Cibo Matto

CIBO MATTO (cheebo mätto) has an impeccable NYC pedigree. While bandmates Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori are originally from Japan, they are now Big Apple gals. They met in New York and their sound is absolutely a product of East Village living. Cibo Matto started out playing live in real New Yorker style – they'd take a taxi to their shows. Who needs a van when all you've got is a keyboard and a sampler? They'd prepare for the show en route, literally deciding what they were going to do while riding to the club. The material was so spontaneous, Hatori would sing while reading her just made up lyrics from a notebook.

"We used to just perform in the city and just do improvisation pieces with different guest musicians," Honda said, modestly omitting the names of those collaborators. Russell Simmins (John Spencer Blues Explosion), Dougie Browne (Lounge Lizards), and Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing) are but a handful of the NYC luminaries who occasionally join Cibo Matto on stage. Other music-minded admirers include John Zorn, Yoko Ono, David Byrne and the Beastie Boys.

In other words, Honda and Hatori must be pretty good at those little improv numbers. With that kind of following, it wasn't long before Cibo Matto began to outgrow the Knitting Factory and the Mercury Lounge. "The scale of the places started getting bigger and bigger and we wanted to do different kinds of 'rock' songs," Honda said. "Russell started to tour with us. Sean Lennon came with us. We used to have a guest player on one song and then play the rest of the set ourselves. Then slowly, it evolved to more and more songs with the band."

The group certainly retains its spontaneous edge, but it's not easy to write a song where all the words begin in "G" at the last minute when you're on an extensive road trip. Things are a bit more structured now. During their recent U.S. tour, Cibo Matto enhanced its performance with Lennon on bass and a new drummer/percussionist, Timo.

"It's really exciting because we're playing with people we trust. It's a real band," Honda said. "At first, we were excited to be playing with the sampler because there was no band doing live samples and voice. But sonically, that can be limiting live. That's kind of when our dilemma started. We've been touring with this band for quite a while so it's really starting to have its own sound."

The success of Viva! La Woman, Cibo Matto's first release on Warner Bros., was what propelled the duo out of their NYC comfort zone and into clubs and theatres across America. Metaphors on food and love dominate the album (Cibo Matto is roughly Italian for "food madness"), which serves up Honda's keen ear for riffs and Hatori's diverse vocal stylings.

"Before, we were in this small circle, doing what we wanted for people who wanted to see us. Then the record comes out and goes all over and people start having an image of us and expectations," Honda said. "Touring toughened us up and I think that's good. Things get so accelerated; you go through a lot in a short time. Touring forces you to deal with a lot of people and situations that you wouldn't have to deal with otherwise. We were constantly being exposed to strange environments where we'd have an hour to present ourselves."

Miho Hatori isn't a big fan of toughening up. The singer's regimen for good living is "eating well and sleeping well" and touring isn't very conducive to that lifestyle.

Hatori's vocal acrobatics require a lot of fuel, so it's easy to forgive her preoccupation with the kitchen. She can go from a provocative whisper ("A woman in the moon / Is singing to the Earth") to an Ono-esque caterwaul ("Shut up and eeeeat!) and still have the energy to belt out a torch song. And if an audience is too passive for her, they'll get a real taste of New York.

"That makes me kind of angry when people just stand there with their mouths open. 'Hey! Did you pay your f***ing money to stand there?! What the f**k are you looking at?! We're up here WORKING!' I don't know, maybe it's rare for them to see two small Japanese women doing this kind of thing."

Just maybe. Honda and Hatori may look the part on a very superficial level, but Cibo Matto does not fit in the Japanese girl band groove. They are not ditzy pop darlings or coy lounge crooners and they don't play into that cute Hello Kitty thing at all. "We're animals! We're really scary!" Hatori said.

Part trip-hop, part techno, part Brazilian jazz – Cibo Matto sweats, swears and sings about white pepper ice cream. No wonder folks stare gape-mouthed. "Everywhere we go, people say, 'We're so glad you're doing something different!," Honda said.

Right now, the band is in the studio, but occasional one-off shows are not out of the question. "We are creating new stuff," Hatori said. "We are making new cuisine."

Cibo Matto is booked by Tom Windish at The Billions Corp. and is managed by Janet Billig.