The pairing of Japan-born, New York-based
multi-instrumentalist/producer Yuka Honda and L.A.’s multi-voiced
singer-violinist Petra Haden for their long-germinating If By Yes project
created an “organic” way of music-making, according to Honda. If you can
call a bi-coastal collaboration organic.
mutual admiration society called Honda and Haden began putting their
heads together when Haden guest-sang on ex-Cibo Matto Honda’s 2002 solo
album Memories Are My Only Witness. The results were so oddly beautiful that they decided to
pursue a further recording project, and after several years of
cross-continental communication, they’ve now released Salt on Sea
Grass on Sean Lennon’s
always thought Petra was one of the greatest singers, not just great
technically but very unique,” says Honda. “When I was releasing my solo
album and had the opportunity to do a record-release party, I thought I
would just go crazy and do the things I’d always dreamt of. So I flew her
to New York with my frequent flyer mileage ticket; she came and we
performed the show, and she stayed and we started to write little songs
here and there.”
duo’s songwriting sessions were loose and informal, combining their
varied yet resonant musical experiences in a way that would ensure a
different character to the music –– an album might be the outcome, but
they’d only record when and if they felt like it.
I collaborated with Yuka, she made me feel relaxed,” says Haden. “It put
me in a place where I wasn’t so worried about if it sounds okay. And I
felt like we had the same kind of style, kind of like the Beach Boys,
with lots of
So two natural collaborators smashed their
atoms together, and a zillion creative particles set fly. Honda (Plastic
Ono Band, Sean Lennon’s solo album, Floored by Four with Mike Watt,
Cline and Dougie Bowne) and Haden (ex-That Dog, Beck and Rikki Lee Jones,
and the creator of an all-a cappella version of The Who Sell Out) give Salt on Sea Grass an oddly affecting atmosphere
loaded with sultrily melodicized soul-pop taken on rather complex rides
across wildly diverse emotional terrains. The songs’ frequent slides into
darker and denser places is aided by contributions from guitarist Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu and drummer Yuko
Araki, along with mixing work by electro-pop man Cornelius and guest work
by guitarist Nels Cline and singer David Byrne.
difference in this music is audible, maybe because Honda and Haden worked
so slowly and intuitively toward the album’s fruition. That difference
might also have to do with the intriguing egolessness of both Haden and
“I’m not so interested in chops, except maybe when I listen
to Mahavishnu Orchestra or Jimi Hendrix,” says Honda. “I want to present
my music more compositionally and not in terms of skill. I’m more
interested in creating the landscape and making the landscape as
believable as possible.”
may mean that she holds one note for eight bars, and that note might be a
soft, near-inaudible sound that colors the air.
“If you just want to listen to this music you can,” she
says, “but if you want to dig deep, then there’s a lot of things you can
find that are very unusual in terms of rhythmic structure, for example.”
She credits Cornelius for this non-traditional view of how
to subvert the beat.
“He’s the most advanced innovator of the rhythm of pop
music. He revolutionized how things need to be played, where nothing
happens in the rhythm you know. And he completely deconstructed it, but
also reconstructed it in a way that you can groove with it, so you’ll
feel like it’s still breathing. It’s easy to make things different; it’s
amazing to take it so far away, yet you feel so close.”
Honda’s background as a Japanese music fan
also plays a part in If By Yes’ alternative harmonies and pleasingly
skewed rhythmic angles.
Japan there are two categories: Japanese music and foreign music,” she
says. “So heavy metal and rock and hiphop and Brazilian music and The
Godfather theme all go
into the 'foreign music' genre. But I always considered all of them the
same genre –– I just naturally hear them together.”
this way, the Haden-Honda connection makes its own kind of sense.
think what Petra brings to the music is very sunny and beautiful,” says
Honda. “Now that I’m working with L.A. musicians, I do think my world
seems a little bit darker –– I tend to go to the gutter [laughs], to a New York dirty-apartment sound.
But I did grow up on the ocean in Japan, so I think I have a sunny side
to me too. And I really enjoyed finding this integration of worlds."