Shonen Knife

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Shonen Knife
Shonen Knife 30th Anniversary Show at the Mohawk Place, 2011
Shonen Knife 30th Anniversary Show at the Mohawk Place, 2011
Background information
OriginOsaka, Japan
Years active1981–present
MembersNaoko Yamano
Ritsuko Taneda
Atsuko Yamano
Risa Kawano
Naru Ishizuka
Past membersMichie Nakatani
Mana Nishiura
Etsuko Nakanishi
Emi Morimoto

Shonen Knife is a Japanese alternative rock band formed in Osaka, in 1981.[1] Heavily influenced by 1960s girl groups, pop bands, The Beach Boys, and early punk rock bands, such as the Ramones, the trio crafts stripped-down songs with simple yet unconventional lyrics sung both in Japanese and English.[2]

The trio maintains a distinctly underground garage rock sound rooted in D.I.Y. aesthetics. The band has been credited with making "the international pop underground more international" by "opening it up to bands from Japan".[3] They have also performed as a Ramones tribute band under the name The Osaka Ramones.



Shonen Knife was formed in December 1981 in Osaka, Japan with sisters Naoko Yamano and Atsuko Yamano and their friend Michie Nakatani.[1][2][4] Naoko sang lead and played guitar, Nakatani was also a lead singer and played bass and keyboards, and Atsuko sang backing vocals, played drums, and designed their stage outfits.[5] The group was something of an anomaly when they started, as they were founded at a time when all-female bands were scarce. Eschewing the then-rising, early J-pop movement, Shonen Knife was influenced by 1970s punk rock and new wave bands such as The Ramones and Buzzcocks. They began to write energetic rock songs with rough, punky instrumentation, all the while embracing a do-it-yourself ethos. However, unlike traditional rebellious punk rockers, the trio emphasized positivity using catchy, upbeat melodies and frivolous, carefree lyrics that often dealt with sweets and animals.[2][3] The group eventually came to describe their music as, "oo-oo-ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band-shonen-knife!"[5] Shonen Knife performed their first gig on March 14, 1982 at Studio One, a club in Osaka, before an audience of 36 who paid 100 yen each. Later that August, they released their first independent album, Minna Tanoshiku, on cassette.[1]

Following their first Tokyo gig at Hosei University, Shonen Knife released their debut album Burning Farm on Zero Records on July 21, 1983.[1] They then contributed to the Zero Record compilation album AURA MUSIC which was released on November 15 and included three of their songs: "Watchin' Girl", "Banana Fish", and "Parrot Polynesia".[1] Their second album, Yama-no Attchan, was released by Zero on May 25, 1984.[1] Named after drummer Atsuko, the album saw the band growing as musicians. The album was also influenced by a broader selection of musical acts, ranging from Motown to heavy metal. Nevertheless, Yama-no Attchan maintained their penchant for lighthearted lyrical topics like bike riding and insect collecting. At the end of the year, Shonen Knife contributed "Parrot Polynesia" and "Elephant Pao Pao" to another compilation, Huddle No Trouble, for Balcony Records.[1] Around this time, Burning Farm was first played on UK radio by English disc jockey John Peel, although Peel did not find out the name of the band until a few years later, in 1987.


Theoretically, any band that writes songs with lyrics such as "Banana chips for you!/Banana chips for me!/ In the afternoon, banana chips and tea" should have a life span no longer than that of a grasshopper. But something oddly spellbinding occurs when deceivingly silly lyrics are sandwiched between a buoyant guitar and a rapid-fire, pop-punk drum kit. Which perhaps explains why the Japanese female alternative rock /pop punk trio Shonen Knife is still singing songs about cookies, sushi, jelly beans, and, of course, banana chips, nearly 25 years after its inception. - The Boston Globe[3]

By June 1985, the Burning Farm cassette had made its way from its Kyoto imprint to K Records of Olympia, Washington, who decided to release the cassette in the United States.[1][6] A year later, on June 20, 1986, Shonen Knife released their third album Pretty Little Baka Guy. Four months later, the album was re-released with three additional live tracks.[1] While their records had previously been available in the US solely through import, in 1986, Shonen Knife's track, "One Day of the Factory", appeared on a Sub Pop 100 compilation.[7] The album was released on November 1, 1986 by the independent record label Sub Pop.[1] Soon after, Shonen Knife began receiving lucrative offers from a range of US labels. By this time, many alternative rock groups had begun citing Shonen Knife as a favorite of theirs, and the resulting word-of-mouth created significant exposure for the band. On March 26, 1987, the trio's songs were played again on BBC radio by John Peel.[1] After spending some time concentrating on their live performances, they had the opportunity to play with Sonic Youth as guests at the Muse Hall in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. (The two bands even shared the stage during the show's encore.)[1] Shonen Knife then embarked on their very first show abroad, playing at 2nd Coming in Los Angeles with the support of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Jeff and Steven McDonald of Redd Kross.[1][6] Shonen Knife's popularity with alternative rock musicians was perhaps best expressed in 1989, when over twenty different bands came together to record renditions of their favorite Shonen Knife songs for a tribute album entitled Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them.[8][9]

