Happy Music Monday to you, reader. This week, we’re down right elated to bring you a song from the soon-to-be-released collaboration between Thao Nguyen, of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and Mirah, of awesomeness. Their self-titled album comes out tomorrow and we’re featuring one of the many stand-out tracks—”Eleven,” featuring indie-jangle-artist, tUnE-YarDs—as our Song of the Week. What’s more, Mirah, who we’ve both been a huge fan of since she released her beautiful debut, You Think It’s Like This But It’s Really Like This, took some time to talk with about the album, what it’s like to work with Thao, and the oh-so-dreamy Marc Summers, former host of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare. For reals.
Kindness of Ravens: Alright, first thing’s first—What brought on this magical musical collaboration? I’m assuming you two originally knew each other from the west coast music scene…but I don’t know, maybe this is like one of those things where some old rich dude puts together a band of well-groomed, fresh-faced strangers to woo the mall-stalking teens of America.
Mirah: Why thank you for the compliment. I don’t usually get to claim membership in the well-groomed club. We were introduced over e-mail after I moved to the Bay Area by a mutual friend who also happens to be our licensing agent. So it was sort of like a cross between a ride-share bulletin board, internet dating, and general cosmic alignment.
KoR: How would you say the resulting sound differs from, say, a Mirah record or a Thao with the Get Down Stay Down release?
M: Does it? Love child, man. The question is—’how does it sound the same, yet somehow magically better and even more beautiful’? I think it must be the influence of all the drugs other people do so that we don’t have to do them.
KoR: Alright, but you’re both such strong song-writers and you both have such distinctive sounds. Does the collaboration break down along specific lines? Like, did you, say, write all the lyrics and maybe Thao wrote particular guitar lines? Or maybe you each had your own songs you sort of ‘owned’? Or did you just sit around and jam? …or maybe you did the whole thing and Thao, I don’t know, got you coffee and breakfast burritos?
M: First things first—I am not a coffee-drinker and Thao and I both shared duties on the quinoa and greens provisions. Thao happens to be the only person in the world who I’ve ever successfully jammed with and so, yes, there was some of that. But it was most like your option number 2—ownership, sharing, conferring, jamming, allowing space for each other; like each of us holding open a door for the other that neither of us could hold open just alone.
KoR: Ooh, I like that. And your sessions sound VERY well-catered. And tUnE-YaRds produced the album, correct? How’d ya’ll hook up Merrill (of tUnE-YaRds)?
M: She was one of the constellations who became cosmically aligned via mine and Thao’s yenta. Merrill and I also both happened to be moving to the Bay from elsewhere during the same month of at the end of 2009.
KoR: Nice. By the way, we really like the cover art (above). You both look really tough. Who did the design work for the album?
M: Thao had met Alejandro Chavetta at one of her shows, I believe. He’s the art director at San Francisco magazine and a photo-collage artist and had offered to take photos, should she ever need. He came and took a bunch of beautiful shots on the roof of our upper Haight apartment. My friend, Forrest Martin, who does graphic design work out of Portland, put together a lot of the design elements for the outside of the package, but then we ran into a time crunch and our people at Kill Rock Stars took over and finished up with the booklet. And, yes we are tough. You should see me flex my biceps.
KoR: I’m afraid I didn’t buy any tickets to the gun show. So, not to get all serious and junk, but I know a lot of women in music—or the arts in general—feel an obligation or pressure to represent the gender as a whole or provide a positive role-model to their female audience. Some people embrace that kind of thing and some people totally dismiss it as an unfair burden that’s not placed on your average white male (um, hello, TRAIN!). Where do you all fall on that? …or are you just like, “Fuck it”?
M: I’m far too intentional of a person to just say ‘fuck it’ about anything. I represent myself, and I identify as a feminist, as queer, as a powerful female person, and as a conveyor of love. I have my days where I feel small but I try to meet those days with patience. I don’t stand up in the world because of feelings of obligation but rather through a commitment to doing my humble part in carrying on the tradition of positive female role models who have inspired me in my life. I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite celebrity quotes from last year . . . ‘Some days I wake up feeling like any other insecure 24 year old, and then I say to myself- “Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk that walk today.”‘
KoR: Hells yeah! A friend of ours was in the band Velocity Girl and I remember him telling us how crazy it was when Volkswagon bought the rights to “Sorry Again,” but that was like, 50 years ago. Do you think the songs-in-commercials scene and what it all means has changed a lot with the way the music industry has shifted in the past few years?
