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Shonen Knife's Naoko on why punk-pop songs about candy still rock

Shonen Knife
Good Caramel records
Good Caramel records
Shonen Knife's new record "Our Best Place"

Somewhere in the ether of punk literature is the notion that a great punk song should hover around three minutes. The energy should be in your face with urgent beats that can grab you by the shoulders and make your head bang back and forth.

Shonen Knife’s lead guitarist and founder Naoko Yamano is a firm believer in these ideals.

the Linda Lindas
The Linda Lindas
Courtesy of the Linda Lindas
The Linda Lindas met Shonen Knife when they played in Osaka.

“I prefer a pop-punk melody line in –punk-pop bands,” she said from her home in Osaka. “Especially the music of The Ramones made me want to start a band.”

In the early days of the genre, lyrics were geared toward raging at government policies or suburban wastelands. Bands like X and The Ramones did this, but they also expanded with poetic takes on love, such as “Your Phone’s off the Hook, But You’re Not,” by X or “Judy is a Punk,” by The Ramones.

In 1981 when Shonen Knife began, they extended the lyrical messages to include food, mostly candy. Naoko, the driving force behind the band — now in its 40th year — explained why.

“Many rock bands sing about love or sometimes social problems,” Naoko said. “But I’m so ashamed to write love songs. And I don’t want to put my opinion on political things to my lyrics. So, I picked tasty food or cute animals as my topics.”

Writing about candy still gives her joy, she said — but with the band’s new record, Our Best Place (Good Caramel), she was ready to expand into other foods.

“It’s rather easy for me because I like to eat delicious food,” said Naoko. “Early Shonen Knife, I had many candy or sweet songs. But now, I write about other foods, like spicy veggie curry or taquitos.”

The Linda Lindas 2
Courtesy of The Linda Lindas
The Linda Lindas
Eloise and Lucia of The Linda Lindas when they met Shonen Knife at Amoeba records

Their longevity and being an all-female band have inspired other, newer bands like The Linda Lindas.

In an email to VPM Music, 15-year-old Eloise Wong from The Linda Lindas said Shonen Knife are definitely an inspiration to her and her bandmates.

“Shonen Knife was one of the first concerts Lucia and I went to. It was an in-store at Amoeba and we dressed in Mondrian outfits that Lucia’s mom made!” she said.

Wong said she and bandmate Lucia de la Garza were very young when they met Naoko’s band, but years later, when The Linda Lindas started playing, they got to meet Shonen Knife again.

“It was pretty awesome that we got to meet Naoko and Atsuko when we played in Osaka this past summer. What a dream,” said Eloise. “‘I am a Cat’ was my anthem when I was little. ‘Riding on the Rocket,’ ‘Bear Up Bison,’ ‘Tomato Head,’ and ‘Space Christmas’ are genius, too. And it’s so exciting they’re releasing more music. I hope we can keep playing for life, like they do.”

Correction: Eloise Wong's age was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. VPM Music apologizes for the error.

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.