Cibo Matto: Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori
Everyone likes Cibo Matto. Riot grrrls, raver queers, hip-hop bros, free-jazz stoners, punk kids—even teenybopper mallrats can get into them after seeing their bewigged drag cameo on Buffy. Miho and Yuka seem to exist in some alternate New York Cool Girl reality, equally comfortable rapping with the Beastie Boys and Yoko Ono, skating, or geeking out over condiments. Somewhere along the way they managed to release a handful of much-loved albums, the third of which, Hotel Valentine, comes out today, through Chimera.
No one has any idea what Miho’s singing about, but she’s way too cool to give a shit. I’ve been obsessed with their music for half my life and still have only a hazy sense of what she’s actually saying, speed-rapping about traffic jams or crooning about, y’know, spoons. (As a gay, I’m pretty certain that “Know Your Chicken” is a cool-girl rap take on chicken-hawking, and I’m waiting to be convinced otherwise.)
It’s been 15 years since they put out new music as Cibo Matto, and Hotel Valentine gives their freaky fans some dense new gems to obsess over. If you live in New York, you can celebrate Valentine's with them tonight at Le Poisson Rouge, but the show’s sold out so pull whatever strings you’ve got to snag a ticket. Last week, I met up with Miho and Yuka on a frigid night in Williamsburg to talk about their band, the new album, food, drugs, and alien vaginas.
Cibo Matto's new video for "MFN," featuring Reggie Watts
VICE: I recently heard a rumor that you guys were in a late-90s East Village basketball league. Is that true?
Yuka: Oh, yeah, that was a long time ago! We were playing basketball with the Beastie Boys and Luscious Jackson.
Miho: And Kathleen Hanna would play.
Do you still play?
Yuka: I would, if it were warmer. This year it’s really cold.
Miho: It reminds me of when we first got together, in 1994.
Yuka: We had no money and lots of time, so what we used to do was just walk around, and that winter it was really hard. We both lived in the East Village, on 7th Street. People used to not deliver to my apartment, because I was between avenues C and D. There were all these drug dealers on the block, and I felt very protected because they didn’t want trouble in the neighborhood.
Miho: They were very chill.
When did you start working with the hotel theme?
Miho: We had the concept from the early stage of making the album. I think we were thinking to make it in 2011, but we ended up writing it over two years. We wanted to make something we were really sure of.
Yuka: We work really well with concepts. You can make so many different kinds of music, but once we say, “OK, this is about hotels,” or "This is food-related," it becomes more fun to kind of riff on. It’s like this vague, abstract thing. It’s like we’re writing a movie. Like let’s write a movie about going to Las Vegas, and then what can happen during this trip.
So the new album is Hotel Valentine, and you’re about to go on tour. Do you ever trash hotel rooms like rock stars?
Miho: I do, all the time.
Yuka: I’m so Japanese, I like clean up before I leave.
Miho: I do make the bed, actually.
Well, you’re touring with Buffalo Daughter; they’re totally wild. I bet Buffalo Daughter trashes hotel rooms.
Yuka: No, they’re so polite. I know that Yumiko, the bass player, she vacuums her house every night. She’s the neatest person I know. They’re very serious people. They make really trippy music without tripping.
Do you guys? Do you ever take drugs to make music?
Yuka: I never take drugs; have you?
Miho: No. Never. Look at us. Look at us! We look like such clean people, right? Right?
Of course. But there is that thing of putting pot in the birthday cake. And on your new album, you brag about sneaking into hotel rooms and stealing weed.
Yuka: This is my first drink, ever, in my life. No, we’re not square. We believe in personal freedom. Actually, in the 90s, we used to hang out with Timothy Leary. We believe in what he said. You should be responsible. You shouldn’t just do things because you’re friends are doing it or something. I love that he taught responsibility. I was really impressed because, at his house, it had a sign at the door that said, “Please come in.” And the door was never locked, so anybody could just walk into his house and hang out for as long as they wanted. He was like a real hippie. And I had never known real hippie people until then. Y’know these people… they’re like really determined; they have a philosophy behind it, the way that they are. There’s a part of my mentality that I feel like I’m a hippie. Like I like to work with people without really deciding who does what. Miho and I work like that. We don’t say, “You’re in charge of this, and I’m in charge of that.” I like this kind of mish-mash situation. Sometimes people say we sing a lot “about food,” but I don’t think we hardly ever sing about food. We usually sing using food as metaphor. For example, we have a song “Artichoke” but it’s using an artichoke as a metaphor. It’s really about the heart. So that’s where, maybe, I feel like sometimes people get it wrong. I think what we really try to promote is freedom. We’re very pro-freedom. For example, we’re definitely pro-gay. But we also don’t want to preach it. We want to just generate the inspiration of freedom, and for people to expand their minds and accept more things. I feel like when you force people to do something, there’s always a payback. It doesn’t always really work.
