MIRA BILOTTE (WHITE MAGIC). PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGIE GRAY
It’s hard to believe that White Magic—the ephemeral nom de plume of artist, vocalist, and composer Mira Billotte—has been floating around in the ether now for more than a decade. The musical project first appeared in 2004 with the release of the EP Through the Sun Door and has since continued to grow and change over the years, continuously driven by Billotte’s somewhat psychedelic force of vision. Having only released a handful of singles since the last proper White Magic full-length (2006’s classic Dat Rosa Mel Apibus), Billotte returns this week with the release of I’m Hiding My Nightingale, a totally blissed out four-track EP that reasserts her position as one of her generation’s most fantastically inscrutable folk artists.
Here we are pleased to premiere the hauntingly abstract, black-and-white video for the track “Runaway,” which was directed by Miko Revereza. Just before the EP release, I called her at her home in Los Angeles to find out what she’s been up to and how this new music came to be.
T. COLE RACHEL: It feels like it was just the other day that the last single, “White Widow,” came out, but that was actually a few years ago. Time flies, I guess…
MIRA BILLOTTE: Oh my god, I know. I just caught myself doing that the other night. I was thinking about something and thinking it was just a few years ago. Then I was like, “Wait, that was 15 years ago.” Time is flying. It’s insane.
RACHEL: The last time we saw each other you still lived in New York. Now you live in L.A. I know you’ve been busy with the business of life, but in the time since the release of the last full-length White Magic record, were you taking a break from music? What was happening?
BILLOTTE: People do ask me what’s going on, especially if they haven’t seen me play in a long time. I’ve actually been pretty active in playing live shows, but just locally. I feel like on average I’ve played every month, or every two months, in L.A. or in another city. I think people sort of lose track when you’re not always hitting them up with, “Oh here’s my new album” every year. I feel like I’ve been working on music but it’s just a little bit more slow paced than when I was in New York. I have tons of material that I’ve been working on; I just haven’t released any of it until now. Even now I have almost two albums worth of music—I have music that was meant to be recorded with a band and then I started doing solo stuff where I sort of wrote a whole other set of accappella music and much more stripped down songs. So I kind of have these two sets of songs that I would like to record and that’s where these songs on the new EP came from.
RACHEL: The four songs on Nightingale are really lovely, but why do an EP? Why not just bust out the full album?
BILLOTTE: It was really Matthew from Leaving Records that made it happen. He is a friend and he heard this 7-inch single with Cass McCombs that I released in 2013. He got in touch and asked if they could put something out that would include that track I’d done with the release with Cass. I just thought Matthew had a really interesting aesthetic and I appreciated what he was trying to do with the label, so that inspired me to do a release with them. I was just sort of waiting for the right thing and then Matthew came along.
RACHEL: The record is really beautiful. I’ve had it for a week or so and I’ve been able to spend some quality time with it just puttering around around my house and working in my garden and stuff. It’s kind of perfect for that.
BILLOTTE: Thank you. Also, it’s so nice that you have a garden in New York City.
RACHEL: Yeah, it’s a game changer for sure. My plants like your music as well, it seems. Ariel Pink also plays guitar on the record. Have you two known each other for a long time?
BILLOTTE: I have known him a long time, actually. I’m definitely a fan of his music and met him also through mutual friends like Tim Koh, who plays bass in Ariel’s band. He uses to play in White Magic and so we kind of just knew all of each other’s friends. We’ve been friends for a long time—and Ariel just really loved that song.
RACHEL: Was the record recorded in Los Angeles?
BILLOTTE: “Runaway” was recorded in Copenhagen, actually. I’ve had good friends out there for a while; my friend Nis has a label called Escho [and] he’s always brought White Magic to Copenhagen over the years. I’ve just had a connection there and I’ve been going over there and recording whenever I play a show and so I did a couple sessions and he introduced me to his drummer, whose name is Rune which is, I think, a cool name. He’s a really awesome drummer so we’ve started playing together. The piano that I recorded “Runaway” on was, I don’t know exactly when it was from, but sometime in the 1800s. It was very old and had two candle holders built in to the piano. I was just joking to the guys recording us. I was like “Oh, we need to get candles.” He actually ran out and bought candles and came back and lit them. So for that song I had two lit candles the whole time I was recording it.
RACHEL: It seems fitting for that song that it be played on some kind of beautiful, ancient piano.
BILLOTTE: I know. It’s interesting. It’s kind of like instruments have souls or something. They have lives of their own, you know? The instrument seems to retain memory of being played. I feel like it kind of shapes itself around that so in a way it’s almost like a being or something. I look at pianos that way; I always look at them as having personalities. For me it’s pretty important when I play piano that it has the right personality.
RACHEL: It must be hard, I would assume as a touring musician that when playing in clubs or traveling abroad you don’t always have a lot of say in what you’re going to get, piano-wise.
BILLOTTE: Yeah. It’s unfortunate. In the past it used to be that every bar had a tuned-up piano. Now it’s kind of sad, pianos are always shoved in the corner or they’re out of tune or they’re messed up or they just don’t even have one anymore. I use to play a digital piano because of that, but I prefer the acoustic for sure.
RACHEL: White Magic has had such an interesting life. People tend to describe it in a variety of different ways—psychedelic rock band, solo like folk project, experimental art rock. I know a lot of musicians really bristle at certain kinds of adjectives being applied to them. Do you have a feeling about that? Does it bother you to be considered a “folk” artist?
BILLOTTE: No, not a folk artist, because I think I am. Certain things do make me cringe though, or at least they used to. For some reason the word “indie” bothers me even though it’s applicable, obviously. The word itself is kind of lost a lot of its original meaning, which meant independent from basically big corporations. Now it’s like a genre of music, which I don’t really understand because it’s like, well what is that music really? But folk…I feel like folk applies. Lately I’ve been saying it’s “psychedelic folk” or “experimental folk.” I think maybe in the past that would have made me cringe as well. Now I’m just sort of like, “No, it’s cool. If you need a word, you know, that’s fine.” I’m folky.