Okay, it has been well established that Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori like food … they really, really like food. They even named their group Cibo Matto, Italian for “food crazy.”
The Japanese-born, New York-based duo’s 1995 debut album, “Viva! La Woman” (Warner), was a culinary delight, featuring such tantalizing tracks as “Know Your Chicken,” “Beef Jerky,” “Artichoke” and “White Pepper Ice Cream.”
All tasty stuff, but something got lost in the translation. The gimmickry overshadowed the band’s palatable, wildly eclectic sound. They stirred in so many ingredients into the musical pot – hip-hop, riot-grrl rap, pop, punk, jazz – it would make the Soup Nazi’s head spin.
With the group’s second album, “Stereotype A” (released June 8), and the addition of Honda’s boyfriend, bassist Sean Lennon – yes, that Sean Lennon – Cibo Matto is putting the world on notice: There’s more to them than their love of sushi, kimchi, curry and pozole.
“We wanted to go farther than the last album,” Hatori said recently. “I think the first album was a little too unique or something; maybe it was the food titles and a lot of style changes. It was definitely a Cibo Matto world, but it was probably too eccentric or maybe the majority of it. This time, it’s very important to show, ‘Yeah, hey, we’re making normal songs, too.’ “
Normal? No. Ingenious? Yes. “Stereotype A” has that rare combination of off-the-wall influences (from R&B and bossa nova to metal) and instant accessibility. The whimsical broken-English word play and skilled production of such tracks as “Spoon,” “Flowers” and the first single “Sci-Fi Wasabi” (the album’s sole food title) are loaded with pop appeal.
The swing out sisters have everything for everybody.
Hatori says they cross genres for a reason.
“Cibo Matto is always trying to break the wall between music,” the lead singer-songwriter said. “It’s not just like only hip-hop for us. I’ve never thought that way. We cannot avoid other worlds. Yuka and I grew up in Japan; Japanese people have an open mind about music. Growing up, we were listening to a lot of Latin influences, Japanese pop music, and there was a lot of foreign music on TV, like commercials. We also saw a lot of cartoons, which are totally psychedelic. I think Japanese cartoons are pretty educational and insane. That’s how we got the mixture of everything in our music.”
She and Honda also wanted to prove they could pull it off.
“Because we’re Japanese and we’re girls and we’re Japanese girls, people put all kinds of stereotypes, naturally,” Hatori said. “That’s the hard part for us. Some people might think, ‘Oh, they can’t do that, because they are girls.’ That’s something we have to fight for and protect ourselves. That’s the reason for the title, ‘Stereotype A.’ “
With Lennon and multi-instrumentalist Timo Ellis ensconced in the band, Cibo Matto has sharpened its vision. Also lending a hand on the album are guitarist Marc Ribot, rapper Duma Love, Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg and John Medeski and Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Lennon’s involvement dates back to “Viva! La Woman.” Last year, Honda produced his Grand Royal/Capitol debut album, “Into the Sun.”
“He was our bassist from the beginning of the touring for ‘Viva! La Woman,’ so he was joining the band from the first step,” Hatori said. “We weren’t thinking, ‘Let’s get Sean Lennon in the band.’ He is a person and he’s one of our friends. For us, it’s very natural he’s playing bass, because he is a great bassist and he loves music. He’s such a open-minded person, too, perfect for Cibo Matto.
“Being the kid of a famous person is pretty tough. That’s what I feel. That’s a stereotype too. He’s dealing with it pretty good; amazingly, he knows it but he goes through it. Sean’s a very smart boy.”
The true test for Cibo Matto is radio. Will it embrace the wacky “Sci-Fi Wasabi”? Hatori has high hopes.
“That’s a problem, actually; no one can predict about radio,” she said. “We’re so lucky, but we have to go more to the people and then it’s going to start something. That’s a big part of the puzzle for us. We’ll try hard and show people it’s important to see more Asian people in the media. There aren’t enough people doing it, telling what it’s like to be a Japanese in America.”
BWF (before we forget): Dine with Cibo Matto on the Web @ www.cibomatto.com.
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