Not long after announcing she’d return to Grand Rapids for a headlining show at The Pyramid Scheme, critically acclaimed New York singer-songwriter Mitski took to social media to confess her love for our fair city, and divulged a secret, dream desire to maybe someday move here.
“I think it was honestly that every time I’ve gone, the weather’s been perfect, which isn’t a reason to move somewhere, but it’s certainly made me daydream,” Mitski told Revue. “It also just seemed like people my age, and other touring people I know who lived there, were able to have nice homes for themselves in convenient neighborhoods without breaking the bank, which I, as someone who’s based out of (New York City), was very envious of.”
Born Mitski Miyawaki in Japan, Mitski has long grappled with the elusiveness of belonging. Growing up, her family moved from Japan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, China and Turkey, before settling in New York City. Those experiences affect her music to this day, with her latest album, last year’s widely praised Puberty 2, touching on the tension and the inescapable isolation of teenage identity lingering into adulthood.
Heralded by Pitchfork, Puberty 2 crossed over, with the LP landing on several year-end Best Albums lists, including mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. The album follows three other records, two of which she recorded and self-released as part of her junior- and senior-year projects while studying composition at the State University of New York at Purchase (SUNY).
“I’ve been writing songs for my whole adult life now, so I’m sure it’s helped me make sense of things in my life, but I will never really know how my life and sense of self would have differed if I didn’t write songs,” Mitski said of the deeply personal and hyper-aware nature of her music. “All of my music is autobiographical, but that doesn’t mean the narratives of my songs are exact facts as they happened in my personal life. I make music in order to express real emotions that I’ve felt in my life, and sometimes those emotions are better encapsulated in a story that didn’t happen to me. I don’t think that makes them any less real.
“The songs and words are vehicles for the emotion, so if the emotion is delivered properly, then the facts of my life don’t matter.”
Now 26 and touring the world over, Mitski is frequently described by critics as a “fierce” new voice in America’s musical soundscape for her fearless musical dynamics. But it’s a term she doesn’t feel accurately describes her.
“I think perhaps that word comes up because I put my whole self into my work and my performances, and treat them like it’s a matter of life and death,” Mitski said. “I’m not making music to be popular and for people to find me hot, or to get drunk and party, or even to have fun. When people tell me to ‘have fun’ at my shows, I know they mean well, but it irks me so much, because it’s not about whether I have fun.
“I’m making music because I want to create something meaningful and real, and to give my own life meaning. The stakes are really high for me, so I think that registers with the audience, and sometimes I know it’s a turnoff for some people, because often people just want to go to shows to have fun and hang out with their friends. Which is totally fine! But I don’t really provide that.”
Instead, Mitski wants her live shows to be singular events that lodge in her fans’ brains — tiny capsules of time that cannot be replicated.
“I need each show to mean something, especially because I think a lot of people who come to my shows are like me, in that they don’t usually like to go to shows, or would rather stay home and not face the crowds,” she said. “I often find going to shows to be really stressful, and sometimes quite lonely experiences. So I need the show to be worth leaving bed for.”
Although she doesn’t have plans to move to Grand Rapids any time soon, Mitski will return in the fall when she performs as the opening act for the Pixies’ tour stop at 20 Monroe Live on Oct. 7.
“I think I will be at the side of the stage every single night watching their set,” she said. “They have influenced me so much, and they’re one of my favorite bands ever. I’m so excited, just as a pure fan, to get a glimpse of how their shows come about and what their tours are like. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to talk to them or interact with them in person, and I don’t expect that to happen because I want to respect their space. But I’m just so excited.”
wsg. Half Waif
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
July 12, 8 p.m., $16-18, all ages
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758