Sitting in a vegetarian café in her beloved, adopted East Village, Yuka Honda is more concerned about the recent catastrophes in her native Japan than promoting her record. It's understandable. Her father lives not far from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant; she also has friends and family all over Japan, some of who have been evacuated or moved to shelters. She's been doing double duty while promoting her first album, Salt On Sea Glass, (by her new band If By Yes, created with vocalist Petra Hayden) by taking part in a host of fundraisers in New York City organized by Yoko Ono and John Zorn, which has reunited her 1990s group, Cibo Matto. Honda is passionate about her love for Japan; the emotional toll the catastrophes have taken on her and her friends and family is incalculable. But she's excited about If By Yes. I was too, when I first heard the lead-off single, "You Feel Right." Mixed by Cornelius [Tape Op #69], the single is both immediate and chill, grabbing you the way a single should while retaining it's cool.
"It was really exciting when we first heard what he had done with the track," Honda told me over tea. "He has such an interesting, unique rhythmic thing that he's been doing for such a long time. He has his own genre of music and he's such a modest guy. He took a very simple song, a ballad, and turned it into a huge thing. He's so unique and sophisticated. It wasn't hard to turn the task of mixing the song over to him, but we just couldn't believe how different and special the song turned out when we got it back." Honda and Hayden have been darlings of the indie circuit for ages, so it's no surprise that the second track, "Eliza," features former Talking Head David Byrne [Tape Op #79]. The album was made over an eight-year period, with Hayden - who lives on the West Coast - visiting Honda during the album's gestation for a week here and there to write and develop the songs. "We used frequent flyer miles and would get together when we could. I like to work alone, to develop things on my own. But working with Petra was inspirational and she took the songs and the project in directions I wouldn't have thought of. It started grungier, more lo- fi. I tracked in Pro Tools. I didn't use MIDI. I wanted to capture the dynamic of live musicians, so I hand-played a lot of the samples. We had 6,000 deadlines; the hardest part was deciding when it was done. But, at a certain point, I just got serious."
Drummer Yuko Araki and guitarist Hirotaka "Shimmy" Shimizu (known for their work with Ashray, Mi-gu and with Cornelius) contributed to the recordings. They also flesh out the performing band as well. I was able to catch shows by If By Yes twice after the release of Salt On Sea Glass. The songs certainly came to life in concert. Araki, Shimizu and (Honda's husband and Wilco member) guitarist Nels Cline gave the songs dynamics and made them move and breathe differently than the recordings.
"I always feel that, in real life, it has to be more exciting; risk-taking," says Honda. "[Listening] at home [on record], it needs to survive over time. But it has to be really special and powerful live."
Honda is excited about her project, and its future possibilities.
"I love crafting, but now we have a sound for the band so I imagine the process for the next album will be faster," she said as we wrapped up. "We've only played five shows. Maybe it'll be clear after 50 shows. And I don't know how we're going to write. But now we have a sound that's developing, so maybe it will start to become clear."