Mitski Miyawaki, known mononymously as Mitski, is a DIY singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, NY. She released her first record LUSH just three years ago, and her most recent LP bury me at makeout creek didn’t take long to capture the attention of music critics for its raw and unabashed approach to production and songwriting. The record – produced by Patrick Hyland — is a special fusion of post-punk with its squealing guitars, shredding synths and Miyawaki’s melodies. This week, she played several showcases at CMJ Music Marathon in New York and spoke with Vinyl about what exactly DIY is as a genre and the disappearing venues for other DIY musicians.
Vinyl Mag: The classification DIY is often associated in interviews with you, but there’s never a clear definition given. What does it personally mean to you?
Mitski: To some DIY is an aesthetic or musical genre, often associated with punk rock, or alternately soft and sparse folk-y music, but in either case with a “lo-fi” sound. To others DIY is who you hang out with, who you know, who knows you. To still others it’s about playing at or holding DIY spaces, whether they’re people’s houses or small venues that do their best not to directly associate with big businesses, or are non-profits, so that artists without representation or “draw” can still perform. These are all valid definitions, and are all reasons I’ve been associated with DIY in the past. They’re also all reasons I will likely stop being associated with DIY by publications over time, as I grow as an artist and my sound changes, or I start to play bigger venues that do care about “draw” etc. To some I was never DIY, because I see my music as my lifelong career – something that will buy my future house, feed my future children, take care of my parents when they’re older, and let me retire when I’m older – and by their definition music stops being DIY when it becomes a main source of personal income earned within the capitalist system. This is also completely valid.
My DIY has always been a fundamental ethos, that you build something for yourself out of nothing, something sturdy that you can rely on, with your own hands. Growing up, whenever I wanted something and asked my mother for it, or simply talked about how it would be nice if it existed, she’d tell me “Then go make it yourself.” I grew up in multiple countries, often where I don’t understand the language or rules, and with no one around who understood me. So my auto-response to my daily needs became “I don’t know where to find what I need and there’s no one around to give it to me, so I’ll use whatever’s immediately around me and make-shift it for myself.” That’s how my DIY mentality was born. That’s also why I think the most DIY music out there by how I define it is made by pockets of rap communities in the US. They build their own movements, hold their own parties and shows that draw thousands, put out mixtape after mixtape outside of the rules of the whole industry album cycle, and thrive completely by themselves, for themselves, self-sufficiently. I think Prince was DIY in the same way, hosting shows in warehouses and creating a whole musical world that people could inhabit, at times playing every single instrument in his records, and becoming a legend before ever signing with major labels. And even once he did, he always did what he knew was right for his music and fans, regardless of whether the music business itself understood it, or whether it would get him in trouble (remember his “Artist Formerly Known As” phase?). That’s why he’s such an iconic figure, and he’s still active and thriving to this day – because he had a vision, and he built it from the ground to the roof.
VM: Your most recent LP Bury Me at Makeout Creek captured a lot of attention from music publications, were you surprised that it took so long for national publications to find out about you, or did you not expect for this record to be the one that accomplished that?
Mitski: Bury Me was simply the first record for which I actually worked to promote. My first two records were my junior and senior projects in conservatory, and all I did was put them on bandcamp and post about them on facebook, while I slowly figured out how to “be” a musician. Bury Me was made once I was out of school, and I had to buckle down and make this my job. I sent it to publications, played shows relentlessly, eventually hired management, and I did the work to have it be heard. So it makes sense that it was the first album to reach people who I’m not facebook friends with, though I was also lucky that the work paid off to an extent, because sometimes (often times) it doesn’t in this business, how hard you try.
VM: Your social media is very honest, something that most artists would steer clear of; how do you think that it’s helped you establish a core fanbase?
Mitski: My core fanbase was established by my music, and my music is honest. What good would it do to make my Twitter dishonest?
VM: The record had tinges of punk in it, is that a direction that you see yourself going into or was that just sort of what you were into during the recording process?
Mitski: I may have been referencing punk sounds, but I don’t think punk as we know it exists anymore, or not in the way it did when it was born. As an ethos it will always exist, and as an ethos I hope I will always follow it, but what is punk in ethos today cannot sound like the punk of before. As a specific sound or genre, punk as we recognize it can now only exist as reference, which directly counters the mentality from which the sounds were born. As a sonic aesthetic it was born as a rebellion against the standards of music that existed at the time, in the 70’s and 80’s. There was nothing that sounded so rough, distorted, minimal, and confidently amateurish, and the very point was that it wasn’t referencing anything from the past (or it did its best not to), and that it sounded like the opposite of the majority of sound being consumed in that era. Its whole existence relied on being new and different. So when bands today follow the same musical formats, fashions, and aesthetics of punk from when it was a phenomenon, they will forever be punk cover bands, because the fact that they’re following formats that were made before, already puts them in opposition to why those sounds were made in the first place. Punk as an aesthetic today is continued out of nostalgia, which is not punk.
VM: You recently uploaded a cover of a One Direction song “Fireproof,” a lot of indie musicians would scoff at the idea of covering a boy band, but what was it about the song that really connected with you?
Mitski: I liked the lyrics, I liked the melody, and I felt like I could successfully put my own spin on it. It wasn’t really about who put out the song first. It was written by a host of writers, more than half of whom aren’t even in the band, so without 1D singing on it I was just covering a Payne/Tomlinson/Ryan/Scott/Bunetta song.
VM: Have you performed at CMJ before, and do you think events like these are important?
Mitski: Um, maybe I have? Or maybe I just played a show during CMJ that wasn’t officially part of CMJ? This festival is unique in that it’s in a city that has thousands of shows going on per day anyway, which is also why NY bands and audiences alike tend to stick to what they know and stay in their corner – there’s just so much. So I think the significance of CMJ lies more in its giving bands and audiences incentive or an occasion to go out and be part of something that’s outside their realm, or go out and see acts they wouldn’t normally see.
VM: What’s next for Mitski?
Mitski: A tour through November in the UK, Iceland, and U.S, and a new record next year.
10/15 – High Road Touring CMJ Showcase @ Mercury Lounge
10/16 – PORTALS CMJ Showcase @ Lutheran Church of the Messiah
Mitski with Palehound + PWR BTTM
11/10 – Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA
11/11 – Washington, DC @ DC 9
11/12 – Charlottesville, NC @ Southern Cafe
11/13 – Durham, NC @ Pinhook
11/14 – Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge
11/16 – Nashville, TN f@ The High Watt
11/17 – Bloomington, IN @ Bishop Bar
11/18 – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
11/19 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
11/20 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
11/21 – Columbus, OH @ Rumba Cafe
11/23 – Toronto, ON @ Smiling Buddha
11/24 – Montreal, QC @ Casa Del Popolo
11/25 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Lounge