M: It is honestly harder to make a living as a musician ever since people stopped buying music. It took me a couple years to really face that reality. I kept thinking that since I was so incredibly independent, and that the scene of folks who listened to my music felt more like a big family I was a part of than some dualistic fan/rockstar model, that the consequences of the shift to digital and the advent of file sharing would never be felt. But I was wrong. I do know that people still love and listen to music, but the whole social and financial structure of writing, recording, touring, selling, listening to and buying albums has inexorably shifted. Also, when I was coming up as a musical presence in Olympia and the Northwest in the mid to late 90’s, making money or charging much money for anything or being involved with main-stream anything was just simply not done. The identity was anti-globalization and anti-capitalist and pro small scale, grass-roots and d.i.y. And as a kid raised by hippie macrobiotic parents who were self-employed, I just never really felt myself a part of most of the dominant structures of our society which champion making money and running with the herd. I still question any emphasis on financial gain over emphasis on pulling up the people, and at the same time I can see a certain pretension in some of the attitudes I used to have about ‘the main-stream’. I still feel myself to be an outsider in a lot of ways because of having been born and bred in alternative-land, and I’ve also come to a point in my life where I can appreciate things I used to disregard. The combination of all of these changes has led me to making certain choices about my music which I might not have made earlier in my career. I still use a healthy dose of discretion and there are offers which I decline but it’s true—a song of mine has been featured in a Kinder Chocolate ad in Europe and I’ve had a number of songs in TV shows and movies. I feel like positive messaging is present in much of my music and my aim is to share that with as many people as possible.
KoR: That seems like a healthy way to view things in this ever-changing scene. So, on a personal side-note, Katie (my wife and partner) and I have been HUGE fans of yours forevs. Actually, I fondly remember riding in a friends car and listening to You Think It’s Like This But It’s Really Like This and deciding to to propose to her. Whenever I hear a song from that album, I think of that. No real question there…just…thanks.
M: You are welcome. You are why I love my job.
KoR: So…is it true that you were on Double Dare when you were a kid?
It is indeed. It was perhaps less fun than you might imagine, or maybe it was just less fun for me. There’s something really chaotic about being herded around by a bunch of grown-ups in nylon pants shouting instructions like ‘jump in the cereal and milk Mirah, grab the flag and stuff it down your shirt’ while cameras are rolling and you’re wearing ugly knee pads and a big bobbly white helmet and you’re scrawny and flat-chested and your glasses are covered in goo from the physical challenge you messed up on earlier in the show. It was awkward and confusing, and yes, a little exciting. The best thing about it was using the money I won to join up with the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament later that month. I think I had my priorities pretty well set up at 12.
KoR: Um, yeah. My twelve-year-old self is pretty embarrassed for himself. But MAN is he good and making Transformers transform! But, yeah, I totally always wanted to be on that show. That Marc Summers. So dreamy. So, do you think this is a long-term collaboration or do you think you’ll both go your separate ways after this album and tour?
M: We’re friends and loved working together and we’ll both be making music for a long time yet, so, all things considered, I’d be surprised if this was it.
KoR: Having loved the album, we’re very happy to hear that answer. So as to inform myself and others of proper show etiquette—kosher to request Thao wtGDSD
M: Absolutely, though i can’t promise being able to play every old song. I try to make the people happy, and I am very human, not a machine!
KoR: Apologies, apologies. Though I am going to go ahead and put in my request fro “La Familia” now. Favorite thing about San Fran? Other than calling it San Fran?
M: Calling it Frisco. But really, I think my favorite thing is riding my bike all around and through it. Riding riding riding. Looking looking looking. I spend a lot of time at the ocean. And I’ll go up a steep steep hill just so I can get a good view.
KoR: Those hills are nuts. Favorite thing to do while in NYC/Brooklyn?
M: Walking, anywhere, all over. I could walk miles and miles just looking. I was there for one of the blizzards last winter and loved walking around with almost no cars and all that quiet burying everything. Someday I want to run the NYC marathon—such a tangible way to feel somewhere, running my feet over it. When I was a kid I would go with my dad on knish deliveries (family business while growing up: natural brown rice and vegetable knishes that we made in a bakery in the basement of our house). I would sit in the car all day and look at people, buildings, taxi drivers, other delivery people, piles of garbage. I love New York, the whole package deal.
KoR: And we love you right back! Finally, in closing, were you each to be a mystical creature, you’d be a—?
M: Fairy Godmother
KoR: I knew it!
You can now pre-order Thao + Mirah’s album—out everywhere tomorrow—and even listen to whole dang thing over at NPR right now. They’ll be playing Music Hall of Williamsburg June 8 and touring across the nation throughout the rest of May and June. Catch ’em if you can!