SOMETIMES IT TAKES an outsider’s perspective to offer a fuller view on any situation, and that’s certainly the case with Miwa Gemini’s take on music. The native of Japan’s southern Fukuoka region – she’s been a New York City resident for several years now – finds common ground in several American styles of music, and her new album This Is How I Found You touches on ‘20s torch songs, ‘40s jazz, early country and uncluttered singer/songwriter fare.
Her tunes are decidedly lovestruck and sentimental (though never maudlin), with lyrics like “I had a few romances that would make good movies. You know the kind that would leave housewives in tears...” from This Is How I Found You’s third song “Something Ordinary,” and then there’s “Crazy Over You,” a slinky noir-tinged number where she sings, “Talk to me, love, silence is killing me. Leave me, love, you’ll find me at the corner.”
Miwa spent early 2006 recording the entirety of This Is How I Found You in Athens, Ga. with producer Andy Baker. She says the experience was a valuable one, and that getting away from the distractions, noises and energy of New York allowed her to focus on the tunes and develop their relaxed tone. “It’s nice to be able to get away from your daily life and completely immerse yourself with recording,” says Miwa. “Plus I really like the peaceful and beautiful scenery of Athens, like hydrangeas and front porches. Now that I’ve been there a few times playing shows, I really enjoy meeting people from Athens. It’s a small town, but filled with interesting creative people.”
Brian Lackey, the formerly Savannah-based drummer (he played in the local band Bughummer and plays on Miwa’s new album), introduced Miwa to Baker. “When I began working with Brian, he immediately told me about Andy,” says Miwa. “We recorded my first album with Andy and I fell in love working with him.”
The recordings created at Baker’s studio – affectionately and unofficially known as The Bakery – efficiently balance the different instrumental elements of Miwa’s songs, but the emphasis remains on her voice; Miwa’s vocal styles fall somewhere between the passion of Nina Simone, the tenderness of Patsy Cline and the affecting delivery of Björk’s hazier moments, all further defined by her subtly lingering, crisp Japanese accent.
A piano shows up on opening track “Picnic,” lending the song a contemplative mood, while subtle mandolin notes pepper the background. Both instruments make their first appearance into Miwa’s songs on This Is How I Found You. And the song “Traveling Man” is a real stomper, full of rough, bluesy electric guitar and whompy drums, but the song never gets too heavy thanks to subtle yet everpresent banjo plucking.
Miwa received the mandolin as a gift two years ago, and decided to figure out its intricacies and incorporate them onto the new album. “At the same time I began picking up banjo,” she says, “and [it] seemed natural that that should be part of it as well. The most difficult one was the piano, which was rather ironic since piano was my first instrument! Now I have added accordion to my collection... I’m excited to include that as well for my next album.”
Though This Is How I Found You expanded Miwa’s instrumental palette, she currently touring and performing on her own. “I’m a lone ranger, a singular troubadour when it comes to traveling... just kidding. I just haven’t found partners in crime yet,” she says. “ But I’m traveling with another solo musician though. His name is Guitar Bomb, and thank goodness we can split the gas!”