In anticipation of our show next Tuesday I'm writing a series of posts on one of my favorite bands from my mis-spent youth, Shonen Knife...
One thing I often hear as a criticism about SK is that all of their songs are either about:
This is obviously false--they also have several songs that are about:
(c) Both animals AND food simultaneously.
Actually there are other notable digressions from their usual lyrical obsessions. Today I would like to highlight one of their lesser-known records that came out in '97 after they were dropped from their major-label contract with Virgin:
Granted, there are plenty of animal and food songs on this one ("when you feel down, I recommend to you: eat lots of fruits and vegetables"). The overall production is less giddy and DIY than their earlier records, so I think it generally gets dismissed/ignored by critics and SK fans. But there are also a couple of rather heart-felt songs about boredom and inertia that hit me really hard when I first heard them, and one that actually reduced me to tears while I was driving in my Toyota Camry. I will explain.
Biographies of Shonen Knife always mention that they started the band as a hobby to relieve the tedium of their go-nowhere office jobs:
Despite Shonen Knife's relentlessly upbeat image, their origins were quietly rebellious in their own culture. The three young women—sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano and their friend Michie Nakatani—came from Osaka's middle class, where a young woman's life was expected to follow a strict path. When the three decided to form a band in the early 1980s, they had no intention of pursuing rock and roll fame...
Consequently, the Yamanos and Nakatani saw their music as a hobby only, one that would relieve the tedium of their day jobs: Naoko and Atsuko Yamano, who lived with their parents in Osaka, held office jobs with a plastic surgeon and fashion designer, respectively, while Nakatani worked as a word processor. The band's beginnings were appropriately simple, as Naoko described in Pollster. "It was after we finish school," she explained. "Me and Michie were bored so we decide to start a band, but we need drummer. I made a pretty flyer and put it on refrigerator. Soon Atsuko see.... She said she would be drummer." *
Around the time Brand New Knife came out I was working a series of frustratingly boring, low-paid, go-nowhere office jobs myself, with little sense of purpose and no idea of how to get myself to a better place. I always hear about that time (the 1990's in general) as being an era of a strong economy and easy money; I guess it was, except I had no ability to tap into that money myself, and I was hurting financially just about as badly then as I ever have. I had also managed to run up some spectacular student loans but was making maybe a third or quarter of what I'd need to make, income-wise, in order to pay them off in a timely (say, fifteen years?) fashion.
So, in that context, I picked up a used copy of Brand New Knife maybe a year after it came out; dutifully made a copy to cassette (transparent red cassette--where are you now?) so I could listen to it my car, and put it on while driving to work. Instead of the expected sparkly songs about kitty cats, the record kicks off instead with "Explosion!" (see above). This is...not about kitty cats. Or food. It's an ominous punk ode to that feeling of frustration with the status quo that's so familiar these days--perhaps it resonates more strongly today than it did when it was released. The lyrics in English go, in part:
Nothing's gonna start if you and I do nothing
Nothing's gonna change if you and I are only waiting
Nothing's gonna move if you and I see only one thing
Nothing's gonna work but I can't change the system of this world
Hey money junkie, what are you living for?
I burn with anger, I set time bombs everywhere.
So, there's that, which I wasn't expecting. There's some more good songs on there, like the moody "Wind Your Spring" and "E.S.P.," which is totally charming and is about exactly what you think it is. Plus it has a great guitar solo.
But the song that really hit me was, oddly, "Loop Di Loop," a perky little number about riding a roller coaster. Except, right in the middle of cruising along happily, you come to the bridge--a bridge that, out of nowhere, completely changes the song's direction:
Trash, rubbish, foolishness
Repeating the same thing everyday
Trash, rubbish, foolishness
Feeling boredom everyday
I don't know if they had their day jobs in mind when they wrote that, maybe not; but when I heard it I was stopped in my car at a traffic light, on my way to my miserable office job, and it struck me with such force and resonance that I starting tearing up. In despair. I don't think there's many bridges that can do that, and so I hereby nominate it The Greatest Bridge Of All Time. Well, it's certainly in the Top Ten of Bridges, okay? Okay. Anyway, "Loop Di Loop" was one of the things that pushed me to start my own band with Mary, and for that I will always be grateful. Check it out:
So, Shonen Knife. Less than a week until our show with them--I am very excited. Someone (was it Don of Don's Music fame?) once told me that their original drummer lives in Eagle Rock? Is this true? I keep wondering if I'll spot her at the Super A, but no, no such luck. Maybe Don is pulling my leg.
ANNNYWAY. I can't quite remember who first mentioned Shonen Knife to me--this is almost 20 years ago by now. It might have been my brother. I do remember seeing a review of Let's Knife in some gearhead guitar dude magazine in the early 90's and thinking "huh." I think this same magazine was trying to politely suggest that, perhaps, Shonen Knife wasn't quite as heavy in the gearhead guitar dude department as some other quality bands at the time, for instance:
Well, despite Extreme's manifest charms, I ended up siding with Shonen Knife, even after a young woman who (I think) was trying to flirt with me by demanding that I lift her off the ground (I failed) tartly dismissed the band with a "they just want to be cartoon characters" comment. I distinctly remember thinking "doesn't EVERYBODY?!?" I didn't say it out loud, though--too busy trying to lift said girl off the ground. Failed again. She had a lame bowl haircut and was into Sarah McLachlan. I don't remember her name. But I DO remember THIS:
...and I think you would have to have a heart of stone not to like a video like that. Personally, I suspect that more bands would benefit by shooting space monsters with lasers from headless guitars. Especially bands struggling with their image. I can think of...well, just about everyone. Just saying.
