Something happened when Mitski released her third album, Bury Me At Makeout Creek, last year. She'd already gained fans with its impressive predecessors, of course, but this one spread like a secret no-one could keep to themselves.
Her songs come in waves - of both poignant lullaby-like calm and of reckless, scuzzy urgency - and more often than not these waves lap and crash over each other. Lyrically too, with narratives (whether imagined or otherwise) so intimate it almost feels intrusive to listen, she hovers on the precipice of conflicting emotions. Love, bitterness, nostalgia, humour - they blend the sweet and the macabre. "I want a love that falls as fast as a body from a balcony," she sings on 'Townie', a steely determination in her voice.
Next week, Mitski is bringing Makeout Creek to London for the first time. Ahead of her debut UK tour, she answered our questions - and they're as thoughtful and enlightening as we expected.
Gigwise: You've been a vocal opponent of the idea of being "effortless" or "chill" - which was, for a long time, the most important thing for musicians and rockstars to be. Do you think that's changing in music now?
Mitski: "I don’t know why there’s still the myth of the beautiful pop or rock star who just 'fell into it' or became successful by some magical accident. I don’t know if that ever was the norm in the past, but it certainly doesn’t happen now. Every single person you see on stage at big festivals is there because they really, really wanted it, and worked hard and sacrificed for it in their own way. And I don’t understand why that’s not celebrated – why passion, and grit, and reaching for something mysterious and beautiful regardless of all the hard things that come with it, isn’t fucking 'cool.'"
Blur's Damon Albarn recently said: "Look at music now. Does it say anything? Young artists talk about themselves, not what’s happening out there. It’s the selfie generation." How do you feel about that?
"What is this 'music now' that he’s referring to? What better, more altruistic musical era is he comparing ours to? His own? When 'Song 2' came out (a megalith of mindful lyricism, to be sure) the top five Billboard songs of the year were 'Something About the Way You Look Tonight' by Elton John, 'Foolish Games' by Jewel, 'I’ll Be Missing You' by then-Puff Daddy, my karaoke staple 'Un-break My Heart' by Toni Braxton, and 'Can’t Hold Me Down,' again by Puff Daddy. I just wiki’d that knowing what I’d get – wonderful classics that are about people’s feelings.
"Artists young and old have and always will talk about themselves. But you know what? Young artists talking about themselves can be the most political thing done today, and is something a lot of them couldn’t have done before, or at least not to an audience. Now that music has been greatly democratized by the internet, young artists, non-cis male artists, artists of color, artists who even a decade ago wouldn’t have been given a voice by the few controlling the airwaves, are starting to find bigger platforms to talk about their previously silenced personal histories.
"They can reach out to and unite with other people like them, and maybe even create change through their art. All Albarn sees are younger people talking about things their own generation is facing, and he doesn’t understand them, or doesn’t see those issues as important, so he deems them unimportant altogether.
"That doesn’t seem very evolved. That seems like a stereotypical wealthy, white man only considering his own concerns as important, his own perspective as legitimate. I would suggest he go to a Downtown Boys show, if they ever play near wherever he’s living, and see if he’s still of the same mind by the end of their set."
On the subject of lyrics - you tweeted in (faux?) annoyance when people pointed out to you that Texas isn't a land-locked state. Do you often get people interpreting your lyrics in a way you didn't intend?
"I mean, the whole point of song lyrics is that they mean something special and particular to whoever listens to them. I want people to own the words for themselves, to take them into themselves and let the words inform their perspective and identity, in a way they personally need them to. It just also needs to be understood that, just because you interpreted my lyrics to mean you should move to a new town, doesn’t mean I wrote it thinking about moving at all. I don’t need an anonymous suburban teen messaging me on tumblr saying my lyrics about my sweetheart are factually wrong."
I'm a big fan of your "unfollow him" T-shirts and general ethos. Are there any other life mottos you'd want to put on a T-shirt?
"I almost just went to my Facebook profile to remember what good quotes I typed on there, but if I can’t remember them off-hand then I probably realistically don’t live by them either."
You've tweeted a bit about the vote to repeal Planned Parenthood funding in the US - do you feel frustrated with America's social politics in general? What are the chances of Donald Trump being president?
"Extremely crucial decisions about my life are being made by strange men who have one hundred thousand times more money than me, and who don’t know where the uterus is. If Trump becomes president, we will actually be living in a Simpsons episode that imagined what the most ridiculous dystopian future would look like."
Have you been to London / the UK before? If so, what did you think, if not, what are you expecting?
Almost half of my family is from and/or lives in the UK. I’ve been there often, and feel comfortable there, though I’m probably not as familiar with it as my sister, who lives in York and who will be traveling with me. I said this in another interview, but Marina Abramovic told a journalist that British audiences are the most cynical, and are prone to mock you before anything else. My first show in the UK will be at some sort of Halloween party with a bunch of loud punk bands, and I’ll be playing solo. So I’m preparing an iron heart and guts of steel.
See Mitski's UK tour dates below. For tickets and information, visit here.
31 October - Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
01 November - Glasgow, Hug & Pint
02 November - Brighton, Prince Albert
03 November - London, Dalston Victoria