A singer and songwriter whose adult-alternative music embraces a rich variety of cultural and creative influences, Mia Doi Todd emerged with the acoustic album The Ewe and the Eye in 1997. She expanded her sound over her next several records, including fifth LP Manzanita (2005), whose guests included members of Beachwood Sparks. Three years later, GEA found her working with a small acoustic ensemble and experimenting with longer, more ambitious musical structures. Todd later branched into film scoring with her music for the 2017 adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Todd grew up in a creative household; her father, Michael Todd, was a sculptor of note, and her mother, Kathryn Doi Todd, was an Associate Justice in the California Court of Appeals, as well as a patron of the arts who has helped bring traditional Japanese dance and theater troupes to Los Angeles. As a child, Todd became involved in theater and choral performance and studied classical vocal technique. As a teenager, she began writing songs, influenced by the work of the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, and particularly Joni Mitchell, and her work developed a keener focus when she moved east to attend Yale University and became interested in indie rock.
In 1997, members of the Los Angeles-based group Further invited Todd to use their studio to record her songs. The result was her debut album, The Ewe and the Eye, a sparse set of performances featuring only her vocals and acoustic guitar, released on Further's Xmas Records label around the same time Todd was completing her studies. She then moved to New York City, where she recorded her second album, Come Out of Your Mine, for Communion Records. After a sojourn in Japan where she studied Ankoku Butoh dance, she returned to America and recorded a third album, 2001's Zeroone, a collection of more intricate songs that she issued through her own City Zen Records imprint. Todd's music soon caught the attention of Sony's Columbia Jazz division, which signed her to a recording contract. Her fourth album, The Golden State, found her re-recording many of the songs from her first three albums, but with more expansive arrangements and production from Mitchell Froom and Yves Beauvais.
Not long after the album was released, Sony shuttered Columbia Jazz, but Todd, undaunted, continued exploring new musical perspectives on her next project, 2005's Manzanita. The album, released by Plug Research, featured performances by members of indie pop favorites Beachwood Sparks, noisy psych visionaries Dead Meadow, and dub enthusiasts Future Pigeon. A number of tracks from Manzanita were reworked on 2006's remix album La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita, which also included four new songs. In 2008, Todd reactivated her City Zen label for her eighth album, GEA. Todd returned in 2011 with Cosmic Ocean Ship, a song cycle inspired by her spiritual and geographic journeys of the previous two years. During the time, when not busy with her work in music, she also performed and choreographed for Body Weather Laboratory, a Los Angeles-based Butoh dance troupe.
Todd re-emerged in 2014 with Floresta. Featuring her favorite Brazilian songs, it was recorded in ten days at Estúdio el Rocha in São Paulo with a cast of all-native players and released on City Zen in September. She returned to Los Angeles to record her follow-up, an all-English-language collection of covers of songs by Neil Young, Sandy Denny, Townes Van Zandt, and others. Her studio band included Money Mark, John Herndon, Dustin Bowlin, and husband and producer Jesse Peterson. Songbook was issued by the Virtual Label in 2016, and her Music for a Midsummer Night's Dream, a soundtrack to the film starring Rachael Leigh Cook, followed on City Zen in 2018. ~ Mark Deming