Though the Hotel Cafe alumnus has a new label and team of producers, Meiko isn’t afraid to walk alone.
ISSUE: Summer 2012
STORY: Christina Lee
PHOTO: Leigha Hoonet
In April, Meiko trekked to Kahuku, Hawaii, for a gig and a few days of relaxation — alone. She’d asked two friends to join her, though neither of them was available. “I thought it was going to be horrible to be by myself, but now I’m getting more excited,” she says days prior, by phone. “I can go by myself, chill out and do all the things I want to do, without making sure that’s OK with everybody else.”
In 2007, Meiko transitioned from Hotel Cafe waitress to one of the name sake tour’s biggest success stories: Grey’s Anatomy played her songs and Perez Hilton praised her, which helped catapult her independently-released, self-titled and mostly acoustic debut album to No. 1 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart. Her latest, The Bright Side, released last May, comes courtesy of Concord Music Group offshoot Fantasy and a new team of producers. Along with longtime collaborators(Jimmy Messner, Greg Collins, Tony Reyes), Meiko enlisted Belgium producer Styrofoam — based on his remixes of Postal Service and Submarines songs. “I’ve always wanted to do that, mesh the acoustic, organic vibe with a little bit of electronica here and there,” she says.
Inspired by her current boyfriend, whom she met at the South by Southwest festival three years ago, The Bright Side also has Meiko breathlessly vowing to bake pies, declaring that she’d make a good wife, swooning. But when she rattles off this year’s traveling plans — snorkeling and eating shaved ice in Hawaii, flying to Japan to meet maternal relatives for the first time — it’s still easy to imagine her retreating to her childhood bedroom in Roberta, Ga., writing kiss-offs to boys and terrible friends. “I’ve tried to distance myself from negative people I was hanging out with,” she says, “and that’s actually why I spend a lot of time by myself, writing and doing a lot of soul-searching.”
— Christina Lee
Meiko used to live in Roberta, Ga — more than 80 miles south of Atlanta, current population: 1,007. She revisited the small town last winter, then became a vegetarian immediately after. “I was eating all of this pork and fried skin, and I came back to LA and just wanted to get healthier,” she says.
At 18 Meiko had trailed behind her sister to Los Angeles and landed a waitressing gig at Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe. Later, she emerged as one of the venue’s biggest success stories, alongside Rachael Yamagata and Ingrid Michaelson. Her first, self-titled effort — her moniker, by the way, a nod to her one-fourth Japanese heritage — debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart, before Meiko even signed to the now-defunct MySpace Records/DGC.
And in May, Meiko reemerged with her first album in four years — cheerier and bolder sophomore effort The Bright Side, off Concord Music Group offshoot Fantasy. As she finished a bowl of vegetarian ramen in San Francisco, we talked Meiko about other ways she’s changed since her mostly acoustic Hotel Cafe days, thanks to a new label, newfound collaborators and a new boyfriend.