Singer-songwriter Meiko’s newest album, released in May, is all covers—inspired, she says, by the songs she loved in high school. (It was originally going to be titled “High School Covers,” but “Playing Favorites” won out). We asked Elizabeth Ziman, frontwoman of the band Elizabeth and the Catapult, to ask Meiko a few questions about her new album, the women who inspired her career, and how she navigates the music industry as an independent artist.
Elizabeth Ziman: You’ve toured quite a bit over the years. What’s your favorite venue? And what’s the most bizarre performing experience you’ve ever had?
Meiko: My favorite venue is the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. I started waiting tables there before I really started playing shows. The owners would ask me to fill in for people that canceled every now and then, and that’s how I got my start!
The most bizarre performing experience was probably opening up for Nas at a listening party a few years ago. I have no idea how I got that gig, but I was so grateful. I love him.
Elizabeth Ziman: Describe your dream collaboration.
Meiko: I’d love to work with Timbaland. I’m a singer-songwriter and guitar player, but I have a true affinity for a good 808 drum beat and I think he’s brilliant.
Elizabeth Ziman: The music industry has changed drastically since we both started putting out records. How has the internet, streaming services, Facebook and Instagram changed how you relate to your fans and release music?
Meiko: Relating to fans has never been better. I love that I can read messages and respond in real time. I think it’s so cool that exists now—I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to write singers that I loved back in the day in hopes of them seeing it.
Releasing music in another story. We live in Generation Twitter, I feel. People have such short attention spans, new music is almost old before you even release anything. Right now I’m working on stuff and I still haven’t figured out if there’s a “right” way to release it. Singles? EPs? Full records? I have no idea.
Elizabeth Ziman: Have you ever met one of your musical heroes? What was that like?
Meiko: When I worked at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood, I sold Steve Martin a pair of sweatpants. I put his credit card receipt down with another little piece of paper and said can you sign this … and this?
Elizabeth Ziman: On International Women’s Day you posted to Instagram about your grandmother, who came to Georgia from Hokkaido, Japan as a war bride. Tell us more about that family history and how it’s informed your work.
Meiko: My grandma, Chicako Nishimoto, was brought to the US by my grandfather, who met her while serving in Japan after World War II. I have so much love and respect for her because she came to America and built something out of nothing. She learned English and learned to cut hair. She owned and operated a popular barber shop on the main strip of Warner Robins, Georgia, and she raised five girls.
I adored her, but she died of a brain aneurysm when I was 10. I remember going to the hospital while she was in a coma and thinking that I just needed to sing her a song and she would wake up. My dad finally took me in to see her, but the bed was empty. That’s how I found out that she’d passed. I was devastated. I knew how much she loved hearing me sing and it inspired me to practice more. That was also around the time I started writing in a journal, which led to poetry and then writing songs.
Elizabeth Ziman: With so much social and political havoc going on around us do you ever feel more pressure to write about social issues instead of your own personal, inner world?
Meiko: Yes. God, yes. In fact, I can’t stop writing politically charged songs from my perspective as a woman, a mom and an American. It’s quite a weird ride.
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