Mia Doi Todd Interview

Interview by Alexander Laurence

Mia Doi Todd is a singer songwriter based in Los Angeles. She has released nine albums including: the ewe and the eye (1997), come out of your mine (1999), zeroone (2001), The Golden State (2002), Manzanita (2005), La Ninja (2006), Gea (Gea), Morning Music (2009), and this year, Cosmic Ocean Ship (2011). There have been collaborations with Dntel, Beachwood Sparks, Folk Implosion, Saul Williams, Prefuse 73, Flying Lotus, and others. I saw her open for Jose Gonzalez a few years ago. It was my pleasure to talk to someone who is so involved in the Los Angeles music scene over the past decade.

AL: You went to an ivy league school. How did you end up in music?

Mia: My dad was a sculptor. My parents were ready for me to be an artist if I needed to be. I don’t think they expected me to be a doctor or lawyer. I tried to other things besides art. I saw my dad struggle with making a living. I had dinner with some high school friends the other night. They all have kids and husbands and normal lives. I have spent the past fifteen years following my muse. I have been in several relationships, touring, not being very settled.

AL: Since you are touring a lot, is it hard to keep a relationship going?

Mia: The music life has messed with all my relationships throughtout my twenties and thirties. I am trying to lead a normal life now. We will see how it goes. I am trying.

AL: Playing live shows is extremes: going from sleep to playing to big audiences. How do you deal with that pressure?

Mia: I played at the Hollywood Bowl last Sunday. And before that was I on the morning show at KCRW. So you have to store up your energy so much, for these short bursts of energy. When you are on tour you have to be “ON” for two hours a day and the rest of the time you can be sleeping. It’s a strange lifestyle. It’s like a psychological rollercoster. People around you have to be aware of this rollercoaster you’re on. It’s difficult to adapt to normal energy of every day life.

AL: So you were onstage at the Hollywood Bowl for this show with Stevie Wonder and Rickey Minor. Was that the biggest show you have ever played?

Mia: Yeah. That was very nerve wracking. It was a soul tribute and I was opening up for Stevie Wonder. I was honored to be part of it. I sang Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man.” She just passed away. There was a lot of pressure.

AL: There was Janelle Monae and Charles Bradley.

Mia: Janelle Monae was so perfect. She is so amazing. There was Sharon Jones. What was I doing there? Having Stevie Wonder there changed things. Stevie is on such a high plane, spiritually and musically. The rest of us were just honored to be there. Charles Bradley made me cry. He was so soulful and beautiful.

AL: How is it going from a place like to the Hollywood Bowl to smaller shows?

Mia: It doesn’t matter so much if you flub a song at a small venue. I was going to be humiliated if my voice cracked at the Hollywood Bowl. I played with the Tonight Show band and Rickey Minor. I am accustomed to smaller venues and if a few people are moved, I have done my job.

AL: Did your mom and dad get some good seats?

Mia: Yeah. They loved it. My mom was more nervous than I was. I have seen a bunch of shows there. I saw Mary J. Blige and Bjork there. It’s always a beautiful night there.

AL: When did your new record come out?

Mia: It came out in May. It’s on my own label. It’s distributed through this New York company called Virtual Label. They have big distribution.

AL: You had one record come out on a big label?

Mia: Yeah. My record The Golden State came out on a big label. I was signed to Columbia Jazz. They didn’t have me back for another record. They closed the label shortly after the record came out. I had a few records come out on Plug Research. It’s an electronic label from Los Angeles.

AL: It just seems natural for musicians to do their own labels.

Mia: I don’t know know if some indie labels are doing a better job that me. The put it out and take half or all the money. There is no point of me working with them anymore. It’s the most transparent way for me to work. I started my own label in 2001. I put out a few of my own records. The music business is very discouraging. I tried to quit many times. Then I write more songs and put out more records.

AL: I guess that back in the day bands wanted to be on certain labels, like Subpop or 4AD, because they had certain great bands. So new bands gravitated towards those labels because their favorite bands were on those labels. It was a sort of a validation.

Mia: I got some validation from when I signed to Columbia when I was 24. It was good to get that validation from my family, because my family wouldn’t have known what Subpop or 4AD was. They had heard of Sony/Columbia. That kept me going on with music.

AL: You have to get a commercial.

Mia: That would be awesome.

AL: Your record reminds me of some stuff I heard in 2000, like Bebel Gilberto.

Mia: I spent a few months in Brazil in 2009. There is a big Brazilian influence on this record. I have always loved Brazilian music. I have two songs on the Red Hot + Rio compilation. They have been putting out compilations for fifteen years. This one has Caetano Velose, Bebel Gilberto, Seu Jorge, Tom Ze, and others. It was a big honor for me to be included.

AL: How do you write and record your music?

Mia: I usually travel and write on the road. I will be writing for two years. Then we will go into an analog studio and we recorded all these songs for the new record in four days. It was all live takes. I write all the songs and present them to the band.

AL: Jonathan Wilson was involved in this album?

Mia: It was me and the band. Jonathan Wilson produced the record. He plays a lot of keyboards and guitar, and extra drums. He is amazing. He can play any instrument. He knows what a song needs. He did all the mixes on the board.

AL: I saw you play at the Wiltern with Jose Gonzales.

Mia: Yes. I did a tour with Jose. He is so talented. That was the last full USA tour I have done. It was about 30 dates. Whenever he comes to town Jose comes over to my house and we have a big jam session. I have also toured with Dungen.

MIA DOI TODD is playing at MacArthur Park on Thursday, August 25th, 6pm.

Check it out: http://www.reverbnation.com/show/4967363