SCV interviews Mia Doi Todd on her latest record “Cosmic Ocean Ship” and much more
Mia Doi Todd is a woman of many interests, talents and trades. She is also here to spread a beautiful message to the world coherent with her ninth album, Cosmic Ocean Ship, which emerged this Spring, the season of growth. The album is a positive introspection of the sunnier, more heartwarming sides of life. It can be recognized as a beacon of buoyancy as we weather this taxing modern world. We are all in this together, after all.
I was presented with the opportunity to plant a few questions to discover more about Mia as a singer-songwriting-musician and more. I practically jumped on it. Here is what unfolded… – Michele Lin
Mia, you are a musician, writer, singer, studied Butoh dancer, painter, poet, crafted seamstress, gardener, graduate of Yale University, and the founder of record label, City Zen. You have quite an extensive and eclectic background. Are we missing anything here?
I’m a good cook, nothing fancy but quick and healthy and tasty, lots of soup and salad.
I like to draw and paint and make clay figurative sculpture. I drew the cover of my new record, Cosmic Ocean Ship, and helped with the photos and layout. I’ve travelled quite a bit in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. No plans for Australia yet… ;-)
I am from Los Angeles, CA. I was born and raised here, as were my mother and grandmother. I’m very connected with my friends and family here in LA. I try to help foster community and spiritual growth.
The inspiration for Cosmic Ocean Ship is beautiful. I’m sure many people can resonate with the inclination to find and create positivity in the demanding modern world. The album oozes a delicate grace that organically blossoms from the core. Cosmic Ocean Ship reaches out and touches a wide range of the emotional spectrum from complete sincerity to deep longing to contemplatively meditative. Can you better elaborate the root of your intention with this album?
For this new album, I really 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 is my ninth record!
Over the years, I’ve written almost 100 songs, and many of them have been quite melancholy. It’s somehow easier to write sad songs. The pathos of life comes to the surface first. It’s part of my temperament; I like those mysterious, dissonant, unresolved chords and emotions. Songwriting has been an outlet for personal healing and evaluation, so writing all those sad songs definitely helped me overcome the particular experiences which fueled the material. However, in performing songs repeatedly, months or years after they are written, one is forced to dwell upon those negative emotions.
I realized I needed to write happier songs in order to be more positive and grow in that direction. I had to let the sunlight in! I spent a couple years traveling to places around the world that have inspired me culturally and musically; I spent time in Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, France, and India. I had a chance to face some of my personal challenges and find a new sense of purpose and well-being. I wanted to capture that in my songs so I could call on that in times of difficulty. 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 paradigm 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. Modern life demands a lot of the human mind and body; we become desensitized and hardened. These songs offer a chance for a softening, a heart opening. They are joyful!
Amazing…and insightful! That reminds me of the Chinese Proverb, “better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” So as you mentioned, “Cosmic Ocean Ship” is your 9th album. Tell us, how have you evolved as an artist over time?
My first albums in the late 90′s were just vocal and guitar, live performances. Over the years, I’ve become more familiar with playing with other musicians, in particular two of the musicians that played on “Cosmic Ocean Ship”: Andres Renteria, who has played with my over six years straight now, and Gabe Noel, who started playing bass with me two years ago.
These new songs are more joyful and uplifting that some of my earlier music and more versed in popular Western song structure.
I’m a better musician and singer than I was when I started writing songs. This allows me to compose more challenging music and collaborate with other musicians.
That’s wonderful. It’s been a great joy for me to trace your evolution from your previous releases to date. Now, how about your creative process as an artist – what does that look like?
I have a notebook or two lying around, ready for me to write down thoughts of the day as well as grocery lists and things to do. Over time I gather the relevant and reoccuring themes and words and find some golden nuggets for lyrics. Sometimes these will suggest a melody or I’ll have a melody in mind and be looking for the words that convey its emotion. Once I have this golden moment of inspiration, I often write a song quite quickly. I go through periods of creation and resting and filling myself up with experiences and growth.
You have previously mentioned being inspired by ‘stylistic elements in fiction’. What are some of your favorite works?
I really like the writings of D.H. Lawrence, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and V.S. Naipaul.
Also, what have you been listening to lately?
Always lots of Brazilian music and some ragas. Went through a Jimi Hendrix moment last month and recently a Beatles retrospective.
That’s fantastic. I’ve been surfing the waves of Jimi and Stevie Wonder throwbacks myself. So are there any upcoming tours or projects that we can look forward to from you?
I have some shows in LA this fall and winter. I’m starting to plan a tour in Mexico and Brazil for early next year.
Lastly, what are you working on now that Cosmic Ocean Ship has just come out or are you just enjoying this album well into your career?
I’m finishing a dance music video for “Canto de Iemanja,” a song which is in on Cosmic Ocean Ship and the new Red Hot + Rio compilation. It’s a tribute to Iemanja, the goddess of the Ocean. I’m also collaborating with a dancer and composer on a multi-media piece that we will perform here in LA in December. I will be the singing narrator, and I am writing original songs inspired by the different paths of Iemanja.
Thank you, Mia. That was lovely!
Check out the official video for ‘Open Your Heart’ which was released on the one track expanded digital version of “Cosmic Ocean Ship”. Original notes from YouTube member partizangondry:
Michel Gondry’s newest music video for Mia Doi Todd’s ‘Open Your Heart’. After several years conceptualizing a video involving dozens of dancers wearing bright multi-colored outfits, Michel found a perfect fit with Mia’s tune. The music was produced and arranged by long-time friend and collaborator, Jon Brion and the video features the Riverside Community College Marching Band.