Mia Doi Todd - Biography
By Nick Castro
Mia Doi Todd is a Los Angeles based singer songwriter who was born to a Japanese mother who was a Judge in Los Angeles and an Irish father who is a sculptor. She was raised around the coasts of southern California. Her vision is a singular and unique one of naturalistic beauty and voice. She lived briefly in Hartford, CT while she attended Yale majoring in East Asian Studies.
Her first album The Ewe and the Eye (2007 - Xmas Records) was recorded at The Spaceshed, which is the recording studio of former members of the Los Angeles band Furthur who were very influential in the resurgence of the California sound amongst 60's inspired indie rockers in the 90s. Xmas records was also their label and they helped to give Todd her initial push into the music scene. At the time Todd had just graduated and was living in New York City playing small clubs with her acoustic guitar and listening to records by The Palace Brothers and LA's Elliot Smith.
Todd, herself half Japanese, was intrigued by the modern Butoh dance of Japan and this led her there for the better part of 1998 to study under Butoh master Min Tanaka, who has performed with Avant Garde guitarist Derek Bailey as well as his own Body Weather Farm, where Todd was under his tutelage and studied both Butoh and Tanaka's philosophy of naturalism and connecting with the earth through farming and improvisational dance to harness one's own energy. She has also studied Butoh under Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno at their Asbestos-kan center. She spoke just enough Japanese to get by and gain these experiences, which helped to sculpt her sound and direction of musicality.
Upon her return she allowed her newfound experiences to inform her rejuvination in sound. She began recording her second album, Come Out of Your Mine (1999 - The Communion Label), and third, Zeroone (2001 - City Zen Records), at home with her computer. These three albums marked her solo acoustic period and they reflected that sound until she started working with band Los Cincos who soon changed their name to Syncopation. Soon after this she struck a deal with Sony/Columbia Records and began work on her fourth album, The Golden State (2002 - Sony/Columbia), which was mainly a reworking of earlier songs of hers. She recorded this record at the famous Sunset Sound Factory, which was built in the 60's and has recorded artists as diverse as The Flying Burrito Brothers and Waren Zevon to The Vines and Ben Folds Five. It was produced by Mitchell Froom who has produced records by Richard Thompson and Crowded House and was married to Suzanne Vega. Though this record did decently well, and she toured nonstop for nearly a year both solo as well as with bands Alaska! and Folk Implosion, Sony decided against renewing her contract.
Todd forged beyond this setback to record her fifth album, Manzanita (2005 - Plug Research), with Rob Campanella of Brian Jonestown Massacre. This record finds Todd achieving the maximum of her voice and sound and at its best reaching points similar to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter album. The instrumentation is lush and the album is a who's who of Los Angeles hipster luminaries incorporating not only Campanella's playing but also that of Dave Scher of Beachwood Sparks, Future Pigeon, members of Dead Meadow and others.
Todd's voice can be heard on many other records by artists such as Beachwood Sparks, Winter Flowers, Folk Implosion, Frausdots, Saul Williams, Prefuse 73 and more. 2006 saw an album of remixes of her music come out called La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita (2006 - Plug Research) and this displays her strange crossover with hip-hop and electronica scenes.