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Cibo Matto Are Back to Talk About Mother Fucking Nature

Step into the Hotel Valentine.

We sure hope you know your chicken, because Cibo Matto are back – with their first album in 15 years, Hotel Valentine.

And even though band reunions nearly always suck hard, this is one to get excited about, as anyone who’s seen the epileptic fashion explosion of their recent video for lead track MFN will know. With its half-rapped lyrics about “Motherfucking nature” and brilliantly pitched avant-garde techno pop dub bass meltdownliness, it’s a monster song that may well make a ghost of you. Which is handy, because the album is all about a haunted hotel.

Singer Miho Hatori and track-maker Yuka C. Honda met in New York City in the early 90s, when Yuka joined Miho’s punk band Leitoh Lychee. The band was terrible (they say), but Miho and Yuka splintered off to form Cibo Matto over a shared ambition to make a whole album about food. Witness songs like "Birthday Cake" ("Shut up and eat! Too bad, no bon appetit!") and "Know Your Chicken" on their 1996 debut album, Viva! La Woman.

They signed to Warner, became huge, had songs in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Jet Set Radio Future, made friends with the Beastie Boys, recruited Sean Lennon on bass, released two awesome albums of soulful weird-ass tricky rhythms (the second was 1999’s Stereo Type A), and then broke up in 2002.

Miho’s various projects after that included a solo album of lush electronica and voicing Noodle on the first Gorillaz album, while Yuka ended up joining the Plastic Ono band alongside Yoko Ono and Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada.

And then they got back together and made Hotel Valentine, which comes out on Valentine’s Day, and that’s where we join them now. OK? OK!

Noisey: Usually when bands get back together after a long time their new songs suck, so how come Hotel Valentine is amazing?
Miho: Oh man. It's because I feel the same way as you, so we tried hard not to have that reaction. It took two years to make the album, and we worked so hard. But I think this is our best album.

Yuka: We were very clear with ourselves that we wanted to do something that has the color of Cibo Matto, but we also wanted to do something new. We really wanted it to be something that we'd be proud to present today. So we just criticized until we felt it was good enough to be presented.

Tell us about the ghost concept.
Miho: The concept is about a ghost who lives in a hotel, and this guy who stays at the hotel is the only person who can see the ghost. The story begins from there. Some hotels are very... ghosty.

Ghosty?
Miho: It's such a weird situation, because every day different people are staying there, so the energy is always changing. It's such a temporary place to rest. So I started researching ghosts. Each country has very interesting stories about ghosts, and I started to think about why human beings started to imagine that from a long time ago. It's a big connection between our time and back in time.

The first song that you put online was "MFN," or "Motherfucking Nature." Why did you pick that song?
Miho: That song is a little bit different than the other songs, because it doesn't really have any hotel elements, but I feel like its a very important song for guiding that story. "Motherfucking nature" is such a strange phrase for English speakers but you kind of understand, you know?

It's riddled with swearing – good luck getting on the radio with that song.
Miho: Exactly! So now I need to practice to say "MFN," because I was always saying "Motherfucking Nature."

The video for that song is a seizure fit of color. Who's the director?
Miho: That's Georgia – they are an artist group in downtown New York. They are very bright, fun visual creators, so we were lucky to meet them.

You go through dozens of outfits in the video. Are those your own clothes?
Yuka: Some was our own, and also we were styled by our friend Kate Stein, who's brilliant. She had all these wild African and Indian clothes, really wild-colored stuff, and then we decided we wanted to wear white with those. The eyeball dress, Miho just happened to bring that, and I happened to have these eyeball kneepads that Yoko made for Opening Ceremony, so we thought, "Oh, those are both eyeballs! We were supposed to wear them!"

Everybody's got some eyeballs in their closet, right?
Yuka: Yeah! Lots of spontaneous things happened.

Unlike most leftfield, arty bands, who are nearly always utterly devoid of any sense of humor, Cibo Matto have always been hilarious. Is that deliberate?
Yuka: We like to make people laugh. We want it to feel good and natural, and just a little bit surprising. A sense of humor is important – not just in music, but in life. We used to call ourselves comedians, not musicians!

The two of you produced Hotel Valentine yourselves, right?
Miho: Yes. Yuka had experience producing Yoko Ono's and Martha Wainwright's albums. We would transfer data over Yousendit or Wetransfer, or I would take a hard drive to Yuka's house, which we couldn't do in the old days, and we became much more nerdy on this album."

Yuka: Somebody gave me this keyboard called OP-1, which is a tiny, tiny keyboard (by Teenage Engineering) that has a synthesizer, drum machine, sampler, four-track recorder, sequencer and even a radio! It's so small that I can just put it in my handbag. I also sampled Miho's voice on my iPhone and ran it through loads of apps.

Technology is very important to the sound, and I think one of the reasons that we didn't lose the texture of our first album is that we also used my first sampler, which is called DJ-70 – Roland made this sampler in the '70s and nobody bought it, so I bought it on sale right before the first Cibo Matto show and wrote a lot of our songs on it. We called it Bambino. So on this album, Miho was like, "We really need to have the sound of Bambino," which was very smart.

Why did Cibo Matto break up?
Yuka: I don’t know what it was. It’s like we were falling out of love with Cibo Matto – not with each other. We broke up five times and got back together. It was like a love relationship. And now I’m so glad that we did break up, because we needed to grow separately. Now we’re back together we feel so good about each other.

Miho, what was it like singing on the first Gorillaz album?
Miho: It was a very unique band. I love that album very much. It has a crazy energy, because Damon (Albarn) is a fascinating songwriter, and Dan (The Automator) makes very cool sounds. I was lucky to be in there.

What’s Yoko Ono like to work with?
Miho: She's a very open-minded person. She's such an amazing artist, and very inspiring, because I grew up reading her books and listening to her songs. I always wonder why some people have difficulty to love her. Because she was Japanese? I don't know. She does a lot of wonderful things in the world, and to still be creating at her age is fascinating.

Yuka: Yoko doesn’t want to have a scenario and act – which sometimes musicians do. You know the songs really well, and you’re kind of acting. But she really believes in the momentum burst; you have to have all the feelings intact. She always gives 120 percent. She’s screaming, she’s rolling around on the floor, she’s dancing, and then we forget that she’s this 80-year-old woman who’s been doing this for like 60 years. It’s like she’s as excited as the first time. I really admire this energy.

When the two of you started making music together again after so long, did it feel weird?
Miho: It was very organic. It didn't really feel like, 'OK, let's do it!' It was just like a usual encounter with a friend.

Yuka: It feels really, really good. We’re older now, so we know what relationships are about, and we feel really good to be going through this together.

Will there be more Cibo Matto albums after Hotel Valentine?
Miho: Yeah, definitely. We should start to work on it now! We haven't released this album yet, so we need to focus on promoting it. But hopefully this year, we need to start to think about it.

Are you done writing food songs?
Miho: That's the big pressure! Because now everyone's a gourmet, it's such a big pressure to write about food. To think about hotels instead on this album was such a relief.

Yuka: Even on these songs there are some food references, though. For example, Emerald Tuesday is about a cocktail that they serve at the bar at Hotel Valentine; it’s a green cocktail. We have to come up with a recipe!

Hotel Valentine is released on February 14 on Chimera Music. Cibo Matto tour the US from February 7 through March 7 and you’d be insane to miss it.

Daniel is an Englishman in Japan and he does an excellent Japanese music podcast called It Came From Japan. He’s also on Twitter. Obviously - @ItCameFromJapan.