Wild woman blues
Movement, music and Mitski
“I really do have love to give, I just don’t know where to put it,” William H. Macy’s character tearfully professes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 ensemble drama, Magnolia. The quote perfectly summarizes the music of indie singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki, known mononymously as Mitski.
Her music carries a similar yearning for romantic stability at whatever cost. The stability sought is not only romantic, but also geographic.
That should come as no surprise; Mitski and her family moved frequently. She was born in Japan, but soon found herself taking in the cultures of Malaysia, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more as her family moved around. As an adult in New York, she attended the State University of New York at Purchase, where she studied film before switching to composition.
Now she’s a successful musician with four albums to her name. Recently, she made an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Her song “Your Best American Girl,” off her most recent, critically acclaimed album Puberty2, was selected by The New York Times Magazine as one of its “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music is Going.”
But that commercial success entails being trapped in a van in a perpetual state of are-we-there-yet.
“There’s this misconception that [touring is] very glamorous,” Mitski says. “I’ve been on the road for five years.
“You spend eight hours in a car, load in, sound check, eat a quick dinner—and dinner is usually the first meal you eat that day—play the show … load out and then you just want to go to sleep,” Mitski details in a voice that does not betray her exhaustion. “It would be nice to have some kind of regularity and some kind of routine so that it’s not so hard to lead a normal, healthy life.”
But that life may have to wait; Mitski has fully merged with her art.
“I am the person in all the songs. It’s not an act or anything,” Mitski asserts.
Her first two albums, 2012’s Lush and 2013’s Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, are orchestral outings; horns, woodwinds, strings, vibes, piano occupy the spaces surrounding her voice. On her latest release, all of this has been siphoned into a more streamlined sound.
But one key aspect has not changed. The drums in Mitski’s oeuvre carry a heavy symbolism. Whether played on a drum set or programmed on a drum machine, the minimal thuds call to mind the movement of a train or a heart. That, coupled with her intimate lyrical content, makes for a confessional body of work.
Mitski’s lyrical themes predominantly probe failed or failing relationships, depression, distance, searching for happiness and love; she never finds stability, only aches for it.
“When I say I want happiness or am looking for happiness, I mean I look for contentment, and a lot of contentment has to do with knowing—knowing what’s going on, knowing who you are, knowing where you are. And it’s hard to maintain that when you’re on the road.”
Meanwhile, the wheels keep turning.