If By Yes is the avant-pop supergroup helmed by Petra Haden (that dog,
Decemberists) and Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto, Sean Lennon) also featuring
Hirotaka Shimizu and Yuko Araki of Cornelius. They recently released their
debut album “Salt On Sea Glass” on Sean Lennon’s Chimera label and have
been getting a buncha great press in places like the New York Times, Wall
Street Journal, LA Times etc. I’m including some recent samples below.
If By Yes’ “Eliza” (Petra’s duet with David Byrne – pix of the two
available upon request) will be in the film “This Must Be The Place,”
starring Sean Penn, which comes later this year.
In the meanwhile, Yuka will be performing with the reuniated Cibo Matto
June 26 performing at the Hollywood Bowl as part of KCRW World Music
Festival. She’s been working on a new recording project with her newly
wedded husband Nels Cline (Wilco) called Fig (they met recording the
“Floored by Four” album with mike watt)
I’m hoping you’d take this opportunity to cover this group via feature or
CD review. Let me know if you need the music.
If By Yes, the collaboration between one-woman vocal orchestra Petra
Haden and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, sounds on the surface like bright,
dreamy pop. Put on the headphones, though, and complexities emerge in
unexpected chord changes, non-standard rhythms and richly layered
points and counterpoints. Haden’s soft, naturally sweet voice is, by
turns, as accessible as radio pop, as sensually shaded as vocal jazz,
as intricately arranged as doo wop, and as wild and unearthly strange
as alternative vocalizers like Jarboe. She flits through Honda’s
subtle concoctions of funk, jazz, Latin, pop and rock like a songbird
through a tropical forest, a flash of color in a steamy profusion of
Salt on Sea Glass is primarily the work of its two principals. Honda
composed the instrumental tracks in her home studio. Haden listened as
she worked and added vocal elements. Cornelius’s guitarist Hirotaka
Shimizu and drummer Yuko Araki fleshed out the sounds, Araki using a
variety of percussion instruments, from standard drum kit to hand drums
to, in one case, clay pots. Guests stopped by, including David Byrne, who
sang with Haden on “Eliza” and Nels Cline, who added guitars on the same
track. Cornelius mixed two of the tracks, adding an electro-dance sheen
to “You Feel Right” and “Still Breathing.”
The main attraction here is how easily Haden and Honda criss-cross
the line between mannered pop and free-thinking experimentation.
“Three As Four” is well-behaved and melodic, a bit of baroque
tunefulness that just happens to be written in 6/4 time. “Imagino,”
the song that produced the album’s title, starts in a mystery of
shivering cymbals, Haden’s voice lingering over words so that begin
to bloom and resonate and, with the addition of harmonies, become an
approximation of pure tone. “Salt on sea glass/shines emeralds of
the past,” she sings, in a soft dreamy tones, a ghostly high,
wordless aria slithering over the black notes between verses.
There’s a saxophone solo, a hip-shifting African cadence of hand
drums, an aura of banked heat and barely suppressed sensuality.
Later in the album, things turn a bit wilder, the carefully metered
sophistication giving way to catharsis in “Adrift” and the unnamed
final track of the album. Here, near the end, Haden lets loose with
primal ululations, careening vocally over a tumult of rock guitars
and drums. “Adrift” is, perhaps, the logical culmination for a pair
of women who set up intricately layered, lovingly constructed,
logically bounded parameters for their art, then burst through them.
-Jennifer Kelly/Blurt-online.com 4/7
Petra Haden is known for mad-brilliant covers (Journey’s “Don’t Stop
Believin’,” the entire The Who Sell Out LP) in which she replicates each
instrumental part using only her voice. On this long-brewing project with
ex-Cibo Matto sound scientist Yuka Honda, she uses her soprano more
conventionally but still makes magic, mixing feathery, Minnie
Riperton-style soul singing with wind chimes, Fender Rhodes, and other
trip-hoppy atmospherics (including guitar colors by Wilco’s Nels Cline.)
