Miya Folick: Concert-side Chat
Arresting. Angelic, demonic, haunting voice. Blown away by sheer passion, fire behind the eyes, dormant energy bubbling just beneath the surface, pushing against the sides. Face of centered serenity. Operatic, soaring above the skipping beat of crunchy distortion. Impeccable dichotomy between hard and soft; strong quivering, powerful tenderness.
On Tuesday, September 13th, I (groti) witnessed an absolutely arresting performance by Miya Folick. Her palpably emotive music is even further heightened in its live manifestation, so remarkable that it is often difficult to describe. Miya graciously gave me fifteen (aka thirty-nine) minutes to unravel some of her delicious music.
How would you describe your style to someone using post-genre, non-categorical terms?
The music is confrontational, and vulnerable; heavy and soft. It’s kind of utilitarian in that the song is whatever it has to be for the moment. If people are immediately responding to the song, I’m going to perform it differently than if I have to work for people’s attention. I’m not going to explicitly say, “shut up,” but if I can’t make it happen with a song, I can’t make it happen. I should be able to silence them with a song; that’s always the goal.
I like music that assaults you but also embraces you.
I don’t like alienating music. I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t give a f*** about other people. I’m a people-pleaser, it’s ingrained in me...but I also don’t care about anyone… completely opposite sentiments. I don’t like people to feel uncomfortable; I don’t like people to feel alienated. I like to make sure other people are ok, but I also don’t give a s*** what people think of me.
I also think that people enjoy feeling uncomfortable.
My band will say, “I don’t think people really understood that song, they felt awkward,” and I say, “That was the point. Make them feel awkward. Stare at them in the eyes; they hate that!
Do the things that make people feel...weird! Because that’s what they’ll remember. If they don’t like my music, then fine. But if I can make them feel awkward and weird, and they go home and they have to grapple with that, than that’s better than playing a set they didn’t really like, where they go home and they think “well that was ok.”
When you bring an idea to your band do you feel at ease or do you feel uncomfortable because they are such personal, cutting thoughts?
I feel completely comfortable bringing a new idea to my band because they’re very accepting and responsive musicians. They play with me because they like what I do: If I’m making something that is true to me, they usually respond fairly readily and just play along. Tonight we played a jam [that we’ve been playing through the Sleigh Bells tour] that we didn’t really write; it’s just a two-chord song. It goes D to A-minor, and that’s all we know, and we play it every night. That’s probably where we’re most comfortable;
we’re all very sensitive.
I feel comfortable because I know it’s my project, and that’s something I had to learn. These people are here because they enjoy to play with me and they like what I do. Any hesitation or embarrassment in sharing something with them only negatively affects me; it’s in my best interest to be completely open with them. They’ve only ever shown me acceptance and curiosity to explore whatever concept I want to do...which is amazing! I don’t think that’s common. But I think I’m very lucky.
So how did you find such perfect bandmates?
I tried to find a band on Craigslist, but it wasn’t working...so I made a Tinder profile that just said “looking for a band, here’s a link to my music…”
and Bryant, my bass player saw my profile, but we didn’t match; by the time he saw it, I’d given up on Tinder. He stumbled upon my instagram, listened to some music, and was interested in it. He came to a solo show I did and really liked it. We talked very briefly outside the venue. I thought he was not quite right...but he was very persistent! So we ended up scheduling a jam session with him and a guitarist he thought was very good [Josh], and it was very easy; they just got it immediately. They knew I needed a drummer; they asked Garrett, who’d just moved back from Portland, to play with me. It just worked. I always thought [finding the right band] would never work out, but it just did. It just happened.
They like good songs, they like my songs, which means a lot to me…
They’re interested in music that makes an impact. I’m really lucky.
As a vocalist myself, I’m thoroughly impressed by your ability to blend genres and techniques to evoke emotions all along the somber → angsty spectrum. What was your vocal training (if any) and what phases has your vocal style gone through? How do you embody such feelings in your voice via pitch, noises, and how you sing? How did your singing style evolve; was it a progression?
It was definitely a progression [laughs]. When I was a teenager, I studied voice with a woman in my hometown named Margaret, and she focused on classical voice; a lot of arias, a lot of Mozart [groti: I knew it!] It was very technical, and then I went to NYU which was even more technical; it was a lot of breathwork, a lot of understanding the way your singing apparatus works, understanding the physiological apparatus of voice. Then I started writing my own music, and exploring how my own voice works, in a song. T_hen_ I started listening to punk, hardcore, and metal, and wanting to emulate that sort of passion. All of these things accumulated into what I do now, which is an exploration of all things.
