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Our Vinyl Me, Please Essentials Record of the Month for August is Be The Cowboy, the fifth LP from Mitski. Our edition of the album, which is out on August 17 via Dead Oceans, is on clear red vinyl in an spot-UV gatefold (the letters are hidden), and features an exclusive lyrics and photo book.
Part of the Vinyl Me, Please staff heard the album in the week leading up to SXSW this year, and picked the album for Essentials shortly after. As part of the release, we sent our new Associate Editor (and previous Intern and Editorial Assistant) Amileah Sutliff and Social Media Manager Alex Gallegos on tour with Mitski as she finished up some solo shows in the American south. Gallegos and Sutliff saw Mitski perform, and interviewed her, in both Oxford, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Florida.
Below, learn more about why we picked Be The Cowboy, and what it was like to go on tour and hang out with Mitski and her fans.
Andrew Winistorfer: Amileah, was this the first time you were in on planning meetings for the Essentials Record of the Month? You were with the gang at SXSW as we talked about picking this as the record for August.
Amileah Sutliff: I think I was on meetings for the National, and another one or two, basically just ones that I was around for in between class.
Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot you were at the National meeting too. When you heard Be The Cowboy back in March, did you immediately think, “We should do this as a Record of the Month?”
Amileah: Yes. Totally.
Amileah: First off, I have a long personal history and a close relationship with Mitski’s music, and I know a lot of people that do too. Her fans are, as her label people even said in the meeting, rabid. And I just think her music means a lot — a lot, a lot — to many people, and she’s reaching this stage where there are a lot of eyes on her, and Puberty 2 was such a success that she’s at an interesting point in her career; what comes next? And then I heard the record, and thought it was incredible and it built on everything that came before. The record being amazing was all I really needed, but the other factors helped make it a clear Record of the Month to me.
She’s a great songwriter, and this is a great record. Maybe even her best? That’s it.
Alex, how about you? You were in on these meetings too.
Alex Gallegos: Be The Cowboy has that unexplainable feeling when you listen to an album for the first time and something clicks and you know you’re going to love it during the first song. It also felt like a big leap for Mitski because it had a very different sound from her previous albums. It proves that she’s not only good at guitar distortion but also creating these piano-based songs, and the compositions of her songs feel a lot different. For example, some don’t really have a chorus and if you read through the lyrics it’s almost like you’re just reading poetry.
I think we mentioned or pitched the sending you guys out on tour with her thing at that meeting in March. It wasn’t set in stone or anything then, but you’ve kind of known you might be hopping on tour with her as soon as you got out of college. As a Mitski superfan, how nervous did that make you feel?
Amileah: I mean, I lost my shit (laughs). I’m nervous about everything, but this was particularly nerve-wracking.
Are you going to use this in the piece?
Now that you asked, yes. So we agree to do this as Record of the Month, and then you and Alex go on tour. What did you guys do on tour?
Amileah: We went to two tour dates: Oxford, Mississippi, where Ole Miss is, and Gainesville, Florida, where the University of Florida is. She was on a solo tour of smaller college towns.
In Mississippi we got pizza lunch with her, and then got dinner with her in Gainesville. We saw her shows in both cities. We talked to her fans in both places, which will be all over our Instagram in the coming days.
Did she play new stuff or was it mostly the older music?
Amileah: She played “Geyser” and “Pearl” off the new album, then a lot of older stuff.
This was obviously the first time you’ve gone on tour, and I think the first time anyone who works for Vinyl Me, Please has gone on a tour like this. What was the worst part and the best part of being on tour? You guys were on the road for five days.
Amileah: It was a very small fraction of what a tour actually is.
Yeah, we flew you guys to Memphis for the Oxford show, and then you guys flew to Jacksonville for the Gainesville show. You didn’t have to drive to Florida or anything.
Amileah: And Mitski was solo, so she actually drove less than we did (laughs). I’ve been travelling a lot — I did a trip to Europe a month ago — so I guess I was kind of adjusted, but even then it was whiplash travelling. It was hard to get your bearings. We weren’t even playing, just hanging out and it was a lot. Touring is clearly a lot of work. And it takes a specific type of person to want to do that. I was saying to Alex I don’t think I could ever do it.
You realized that you’ll never be a wildly successful indie rock performer during this.
Amileah: I feel like I’m pretty adaptable, but that is such a hard life.
Alex, what was the hardest part for you?
Alex: Well our rental car battery died on the third day, but luckily we were heading out super early for breakfast and it didn’t have us running late to the next city. Also, being the mom in the car that had to keep telling Amileah no every time we passed anything cool and asked if we could stop.
What was the most memorable moment from the performances you guys saw?
Amileah: When she played the song “I Will,” she said to the crowd, “I wrote this song when I didn’t have anyone,” and in the song she says “you” like you’d refer to a lover in a song. She said, “I wrote this song when I didn’t have a ‘you,’ and I just wrote everything I would want to be said to me,” which is a really lonely thing to say. And then she said, “I never knew I’d be writing it and singing it to all of you,” and it was really emotional, and it was this amazing moment.
Alex: It was also super cool to get to talk to her fans after her shows. They opened up on an emotional level and it was amazing to see how Mitski’s music has made such a big impact on all of these girls. During the interview Mitski mentioned that when she’s writing a song she thinks about how others will relate to it and it proves that she’s done a wonderful job at it. As human beings we crave to relate to others, so it’s almost like finding a new cool friend when you discover lyrics that truly speak to you in the way that Mitski does for a lot of us.
We got a copy of our edition in at the Midwest and Denver offices, and you’ve seen it now. What are your impressions both as a Mitski superfan and a Vinyl Me, Please employee?
Alex: The package is one of my favorite packages this year and I’m being completely honest here. My favorite part is the booklet that comes along with the record. The photographs are beautiful — the artwork for this album fits the music so perfectly! It sets the mood visually to this fictional repressed woman that Mistki is singing about.
Amileah: The title cover has the hidden letters (Spot UV), which is really cool and really subtle; you can’t see the title unless you tip it a certain way. Same with a cool quote on the inside of the gatefold. It sounds really, really good, too — and the red color matches her lips. It’s a cool package; the booklet is really amazing too. Cool pictures and a mini-essay in there. I’m really happy we were able to do this and go all out on it.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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