Do you have any good-luck charms or rituals before you perform?
Miho: I make sure I’m not hungry. I need to get protein before a show.
Yuka: We really make sure to eat before shows. I’ve noticed a lot of singers don’t like to eat before a show—somehow being full slows them down—but we like to eat.
[At this point in the interview, Yuka asks for the cilantro off my plate. I told her that some people are genetically predisposed to like cilantro, and some people don’t have the gene that allows them to enjoy the flavor.]
Miho: I love cilantro. You don’t like it?
Yuka: My mom hated it, I remember.
Miho: The smell?
Yuka: My mom was like, “Ooh, I hate this.” She was really a gourmet; I had so much respect for her. But that was the one area where I was like, “What?!”
Do you cook a lot?
Miho: We’re too busy lately. Yuka is my favorite chef.
Yuka: You’re a great cook too. She’s a great mixologist. She doesn’t drink, but she makes great drinks for other people.
Miho: I have my own drink; it’s called a Hibiscus High (hibiscus tea, orange juice, mint, cucumber, and shochu).
Ah. Sounds good. Have you ever done a juice fast?
Yuka: I think people like it because you lose weight quickly. But, in reality, I don’t think it’s good for you. I feel like chewing is good for your brain.
Miho: It’s impossible for me to do, because I feel like I’m always thinking about what I’m going to eat next. I’m always looking forward to my next meal, so it’s hard.
Did you have a specific goal in terms of the sound of the new album, or was it more organic?
Miho: I feel like a lot of musicians are working, making jingles to survive, and a lot of jingles are that way—“Let’s make a song like Cibo Matto” something like that. The way we make music is completely different. Yuka brings something, and I put something; then Yuka puts a little bit—it’s like a sculpture we’re making together. At the end of the day it’s completely different, like a baby. It’s a fun thing to do that way, because I cannot make that myself, because Yuka is there, and she’s putting her magick— I think that’s the chemistry we create.
Yuka: I learned that some musicians think of something with a goal, like they want to sound like this or look like this. But we never think like that. It’s more important for us that it’s surprising. We want to surprise ourselves. We really don’t want to be predictable. Not because we think unpredictable is good, but because I think we’d get bored. We think of Cibo Matto not as Yuka plus Miho but more as this new entity.
Miho: It’s like a kid between me and Yuka. Almost like between a lesbian couple, maybe.
You’re both fire signs. Do you think about that at all?
Yuka: I do. [Miho seems surprised] I think we’re both more open. I never think, “Oh, my god, I don’t know what Miho’s thinking about.” We can kind of put it on the table and discuss it. Miho’s very involved. A lot of singers are not exactly involved, and Miho’s very involved and wants to be involved in the process. We try to keep it open and… fire away. [Miho laughs] Our bassist, Jared, is also a Sagittarius. He’s on the cusp, between Scorpio and Sagittarius. But my rising sign is Scorpio, so Jared’s very easy to get along with. And Yuko is Pisces, or—her birthday is coming up during the tour. She’s Aquarius, maybe.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Yuka: We believe in mystery. I think it’s only fair to say that we don’t know everything, in many ways. And instead of thinking something’s scary, we really appreciate it and enjoy the mystery side of life.
So the Ghost Girl on the Tenth Floor. She doesn’t seem like a scary ghost, more like a sad ghost, right?
[Miho shakes her head emphatically)
Yuka: More energetic.
Miho: Very funky, actually.
Is the ghost girl based on a real person?
Miho: Imaginary creation. I think we both tried hard to make her very attractive.
Yuka: She’s Rihanna, really.
Ghosts: check. What about aliens? Do aliens become ghosts the way humans do?
Yuka: I believe in aliens, too, but I don’t believe that aliens look like humans. I think that’s where it goes wrong. A lot of aliens are drawn to look like humans, but I think we have this shape because—for example, our head has to come out of our mother’s vagina, so our head size is limited, and then we have gravity and air pressure and that really decides what kind of form we are, and I can’t imagine that aliens have the same kind of body shape.
Miho: So first we have to find out if aliens have vaginas or not, basically.
Yuka: If they do come out of females, that is.