Everything Exists At The Same Time: An Interview with Mitski
Mitski. Photo: Ebru Yildiz
One major part of life is acceptance. Love, in a way, is an acknowledgement of acceptance, it is to be accepted, which may be why we all desire it so. College, jobs and social groups are other areas where acceptance is significant and many times love is sort of the weight that balances the scale. “I may not have gotten that job, but someone loves me.” However, without love, everything else seems dire, or the need for love seem dire. Mitski knows this place, she knows this pain. She sings her songs and you feel like she knows you. The most common device of the human experience is love, or in the case of songs and literature, relationships as way to examine the human condition.
“In terms of songwriting, I think my intention, for example, in experiencing an emotion, or in experiencing a relationship, and I hit upon an emotion that I feel is a core essential emotion or something that’s universal and I grab onto it and I try to figure out ways to express it,” comments Mitski Miyawaki in a phone call with FPH. “Sometimes the narrative of the song doesn’t even matter, or it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. My intention is always to try to explain that one thing I touched upon or felt, and if the reality or the truth of my relationship isn’t the most conducive way to express that emotion, then I will find another narrative that might not be real, but explains that emotion.”
On Mitski’s latest album, Puberty 2, relationships are discussed, not in the “this song is about” manner, but rather its function in the rest of life; it is love amidst the other complexities of life. But, love acts as a barometer of sorts, a way of measuring bigger questions of happiness, ambition, and even culture. The concept that everything good may not be good for you, but also we become ourselves because of what occurs. Relationships deal a lot with the minimizing or the consideration of another, but is the other worthy of that space, is this person the embodiment of what I need to overcome, maybe this is an unnecessary scenario, am I taking myself through to confirm feeling or merely just ride a feeling? Puberty is the coming of age, but in a lot ways, we come of age twice. There are the awkward teenage years, school and all that, but then there is the becoming of the self, usually post-19, and how that is navigated is close to what the album narrates.
“Here’s the thing that’s kind of beautiful: the beautiful thing about writing songs, you almost discover things by writing them that you didn’t realize were there until you bring them out,” Mitski notes. “When I write albums, I don’t really write it as an album. I write songs individually and I do whatever serves each song and I am not really thinking about the whole album as a concept, but I do tend to be thinking about one or two or three things at a time during a certain period. Oftentimes I would just write what I’m thinking at the time and I usually end up thinking about the same things for extended periods of time, so it ends up being a cohesive album because the things that are on my mind at that time tend to be sort of similar to each other so at the end. I wrote the songs for the songs and not for the album as a concept, but then after I wrote the album and put it together, I was ‘Oh, this has a story and a cohesiveness that I didn’t really plan,’ but it happened naturally, and so it was a discovery for me as well.”
Probably one of the more examined pieces on her album is the song “Your Best American Girl,” a song that is somewhat implicitly — but not completely — about dating someone of another culture: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do.” But what is culture besides identity, but identity is important. Shall I lose myself to gain you? The other mark of genius is the lyric “I think I do,” because culture sometimes acts as a summation of character and many times we misinterpret culture in seeming rejection of definition. Tradition and history and ethnicity are important, if one were to put another before themselves, are you getting that person, or a facsimile designed to make one happy? And what happens when the façade or the feeling fades?
“In terms of writing things that have many layers, where you’re thinking this but you’re also thinking that, for me it’s important to write, for example, a love song but that’s also in the context of life and being a full person, you know, when you’re love with someone you’re just in love with them as an individual and you have your relationship, but then also you have your own background and they have their own background and you’re living life and you’re going to work and everything exists at the same time always and everything exists within a context and I can’t divorce my love for somebody from my background or how we exist together in the world,” Mitski says. “It’s really important for me to always make sure that I don’t simplify things or try to make things so easy.”
Of course making music that is personal is also subject to intention and retention. There is what was meant and there is how it is absorbed by the audience. Our favorite songs are attached to our moments, they are personalized and tethered to our individual histories, which may separate from the songwriter’s intention. Still, upon meeting the authors of our favorite songs, the tendency goes from one of appreciation to one of confirming to that artist how “our” life was changed, or how their songs made us feel. For a performer who has spent the last three hours in this room testing the floor tom, it could be a bit much, but Mitski does not see it this way. She embraces the connection, she writes to connect with you.
“The thing about being a performer is that people don’t know you as a person, which is fine, so they imagine you to only be the person that you’re singing about,” Mitski notes. “They expect you to be one thing, which you are actually a multilayered person. It’s interesting to talk to people who only see me as one thing and see their reaction to me being another thing”
While in acknowledgement of this Mitski still recognizes, “Everyone’s experience is what they needed, that’s why I’m doing this. I’m doing this to evoke, to create something that means something. I don’t wanna break that [moment] for anybody. It’s kind of a wonderful problem, in that what I’m doing has worked for somebody, and why would I want to break that or complain about that? It’s a wonderful problem to have.”
Mitski sings love songs as a means of commonality. Relationships regardless of their nature are still relationships — interactions, successes and failures, anticipating or mourning the company of another — but, for whatever reason, the thing that is magnified most in relationships is you. We examine ourselves through the eyes of those that love us, those who we want to love, and those who have gotten to love us. Was it them? Or is it me? We are also shaped by our experiences, some that we control, others that we cannot, but life in general is a reaction to our interpretation of those experiences. In this way, Puberty 2 is more than worthy of consumption.
On Friday, Mitski will play our fair city at Walter’s Downtown. I am sure it will be fantastic affair, because as a performer, Mitski gives the song its full attention, scars and all. Be there, be present, and embrace fully the moment and let’s all feel awkward and moved after it. See you there.
Mitski will perform at Walter’s Downtown (1120 Naylor) alongside Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som on Friday, July 1. Doors open at 8 pm and tickets are $10 advance and $12 at the door.