On July 20, She Shreds partnered with School of Doodle, an online school for teen girls that provides unique experiences in the arts, to give one girl the opportunity to see Mitski in concert at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, conduct an interview with her following the show, and work with our editors to publish it on our website. The contest winner was 17-year-old Naomi Boehm, who traveled all the way from Minnesota for the occasion. This is her first interview.
In Chicago, Illinois’ Lincoln Hall, I watched Mitski Miyawaki perform a magic act. Up on stage, the rock-based performer became two very different people. One moment, she belted out verses and the next, she faintly breathed a “thank you” into the microphone. These moments of coexisting opposites accurately represent Mitski’s music. With songs containing sharp, distorted electric guitar accompanied by tender, poetic lyrics, Mitski’s form of indie-rock is, in some ways, a genre of her own.
Mitski is currently on tour for her fourth album, Puberty 2 (out now on Dead Oceans). The new record dishes out lyrical honesty that builds off of the coming-of-age themes she presented in her last album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek and explores the emotional adjustments that come with taking the next step into adulthood with a mix of humor and true sincerity. After the show that night, Mitski found some time to sit down with me to talk about adulthood, touring, and growing up with a multiracial background.
She Shreds: You have both Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som along with you on this tour. Did you guys come together with the intent of creating an Asian American show or did it just happen naturally?
Mitski: I think both. I knew that I wanted to bring people that I wanted to hear and I wasn’t going to just bring anybody because of who they were. I needed to love the music but I was conscious of the fact that I wanted more people of color to be represented. I don’t want to discredit them [Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som] by saying “yeah, I picked them because of their race or because of their gender,” but it was something I was conscious of.
From the standpoint of someone of mixed background, seeing similar people up on center stage was really empowering not only to me but I’m guessing for a lot of other people as well.
Yeah, I think I just wanted both myself and my audience to be comfortable. I’ve been to so many shows where I just felt so uncomfortable because I felt so much like an outsider. Part of the show experience is having everybody feel comfortable and I think that I kind of know my audience and I know that my audience would feel more comfortable if people like them were on stage.
The song “Your Best American Girl” seems to illustrate the struggle that comes with being outside of any of the cultural and racial norms that so many Americans subscribe to. I know that you’re half Japanese and you spent much of your childhood living in countries other than the United States. What were some of the most challenging aspects of growing up with a cultural and/or racial background that differed from others?
It’s hard to say because it was all I knew. I don’t know anything different so I can’t tell whether my particular experience was hard, or in what way it was hard, because that was my whole world. It’s shaped me as a person in ways that is sometimes an obstacle to living my life happily. I’m always on the outside looking in, even when something is happening to me. I’m very standoffish and objective about something that should be personal.
I guess you could call it a dysphoria because I’ve always been on the outside and I’ve always been aware of people’s perspective of me so I tend to see myself in a way that other people tend to see me. It’s sometimes hard for me to just be completely objective, and that gets in the way because I can’t live in the moment. It’s hard trying to form relationships with people and having very little foundation, or basis, or understanding because a lot of our fundamental upbringings and experiences are so different, so it kind of limits the people I can form really strong relationships with.
What are some of the best aspects of growing up with a mixed background?
The obvious one was just that I got to see more of the world. Instead of having one perspective, I saw many and I’m glad that that was my worldview instead of growing up assuming the world was one certain way. I’ve also learned that in each location, different sides of myself would be accentuated depending on where I am and I wanted to adjust to the environment. I realized and became okay with being many people in one body. I understand that there are many sides of me. I’m not just one person and I’m okay with that.
You’re on tour right now and have been for several weeks. What are some things that you and your bandmates do to stay sane when travelling the country?
Sleep, eat meals, drink caffeine… When you’re on tour, you kind of wake up to the most fundamental necessities and that’s honestly what I like about tour. When I’m off tour, sometimes my priorities aren’t straight or things that aren’t important feel really important. Then I go on tour and I kind of have to shed all of that and just focus on “I need to sleep this many hours. I need to do this in order to focus on the show. I need to eat this so I can stay healthy and keep playing.”
I really like that aspect of touring. It’s very clarifying. We don’t drink as much on tour because it’s so hard. When you’re a touring person, you also slowly learn how to create private space when you’re around other people because we are in the car together, doing the shows together, sleeping together… It’s just 24/7 together and for the tour novice, that’s what drives most people crazy. So you kind of learn to create your own bubble and respect when other people are in their bubble, and just silently agree that each other don’t exist for a while and then come back together.
I’m sure you guys are professionals at creating comfortable silence.
Yeah, I’ve actually become so comfortable with silence that when I rejoin society I am totally fine with awkward silences, but when I look up everybody’s really uncomfortable.
Both Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2 seem to carry themes of coming to terms with adulthood. In “First Love/ Late Spring” you described yourself as a “tall child” and the title of your newest album, Puberty 2, continues this trend. As a person that’s currently on a journey towards “adulthood,” I’m interested in hearing what you have to say about what you think it means to be an adult.
I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone actually becomes an adult. I know a lot of people older than me who, I feel like, aren’t adults. I’m trying to figure it out, but I think it’s just perspective. When you’re younger, your world is very small around you and when you see it, it’s just that little world. When you get older, you gain perspective and realize that you’re not the center of the world. You start to care about your impact on the world. Instead of doing things for yourself, as you grow older, you start to become conscious of what you are doing to the world around you.
I used to be so careless and really hurtful without realizing it because I was so caught up in myself and I think as I get older, I become much more compassionate and kinder, even though I’m still a fucked up person because I want my impact on the world to be as positive as possible.