The late/great Kurt Cobain was very vocal about his admiration of the Japanese rock group, Shonen Knife – including name-checking them in the liner notes to Incesticide (“It was as rewarding as touring with Shonen Knife and watching people practically cry with joy at their honesty. It made people happy and it made me happy knowing that I had helped bring them to the UK.”) and also touring together (including dates on what became Nirvana’s last-ever U.S. tour).
The group (which is comprised of Naoko on vocals and guitar, Atsuko on bass and vocals, and Risa on drums and vocals) are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year with the just-released album, Adventure (via Good Charamel Records). Naoko was kind enough to answer a few questions about the album, tour plans, and Mr. Cobain for Alternative Nation.
Alternative Nation: How is Adventure similar or different to previous Shonen Knife albums?
Naoko: Adventure is developed from the last album, Overdrive. The theme is 70’s American rock and British hard rock, and a bit of 60’s.
Alternative Nation: Which songs are your favorite tracks off the album and why?
Naoko: Of course, I like everything. It’s difficult to choose one but if I choose one, I like hard rock style songs like “Tasmanian Devil.” It was inspired by KISS. Our bassist Atsuko and I share lead vocals. It’s fun. Started from a calm part, then get high. It’s a dramatic song.
Alternative Nation: Touring plans?
Naoko: We’ll tour in North America in this autumn. I can’t wait to go!
Alternative Nation: When did you first find out Kurt Cobain was an admirer of Shonen Knife’s music?
Naoko: Our manager in the early 90’s told me about it. But I didn’t know Nirvana at that time. After that, I read an article of Kurt’s interview in a magazine and I got to know. He said at the interview article, “Be careful about Shonen Knife or you’ll be cut into pieces.”
Alternative Nation: What are some memories of playing shows with Nirvana and the Breeders in 1993?
Naoko: The first time we toured with them was 1991 in the UK. At that time, the capacity of the venues was between 1,000 and 2,500, but in 1993, it was a stadium tour. They were touring with a catering trailer and tour crew that was more than 30 people. There were many people around the members of Nirvana’s dressing room. We didn’t have much time to talk with the members. We were welcomed to the audience of Nirvana. Playing shows was fun.
Alternative Nation: Did you get the chance to meet Kurt? If so, any standout memories?
Naoko: At the first tour with them in 1991, we talked with him every day. The first day, I met him at the parking lot of a hotel. The other members had already gone to the venue for soundcheck, but Kurt delayed. It might be that he had some interviews. We went to the venue together with Kurt in a motor-lorry’s compartment. It was totally dark. Sitting on the floor of the compartment and grasping knees next to each other, we talked a bit. But I couldn’t speak English very well at that time and he was a rather calm person. His eyes were very beautiful clear dark blue.
Alternative Nation: What do you recall about filming the video for “Tomato Head”?
Naoko: We rented a bowling alley and a flour factory in Los Angeles and filmed. Looking back now, the budget was huge and we wore costumes of bowling shirts, white overalls. When filming at the factory, we hired a catering service. A popsicle selling car came and we bought some. Marty Friedman – who was a guitarist from Megadeth – visited us, because our A&R person at Virgin Records was a friend of his.
Alternative Nation: Do you think we will ever experience an alt rock musical uprising like the one we experienced in the early ‘90s?
Naoko: I don’t think so. Wonderful music might have run all in the early 90’s, but we can try to refresh and re-birth it again.