Mitski’s first two albums sound almost nothing like the record she’s about to put out this fall. Jazzy and orchestral, 2012’s LUSH and 2013’s Retired from Sad, New Career in Business feature contributions from the New York-based songwriter’s fellow student musicians at SUNY Purchase, where she met Dave Benton and Mike Caridi of LVL UP. Due out from their label Double Double Whammy on November 11, Mitski’s forthcoming full-length Bury Me At Makeout Creek turns the fidelity down and the volume up. It’s the first record she’s made since she graduated, learned guitar, and started playing shows in basements, and while it wears certain marks of her formalism, it also sounds like it was a relief to crank the amps and cut loose.
We got the chance to speak to Mitski by phone right after she finished practicing with members of LVL UP in preparation for their upcoming US tour. We’re also excited to premiere “Townie,” the rollicking second single from Bury Me At Makeout Creek.
SASHA GEFFEN: The album you put out a year ago is a lot more formal and orchestral. This new one is a straight-up rock record. What inspired you to make that shift in such a short amount of time?
MITSKI: I had been studying composition, so I had all these resources. I had all these student musicians willing to play; I had an orchestra at my disposal, so I would be dumb to not use it. But as I was graduating, I realized, “Oh, fuck, I’m not going to have an orchestra once I leave school.” I figured, okay, I have to adjust to my environment, and my environment was all these guys I knew from Purchase who were in bands. I realized my place in the scene. I wanted to play basement shows, and I wanted to make music that would sound good in those environments. Before I went to Purchase, I didn’t realize that I could be in a band. Then I got to Purchase, and it was like, “Oh, music doesn’t have to be this academic, difficult thing.” I could just play with all my friends and have these catchy songs and have fun.
GEFFEN: The setting of your music has changed a lot with the new record. But the way you’re singing, it sounds like you’re taking your formal training along with you. What made you want to keep that singing style?
MITSKI: I could change my environment, but certain things come naturally to me. It would actually feel forced or unnatural to try to do a different singing style or to try to change my sound completely. It would be counter-punk if I was trying to do something as opposed to just letting something happen, so I figured, okay, if I fake this, it’s just going to sound like I’m faking it.
GEFFEN: Were all of these songs written in the last year since you put out your last album?
MITSKI: I wrote them all really quickly. I didn’t play guitar before this record. I’d always been playing piano and some drums. I took on a new instrument because I wanted a fresh start, so all those songs were written when I was just figuring out guitar. They were all written pretty close together really quickly. I wanted to take up guitar because playing piano is a little harder. Carrying a keyboard around is harder, and finding a real piano is much harder, and I wanted to play live more, so I figured a guitar would be easier to carry around. Then I realized I should play songs that I wrote on guitar. It would just sound forced if I had chords made out for piano and I played them on guitar.
GEFFEN: The title of the album is playfully morbid, and there’s a lot of references to death throughout the record, but the music is always upbeat. What attracted you to that tension between the humor, the catchiness of the music, and then the darkness that pops up in the lyrics?
MITSKI: I’d always been fascinated by death, which sounds so morbid. Especially being a woman trying to make music, I think there’s a sense that you’re never young enough, or your career is going to end soon. So there’s that element of “I’m going to die soon.” Maybe not physically, but I’m going to run out of time very soon. It’s always on my mind. I have to do things now. The humor aspect comes from… the first two records, I put my heart and soul into, and they just weren’t really heard. It was my fault, because I didn’t know how to promote. But I had also become kind of… not cynical, but to kind of have a dark sense of humor about it. Like, these are my songs, I’m putting my heart into them, but people might not listen to it, so whatever, let’s just have fun. The first two records were very serious because I was very serious-minded, but by the third one, I was like, “Okay, let’s just have fun.” It might not get heard, but whatever. I think it’s those two elements combining. I always had a real focus on death and then with the third record I had a better sense of humor about it.
GEFFEN: You’ve been playing solo shows over the past few months. How does it feel to perform these new songs on a new instrument?
MITSKI: It feels amazing. With solo shows, you have complete control over the set list. If you feel like you want to do something different or do a new song, you can just work it in. You can talk to the audience or not talk to the audience. There’s nothing that’s set. It’s been really good for me to learn how to work an audience or see what’s going on and do that with the freedom of not being responsible for other band members. Because when you have other band members, you have to go with a set list or you have to go as planned. But I really like solo shows because I can throw in whatever I want. And if it doesn’t work, there’s that much more pressure. If you fail on your own up there, you’re completely alone, but that’s the biggest thrill. I think I’m kind of a masochist. I love the potential of being completely embarrassed. I feel like now is the time for me to take risks because I have a small audience. I feel like I should learn what I can right now while I’m still growing. With this kind of stuff, no one actually tells you how to do things. You just have to figure it out for yourself.
BURY ME AT MAKEOUT CREEK IS OUT NOVEMBER 11. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE.