Soundtrack: Esperanza Spalding

The Grammy-award winning bassist, cellist and singer recalls how a cult album by New York Duo Cibo Matto helped shape her music career

Photo – Tawni Bannister
Photo – Tawni Bannister

When I was a teenager, my family didnt have a car so Id have to get everywhere by public transport. The Discman had just become a phenomenon, and I had mine on me wherever I went – for the walk to the bus stop and the journey onwards.

At about 15, I stopped playing classical violin and started playing bass. It was a very transformative age for me. It was also the first time I heard Cibo Mattos Stereo Type Athat record completely changed my life. Its playing in my head now… It takes me back to field trips and trying to avoid other people so I could just be in my own space. Or to being alone in my room. Or to all that time spent on the bus.

But even more, it takes me back to how I felt living in the world at that time. I thought I was really bad-ass. Walking down the street, Stereo Type A was my soundtrack to Portland. Everything looked cinematic and beautiful with it playing. The way the light came through the half-overcast sky on to the damp sidewalks. It made me think this world is my fucking oyster and Im going to crack it.

At that age, I had this compulsive enthusiasm about what I was going to make of my life. I thought I was so smart and cool and it was only a matter of time before everyone else figured it out. As soon as I got to school, though, I didnt feel that great. I was very insecure as a teenager.

But the fact that Stereo Type A was so beautiful, so sophisticated, and so bad-ass, and that I got it, that I liked it, to me meant that I also had to be sophisticated, cool and bad-ass. That I could even perceive how amazing it was meant that I must have shared those qualities.

That album influenced me two ways. First, it sounded so different to Viva La Woman. It was the first time I realised that bands and artists could sound completely different, album to album. That was part of my initial fascination: how can the same people make something that sounds so very different? I try to have that eclectic, unafraid approach with what I do. Ill do a hundred different things and theyll all sound different, Cibo Matto gave me that.

Also, its got that fuck itquality. That attitude of this is what Im hearing, this is what Im interested in, this is what I have to say. Fuck it, Im going to do it and make it great. Thats the fundamental energy I received from Cibo Matto. That approach to work to refine, to tweak, to edit it and to not stop until its right. There are moments that we all go fuck it, I hear this and Im going to keep on working on it in its lyrics, in its production, in its melodies… it sounds satisfying and completely beautiful.’

This article is taken from PORT issue 19, out now.

Words Esperanza Spalding