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Hello Kitty is a punk rocker: Kurt Cobain’s (other) favorite band, Shonen Knife

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Kurt Cobain was loud and proud expressing his admiration for The Raincoats when asked about his favorite music. Another all-girl band he championed was Shonen Knife. [Honestly, the guy seemed to have a lot of favorite bands]

Shonen Knife is a much-loved Japanese punk-pop trio that formed in Osaka in 1981. The original lineup was guitarist and vocalist Naoko Yamano, drummer Atsuko Yamano, and bassist Michie Nakatani. There have been several line-up changes over thirty-two years and Naoko is the only remaining original member.

Singing in English and Japanese, they write songs influenced by The Ramones and other early punk bands, surf music and garage bands, with catchy, sometimes silly, frivolous lyrics. They’ve written about cats, catnip, brown mushrooms, candy, sushi bars, mango juice, bison, banana chips and Barbie dolls. Their song “One Day of the Factory” appeared on a Sub Pop compilation in 1986. Early fans included Thurston Moore, legendary English DJ John Peel, and Redd Kross. Twenty alt-rock bands recorded a Shonen Knife tribute album (Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them) in 1989, but their American fame grew exponentially two years later.

Kurt Cobain saw Shonen Knife play in L.A. in 1991 and immediately became an enthusiastic fan. He told Melody Maker in September of that year:

We saw Shonen Knife and they were so cool. I turned into a nine-year old girl at a Beatles concert. I was crying and jumping up and down and tearing my hair out - it was amazing. I’ve never been so thrilled in my whole life. They play pop music - pop, pop, pop music.

He asked them to open for Nirvana on their nine-date 1991 UK tour shortly before the release of Nevermind. Not many people had heard of Nirvana at that point, but Shonen Knife agreed. Naoko Yamano described Cobain as being very quiet but friendly.

Naoko told Metroactive:

We toured with him twice in U.K. and U.S. One day when we were touring, he asked to me how to play the guitar chords of our song ‘Twist Barbie.’ So I told the chords to him. Then I heard that he played the song at Nirvana’s secret gig. I’m very proud of it, because he is a great rock artist.

Grohl endeared himself to Naoko’s sister Atsuko by acting as unofficial drum roadie and helping them to set up each night. While in the UK they recorded their first John Peel Session on BBC Radio

Shonen Knife signed to Capitol Records in 1992 and released Let’s Knife, their sixth album. They played the Reading Festival with Mudhoney and Nirvana that year. In December 1992 they joined Nirvana on their midwestern American tour.

In early 1993 Dave Grohl and Cobain enthused about Shonen Knife on MTV:

Dave Grohl: They went into their first song and everyone seemed sort of baffled…They won over the audience by the end of the night. Every show, people were like almost in tears.

Kurt Cobain: I was an emotional sap the whole time. I cried every night.

Dave Grohl: You couldn’t help it!


Shonen Knife performed on the Lollapalooza side stage in 1994, the year Nirvana had been scheduled to headline.

The original Shonen Knife line-up onstage in 1992:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright
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08.19.2013
11:00 am
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