite a couple of lineup changes, including the departure of Naoko’s sister and drummer Atsuko Yamano, the anti-pop pluck of Shonen Knife is the gift that keeps on giving.
“Right now music in Japan is occupied by [J-pop] idols,” says Naoko. “I think there are more interesting bands in the Japanese underground. My favorite is Extruders, they’re very unique. Also Red Sneakers and Papa Lion. But I like the old stuff too, it’s still good.” We asked the iconic frontwoman to share some of her favorite hard rock jams with us below, from “Breaking The Law” to Bad Company.