An interview with Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Mitski

Mitski
Alex Broadwell/Courtesy

Brooklyn-based lo-fi rock artist Mitski Miyawaki is an open book — frank, accessible and trustworthy.

She has an affable persona on Twitter and Tumblr (both her professional and personal accounts are public), where she plays the role of advice columnist and relatable, Netflix binge-watching friend in one fell swoop.

“Maybe one day, there’ll come a time when I won’t have to do that anymore,” Mitski said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “But I’m honestly an unknown artist.”

Certainly, the prohibitive specter of Top 40 stardom which acts like One Direction (a band Mitski has covered) must endure doesn’t loom over Mitski. But her star is rising. She’s recently signed to Dead Oceans — a record label out of Austin that hosts the likes of folk and indie-rock acts such as the Tallest Man on Earth and Phosphorescent.

“I’ve been starting to get strangers telling me to die,” she added. “You know, that kind of Internet stuff.”

But her desire to forge personal connections extend past her role as creator and musician, ultimately surmounting the antagonistic anonymous presence that haunts celebrities.

“I want to make sure that these people are acknowledged as people and not as numbers of followers,” she said. “I want to hold onto that for as long as I can and make sure that the connection is tangible and personal.”

With her conscious choice to refer to her audience as “people” rather than fans over the course of the interview, Mitski collapses the distance between herself and her audience.

It’s a deeply humanizing sentiment — one that is embedded in her work as a musician. Her critical breakthrough, 2014’s Bury Me in Makeout Creek, exemplifies this fleshed-out humanity. It’s a gritty, nuanced album in which Mitski ruminates on lost loves, young rebellion and growing pains with the thoughtfulness befitting an individual on the cusp of “real” adulthood.

The raw openness instilled in her music is one that resonates with her fanbase. Mitski thrives off of this feeling of collective loneliness in her music-making process. “I don’t feel so alone because what I’m feeling or what I’m thinking is reaching people I don’t know,” she said. “They’re telling me that they’re going through the same thing.”

Currently, she’s working on an upcoming album with producer Patrick Hyland — a college friend she has previously worked with on Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2013’s Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. “I’ve found, more and more, that you can’t do this stuff alone,” Mitski said of her collaborators. “… I’ve slowly been creating a grounding around me with people that I trust.”

Mitski is set to embark on a small tour around the United States this month, with a stop at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco. Her combustive live act is a sight to behold. She carries rooms and unites crowds with an assured, stately energy that unfurls with every song, ultimately reaching its breaking point on its climax — set highlight “Drunk Walk Home.” Mitski’s live performances have the enraptured energy of a show on the brink of collapse. With the steady backing of her band and her deft showmanship, though, her performances do not falter with the sometimes destabilizing force of her powerful voice.

The album-tour cycle is a process that Mitski has grown accustomed to. She likens her touring process to a furnace, wherein she creates kindle for the proverbial fire by working on her songcraft. “At a certain point, I’ll have to go back inside and keep making more,” Mitski said.

Although she exhibits a candid directness in her music and her Internet presence, Mitski doesn’t view herself as a role model — but not necessarily in a way that absolves her of responsibility.

Whenever people ask me questions, I always preface it with, ‘Look, I have historically made the worst decisions for myself all the time. You’re asking the wrong person. But this is what I think,’” she said.  
But that hasn’t deterred her fans from inquiring about matters spanning from new merchandise to terrible romantic partners.

For Mitski, it’s not necessary to have all the answers. “All you really need is someone to sit next to you and not even say anything,” she concluded. “I always hope to be that kind of presence instead of someone who always has the answer.”

Joshua Bote is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.