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.
SLUG: What do you enjoy doing outside of music?
Mirah: In the spring, I enjoy making maple syrup with my family. In the summer, I enjoy trying to teach myself about gardening and working on my house. I have a really nice house with my girlfriend. I like reading books and I really like to cook and feed people.
SLUG: What sort of books do you like to read?
Mirah: These days I’m kind of obsessed with the state of the world, and how we’ve gotten here. When I was a kid, I guess it’s pretty common, I only read fiction. I liked stories. I was into imaginative and adventure kinds of things. I can’t read fiction anymore, there’s too much. I want information and I want to know, I want to learn, how we’re doing and how we got here, what’s going on.
SLUG: Do you think that has influenced your switch from your earlier happy-go-love songs to the recent focus toward serious things?
Mirah: Things are really serious. When I listen to the radio, I can’t believe what I’m hearing sometimes. The whole situation in Gaza and the official word from the Israeli foreign minister when she’s asked about how she feels about this possibility that they’re going to be tried for war crimes when they’ve just decimated a whole population. It’s essentially genocide what they’re doing, and that she can even find it in herself to say ‘We really apologize to the people that have lost children’—it’s sickening to me, upsetting. I like to read books that help me understand what’s going on.
SLUG: Do you hope your music will reach those people who seem close-minded to peace?
Mirah: In my wildest of dreams, that would happen. It seems more like my music would find its way to ears of people who are like-minded with me, and would just help to keep the struggle moving along. But if it reached the ears of someone who had a very different world view than me, that would be amazing. Then we would have a form of dialogue going, which is actually one of the big problems in the world—people that don’t understand each other don’t talk and then they end up killing each other.
From life experiences to the real world found in books, Mirah brings the ever-growing serious matters of the world to her music. By focusing on both bad and good sides of the world, she allows you to stop and think outside the bubbled norm.
Mirah will perform April 14 at Kilby Court with Tender Forever.