We had the opportunity to talk to Mia Doi Todd about her various influences, playing the festival circuit, and a better title than “Queen of the Beach”.
People often mention your music to be steeped in both Brazillian and French pop melody fashions. How do you respond to these comparisons?
I feel like a citizen of the world, so it seems natural for me to sing in many different languages and be associated with different cultures. English is my first language. It's a very practical and beautiful language in its own way but not as passionate, lyrical and sonically interesting for the singer as are Portuguese, French, and Spanish. I've really been enjoying learning songs in those languages lately. They enable me to use my voice more fully. The vowel sounds are richer.
Favorite French artists you dig in particular?
I love Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. Maillol, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Matisse are some of my favorite visual artists. Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet were favorite writers of mine when I was in college.
…And from Brazil?
I love Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Joyce, Milton Nascimento, Lo Borges, Gilberto Gil, and Arthur Verocai…
How did you come about collaborating with Gabe from Vosotros on “New Farmer?”
Gabe was playing bass in Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's jazz group, and I met him at a show. He really liked a song of mine called “I Gave You My Home” and he asked me to do vocals on a track he had been working on. He came over and we recorded the vocals for “New Farmer.” He had the lyrics and most of the melody composed. This was the first time I had worked that way. My job was just to sing and find the cadence of the words.
Tracks like “New Farmer” take me back to early 60s Vanguard artists and the early days of Electra. Who are your heroes from Elektra’s Pre-Rock Era?
I don't really follow exactly who is on which label.
You spend a reasonable amount of time in LA, what venues are the most fun for performing? What venues do you enjoy to see bands?
I'm really looking forward to playing at the Hollywood Bowl on July 24. That is one of my favorite places in LA to see a concert. It doesn't have the loudest sound system, but it's always a quintessential LA summer night there. The Wiltern, the Troubadour, the El Rey are all nice places to play. And the Echo is nice as a small venue.
You've been playing a host of festivals and jubilees this season. Which ones have you enjoyed the most this tour?
There have been some nice shows this year. I enjoyed playing at the Red Hot and Rio 2 loft party in New York. I performed three songs with an awesome band, Jose Gonzalez, Om'Mas Keith and Superhuman Happiness. Also, John Wyatt of Cinespia hosts music and film salons in his backyard in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles. I performed at the spring event and it was a beautiful flower-filled experience. I played at Futura at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts for my record release and that was lots of fun. It's an offshoot of the LA club Low End Theory. Futura focuses on quieter and more orchestral live music.
Do you enjoy listening to other vocalists more than bands?
I do identify with and like to listen to singers and songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Stevie Wonder, Nick Drake, Minnie Ripperton and the Brazilians I mentioned above. I also like instrumental music by Miles Davis or Ravi Shankar. The Beatles are very close to my heart though.
Which artists are holding your interest in LA as of late?
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Gabe Noel, Jonathan Wilson, Flying Lotus, Gaby Hernandez, Carlos Nino, Teebs, Fabiano do Nascimento, Andres Renteria
The Flying Locust remix of “My Room is White” has a great punchy beat-clap arrangement, what are you thoughts on the rearrangement of your track?
I love what Steve did. I wouldn't have thought to go in that direction with the song. That's what is so fun about remixes and collaborations: going beyond one's own personal boundaries, exploring frontiers of genres and new music.
Great to see that you were able to make the video for “Canto De Iemanja” through Kickstarter donations. How do you feel about this new platform for fans to directly support artists/albums/videos/projects/etc?
It's really amazing that fans can now directly support artists' projects through organizations like Kickstarter. This makes the process of creation and audience participation more fluid and transparent.
When will the video be completed and released?
We are almost finished with the rough cut. The “Canto de Iemanja” video should be finished in July.
Elaborate on the concept of cosmic ocean ship; the album, it's construction and purpose in both earth and the cosmos.
For this new album, I wanted to write a beautiful, hopeful cycle of songs that would inspire me and others to live better lives more connected to nature and to each other. This album “Cosmic Ocean Ship” would be a vehicle of positivity and healing. Sometimes it seems irrelevant to be writing songs, but music and beauty are essential to the human spirit. If we are going to overcome the enormous environmental, political and social problems we are faced with today, we need to create a new paradym and worldview, one that takes into account the interrelation of all things. The cosmic ocean ship we are on is our Earth. We are all traveling through time and space together. We need to stop fighting wars against each other and against nature and regain respect for our sacred planet.
In the song and video for “All My City,” you express a great love for the West Coast and L.A. Are you going to take the crown from “queen of the beach” Bethany-Best Coast?
How about “queen of angels”?
Thanks for your time and the beautiful music Mia.