Throughout her career, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn’s music has grown from the innocent debut album You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This (2000) to the anti-war third album C’mon Miracle (2004). In her most recent release (a)spera (2009), Mirah has reached a new intensity. Orchestral explosions guide her voice into a chest-wrenching world similar to Bjork’s. Mirah has collaborated with many different and talented people––Ginger Brooks Takashi, Phil Elverum and members of Seattle’s Black Cat Orchestra––and taken these experiences to create brilliant soothing music with a lyrical stance toward the world we have created. I was able to talk with Mirah about her life, music and hope for change.
SLUG: One of the people you’ve collaborated with is Phil Elverum (Mt. Eerie/Microphones). How has he influenced your music?
Mirah: I love Phil. He was one of my original inspirations for recording. I had a four-track for a couple of years, but I didn’t use it very much. After I met Phil, I remember listening to one of his first tapes. This is way early days: early, early and I was like ‘Ooh I can just mess around.’ It was very freeing, actually, because there is a lot of beauty in the process—the imperfection and the experimentation. I hadn’t ever considered that if I was recording a song myself it didn’t have to sound professional. I didn’t understand that until I started listening to Phil. This is after I lived in Olympia. Living in Olympia is where I first got the idea, ‘Ooh, you don’t have to know what you’re doing, to do the things.’ You just do it. Eventually, you understand what you are doing. You just have to start. So listening to Phil’s early recordings was definitely impactful.
SLUG: As a feminist, how do you feel women are viewed in the music world, and how has being a lesbian affected your experience?
Mirah: I do realize in the mainstream music industry, as with many fields, there is still a lot of sexism, a lot of attitudes and people that bar women from ascending to their rightful equal place. In the music world that I’ve been involved in, I have been fortunate. I’ve almost never felt that repression personally. I started making music in Olympia, Wash. Almost every single band or solo musician that I saw was a woman or an all girl band. There were just a lot of really powerful, strong female voices in that community. My family is more or less a matriarchy, and I grew up around a lot of amazing, strong powerful women. I never really had the “AHA!” moment of ‘Oh my god, you mean men don’t have to be in charge, and I can do what I want,’ because I thought that my whole life. I think I came late to identifying as a feminist just as I never really got to have a super satisfying and traumatic or dramatic “coming-out” event with my family. In my family, we just are who we are. There have been eight [homosexual] people in my family for a couple generations and we’re totally accepting. There’s no condescension … nothing patronizing … it’s just not even an issue. I feel like I was never a real “RA-RA” feminist or a “RA-RA” queer rights activist and that’s probably because in my personal experience in life, I have been very fortunate in not having to fight against my identity, or not being accepted.