At this point, it’s accurate, if not exactly desirable, to refer to Shonen Knife as “venerable.” The Japanese pop-punk group has been playing since 1981, and will celebrate its 36th anniversary this December. Best known for opening for Nirvana on that group’s Nevermind tour, the band plays the 40 Watt May 9 as part of its Ramen Adventure Tour. The lineup has changed quite a bit over the years, as members moved, had babies or just got tired of touring, but founding member and frontwoman Naoko Yamano is still going strong.
Shonen Knife has been writing songs about food from the beginning, with ditties devoted to banana leaves, “Choco-bars,” sushi, strawberry cream puffs and more. As the group swings south from Boston before heading west to Los Angeles, it’s documenting what it eats along the way at shonenknife.net/blog. It’s not all ramen: If you read the blog, you’ll see peanut-butter-and-jelly toast, hard-boiled eggs, waffles and birthday cake alongside bowls of noodles.
Flagpole chatted over email with Yamano about ramen, touring and the difference between Japanese and American truck stops.
Wanna find ramen in Athens? Check out our recommendations here.
Flagpole: How much ramen do you eat?
Naoko Yamano: I eat ramen once a week at ramen restaurants and home. I like noodles a lot. Including other noodles like soba or pasta, I have them three or four times a week.
FP: Do you think you'll be able to find enough good ramen on this tour?
NY: I think so. I’ve eaten much ramen in the U.S., and everything was good. Ramen is a very creative food. Each restaurant has its recipe. I can enjoy ramen all through the tour.
FP: What's your favorite kind? Do you ever eat vegetarian ramen?
NY: My favorite ramen is Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen. It’s pork base soup with thin, hard noodles. I’ve never eaten vegetarian ramen. So far as I know, there is no vegetarian ramen in Japan.
FP: Which lineup of the band is touring this time? Is Ritsuko [Taneda, a band member since 2006] still out on maternity leave?
NY: Our original member and my sister Atsuko [Yamano] on the bass and Risa Kawano for the drums are the lineup for the tour. Ritsuko sometimes joins our shows in Japan, because she has to take care of her baby. Risa and I play for all shows, and we have three bassists. Since Atsuko is living in Los Angeles, it is hard to join every Japanese show. For some Japanese shows, Ritsuko and Naru play the bass.
FP: How often do you get to see your sister?
NY: I see her three or four times a year. She always plays the bass when we go abroad, and sometimes in Japan. Also, she stays at my apartment once a year for some shows in Japan and vacation for a month or so. We play tennis together.
FP: What music have you been listening to lately?
NY: I’ve been listening to disco, funk and R&B lately: Earth, Wind & Fire, Con Funk Shun, Miracles, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and so on. I love ’60s and ’70s R&B. I like to listen to the music [that] I can’t play by myself.
FP: How is touring the U.S. different from touring Japan?
NY: We don’t have long tours in Japan. We usually play two or three cities at a time. We tour in a small van, not a big van like in the U.S. We can rent a whole drum kit, bass amp and guitar amp at the venue. It’s convenient. Japanese truck stops are excellent. They have restaurants, a food court that has various menus, a convenience store, a souvenir store and lots of clean, high-tech bathrooms.
FP: How do American truck stops compare?
NY: Foods at American truck stops are usually the same. They have pizza, sandwiches and hamburgers. At Japanese truck stops, there are various kinds of food, and every truck stop has its special menu. We have many truck stops at highways, because there are many cars, and many people use them.
FP: Have you ever played Athens?
NY: We’ve played Atlanta several times, but for Athens, as far as I remember, I’ve never been there. I’ve heard that Athens is a cultural city. I hope many music lovers join our show. Let’s rock!
Naoko Yamano’s Ramen Recipe
A portion of ramen noodles
1 boiled egg
A few slices of Chinese-style roasted pork
1. Put 2 teaspoons of soup powder and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce in 400cc boiled water
2. Put a portion of ramen noodles in it for 1 or 2 minutes
3. Move to a ramen bowl
4. Topped with shredded leek, boiled egg, roasted pork and some pepper