How Les Sewing Sisters are tailoring a new sound in music

Les Sewing Sisters are not a comedy band. Yes, they wear pin cushion tomatoes on their heads. Yes, they sing to industrial pop music made entirely from sewing machines. Yes, they have opened for Sparks. 

On the other hand, they're not stuffy performance art people, either. I went to art school with those folk. They don't laugh as much as these two do. 

Lun*na Menoh and Saori Mitomi write songs about the cult of clothing: inspiration, deconstruction, mediocrity, and moths eating holes into cashmere. They have pushed their listeners to consider their own weird relationships with what they wear. Between the two of them, six decades of raw style and fingers have worn themselves tired in pursuit of their craft. 

During our interview at a Silverlake cafe, I referred to their work as fashion rock, but Menoh was quick to point out the difference between garments and fashion. "I have worked with garments in every form," she smiles, "I paint. I have worked in materials. I make clothes themselves. And I have this band." 

It is a distinction that Lun*nah Menoh has made for some 40-odd years. 

From painting portraits of haunted collars to organizing runway shows, Menoh has long explored the underground world of form and function. Her work is at once chic and camp, often finding joy in the absurd. A documentary about her life, Who is Lun*na Menoh, was released in 2021, and her work is currently on display at the Totah Gallery in New York City until the end of July.

Lun*na's partner, Saori Mitomi, is a designer, costumer, and draper/stitcher for film and television. Two weeks ago, she presented outfits of entirely upcycled and repurposed materials on the catwalk at Goodwill's first EcoCouture Fashion Show Gala. Mitomi's day job already meant being hunched over a table for nearly eight hours a day, hustling costumes for the upcoming Deadpool 3. After work, she would drive another 40 minutes out of her way — each way — to clock hours on the Goodwill project. She won the grand prize.

I sat down with the duo to discuss hustling, going big by going small, and pulling fresh sounds from the oven. 

(Image: Lun*nah Menoh)

Boing Boing: Saori, you worked on the multi-colored spacesuits on the last Guardians of the Galaxy film. Is that right? 

Saori: Yes. We had to do this very meticulous quilting stitch on 10 of the suits, five for the main actors and five for the stunt people. After a while, it felt like making sushi. It took days and days and days. 

Boing Boing: How does seeing your work on the big screen feel? 

Saori: I haven't seen it. 

Boing Boing: -what?! Really?

Saori: I think the space suits were used in maybe five minutes of the opening scenes.

Boing Boing: But it's the best five minutes. You helped introduce Kubrick to an entire generation of young people. 

Saori: (shrugs) I was working when it came out. 

Boing Boing: So how did the band come about? Were these connections made through music or clothing work? 

Saori: Before I moved to Los Angeles in 2005, I was sitting in my parent's house researching successful Japanese people who live in Los Angeles… 

Lun*na: (laughing) Successful! 

Saori: …And then, all of a sudden, I saw this band and saw this person (pointing to Lun*na). She was some artist and musician and designer and I was just thinking, "oookay, I want to meet her." But it never happened. Then, years later, I was assisting this woman with her sewing work, and I started seeing all of these wigs and strange objects that I recognized. And I was like, "hmm, wait a minute." 

Boing Boing: So it was like discovering a superhero's secret lair. 

Saori: A little bit, yes! 

Lun*na: At that time, I was in my previous band, Jean Paul Yamamoto, which had (Devo's) Alan Myers as its drummer. And then he passed away and it was like pffffft. I knew that I wanted to continue with making music, and since I was in this business, I figured that maybe I should do something with sewing. By 2017, I asked Saori if she wanted to make music with me. I was so happy she said yes. 

Boing Boing: So every single musical sound is from a sewing machine, is that right? 

Lun*na: A long time ago, I made the decision to start collecting all of these noises, and I just used a lot of analog filters. Because sewing machine sounds on their own are kind of boring! It's just a deet-deet-deet-deet thing all of the time.

Boing Boing: Did you use contact mics in terms of recording these machines? 

Lun*na: Oh yes. Using a contact mic, a regular mic and I asked many of my audio nerd friends what I should do. My friend Sam, she's so into noise, she had coincidentally already created a microphone using a bobbin. So I said, "Can I borrow that?!" and she said "Of course," so we used that on the album. We would take a megaphone and put it upside down.  And I would just record these machines in the bathroom, or in the kitchen. I would record in the refrigerator, or even the oven! A different temperature would affect the sound. So I just tried everything I could think of. More likely, everything a housewife could think of (laughs). Very domestic activity, you know? So I never go to Guitar Center or anything (laughs).

Boing Boing: Who are your icons when it comes to clothing? Got any garment content you follow on Instagram?

Saori: Mostly Japanese designers. Yohji Yamamoto. Rei Kawakubo is incredible, she brought a great deal of Japanese design to her work in Europe. And I like Doublet (the home of streetwear designer Masayuki Ino). 

Lun*na: My favorite designer is Martin Margiella. Originally he started in the 90's but he is retired already. He and I have almost the same taste. So if he makes it, wow, I love it. And people think that I copy him, but I don't! It's very conceptual, it's not really too sexy or anything like that. Also Elsa Schiaparelli – she collaborated with a lot of artists like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. Back then, Chanel was very functional, but Schiaparelli put a lot of art into women's clothing; she was introducing lobster hats and weird things like that. She's my all-time favorite. 

Boing Boing: Do you have a preferred boutique in Los Angeles? 

Saori: Ohhhh, Dover Street Market. 

Boing Boing: You had a Tour of 22 Closets in Los Angeles in 2019. After Covid, we're much more of an isolated culture. It seems like less people can afford to go to shows and fans are being more selective about what they go out to see. So, in a way, you were ahead of the stay-at-home movement. 

Lun*na: In a way (laughs). At that point, we wondered: where is a live venue that is perfect for us? We had already opened for Sparks at the Los Angeles Theatre, which holds 2,000 people. So we asked ourselves: what is the next step? Should we go to a bigger venue? Like, maybe Dodger Stadium? (both laughing) I thought that we should go the opposite way. That's more challenging and more interesting.

Boing Boing: Beyond the show this Friday, what does the future hold for Les Sewing Sisters?

Lun*na: We are doing a home tour of Japan for two weeks in October! We're going to be doing shows in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Yeah.

Boing Boing: You've never performed back home before, right? 

Lun*na: Never. We're gonna visit Saori's parents. (to Saori) Hey, you haven't performed in your father's closet yet, right? (laughs)

Les Sewing Sisters are playing at Zebulon Cafe in Los Angeles this Friday, July 14th with Coffin Prick and Harvey Sid Fisher. Doors open at 7pm and admission is free. Their latest album can be streamed at their Bandcamp page here and you can follow them on Instagram here. And hey, Saori Mitomi finally had time to see Guardians of the Galaxy 3 at the AMC in Burbank. She loved it. 

Lee Keeler is a writer and educator living in Northeast Los Angeles.