On “Eliza,” a duet with David Byrne, she sings elliptically about a girl
who is “big and strong.” But elsewhere, her swirling, untranslatable
phonemes suggest a goddess who rules the cosmos.
-Will Hermes/RollingStone.com 4/1
On first impression If By Yes sound floaty and melodic. Ideal for backdrop
sounds at classy fashion outlets. Yet its more than that. Remember when
you first heard Airs nearer-MOR, jazz-flavored chill-out? Well, If By Yes
have something of the same appeal. A four-piece headed by one time That
Dog/Decemberists vocalist/violinist Petra Haden and Cib Matto keyboardist
Yuka Honda, their solar pop features members of Corneliuss band, plus
Hondas hubby, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, and David Byrne, lyricist and
provider of a vocal on the full-of-Eastern-promise Eliza. Their debut can
be filed under anything from avant-garde to psychedelia. Utterly
exquisite with playful sensibilities is how Sean Lennon describes it. OK,
he owns Chimera Music, but nevertheless hes nailed If By yess sound.
Fred Dellar Mojo May
A Conversation with If By Yes’ Petra Haden
Mike Ragogna: Hi, Petra. So? How did the If By Yes project come together?
Petra Haden: Yuka and I started writing songs together nearly ten years
ago. I would visit her in NY and stay with her at her lower east side
apartment and we would just sit and write songs almost every day. It was a
lot of fun and very relaxed. Eventually, we had enough songs for a record
and thought it would be a great idea to release them. A couple years ago,
we played some of our music for Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu and Yuko Araki
from Cornelius. They loved it, so we all decided it would be great if we
collaborated together. Yuka and I are such fans of them, so it made sense
to work together.
MR: David Byrne is one of your guests, how did you snag him?
PH: We were listening back to one of our songs originally called, “Carry
Me Away,” which I sang in gibberish. I was working on lyrics to the song,
but was having trouble. I thought David Byrne would be perfect to write
words because the song has a special kind of groove to it, I thought it
needed his touch. So, we sent him the song and asked if he would be
interested in helping out. He wrote back and said he would work on it, and
he recorded his vocals and sent them to us just as a guide. “Eliza” became
the name of the song. Hearing what he wrote in place of my gibberish was a
trip. I thought it would be cool if we were singing together, so I asked
him if we could use his track and he was cool with it.
MR: How would you describe the music of If By Yes?
PH: Electronic, smooth rock.
MR: How did this group assemble?
PH: One day, back in the 90’s, I stopped by the offices of our record
company. I heard a song called “Sugar Water.” It was being played so loud,
it vibrated the window shades. Usually, I cover my ears if someone plays
music that loud, but this song was different. It put me in another world.
My mind was blown and all I could do was close my eyes and wonder, “Who is
the genius behind this?” The song was by Yuka Honda’s band Cibo Matto.
Soon after that, I met Yuka and her band. We started hanging out and
became friends. Yuka played me some of her music. It was so pretty and
moving, I thought we should work together. We made each other laugh and I
knew we would work well together.
Yuka gets me. That’s what makes us writing together so special and
different. One of the many things I love about her is that she
appreciates my using random syllables instead of lyrics. She wanted
to work that into our music. I have been self-conscious about writing
words and she was always supportive on our process of writing words
to our songs. Whether it was collaborating with friends/family, or
writing on my own. After we had something recorded, I’d write
describing a dream I had. My sister Tanya is a good creative writer,
so I gave her one of the songs and she came up with the lyrics.
When I wasn’t in New York, Yuka would email me tracks when the
arrangements were done. If I had another vocal idea, I’d add it.
She’d incorporate it and send it back and I’d approve it. I loved
everything she did. She made the original demos of the songs in her
apartment on the Lower East Side. Sometimes she’d fly to L.A. and
we’d record in a studio out here, or in Keigo (Cornelius) Oyamada’s
studio in Japan.