The trio's international cult following flourished during the early-1990s. After releasing a self-titled compilation album comprising tracks from their first two albums in the US market, the trio began touring America on a somewhat regular basis and released their fourth album 712 on July 1, 1991 in Japan on Nippon Crown.[1] That same July, Sub Pop released "Neon Zebra" as a single in the US. Shortly after, a slightly different version of 712 was released in America by Rockville Records.[1] In August, Shonen Knife was featured on CNN News during its This Week In Japan special. On September 25, Pretty Little Baka Guy was re-released in the US by Tokuma Japan. The 1991 US re-release of the album was coupled with eight live recordings from 1982 and 1990.[1] The trio performed with Fugazi at the Sun Hall in Shinsaibashi, Osaka on November 14. Days later, the Christmas-themed single "Space Christmas" was released to British and American audiences by Seminal Twang and Rockville Records, respectively.

It was in 1991 that Shonen Knife came to find one of their biggest fans in the form of Kurt Cobain. Cobain had seen them play in LA and had come to deeply enjoy their music:

"When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert."[2]

Nirvana asked Shonen Knife to serve as the opening act for their UK tour, just prior to the release of their breakthrough album, Nevermind.[2] Yamano later admitted that when Cobain asked them to open for his band, they had no idea who Nirvana were:

"So I went to a record store, and I bought their CD. And when I saw their photograph, I thought they might be scary persons, because their hairstyles and their clothes were very grunge. But once the tour had started, I noticed that all the members were nice, good persons. And because this was our first experience of a long tour, the drummer Dave [Grohl] helped us with setting up the drum kit."[2]

Despite Cobain's reputation for being difficult, Yamano claims that working with him was an easy experience, and she has described Cobain as "quiet, but very nice".[6] From November 24 to December 11, Shonen Knife toured with Nirvana and Eugenious all over the UK for a total of nine shows[1] and during the tour Naoko taught Cobain how to play "Twist Barbie", which Nirvana covered live at one of their secret shows. Kurt Cobain later listed the Burning Farm Cassette 25th on his Top 50 favorites albums.[10] On December 6, Shonen Knife headlined at Camden Underworld in London, England. During their stay in the UK, the trio recorded a John Peel Session with BBC radio.[1]

On February 22, 1992, Shonen Knife performed at a Valentine's Day concert sponsored by JA. At the time, Nirvana was touring Japan and was able to come to the venue, much to the delight of their Japanese audience. After touring through the US and signing onto Capitol Records, the trio released their major-label debut, Let's Knife, on August 26. They then embarked on a brief three-show tour through the UK. While on tour, the trio appeared at the 20th Reading Festival alongside bands such as Nirvana and Mudhoney. They also recorded another John Peel Session and filmed a music video for "Riding On The Rocket" in London. On December 2, the group released the mini-album Do The Knife on MCA Victor before going on another, longer UK tour with BMX Bandits as their opening act.

As the early-to-mid-1990s were the peak years for alternative rock, so were they for Shonen Knife's commercial success. After releasing Rock Animals in the UK on Creation-August Records, the trio once again enlisted the BMX Bandits for another eighteen-show tour through the UK. They followed it up by releasing the album in America on Virgin, along with the EP Favorites on March 2, 1994. From March 9 to 16, Shonen Knife shot the music video for "Tomato Head" in LA. The video came to be quite popular on MTV, eventually landing a spot on the station's hit animated series Beavis & Butthead.[6] Shonen Knife then launched a twenty-nine show tour through the United States and Canada spanning April 14 to May 25. Over the course of the tour, the trio appeared on myriad radio programs and television shows, such as MTV's 120 minutes and Conan O'Brien. From August 17 through September 8, Shonen Knife joined in the traveling alternative rock festival Lollapalooza. They ended the year by contributing a cover of "Top of the World" to the Carpenters tribute album, If I Were A Carpenter.[1]

Line-up changes and 2000 onwards[edit]

