Mitski: Meet Indie Rock's Sharpest Young Singer-Songwriter

How musician behind 2014 breakout 'Bury Me at Makeout Creek' refined her craft on new 'Puberty 2'

Singer-songwriter Mitski discusses how she refined her confessional songwriting craft to create the ambitious new 'Puberty 2.' Credit: Ebru Yildiz

Mitski Miyawaki cut her teeth in various punk scenes across the country, playing many a musty DIY venue and basement show. Yet on a recent drizzly day, the singer-songwriter, who goes by first name only when recording or performing, strolled into a south Brooklyn warehouse with no intention of making music. At the Raaka Chocolate Factory, Mitski traded her trusty bass for a hair net and latex gloves, and learned about the process of refining chocolate before making some of her own. It turns out that Mitski places the same meticulous care into making candy bars – giving them names like "the eldest, ginger" in spidery script – as she does her poignant, sometimes disturbingly frank punk songs, which came into full flower on 2014's excellent Bury Me at Makeout Creek.

The visit to Raaka seemed appropriate, since sugar occasionally rushes through her emotive lyrics. On "Happy," an advance single from her potent, striking new LP, Puberty 2, out June 17th, she personifies that feeling as someone who "came to visit me" and "bought cookies on the way," though the song's twisted story line, quasi-industrial backing track and disturbingly graphic video – which features a Forties-era couple contending with first adultery and then murder, aren't as upbeat. "The song is mostly talking about the stereotypically Western/American idea of happy, where it's equated with ecstasy ... and we're supposed to be feeling it all the time," Mitski says over tea following the Raaka visit. "It's not healthy. You can't be rolling on ecstasy every day of your life."

Fleeting ecstasy also crops up on Mitski's revelatory Twitter account, where the 25-year-old artist – who lived in Japan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey and many other countries growing up – muses on everything from apple pie to mood rings for detecting how "hangry" she is. Yet in between her droll observations and jokes ("the neighborhood children don't take me seriously as an adult and it is honestly infuriating," read one dispatch), Mitski is not afraid to own up to her mistakes or even vent her frustrations with the indie-rock industry she has become the darling of in recent years, especially after the release of Makeout Creek. "F my constant portrayal as a fevered Chosen Girl, a simple medium for 'raw' music," she wrote in early May. "Like yes music is magic but also I study this f'ing craft." (She did so in part at SUNY Purchase and featured the school's student orchestra on her second LP, 2013's Retired From Sad, New Career in Business.)

Puberty 2 is a more assured album than its predecessor, yet the LP also finds Mitski grappling with adult angst. On "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars," for instance, she oscillates between the tension of wanting to "see the whole world" but is worried about how she'll be able to make rent. As a songwriter, she took care be more constructively critical with herself, as she created what she calls a "patchwork" of ideas she'd been working on since adolescence."Maybe that's what's mature about this record: I organized it," she says. "Instead of each song being a temporary release where it's just an explosion of things that come out at the moment, I stepped back. I was objective: 'This is good; this shouldn't be there.'"

Like Mitski's last album, Puberty 2 probes themes of displacement and untethered identity on songs such as "Your Best American Girl." "I'm Japanese and I'm also white American, and neither camp wants me in their camp," she says. "You're kind of floating in another world and you have to figure out for yourself what your identity is." While she says frequent moving throughout her childhood made her feel as though she had "100 homes that don't recognize me as their child," she's been able to turn the experience into a source of power.

"On one hand, yes, [these songs] are coming from different protagonists and perspectives; but they're all me, all people within me that I'm bringing forth," she says. "Living like that kind of made me realize that I could actually be anybody."