MR: How did the group get signed to Sean Lennon’s label?
PH: Sean is a good friend who I have known and worked with for years.
Somehow, it just made sense…Mike Ragogna/HuffingtonPost.com 4/11
read the rest of the interview at:
If By Who? Minimal attention has been given to the
three-quarters-Japanese group, a compilation of members of
underground bands That Dog (vocalist/violinist Petra Haden),
Cornelius (percussionist Yuko Araki and guitarist Hirotaka Shimizu)
and Cibo Matto (keyboardist Yuka Honda). Salt On Sea Glass may have
snuck out of the woodwork, but probably won’t remain a best-kept
secret for long. If By Yes’ debut spins otherworldly pop lullabies
that openly tryst with new age jazz, light rock and avant-garde
leanings. Yet for all the color and effervescence they pack in, Salt
On Sea Glass is supremely and consistently mellow, the product of a
group that knows – and knows how to take advantage of – it’s
“You Feel Right” perfectly sets up the album’s ethereal,
melt-in-your-ears soul. Various vibe-induced keyboards refract at
different wavelengths, while the production value busily fills in the
ether with stray vocal parts, offbeat bits of percussion and a warm,
fluttering bass. Their collaborative sound, as intricate and
interesting as it evolves on every track, is often outshined by
Haden’s glossy vocals. Her voice impossibly smooth and reedy, Haden
twists and layers harmonies into an instrument of its own, as is
evident on the shaded downbeat-drifter “Imagino.” Elsewhere, she has
no problem letting her voice soar over the controlled ambiance on
“Still Breathing.” The collaboration suits her well; the murky,
keyboard-heavy arrangements are a perfect outlet for her modest
And so the album sallies forth. A guest vocalist here (David Byrne on
the Eastern “Eliza”), a moon-age sax part there (“In My Dreams”).
Salt on Sea Glass is one long plateau of trippy, jivey bliss. There
is no arc, no rise-and-fall, no climax – each song provides this
experience in itself. “Out of View” and “You Feel Right” might be
tracks you’ll hear on Sirius, but they aren’t cut from a different
tapestry than any of the album’s other offerings.
“Adrift” and the untitled bonus track demonstrate the band’s
hard-edged side, if it has one (and oddly enough, the pair closes the
album). The former is an instrumental that drones in anthemic Sonic
Youth fashion, complemented by Haden’s tribal howling. On the bouncy,
cynical bonus track, Shimizu whips out the distortion pedals for an
on-the-nose space-age guitar solo (remember when those still
existed?), beckoning the question, where was this abrasion on Salt on
Sea Glass’ first 44 minutes?
But, in the midst of the moody microcosmic calamity, it doesn’t sound
out of place. Nothing on the album does. As engaging and efficacious
as their predominate saturnine shell is, it’ll be interesting to
watch them flex other muscles they’ve hinted at. If By Yes starts
strong with an impeccable debut; here’s to hoping for their future.
– Jory Spadea/SpectrumCulture.com 4/13
If By Yes is led by Petra Haden (That Dog) and Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto),
with guitars and drums by Cornelius, aka Keigo Oyamada, who mixes a few
tracks. The band sends their warped vision of stateside dream-pop through
Japan, then filters it back through Hondas Japanese-American
experience…The whole album seems a very Japanese album, in that it
showcases the knack that some Japanese musicians have for ingesting
Western musical ideas and then recasting them as something warped, tracing
a tangent from the mainstream invisible to most American musicians.
Sometimes a solid beat breaks up the ethereal, bubbling vibe, but on the
epic closer, a pounding drum and Hadens wordless, Ono-esque wail sends
you off into the cosmos.
-JESSE STEICHEN /LEOWEEKLY.COM 4/13
If By Yes is the avant-pop supergroup helmed by Petra Haden (that dog,