It’s hard to put into words the effect of Mitski’s music. Her voice is as clear and sharp as a knife, and the instruments wrap around you with the warmth of a blanket on a cold day. Even though the name of her new album, Puberty 2, sounds like a cheesy American teen movie a la American Pie, Mitski reminds us that life is messy, the question of where you belong is complex, and we can’t always have the things we want. I had the pleasure of talking with Mitski during the lead up to this new album about everything from the music to the in-between.
Your fourth album is called Puberty 2 — what made you feel like you were going through growing pains again?
You know, that album title was actually made kind of on a whim. Me and the producer were just riffing so he was like, you know, “Puberty 2” and I just kinda latched onto it. So maybe it has a deeper meaning, I’m not quite conscious of it yet I think, there’s something about it I just latched onto, maybe in like 10 years I’ll know “that’s why I decided on that.” But right now, I’m not really sure.
Do you still feel like “a tall child”?
I think that’ll never go away. Talking to older people I realise that everyone is still a child even as a 40, 50 year old.
I think “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars” is very relatable when you say, “I wanna see the whole world/I don’t know how I’ll pay rent.” It’s relevant especially living in places like New York. Do you find that the city restricts you in any way aside from financially?
Yes, there’s no space, so I had to learn to write with other people in the room; there’s no sense of privacy, you can’t really go away. I’m a kind of a reserved, private person, so just learning how to get in the zone and be in my own world and write while there’s a party going on in the living room was an adjustment but you kind of have to. I think that’s the main struggle, lack of space and lack of time.
You sing the lines, “Would you kill me in Jerusalem?” (My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars) and “Glory, glory” (Thursday Girl), are you religious in any way?
No, I don’t have a religion but I think I’m a very religious person. If I was raised with a religion, I think I’d be very religious but I was raised very non-religiously so I think…it’s just that I’m obsessive or I need something bigger to admire and to believe in.
A higher being?
What was your visual inspiration for your album art?
I went to a place in upstate New York, there’s like just open fields everywhere. The thing is, the image just popped in my head and it took me a while to know whether I should just go with it, go with what I imagined, but I’m thinking, like, I’m painting my face white because that’s what — in Japan – you do the whiteface and make-up and whenever you’re like an artist or performer or group of that traditional art, there’s this tradition of painting your face white with make up on and I think I was just trying to express how I want to be a part of that or that’s part of my heritage. But it’s all blotchy and I’m not doing it well. I’m not quite doing it, but I want to. I want to be a part of it and it’s part of my history, but I’m never going to be a part of it or belong to it.
What was your writing process like? Was it like you came up with the lyrics first or do you have a specific vision for how you wanted it to sound like altogether?
How I usually write: the words and melody come together and I don’t really think about chords until much later. Maybe I think of a bass line, that’s kind of my writing process in general. For this record, it’s stuck between really old songs that I wrote in my teens that I kind of revived and also, songs that I wrote right before I went into the studio. And often times, I write little bits and pieces of things on tour but I can’t actually focus on finishing the song so right before I went into the studio, I kind of took of the bits and pieces that I’d collected and recorded or just wrote down and edited them and put them altogether.
‘Cause I heard the song “Thursday Girl” and the first thing that came to me was like, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” that huge mist and dramatic video — very emotional. Are you inspired by 80s singers in any way?
Yeah, I guess I am, 80s and 90s. I’d say so. It depends on the day, some days I’m so 80s and some days I’m not 80s at all.
Do you have any difficulties or is there any difference when translating songs from the studio to the stage?
For Bury Me At Makeout Creek I was very conscious of making sure I recorded everything that I could recreate live and that’s why it’s very fixed on guitar, drums and bass. For this new record, there are a lot of other sounds and I think I was less concerned with being able to recreate it live or I wasn’t thinking about it so much. I was just focused on recording something in the studio and worrying about this, the live thing, later. So we’ll see how it goes.
There’s quite a lot of pulsing beats on this album and I heard that you’re very into Drake…
Yeah! Actually, the other day I was watching that video where he was like special guest at the Section Boyz show, have you seen that?
Tears almost came to my eyes because everyone in the room is so excited and it was such a moment. The room was full of joy.
That’s a lot like your shows, you know, I see stuff on Twitter like “Buy me a ticket to a Mitski show, and don’t talk” and it’s like a lot of the shows you go to are high intense energy from the audience, high intense energy from the performer and there’s a constant friction. With your shows it’s like everyone’s calm, you’re very intense and the waves wash over you, you know?
Well thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Last time I saw you in the UK, that was one of the first times in my entire life that I saw young women of colour being at the front of a show, not being squashed by white dudes for some space. How do you feel about that interaction you have with you fans?
I’m very careful to nurture that. I wanna make sure that people who come to my show are comfortable. It’s cause I have – you know when you have first hand experience of being at a show and not feeling like you should be there? I don’t want that to ever happen to anyone.
So many mosh pits. So many.
I’m just not into moshing. One time, I was playing a show in San Diego and it was in the US, and I wasn’t the headliner so I was just playing for another demographic and people started moshing and I straight up just stopped playing, and then they like fucking hated me for it. But the thing about it is like, the people who are bouncing around are having a good time but all I can see are the people around the pit who are just like, “ahhhh” and being bounced on.
I feel like you close a lot of the gap with your Twitter. Do you see social media as an artistic medium?
No, I just see it as something I have fun with. I hope it stays that way. Maybe one day I’ll have to quit it, because I make myself too accessible on it, but right now I’m just having fun with it.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m actually listening to a lot of (Charles) Mingus, which makes me sound like an asshole.
Did you say Mingus?
Yeah, like the jazz artist. Because it’s so different from what I make and especially when I’m on tour, I’m playing my music all the time I wanna listen to something that’s nothing like what I’m making. And also, a lot of it just doesn’t have words so I just want to have something that’s like going without having to focus on a lyric or anything. A lot of jazz at the moment.
Mitski’s new album, _Puberty 2, is now available._