Cibo Matto’s Maho Hatori goes solo

East Village has long been the artistic heart of Manhattan, the incubator of punk rock and the Warhol Superstars. New York’s music scene was flourishing when Tokyo-born Miho Hatori relocated to the US during the early 1990s. Living on the Lower East Side and singing in punk band Leitoh Lychee she crossed paths with multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda. Forming the funk, hip-hop duo, Cibo Matto, Hatori and Honda embarked upon an eight-year career together. Later adding Sean Lennon (bass), Timo Ellis (drums) and Duma Love (percussion) to the lineup, Cibo Matto became stars amongst the hipster elite. When the critically acclaimed group disbanded in 2002, Hatori turned to songwriting. October 2006 saw the Australian release of her solo album, Ecdysis. Hatori reflects on the journey.

“I started two or three years ago, writing songs.” Hatori explains. “I produced this album because I wanted to make the music I wanted to make. I tried to find a producer but I couldn’t find anyone. So I decided to do it by myself. It was a challenge… it’s nice to have a producer sometimes to have a different perspective. That’s why it took a long time to finish.”

Converting her living room into a small studio, Hatori experimented with glitchy programming and samba beats. Working alongside Brazilian percussionist, Mauro Refosco, Ecdysis began to take shape. A self-taught ProTools engineer, Hatori challenged herself musically.

The album title was appropriate. Ecdysis was a word synonymous with Hatori’s desire to shed the layers of her past. Cibo Matto’s end heralded a new direction.

”[Cibo Matto] put a lot of energy in all the time, for about seven years,” she says. “But I couldn’t find something in me to do it anymore… We tried our best and I feel very proud of what we did. I’m happy I did that with Yuka. But people are always changing and I didn’t want to hold on. I have a lot of curiosity and there are things I want to do in my life. So I wanted to work on other kinds of projects.”

Curiosity led Hatori to work on records with Handsome Boy Modelling School, Gorillaz and the Beastie Boys. Modest about her list of credits, she avoids singling out any particular project and gives a general answer.

”[I like] learning about people,” she explains. “On any kind of project, I learn about them… because people have different styles of art… it’s a pretty amazing experience.”

Describing the completion of Ecdysis as “like waiting for a baby to come”, Hatori is relieved with the result.

“It was a lot of work,” she says. “But I enjoyed it. It’s amazing when it’s finished… I learned a lot. I was so happy to experience it.”

With Ecdysis, Hatori hopes she will finally escape the stereotypes that surrounded Cibo Matto.

“I think at the time we started, in the mid-1990s, there were not that many Asian musicians in America,” she continues. “So visually, it was very unique – especially for Western people. It was a lot of work to change the stereotypes. We weren’t about being Japanese and it was hard sometimes. People would just look at us and think it was Japanese music. But it was our unique, original music. So it was pretty difficult to break the wall.”

Having worked closely with Lennon, Hatori cites Yoko Ono as a Japanese artist who refuses to be categorised. 

“She has so much courage,” Hatori states. “It’s not only for Japanese people; it’s for the entire world. What she did with John was just a big thing for everyone. To me, the most amazing thing is that she thinks about peace. The message is powerful.”

Thirteen years after leaving Japan, Hatori is firmly settled in New York. She admits it’s the music that keeps her there.

“It’s the mentality of this city that I like… in a way, it’s very honest,” she says. “And I love New York because of music… music is my life”

Miho Hatori’s solo album, Ecdysis, is out now.