Michie Nakatani left the band in December 1999, with Atsuko Yamano moving to bass. Mana Nishiura took over on drums, though was not considered to have officially joined the band and continued to play with her other group, DMBQ. On November 4, 2005, whilst on a US tour with DMBQ, Nishiura died in a car crash in New Jersey.[11] Etsuko "Ettchan" Nakanishi, who had been playing drums for Shonen Knife during this period, became her permanent replacement. Atsuko Yamano married, moved to Los Angeles, and retired from Shonen Knife, though she did join the group's late-2007 tour.[12][13] Atsuko was replaced by the group's touring bass player, Ritsuko Taneda, who had previously been a member of J-Pop group Denki Candy.[14]

Naoko Yamano, the sole original member of the group, performing in November 2007 at the Blender Theater in New York City.

The group's song "Buttercup (I'm a Super Girl)" appeared on the cartoon series Powerpuff Girls soundtrack Heroes and Villains. A Shonen Knife cover of the Carpenters' hit "Top of the World" was used in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, a US television commercial for Microsoft, the credits music for the documentary Double Dare, as the ending song for the movie The Last Supper, in mid-2006 by the BBC in UK TV trailers for a season of nature programmes, in the movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and in 2016 on an episode of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

In 2009, Shonen Knife played their first UK & European dates in 16 years booked by Damnably records of London who signed the band, coinciding with the release of the album Super Group, following this with a headline tour of the US and Canada, including performances on MTVU and a headline performance at the Fun Fun Fun Festival in Austin, TX. The group's next album, Free Time, was released in January 2010, and later in the year band were chosen by Matt Groening to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival he curated in Minehead, England. The band followed this with a European and UK tour.[15]

On April 2, 2010, just over a month before the tour was due to start, Etsuko posted on the group's blog[16] to say that she'd left the group. On April 9, Naoko posted about the news on their US record company's blog.[17] The group did some recording and played some live shows[18] with new drummer Emi Morimoto (formerly a member of bands Ni Hao!, mamastudio, Ultra Jr & NASCA CAR) before embarking on their European tour in May and a North American tour in September and October 2010.

In 2011, Shonen Knife celebrated their 30th anniversary and released Osaka Ramones - Tribute to The Ramones. The album was recorded between Osaka, Japan and Buffalo, NY and co-produced by Robby Takac of the American rock band The Goo Goo Dolls. The release was followed by a world tour.

In June 2012, the band released Pop Tune, followed by a US tour.[19]

The band completed a new LP, Overdrive, for worldwide release on April 16, 2014, to be followed by an extensive UK/European tour in April/May/June 2014, followed by a North American tour in September/October 2014. According to Naoko, the new record is "70s UK rock inspired". A video for one song, "Bad Luck Song", from the new record, was released as of March 23, 2014.

From March through April 2015, Atsuko rejoined the band to play bass for Shonen Knife's Four-Leaf Clover Tour of Japan with Ritsuko moving to rhythm guitar.[20]

On April 20, 2015, Ritsuko announced that she was pregnant with her first child, and would not be joining the band on their 2015 North American tour with co-headliner C. J. Ramone. Though she remains the band's official bassist, she will not rejoin the band until 2016.[21] Atsuko continued as the touring bassist until the tour's end.

On May 27, 2015, the band announced Emi's decision to leave the band.[22] At the end of 2014, Emi, concerned about the extensive overseas touring commitments of the band, announced that she would leave the band after Shonen Knife's June 2015 US Tour, and July's 712 Day performances in Japan.

On July 12, 2015, Risa Kawano from the band Brinky was announced as the new drummer for Shonen Knife.[23] Bassist Naru Ishizuka joined the band for the duration of Ritsuko's hiatus.

Ritsuko gave birth to a baby girl on September 17, 2015.[24]

On October 5, 2015, All Tomorrow's Parties announced Shonen Knife had been selected by English comedian Stewart Lee to appear at his curated Festival held at Pontin's Holiday Centre in Prestatyn, April 15–17, 2016.[25]

In 2016, the band released their album Adventure.[26] They toured the UK and Ireland in April/May.

In 2017, Shonen Knife officially expanded into a 5-piece band with Atsuko rejoining (bass) and Naru also helping out on bass for local gigs in Japan. The band also went on an extensive North American Ramen tour where they sampled the local delicacies.

In 2018, Alive! in Osaka was released (CD+DVD), a live recording from 2017, and another UK tour ensued.

In June 2019, the band released their latest studio album, Sweet Candy Power. It features ten tracks.[27] An extensive North American and European tour followed.

