SXSW Interview: Mitski Miyawaki
“Your true love was in front of you the whole time”
By Libby Webster,
4:00PM, Wed. Mar. 16, 2016
Puberty 2 drops June 17 on Dead Oceans. Mitski Miyawaki’s three previous albums cultivated its arrival by building a dedicated following through tiny, emotionally-charged shows. Loud/quiet – brave – the New Yorker’s raw live sets revisit SXSW for a second year tonight, Wednesday, at Stubb’s, 9:20pm, and Thursday in the Barracuda Backyard, 10pm.
Austin Chronicle: Can you describe the moment when having a career in music in some capacity seemed tangible to you?
Mitski Miyawaki: I think a really visceral experience I had was during my first year at Hunter College, before I went to SUNY Purchase. I was a film major, because for some reason I thought that that was a creative job that had more job opportunities. I don’t know what logic I was following, but that was my impression at the time. I was in that program and realizing everyone around me just loved film and wanted to work in media, and meanwhile I was spending all my extra time sneaking to the music department practice rooms and playing music.
It was this moment of, “All these people around me are doing what they love and they believe they can do it, and I’m not even good at film. I’m good at music. So why aren’t I doing music?” It was like the rom-com scenario where your true love was in front of you the whole time.
I don’t think I ever had any moments where I was like, “I can do this!” It’s more just, “I can’t do anything else!”
AC: There was an interview with DIY where you mentioned something about how letting go of your ego helped your music. Could you talk about what that means?
MM: I remember that interview. I think what I meant at the time was in terms of the music itself. I think your ego gets in the way of making something good because it kind of blinds you from the actual art. When your ego is involved, I feel like you want things that aren’t there yet, or you want your presence in the art to be more important than the art itself, and kind of letting that go has let me become a better artist in that I put the art first. It’s always tricky because your art is about you. It’s a strange tightrope to walk.
AC: What’s your new material sounding like?
MM: I’ve been listening to this new record on my own and with the producer for so long that I’ve lost all perspective. I sincerely don’t know how to describe it, because I’m just too close to it. I’m almost reliant on what other people think about it, because I don’t think anything about it anymore. I do remember when I was recording it. It was the first time I went in knowing what I wanted and then throughout the whole process knew how to get what I wanted, and then got what I wanted.
In that way, I think it’s my most ... I don’t know, music writers might say my most “mature” work or whatever, only ‘cause I felt the most confident while making it.
AC: I read a lot about “women in music,” and sometimes it’s annoying because it seems like othering. At the same time, to see a woman become successful in music, you know she had to work harder than a man to get there, so I feel like it should be celebrated. When you’re billed that way, or see others billed that way, what’s your opinion on that?
MM: I really relate to that. It’s such a complex feeling. On one hand, we very realistically have to acknowledge when someone doesn’t have the same advantages other people do, because if we didn’t acknowledge or push for female musicians, or trans musicians, or POC musicians, then the status quo would be maintained. The reason we’re pushing for all these things is to give ourselves more opportunities, and to be seen more, and to be heard more. We have to take it further than that, too. We can’t be complacent and just say, “Oh, she’s a woman,” and applaud her for that.
It’s complicated because every good thing can be corrupted, and I hate how somehow “female musician” has just become a genre. If you go to my Spotify or any kind of music app or streaming app, the people I’m associated with, “artists like Mitski,” purely – musically – don’t sound anything like me. I’m just grouped with them because I’m a woman from New York, and this other artist is a woman from New York.
On one hand, I want us to acknowledge it so we can start fixing it, but also, we’re artists. We make things. Female artists can also make shitty music. I really don’t know how to approach it. I’m still trying to figure it out.