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The Wanderer: Mitski Is the Voice for Dreamers

The singer-songwriter’s last album, ‘Puberty 2,’ expanded her reach – winning over Iggy Pop and Lorde – now she’s ready for something new

Mitski new classics interview read

Mitski unveiled a new song, "Two Slow Dancers," off her upcoming album, 'Be the Cowboy.'

Christaan Felber for Rolling Stone

Mitski Miyawaki is used to seeing her songs tattooed on strangers’ limbs. The most frequent choice seems to be “A Burning Hill,” the acoustic sketch that closes her 2016 album Puberty 2. “I am a forest fire/And I am the fire/And I am the forest/And I am a witness watching it,” she sings, and something in her voice makes people want to carry that image with them forever. “It’s the self-destructiveness of the lyrics,” she suggests. “I think a lot of people feel that way at the age where they get tattoos.”

Mitski, 27, who writes and records under her first name, has no tattoos. Sipping an almond-milk matcha latte in a Williamsburg café – dressed casually in black sweater, jeans and thick-framed glasses – she carries herself more like an intellectual in a French New Wave film than one of the most gifted rock songwriters of her generation. “It’s such a foreign idea to me,” she says of the ink tributes she’s encountered at shows and on social media. “I try to keep in mind that what they have tattooed on their bodies is not me. It’s a period in their own life where my music happened to be there.”

Lately her music has been soundtracking a lot more lives. Her first widely distributed album, 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek (named for a punchline from The Simpsons), was a hit with indie-rock heads. Puberty 2 dramatically expanded her reach, winning over Iggy Pop and Lorde, who invited Mitski to open 16 dates on her current tour. Each of its 11 tracks is a precisely crafted emotional bombshell, none more devastating than the quiet-loud heartbreaker “Your Best American Girl,” which has been streamed nearly eight million times on Spotify. “I really didn’t think it would be a single,” she says. “It’s about such a specific experience for me: being mixed-race in a relationship with a full-blooded American person, and finding that the cultural differences kept impeding the relationship. And yet all of these other people said, ‘I know exactly what you mean.'”

Mitski’s Japanese mother and American father raised her in more than a dozen countries, thanks to her dad’s demanding job. As a middle-schooler in Japan, her musical interests branched out from Britney and Mariah to Björk and M.I.A. A few years later, she discovered punk while an undergrad in suburban New York. One genre she skipped almost entirely is classic rock, which is surprising given the power-chord charge of her best-known songs. “I found out about Led Zeppelin after college!” she says with a laugh. “Guitar Center guys would be mad that people are calling me some kind of rock person.”

When she wrote the songs on Puberty 2, mostly in a string of short-term apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, she wasn’t thinking about who would be listening. “I guess I was growing up,” she says. “I lived a rootless life, and then I got to New York and suddenly people expected me to nurture relationships, and I’d never learned how to do that.” On another incendiary standout, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” she sings for anyone who’s ever been a young, broke dreamer: “I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent!/I wanna see the whole world!”

This spring, thanks to Lorde, she’s performing those songs in basketball arenas packed with pop enthusiasts. Aside from adding a keyboardist to her lean guitar-bass-drums trio, though, she hasn’t changed her live approach. “It’s daunting,” she says. “But ‘no’ didn’t even occur to me.”

She’s clearly given a lot of thought to what, if anything, she owes her fans. “You become a part of people’s lives, and that’s such a responsibility, because I’m an introverted person,” she says. “It’s a heavy thing to me, and I want to fully carry that weight.”

At the same time, there’s an opposing instinct: “Pushing things away is part of my personality. When someone says they really like something about a song, I go, ‘I’m never going to do that again.'”

In other words, whenever her next album arrives, don’t hold your breath for Puberty 3. “It might look like losing a few fans,” Mitski adds as she rises to leave. “That’s scary, because it’s my livelihood now. But it’s important to me to risk failure.”

In This Article: Mitski

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