The amalgamation of New York City female duo Cibo Matto began in 1994 when the Japanese pair of Miho Hatori (vocals) and Yuka C. Honda (keyboards/sampler) met in the city’s underground and formed the short-lived punk outfit, Leitoh Lychee (frozen lychee nut). Two years later, Cibo Matto burst onto the music scene, brandishing its form of avant-pop like a sword with its battle cry debut album Viva! La Woman. In 1999, their spree of wild experimentation, infused with flairs of hip-hop, Brazilian, African and Latin jazz and pop music, raged on with sophomore effort, Stereo Type A. Then in 2001 the lights turned on suddenly when the band announced its extended hiatus for the foreseeable future and the party seemed to be over. But the band has never followed a normal pattern and so on Valentine’s Day this year, they released their long-awaited third album on Chimera Records. Hotel Valentine, an aptly named concept album, is a self-produced and self-described “love story amid the ghosts traversing the hallways of a hotel.” It further showcases the band’s magical chemistry and dares listeners to take a walk into its self-contained world.
Boxx contributor Jim Keller checked in with Hatori about the band’s reunion, the cinematic tapestry of Hotel Valentine and, through it, learned how both New York and Cibo Matto have evolved over the last decade. It was all in the midst of the band’s whirlwind North American tour, which concluded last month in Philly.
Jim Keller: Your new album, Hotel Valentine, is a concept album. How did this come about?
Miho Hatori: We love to have a concept for making an album, as we did for our first album [Viva La Woman!]. We wanted to make an invisible movie with sounds and music.
JK: So if Viva La Woman! was also a concept album, what was the concept behind it?
MH: The concept was food and love.
JK: There are many ghosts featured prominently in your new album, what is the significance of this?
MH: I think [the idea of a] ghost is universal and an imaginative figure to relate to many people.
JK: Jazz is showcased beautifully on several of the new tracks; did you deliberately feature this element of your music more prominently?
MH: Thank you. We want to be jazzy like Miles Davis.
JK: Cibo Matto resumed performing together following a benefit concert for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, what prompted this reunion?
MH: It was about time! It was very organic in our own way.
JK: While apart, both Yuka and you developed solo projects. Our readers are curious to know if these pursuits will continue.
MH: I think so. There are no specific plans, but I worked on a documentary soundtrack recently. I hope it will come out soon.
JK: Has reuniting been like picking up where you left off, or is it a completely new experience?
MH: It was very fresh, but very familiar. I think we are more mature with each other. Yuka described the reunion perfectly: This is like a second marriage! I agree with her one hundred percent!
JK: Collaboration has long been integral to the band’s music. How important is this element in shaping the songs?
MH: This time, we spent two years making the album and really went deep for everything, especially the song writing. It took a long time and sometimes it was difficult when we had different opinions, but now we feel happy to have had this opportunity and the process in order to create a pure [vision of] Yuka and Miho’s world.
JK: “A pure Yuka and Miho’s world,” that has a nice ring to it, can you comment further?
MH: It’s hard for me to say specifically, but let’s say this album is like our child. We didn’t know what kind of person it would be at the end. We put our energies and thoughts together and then chemistry happened through creation. We didn’t expect this album would sound like this before. So, in a way, it was an experimental musical affair of [our] minds.
JK: Reggie Watts lent vocals to Hotel Valentine, while Nels Cline played guitar and drummer Glenn Kotche also appeared among other collaborators. Will any of them make live appearances with Cibo Matto?
MH: We are so blessed to have them all on this album. They are all fascinating artists! They’re pretty busy, but hopefully it will happen one day!
JK: The last decade has seen the closing of many small to mid-size music venues in New York. Did any of your favorites close? If so, which ones and why are they favorites?
MH: The old Knitting Factory on Houston was very interesting! Tonic on the Lower East Side’s Suffolk Street was a great venue and was very supportive to bands, musicians and music lovers. I miss Tonic very much! Also, CBGB’s Gallery was the place Cibo Matto played a lot when we formed the band, and they supported us a lot.
JK: How were these venues supportive?
MH: In many ways, but I felt they had a philosophy of knowledge and love to support the New York downtown music scene. On the more realistic side, they were always generous and paid a great percentage of the door to musicians.
JK: Can you describe the first Cibo Matto show?
MH: I think the first was called “Tokyo Noise Festival” at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street. It is hard for me to say what it was like because I was playing, but we had super arty and crazy songs. Our cinematic attitude of music and fictitious story style was already there. If I could take a time machine ride, I would love to see the show.
JK: How do they differ from today?
MH: I hope we are more matured as musicians/craft workers than that time. I guess everybody feels you get better than the first time, right?
JK: If you had absolute creative and financial freedom, what would Cibo Matto shows of the future be like?
MH: I would want to do something cinematic.
JK: The band has long had a love affair with jazz, hip-hop and food, are there any other influences that you attribute to the band’s unique sound?
MH: Movies like Leos Carax’s Holy Motors and Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In.
JK: Those are both excellent films. What did you enjoy most about them?
MH: Everything really. The stories, cinematography, acting, scenarios, lighting, music, props. They are amazing, collaborative forms of art.
JK: Do you enjoy other films directed by Almodóvar?
MH: Many of them. I loved Talk to Her especially because Caetano Veloso was in the film. Bad Education and All About My Mother were great too. Endless.
JK: Given that your band’s name means “crazy food” in Italian, I have to ask the requisite food questions. Do you have any new favorite dishes or cuisine that you recommend?
MH: So many! But if we choose one, both Yuka and I love dan dan noodle and chilled cucumber, which are Szechuan cuisine.
JK: What are your favorite restaurants?
MH: I can’t answer that, but I would love to go to [Copenhagen, Denmark’s] Noma one day.
JK: If you opened a restaurant, where would it be and what would you serve?
MH: I don’t want to open a restaurant. I’d rather go out to eat!
JK: What message do you have for our female readers who are thinking about becoming musicians?
MH: Be a badass!
JK: What does the future have in store for Cibo Matto?
MH: We don’t have a plan yet. We are still jumping up on the stage. In a way, something in us is not changing.
Cover photo by Sean Lennon and inset photo by Julio Cann