Nov 11

[interview] Miho Hatori: new music, new optimism

m09Dance music usually evokes an image of communality—people shaking and grinding in a club to a recognizable pop song, possibly remixed. Miho Hatori’s take with her band New Optimism is about dance as an individual, cathartic expression. Alternately swaying gracefully and thrusting her fists to surreal music with tribal-sounding rhythms, the ex-Cibo Matto singer turned the personal into performance at New York City’s Santos Party House on Oct. 16. Even when audience members joined Hatori onstage at her request, each displayed an idiosyncratic dance style instead of moshing collectively. (Costumed musician-designer Bad Brilliance stole the show, headbanging with the giant, yellow balloon atop his outfit.)

Hatori is a fascinating person—creative, opinionated, quirky and direct. She’s also self-aware and considers her New York City residence a good match for her personality. I began the interview by asking how she felt about performing later that night, a throwaway question that usually nets a canned response about being excited but works well as a lead-in. Hatori repeated the question with a chuckle, shrugged and said casually, “I don’t know.”

She grew up in Tokyo, where her early experiences with music included a DJ gig and working at a record store. She moved to New York City in 1993 and got involved with its thriving local music scene. She met Yuka Honda and formed the legendary duo Cibo Matto, a satellite band for Japan’s burgeoning pastiche music scene, Shibuya-kei. Their music combined hip-hop, bossa nova, swing and more with food-fixated lyrics, such as those of 1995 single “Know Your Chicken.”

Cibo Matto broke up in 2001, and Hatori collaborated on a number of projects—notably voicing Noodle on the Gorillaz’ debut album—before releasing her first solo album, Ecdysis, in 2005. Because she felt she couldn’t fit all her creativity into one project, she currently leads two, New Optimism and New Still Life. New Still Life deals with a familiar Hatori topic—food—as a metaphor because of its importance in daily life. New Optimism is the dance band, and a response to changes in the world such as Barack Obama’s election to presidency. “I feel like giving new optimism is something I love to do with art, with connecting with people,” Hatori says.

m08The petite musician seems to possess a strong rapport with her backing band. When bassist Jesse Murphy (formerly of Brazilian Girls) entered the backstage room, she shouted to him, “That is a sweet outfit!”

Hatori describes New Optimism as 180 degrees apart from New Still Life. “This is more about action and dance and a lot of movement,” she says. “But New Still Life is more about eclectic songwriting that says an attitude. If New Optimism is the sun, then New Still Life is like the moon.”

Though neither of her new projects has a CD out yet, Hatori plans to release a handmade New Optimism EP called One of One with a production limited to 101 copies. When more information is available, she will announce it on her blog.

Hatori’s other recent work includes the soundtrack for the documentary The Killing of a Chinese Cookie, a documentary about the history of fortune cookies. “It’s very uplifting,” Hatori says. “Usually documentary films are very serious, heavy shit. But there’s something deep about it.” The entire movie can be streamed for free at SnagFilms.com.

She can’t describe any particular musical goals, perhaps because her work is so influenced by unpredictable world events. “I’ll just keep on doing what I can do,” she promises.

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  1. Miho Mad

    I think Miho is amazing, I like her stuff with Cibo Matto, but I think her own tracks are better. I’ve gathered over 120 tracks with Miho Hatori on in the past month, she’s done so many collaborations, but I just can’t wait for her to bring another album out, either with her New Optimism or alone — both would be preferable.

    Anyone who really likes Miho should check her out on Vimeo.com where you can find some excellent videos of her singing in Morgans Hotel, in New York. She sings: “2000 Miles” (a Pretenders cover); “Amazona” (from her debut solo album); & a fragment of “Moving Well” (a new unreleased track). Please check them out if your interested; there worth watching :)

    1. Victoria Goldenberg

      I’m partial to Cibo Matto, but I like how Hatori keeps pushing her boundaries. On Twitter, she mentioned mixing new tracks (for New Optimism, I believe) so we can expect a new album before the year’s out.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. boo

    I’m a huge fan of Cibo Matto live. Know Your Chicken was classic NYC thrash experimental before they put it on record as a jazz song. Actually you can check out, kind of, what it sounds like on their first EP. Their French version of Soundgarden’s Blackhole Sun which they played on TV is also choice. I still carry a soft spot for them.

  3. J.B.

    Great article! I was first exposed to Cibo Matto when they had a track in Jet Set Radio Future called Birthday Cake. At first I thought the song was weird and annoying but after getting stuck in the area the song played in, it really started to grow on me. I also had no idea that Miho was Noodle, which is totally awesome. I’m going to have to give more of her stuff a listen.

  4. Ian Maier

    I did randomly discover cibbo matto at some point … it was strange. Makes me want to see what the new stuff sounds like.

    1. Kathy Chee

      I really liked the new stuff they were doing and I’m not a big fan of Cibbo Matto. The new project seemed more straight forward electronica/dance.

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