Some things are better left for mystery. Not to suggest that meeting Midori Layzelle in person is in any way disappointing. She's just as affable and musically knowledgeable as she sounds on the radio. It's just that when you've been imagining someone for such a long time, the real them is bound to be incongruous.
It would be like meeting Wolfman Jack and realizing he's freshly shaven and hates cigarettes. Or when you realized that Eminem was a white man.
No doubt that Big Sonic Chill, the late-night show Midori hosts on San Diego's 94.9-FM, is popular for the music-a mix of mellow rock and trance-inducing underground songs. But it may be even more popular for Midori's soothing and somnolent voice. Hearing it, a person may imagine a Nabokovian schoolgirl. Others may picture a hipper-than-thou indie scenestress with strategically placed tattoos.
"I'm not comfortable yet with my voice," she confides over some hot chocolate. "I was usually the girl in radio that had the voice that everyone hates. For me, to all of a sudden be loved for that, well, I'm flattered, but I don't get it."
This last statement is quite representative of Midori. She has a baffling sense of humility, especially for someone who's become one of San Diego radio's big new stars. Her show is one of the most popular specialty shows in the city, and, apparently, other parts of the country-Big Sonic Chill was recently nominated for a PLUG Award, nominees for which are chosen by U.S. journalists, musicians, retailers and other assorted music snobs. The winners will be announced in a ceremony in New York in February.
"I'm just happy to share music," she says about the nomination. It's a response that might sound like a rehearsed, humble cliché. But coming from Midori, it just fits.
"Radio is all I've wanted to do," she explains. "It['s not] like you go to work and do the same thing everyday. This is an outlet where you can be creative. I need to have fun everyday."
The fun started in Minneapolis, where Midori grew up loving both the city life and the rustic, natural feel of the Midwestern hub. She says the huge local scene (The Replacements, Prince and, later, Soul Asylum) and listening to the two major alternative radio stations made her daydream about what she does now.
"To me it was Hollywood. That's when I knew I wanted to work at an alternative radio station."
After a brief stint at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she started working at a local station where her duties consisted of everything from brushing the snow off the satellite dishes to reading news reports about cows blocking traffic. So when a job opened up at the San Diego station Hot Country 99.3-FM in 1999, she leapt at the chance.
Clear Channel dissolved Hot Country in 2002-a blessing in disguise for Midori. She landed a gig as a morning DJ at 94.9, which was then an upstart gaining ground on competitor 91X. Program director Garrett Michaels approached her with the idea of a Sunday-night show that he thought suited her sensibility.
"I remember thinking that there was this underground culture that would love the show," she recalls. "I just didn't realize how many people."
Three years later, her taste in music (and her feeling that fans of The Cure and Jeff Buckley might also dig lesser-known bands like This Mortal Coil and American Music Club) has made Big Sonic Chill so popular that the station broadcasts it six nights a week. On Tuesdays, the show has its own club night at the Air Conditioned Lounge in North Park, which is surprisingly packed considering the music is the sort most associate with taking a bath or brewing tea.
Yet despite the success (and despite the calls from the creepy listeners who apparently feel anyone with a voice that sultry must be up for some phone sex), Midori seems to maintain the same sense of calm that's helped her do so well in the first place.
"I'm actually trying to tone it down," she says. "I'm trying not to be as driven, and have fun. Because this is the funnest job."
Big Sonic Chill airs Sunday through Friday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on 94.9-FM.