CIBO MATTO: DO THE BEST
After ten years, the genre-bursting never-predictable Cibo Matto has again done something no one predicted and reunited—and released a new album, too! Their Hotel Valentine is out now and they play the El Rey tonight! This interview by Kristina Benson.
It’s been ten years since your last album—how has the band changed?
Miho Hatori: We got more mature than before. And we had a little break between the second album and this third album. During that time we had different projects personally. And now we are putting our new knowledge into this band together. And we’re very very happy about that, actually. We feel like it’s time to make music with a new challenge, you know?
Did you feel any responsibility or pressure from your earlier records when it came time to make this new one?
We feel very fresh. I never felt any heavy feeling from the past. I think we are very focused on right now. We are very happy about our album. We feel we got much stronger and became better—better is not the right word, but more … deeper, in the feel and style and everything of this album. We feel this kind of feeling and it never stopped. After finishing the album, we feel like, ‘Oh, we could do this too!’ So many new ideas. I feel like it’s never ending. You have to kind of keep searching til you die, and do the best.
When you first started, you incorporated a lot of electronic music—which was difficult to do then! Now everyone can simulate an analog keyboard with software. Did this affect the way you made the new record?
I guess it’s good for everybody to have this software. It’s easy to get it and everyone can enjoy it. But I feel … as a professional, that’s not the only reason. We always make a challenge with something new.
Did you use software on this album? Or did you use original instruments?
We use both. New technology and old technology. That never changes. When we did our second album, for example, we were already using ProTools at the time, but still using analog keyboards for recording. It sounds good. You don’t have that much of a border to choose from between new and old.
Viva La Woman was considered one of the best hip-hop records of 1996—did you feel like you were making a hip-hop record? What did you think about being put in that genre?
We used a lot of sampling, so maybe some people considered us hip-hop. We thought we were very blessed to think about some people thought we were hip-hop. Our music is very hard to categorize. If someone asks me what kind of music we’re doing, I don’t know what to say. How do you say it? Some people think psych rock, but we are kind of hip-hop sounding too. It’s very hard to categorize us into one spot. But hip-hop music is very free to come to other genres. For example: country music is just country, classical is classical. But hip-hop … many of those soundmakers have been using all kinds of sounds. Samples from the blues, all kinds of music. It gives them more freedom. So maybe that’s the reason people thought that.
In Spin years ago, you described yourselves as an American band run by Asian people. What did you mean?
At the time, world music was pretty different and more stronger, in the 90s. And with two different girls who sing music, people would think we were world music. Many people told us, ‘OK, you guys are doing Japanese music.’ Cuz it was so rare to see two Japanese women doing music. There were no examples at the time. So people thought this was Japanese music—our music was Japanese music. But we always thought this is NOT Japanese music. That was a different time for us. I think there were a lot of stereotype issues. Now the world has changed and everyone knows what is happening on the other side of the globe. The information was completely different. Now a lot of kids are open-minded. They aren’t like, ‘Oh, OK, Japanese music is like this.’ People are aware there are many different kinds of music happening in one place. In the U.S.A., too. But at the time, it was so rare to see two Asians doing music. We had to do a little exploring. That was a big challenge. We had done music, but at the same time we felt a cultural expat but we are not—we are just musicians! We try to explain from what we are thinking. But that’s not the only answer. Sometimes it was difficult to explain that. Now it’s much more easier to communicate with people. We didn’t want to be known as as a Japanese band. We wanted to be open. When I think for example about French artists, Serge Gainsbourg or somebody, I don’t think about current music. It’s just Gainsbourg’s art. I appreciate that. The people who have that kind of standing.
What did you learn from working with Yoko Ono?
She has a strong mind, and that’s something we can learn a lot from. She’s been giving a lot of energy to the world. She’s amazing, I feel, in rock as a woman too, and that’s very inspiring. She’s a very open-minded person for the arts. I never felt judged by her. When we’d make a song with her, she didn’t say anything so we could work freely, you know? She didn’t give us pressure or anything like that.
You made your ‘Sugar Water Shower’ video with Michel Gondry, where it runs the same forwards and backward. What was that like? Did you have to learn how to move backward?
It was a brilliant idea! We didn’t walk backward, we’d just go forward. It was a technique with the film they were using. We just followed what was in [Gondry’s] mind. And when we were looking at the final thing, it was like … wow. He’s a magician of the moving image.
On ‘Sunday Part II,’ you sing about the ‘second world’—what is your second world?
I had one amazing picture book called Second World, and that was where I took the idea from. A black-and-white picture book of women from all over the world. Tribes woman to New York Wall Street woman, grandmother, all different kind of women in a picture book. Really beautiful. And it says SECOND WORLD. I feel, especially in my mind state … I think about femininity, cuz we are women, and second world. The lyrics I put are talking about the view from … I guess … women.
You worked at a record store in Tokyo when you started the band—whatever happened to it? Is it still there?
Yeah, totally! I came back from Japan two weeks ago and I saw my boss who worked at the record store. I hadn’t seen him for twenty years! We were having a great time, drinking sake at his store. He’s such a funky guy. It’s in a place called Shibuya—such a cool place, the East Village of Tokyo.
People always say ‘vinyl is back’ here. Is it the same in Japan?
I think so … but actually I don’t know cuz I don’t live there. I don’t have enough time to ask people about it. To think about before I came here to the states, the vinyl … many music nerds were stil buying vinyl, and there’s like so many music nerds in Japan. You can still find something you want if you look for it in Japan. Somehow Japanese people have it. I don’t know why. There’s so many vinyl buyers in Japan. So many good record stores, so many good collections. It’s unbelievable.
CIBO MATTO WITH SALT CATHEDRAL AND SCOTT & RIVERS ON MON., FEB. 24, AT THE EL REY, 5515 WILSHIRE BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $25 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. CIBO MATTO’S HOTEL VALENTINE IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM CHIMERA. YEAHBASICALLYCIBOMATTO.COM.