I‘ve called Mitski at a bad time. “Was today the interview day?” she says in a drowsy voice. “I just took a tetanus shot, and I‘m getting those really rare side effects, so I completely am in a different world, I‘m sorry.”
I offer to call back, but the 27-year-old indie rocker is unfazed. “I‘m fine, I‘m fine,” she says. “I just might be a little slow, is all.”
Mitski Miyawaki, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father, is making the most of a touring lull to do some life admin. The tetanus shot was just one appointment out of many she squeezes in when she has the time – which is rarely ever. She‘s just come out of a two-year tour for her acclaimed 2016 record Puberty 2, and earlier this year joined Lorde on her North American stadium tour.
“I got the offer through my booking agent, but Lorde also DM‘ed me on Twitter,” she says. “Ella [Yelich-O‘Connor] just runs a gigantic ship with so many different people, and so many different job descriptions that I didn‘t know existed. Being on that arena tour was like going to a really cool school every day.”
Life on the road left Mitski feeling spent. When she returned to writing music, she hit a wall; her usual instinct for songwriting had all but disappeared. “A lot of my decision making when creating art is based on a gut reaction,” she says. “It was almost like I didn‘t have access to that feeling anymore.”
In the absence of a brainwave, Mitski went searching for one. She looked within herself for new ways to write – such as leaning back on her composition degree, or shaping her songs more around musical theory; “using my head more than my gut”, she says. That became the genesis of Be the Cowboy, her upcoming fifth record.
“The making of this album was very much like trying to look for something in the dark,” she says. “I was tired, I was trying to rally myself and make upbeat music – if not for the audience, then just for me to try to get back on my feet.”
Be the Cowboy sounds like nothing Mitski has ever done before. Most of its songs race by as two-minute vignettes and the production is alive with gleaming synths and bouncy percussion. Recorded with her long-time producer Patrick Hyland, Mitski says the record plays with fiction, introducing the character of an “icy repressed woman who is starting to unravel”.
“What really happened in my life, and who I really am, doesn‘t really mean anything to me,” she says. “What is important to me is expressing an emotion. If using a character or a narrative that didn‘t happen to me is what best expresses this real feeling I had, then I will do whatever is in my creative power to deliver exactly what I felt to somebody else.”
Mitski says touring with Lorde was like ‘going to a really cool school every day.‘ Photo / Bao Ngo facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
The change in production came from Mitski‘s drive to continue pushing herself. “(It) was more about what I didn‘t want it to sound like,” she says. “A lot of people started to identify me with distorted guitars, and so I said, ‘well I shouldn‘t do that again‘.”
Mitski says the shorter song lengths come from being a lesser-known artist, who learned to be concise in order to grab people‘s attention sooner. But Mitski‘s profile is continuing to grow – especially after June this year, when Iggy Pop said on his radio show that Mitski was “probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know”.
“Part of me was like, ‘Maybe I should just quit here now‘. I haven‘t really processed it,” she says.
“In a very innocent way, my innocent child-self understood it completely. Like ‘Oh, of course, this person I love dearly also seems to like my music, that‘s just how beautiful the world is‘. And then the cynical adult me is just like, ‘This is not real, this can‘t be happening‘.”
What: New album Be the Cowboy