I love listening to vocalists who use their voice like an instrument. If you think of it like a guitar where you can choose an amp, you can choose all of the pedals, and you can choose what kind of sequence you put the pedals in; I would rather have a voice like that than just sing a song.
But at the same time, I also love vocalists who don’t do that, and just have voice, and that is their voice. I think I am easily bored, so I’m always trying to explore.
I picked up guitar because I wanted to play songs and accompany myself as a vocalist. As a guitarist, I don’t think I’m very skilled, but I have an interesting perspective [laughs]. But as a vocalist, I want to be as skilled and to be able to explore whatever sound and concept that I’d like. As a guitarist I just want to be able to make a song;
as a vocalist I want to be able to do whatever I could possibly imagine...
...which I think is an underappreciated art.
I love Bjork. She definitely explores. I feel like she explored, found a thing, and then stuck with that thing, which is fine; I love that thing, and maybe I’ll do that too! But I’m still in the position where I’m exploring. But sometimes I kind of envy vocalists who have a very iconic sound, and that’s their sound! Like Beach House, Portishead…
But your vibrato in particular, the one where you [imitates vocal track analogous to 2:10 of Oceans] is so cool and unique!
I think that’s my favorite thing. If I had anything that I wanted to be my calling card as a vocalist, it’d be strange sounds. It’s not something that I started doing when I started performing; I make those sounds in my everyday life because they’re soothing to me. That [see "Listen" audio file above], I make that sound in my sleep. It soothes me, it makes me feel comfortable. You work with different musicians and you realize, oh! Other people don’t do this thing, I do this thing...it’s specific to me, and I should realize that it’s something I should employ. But then again, half of my brain is always like, “how should i be more specific as a vocalist? People like specificity.” and then half of my brain is like, “I just like doing this thing so we should keep doing this thing.”
Speaking of Oceans, the music video is a ridiculously cool merging of music, dance, and film. Any more multimodal art in store?
Definitely. I used that video as an experiment to see if it worked to be a performer and a dancer in my own video, and I love dancing; I’m not a dancer, but I intend to perform in a lot of my videos. I really like acting, studied acting in college, but hated the acting industry. In some ways I see music as an avenue to continue to explore acting and performing on camera but as a musical artist instead of as an actor in somebody else’s project.
Have you had any genre-bending collabs recently/any to come?
I hate genre. It can go die.
There are definitely some collaborations that will happen, and they will surprise you.
Artistry versus performance: how do you balance the two?
It’s day-to-day thing. The audience is incredibly important. Our show last night was kind of hard for me; we had a mix in our monitors that didn’t quite work for me, but I felt like having that obstacle pushed me to try harder. And today the monitors were great, but I felt like the audience was a little more restrained than the average Sleigh Bells audience, which usually drives me to come at the songs with a little more aggression and anger.
If I see that an audience is holding back, then I feel like I should drive it into them more furiously.
But I don’t know if that’s artistry or me just wanting to say **** you to everyone [laughs].
But being an artist and being a musician are also very different. I really respect visual art because people expect/require it to have a concept, whereas if you just respond to music viscerally, then most people don’t really care if it has a concept. I don’t think I’ve quite figured out how to merge the two. My brain is always feeling like I should have more of a concept, and that I should be saying more of something that is verbally expressible; but I also feel like music should be more emotional, and
it’s always very interesting to me how much audience members get out of the music even when I don’t quite know what it means.
When you say concept what exactly do you mean?
There’s more of a linear, historical means of comprehending a lot of visual art that I encounter: This is a response to that movement...whereas I don’t really think my music is like that at all. Music and art get wrapped up so much together, but they’re so different. Music can serve so many different purposes.
I really like music that challenges my comprehension of everything; that’s not necessarily the music I want to make, but I appreciate that it’s being made...but I’m pretty emotional, and like to make emotional music.
I feel like so much art that’s being made right now is more tongue and cheek, or more commentary. Some of my music is social commentary, but in a way that’s so far removed from what I’m talking about that you wouldn’t notice; or it’s not really social commentary, but you could interpret it as social commentary. I just want people to feel and engage; that’s what I like to do when I see a show.