In March 2020, Shonen Knife took part in the Perth Festival, playing Highway to Hell, in honour of Bon Scott and AC/DC.

In March 2021, the band performed their first on-line streaming concert (the Cyber Show) to a worldwide audience and announced a 40th anniversary UK tour.



  • Naoko Yamano – lead vocals, guitar (1981–present)
  • Atsuko Yamano – drums, vocals, bass (1981–2006; drums from 1981–1999, full-time bassist from 1999–2006; touring bassist in North America 2006–2008, 2015–2017; touring bassist in Europe and Japan, 2015–2016)
  • Ritsuko Taneda – bass, rhythm guitar, vocals (2006–present, hiatus 2015–2017)
  • Naru Ishizuka – bass, vocals (2015), touring bassist in Japan (2016–2017)
  • Risa Kawano – drums, vocals (2015–present)


  • Michie Nakatani – bass, vocals, keyboards (1981–1999)
  • Mana Nishiura – touring drummer (2001–2004)
  • Etsuko Nakanishi – drums, backing vocals (2005–2010)
  • Emi Morimoto – drums, vocals (2010–2015)




  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Shonen Knife – Bio". Shonen Knife. 2007. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mar, Alex (March 1, 2005). "Shonen Knife Bring Sweets". Rolling Stone. RealNetworks, Inc. Retrieved March 1, 2005.
  3. ^ a b c Murther, Christopher (March 9, 2005). "Shonen Knife Makes Its Point With Positive Punk". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 9, 2005.
  4. ^ Robson, Daniel (December 29, 2011). "Shonen Knife celebrates 30 years". Japan Times. p. 15. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  5. ^ a b McKenzie, Brian (January 24, 1997). "Frequently Asked Questions About Shonen Knife". The Shonen Knife Freaks. Brian K. McKenzie. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d Grunebaum, Dan. "Shonen Knife". Metropolis Tokyo. Metropolis KK. Archived from the original on February 26, 2009. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  7. ^ Prato, Greg. "Shonen Knife – Biography". Allmusic. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved March 16, 2009.
  8. ^ Taylor, Steve (2006). The A to X of Alternative Music. A&C Black. p. 226. ISBN 9780826482174.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Denise (2001). Rip it Up!: Rock & Roll Rulebreakers. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 66. ISBN 9780879306359.
  10. ^ Needles, Tim. "Shonen Knife Discuss their Upcoming NYC Shows, Kurt Cobain, their music, and more". Short and Sweet NYC. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  11. ^ "Punk News". Punk News. Archived from the original on November 29, 2005. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  12. ^ "Shonen Knife Site". Archived from the original on March 31, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  13. ^ "Report on 2007 tour date, with photos and video". Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  14. ^ "J-Pop World interview". October 20, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  15. ^ Smith, Tom (March 29, 2010). "Shonen Knife Confirm May 2010 UK Tour". Neo magazine. Uncooked Media. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  16. ^ "Etsuko leaves the group - Shonen Knife blog 2 April 2010". February 4, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  17. ^ "Naoko Naoko announces Etsuko's departure on Good Charamel's blog 9 April 2010". April 9, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  18. ^ "First live shows with Emi-chan - Shonen Knife blog 31 March 2010". March 31, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  19. ^ "Shonen Knife talks to New York Music News @ The Bell House 少年ナイフのインタビュー". July 27, 2012. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  20. ^ "3/26 岡山ペパーランド - Shonen Knife Blog, from Ritsuko 26 March 2015". March 26, 2015. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  21. ^ "Ritsuko's maternity leave りつこ、産休のお知らせ - Shonen Knife Blog 20 April 2015". April 20, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  22. ^ "Emi's Departure えみ、少年ナイフ脱退のお知らせ - Shonen Knife Blog 27 May 2015". May 27, 2015. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  23. ^ "Our new drummer have decided! - Shonen Knife Blog 2015/7/12". July 12, 2015. Retrieved July 12, 2015.
  24. ^ "Good news from Ritsuko! - Shonen Knife Blog 2015/9/18". September 18, 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  25. ^ "Line Up - ATP 2.0 April 2016 curated by Stewart Lee - All Tomorrow's Parties". Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  26. ^ "SHONEN KNIFE latest album ADVENTURE out now!". 2016. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  27. ^ "New album from Shonen Knife + EU and UK tour!".

Further reading[edit]

  • Yasuda, Sonoka, ed. (June 1998). Shonen Naifu Rando 少年ナイフランド [Shonen Knife Land] (in Japanese and English). Little More. ISBN 4-947648-73-2.

External links[edit]