Anyway, soon after the failed-girl-lifting episode, my brother bought me a copy of Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them and, for my birthday, took me to see them play in Detroit. This was the show that I mentioned earlier wherein much of the audience was dressed up as either Batman or Paul Revere and the Raiders. It made a very, very large impression on me and, along with that scene in Wings of Desire where Nick Cave plays From Her To Eternity in some decaying Berlin palace, cemented in my brain the idea of what a Cool Rock And Roll Show was like.
Over the next few days I'm gonna post some more about SK--but please please pass this facebook invite around to anyone and everyone. I would love to make this show extremely wonderful by seeing all of your lovely faces there. Thanks!
Feels like lately we've been saying a lot of farewells lately, first with Cobra Lilies, and now with Monolators.
Both Ashley and Jillinda have decided to move on to other things, and so from a five-piece we're officially back to a trio. We've known both Ashley and Jillinda for a long time and we've been through a lot together, but since our residency in January everyone's lives have become so hectic that it's been harder and harder to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. I believe the last occasion we all played together as a 5-piece band was to record our final Kickstarter cover song video back in June, like so:
So Monolators is now down to Ray, Mary, and I, with me switching back to bass. I was actually the original Monolators bassist! It's true! 6 years ago! I am petrified! Well, a little. Our first show as an official trio was last weekend at the Prospector and we will also play the Shonen Knife show as a three-piece next Tuesday.
Ashley with Thunderbird at Pehrspace, 2008. Photo: LA Underground
We first met Ashley in...I want to say...2007, at Pehrspace. We somehow or other got to play a show she put together there, but without her ever having seen us play before. I can't quite remember how that happened. I do remember that we played that night as a two-piece and, during the course of the show, I tried to assume rock awesomeness by climbing on top of Mary's drum kit, as I often do. This time, however, I decided to climb on top of the floor tom while playing guitar (why? Don't know). The floor tom collapsed under my weight, and I fell flat on my back. This amused Ashley to no end. Later Ashley became a Cobra Lily and would fill in on bass for Monolators when our then-regular bassist, Andy, couldn't make a show. She became an official Monolator in 2008 just a week and half before we went into the studio to record Don't Dance--and, even with basically no advance notice, still managed to record half the bass parts on the album, as well as a chunk of the keyboard parts. She stayed with us through two tours and made the Ruby, I'm Changing My Number and Silver Cities records with us. Her last show with us was this past July at Pehrspace--right where we first met her. SYMMETRY. Thanks, Ashley--you will be missed.
We first got to know Jillinda probably around the same time as Ashley, although she held out another year before joining officially (in 2009). We met her as the keyboard player of The Breakups (whose leader, Jake, happens to be the brother of one of my classmates from middle school in East Lansing, Michigan. WEIRD) and I Make This Sound, and although she didn't play on the Don't Dance record, she certainly played the record release show, and was a sort of honorary Monolator before joining for reals in 2009. She's on Ruby and the keyboard-heavy Silver Cities record, and was with us until her last official show, a house party in Castaic, California a week and a half ago. Jillinda's concentrating her musical time now on her own band, The Damselles, and also plays in High Ho Silver-o, so she's keeping busy--but we shall miss her.
Here's a picture from the last show we ever played live as a five-piece, at LaBrie's Lounge in January at the end of our Radio Free Silverlake residency...thanks Ashley & Jillinda, we had a really good time together.
Curtain Call. Photo by Jeff Koga
Also, I couldn't resist--one of my favorite moments from the 5-piece band--the ABBALATORS:
And live at the Echo, circa 2009. I always liked these pictures:
Monolators in Long Beach; Cobra Lilies at Perhspace (penultimate CL show)
We have two shows coming up that I'd like you to know about--apart from the Shonen Knife show--which will be very nice indeed.
This Thursday (the 20th) Monolators will play the Prospector in Long Beach as part of LA Underground's Los Angeles Loved...2011. We haven't played the Prospector in something like...2 years? So we're very happy about this. We play first at 10, with The Vivids and Dva Damas. $5! Very nice writeup about the show here courtesy of LA Underground.
This is actually our second-to-last show under the Cobra Lilies name and with the current lineup. Both Ema and Pauline are moving on to spend more time on their other musical projects, and since so many Lilies have departed within the last year or so, we've decided to retire the band name. We feel that Cobra Lilies is very much a big band, and with just 4 members left (down from, I think, 12 or 13 at our peak) it's not really the same thing. We will miss Ema & Pauline (and the rest of our ex-Lilies) very much, but Arlene, Alissa, Mary and I will continue on playing our repertoire under a new name, which is yet to be determined. I will certainly make note of it here once we've reconfigured ourselves...and we have an unreleased EP that needs to come out...so there's still a lot of good stuff to come.
After Friday we'll have one more Cobra Lilies show as a 6-piece at Taix in November with Tommy Santee Klaws, but I hope you can make this show too, which will be a lot of fun! Thanks everybody for all the love and support you've given the Lilies these past few years!
It's been a kind of creepy ghost town on this blog for a while...I've been bad. BUT. I have something that I'm very happy about to report, which is that we're going to be opening for Shonen Knife at the Echo on November 1! I have been a fan since...ummmmm...1992? 1993? Something like that? My brother and I went to see them play in Detroit at The Saint Andrews Hall in 1994. They were wonderful. There were people in the audience dressed in Batman costumes (Adam West Batman, that is) and also people dressed up as, I think, Paul Revere and the Raiders. I'm not really sure why. But there they were, and it was EXCELLENT.
Would you guys come to this show dressed as Paul Revere? PLEASE???