“Wild women don’t get the blues/ But I find that lately/ I’ve been crying like a tall child,” Mitski Miyawaki sings in hushed tones on her song “First Love / Late Spring,” the debut single from her third album. It’s this welcoming vulnerability that makes Mitski‘s third album Bury Me at Makeout Creek, out November 11 via Double Double Whammy, so deeply alluring. “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony” she wails on “Townie.” “Be mean to me, I can take it and put it inside of me,” she sings on “I Don’t Smoke.” The SUNY Purchase grad joins a fairly recent line of brilliant young musicians who hail from just north of New York City, and her classically trained ear knows how to write the bitterest of earworms. While her previous releases are far quieter and piano-driven, it’s Mitski’s guitar work, which alternates between energetic, solo-worthy wails and rougher, folk-driven acoustics, that makes Bury Me at Makeout Creek a standout record.
We talked to Mitski about toying with ideas of strength in her music and the hardships that propelled some of her songs into being.
1. SUNY Purchase is where she first became part of a DIY music scene.
I didn’t really grow up anywhere. Because of my dad’s job I moved around a lot because he works for the state department. I feel like kids got to be in bands or be involved in their local scene, but I never got to do that because I was never in one place. So once I got to SUNY Purchase I realized you can be part of a local scene, you don’t have to be on a major label to be in a band.
While I was [there] I realized I didn’t even listen to bands other than the SUNY Purchase bands because there were so many. The Stood [student center] scene is very encouraging because it lets pretty much anyone who wants to play music there play music. Bands form a lot around there and everyone, when I was there, was actually really good. The scene, and I hate saying “the scene,” but when you’re in it, you don’t really know how good it is. But now I’m in Brooklyn and I’m realizing all my favorite bands went to Purchase with me.
2. She learned about male-dominated studio culture the hard way.
I don’t want to ever have to do things that are required of woman artists to make money or to rise to be professional. It’s hard for me to talk about it because it feels so personal. For example, when I’m in the studio. It used to be when I was directing people, because the studio culture is so male-oriented, bro-nerd culture, it was always hard to do a simple task for me. Boys I would be hiring would be rebelling against me because they couldn’t handle the fact that they were taking orders from a girl. Even if I was the only writer or the solo artist, whatever male person was in my vicinity would get a lot of the credit. People can’t fathom the fact that I was the writer.
Being a woman artist is always, always fighting and always having to just be strong. And sometimes that bleeds into my friendships or romantic relationships, because I’m always having to put up these walls because in romantic relationships you kind of have to give and take. I always want to be on equal standing with who I’m with and it’s hard when the person you love is also fed these ideas about masculinity and femininity.
3. M.I.A. is her favorite artist.
I have a lot of influences but I don’t know if you would necessarily hear them in my music. Like my favorite artist is actually M.I.A. just because she’s such a trailblazer and she does exactly what she wants. She’s a woman of color and she doesn’t fit any stereotype of femininity. Whenever she puts out her music, people are like “Whoa this is weird,” but then four or five years later everyone’s doing what she was doing before. I really respect her.
4. Her dark party-anthem single “Townie” was inspired by her teenage fearlessness.
I moved to a different place every year and I didn’t change my persona every year but I got [to] play with different roles where I was. During some of my teenage years I was the girl who loved partying and was always down and hanging with the guys. I dated a drug dealer and in ["Townie"] I was reflecting on a point in my life when I just wasn’t afraid of anything. I was trying to find something that would excite me. I felt stuck. I wanted to scream and run and be free. Nothing I was doing felt fulfilling or enough. You know when you’re partying, you’re supposed to be having fun? But everyone has this reason for why they’re partying or what they’re trying to get rid of by partying? The song isn’t about something going on with me right now, but it’s kind of a theme for me in being a person wanting exciting things rather than wanting fulfillment and trying to find the answer.
5. She hasn’t abandoned her orchestral roots yet.
For the first two records I was in music school and I had all these resources, like I had these classical musicians who would come into the studio to play for me for free. I figured I wouldn’t have that chance again for years, so I used the resources I had. By the third record I was graduating and I just figured I should adjust to my new environment where there aren’t all these nice studios and I’ll have very limited resources living in Brooklyn. I didn’t have the money or energy or the space. It was really a matter of survival, like I had to change my ways I suppose, to keep making music. You can’t really play [NYC DIY venues] Silent Barn or Shea [Stadium] with an orchestra. It just doesn’t fit. I’ve done full solo piano girl gigs and those just don’t go well at a dive bar. Maybe in the future when I have the money I’ll do more orchestral stuff, but right now I’m enjoying this whole rocking out thing.