Kawaii Cats! An Interview with Shonen Knife’s Naoko Yamano
To say Shonen Knife are impressive is something of an understatement. From DIY beginnings In Osaka, Japan in the early ‘80s, they rose to international fame in the ‘90s, sharing a stage with the likes of Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Kurt Cobain was an avid fan, once stating: “When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine year-old girl at a Beatles concert.” Unlike most of their ‘90s counterparts though, Shonen Knife kept on keeping on, releasing albums at a rate of almost one every 2 years.
The stalwarts of the group are the Yamano sisters, Naoko (lead vocals and guitar) and Atsuko (bass and vocals) with relative newcomer Risa Kawano joining them on drums. They are influenced by ’70s British rock, ‘60s girl groups, and New York punk, especially the Ramones, leading to the band often being described as “power pop punk”. Their subject matter comes in an array of colourful shapes and sizes, but two recurring themes are food and, you guessed it, cats!
I got in touch with frontwoman Naoko ahead of their 2019 tour of New Zealand, in support of their 19th studio release Sweet Candy Power, to talk cats, cats and more cats!
Hi Naoko! I’m really looking forward to you coming to NZ next month, will you have time to have a look around while you’re here?
When I went to Auckland in 2017, Atsuko and I went up to the Sky Tower. But we won’t have time to see around.
I write a blog about cats – do you have cats yourselves or does it not work with touring?
All of us don’t have cats but when I was young, I had cats at my parents’ house. They were very cute.
When I travel, I really enjoy meeting cats in other countries – are you also always on the lookout for new cats to meet?
Yes, we are! They are sometimes bigger than Japanese cats. It’s fun.
Why do you think cats are so revered in Japan?
Cats are cute. People in Japan love cute things. “Kawaii” is a key word about it. Japanese people often make cute characters which is symbolize for example sales items or mascot of towns.
Cats are a common theme in your songs – what is it about them that makes them such good subjects?
I pick up cats for the topic of my lyrics without conscious. I think it because I love cats.
One of my favourite Shonen Knife songs is “Catnip Dream”. Have you witnessed cats on catnip before?
That song was written by our original bassist Michie. I’ve gave catnip to my cats. They looked happy.
When I imagine cats are traveling space, it’s so cute! “Blue eyed kitty cat” in the lyrics of “Riding on the Rocket” is actually my cat.
Another favourite of mine is “Giant Kitty”. Even though the song isn’t about an actual giant cat, it always makes me think of Kitten Kong from the 1970s British show the Goodies – are you familiar with it?
I didn’t know that but it’s funny! Giant Kitty is a stuffed cat doll, actually. I made that lyrics with my imagination and expand.
Are there any covert cat references on the new album Sweet Candy Power?
For Sweet Candy Power, there is no cat song.