Brooklyn-based solo musician Mitski Miyawaki made the Metro-North commute most Wesleyan students know very well in order to deliver a performance at Earth House that proved acoustically wrenching, in a good way. Interviewer Zander Porter (accompanied by Anne Leonardo and Meghana Kandlur) sat down with Mitski at Earth House's neighboring Shapiro Creative Writing Center ("SCWC") to chat with the musician about her new record, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, as well as Björk, "love and death," and extreme sadness.
So, do you have a band with you?
Today, no. It's my music, so I don’t need a band. For bigger venues, they ask for a band. And on tour I have a band, but usually my policy is if I get a show offer I’ll bring a band but otherwise I’ll play solo. My band members change a lot because it’s my music so I can’t ask them to commit to it. Everyone has their own lives.
It’s always interesting to hear about the difference between solo artists with bands and bands that have been bands forever.
Yeah, it’s a noncommittal thing. If a band member says they’ll play a show, they’ll come to the show. But how long they stay in general is somewhat up to them.
I remember you were telling me you were born in Japan?
Yes. I moved around a lot because of my father’s job, a different country every other year, and came to New York for college.
Where’d you go to school?
SUNY Purchase. It’s the “arts school” of the New York state system; graduated in 2013.
Ah, recently. Nice.
I don’t know about that. The world’s a scary place to be an adult.
And this, now, this is your third album?
Yes, my first album was my junior project and my second album my senior project.
What is that like to make an album as your school project?
It’s great, because now I have jobs and I have to work, but when you’re in school, your job is to do that project. Even though I worked while I was in school, so it was hard in that way. All my resources, like the recording studios and musicians that played on my record, were all resources in the school, whereas when you’re not in school, you have to find those on your own. That’s why on my third record, I made it with a very small crew of people.
Do you think that showed on the third record?
Yeah. Well, the first two records did have orchestras, so that’s the main difference.
What would you say for you has changed artistically in the progression between the albums, outside of available resources?
I think I’ve always been the same person writing music but I think the environment I live in or the environment I have resources in affect my artistic process. A lot of artists try to go outside of their resource limits, and I usually see what I have and work with that. I feel like the song is there regardless of the resources. As long as there's the essence, it doesn’t really matter to me how I end up making it.
Would you say your third record reflects where you are at now content-wise?
I recorded it in 2013. People are always changing, and by the time I was done recording it, I was already past a certain stage.
What does it feel like then to play songs that are no longer really temporally significant?
Sometimes you just have to figure out different meanings while you’re singing.
Does it become nostalgic?
The thing about lyrics is that you can apply whatever meaning you want to. I can think about something in my life right now and apply it to something else. I never want to become a bored artist, and it’s really easy to when you’re playing the same songs every night. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be one of those 50 year-old former rock stars or one of those Broadway stars who do the same show every night for, like, decades. So I think it’s about finding what it means to you today.
[some time passes and the topic of Björk arises]
I remember the first Björk record I heard was Vespertine and I was scared shitless. I remember I couldn’t listen to her for some two years and then I came back to it.
I didn’t really get into her until Biophilia came out, but after not really loving that album and listening to her earlier stuff and obsessing over it I came back to Biophilia and learned to enjoy that.
Yeah, I didn’t really relate to Biophilia too much either. But sometimes it maybe is an age thing, because she made those earlier records when she was our age. Maybe when we’re older we’ll “finally understand Biophilia.”
Yeah, I suppose when you’re older and thinking about universe and nature you’ve already passed thinking about "typical love songs." Her new album, on the other hand, is about love and the devastation of it.
Power couple no more.
Reminds me of your music; I wanted to ask you about the obvious connections between love and the physical, morbid connotations in your new album. How did you become inspired to connect those things into lyrics?
Well, I’ve always had an obsession with dying, or with not dying.
Suicidal obsession or obsession with the concept of death?
Not the concept, because death is such a real thing. I’m so aware that I could die at any moment. I’ve lived stupidly and done things that could kill me. Now that I’m older, I care about my music things and I have other things I want to live for, so dying would put a damper on all of that. I really, really don’t want to die yet and want to everything I want to do before I die. So I use that as a motivating factor for me to try to live every day doing something. It comes from a mindset of always thinking about that, and also being in love. Also, in terms of metaphors, I think people understand things more when it’s connected to their body; it’s visceral. When you’re expressing love, it’s hard to understand it unless it’s connected to something compound and real.
To write uniquely about love is so hard to do. And also confronting it so directly instead of making it grand…
Yes, and every day is grand. Growing up, I was confronted with a lot of moments when "the everyday" was very precious or what it was all about.
It almost becomes a little bit funny, too. The album title has definite humor to it.
I notice that when you get really, really sad, you pass the point of being sad, and you just laugh about it. All you can do is laugh. Teenagers are so self-obsessed and so sad, but once you grow older you become aware that you’re not the only sad, dying person. You have to make it humorous or else you’re too serious about yourself. That’s what I can’t relate to about emo-punk. Get over yourselves.
And, finally, what is “makeout creek”?
It’s a moment in The Simpsons, when Milhouse finally gets his first kiss and thinks he’s gonna die, so he says “bury me at makeout creek.” And when I heard that, I knew that was it.