When I called Miya Folick the morning after Halloween, she exclaimed, "I'm tired. I'm hungover," with the kind of laugh that, even over the phone, sounded like she was throwing her head back. To be fair, throughout our conversation, all of her laughs sounded like that. Bubbly and curious—even in her hungover state of being—she began hitting me with questions, before remembering that she was the one being interviewed.
The 28-year old LA resident spent the prior day at a Dodgers game, followed by a screening of Charles Atlas films that she and her friends put on, in which guests were to dress inspired by Charles Atlas characters. She went as “a cooler version of herself.” The two activities are somewhat at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, but then again, so is Miya Folick.
From her 2015 EP Strange Darling to her latest release Give It To Me, there aren’t a lot of limits to what Folick explores from one song to the next. Although falling loosely under the ambiguous “Indie Rock Umbrella,” her sound is fluid, and even in the age of genre-bending, hard to pin to a genre for both Folick and the listener. Her songs often lyrically tango with a similar lack of emotional solidification. Strange Darling’s title track asks, “Will I want you for long? Will I want you by the end of this song?”
A couple weeks after we talked, I saw her perform in Chicago, sharing a bill with Hazel English and Mitski. As her performance reinforced, reading her artistic fluidity as a lack of commitment—while an appropriate reading for many artists—would be a mistake. She’s bold, expressive, committed in every way. After introducing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” to a roar of audience applause, she deadpanned, “I love Joni Mitchell more than you.” That kind of confidence (without self-seriousness) pervades her work and mingles with a polar sense of artistic malleability, rendering Miya Folick’s work as both honest and magnetic.
VMP: Before you were a musician, you were an actress. Was that an easy transition?
Miya Folick: No, it was hard [laughs]. I didn't know anybody. I didn't know any musicians, and I didn't know what I was doing, at all. And I didn't have any confidence. But I think I didn't mind doing it because I really enjoyed the work, so that made it clear to me that it was a better fit for me, because I was never really willing to do the work as an actor. I was just kind of lazy and didn't care [laughs]. So the fact that I was willing to put myself in uncomfortable situations and try to meet people and figure out how to make songs and record songs...if I was willing to do that, it felt like something I should actually be doing.
What about music made you able to put into it what you weren't able to put into acting?
I've always written songs, I just didn't really think about them as anything special. Even as a kid growing up, I'd make little songs to remember facts for exams. I like to make melodies and lyrics, and I do it compulsively. It also is endlessly challenging and interesting, because as a musical artist, you get to—if you want to—get to practice a lot of mediums. You can make your cover art and you can perform in music videos, so you can collaborate with a lot of different people, make visuals for your show.
I just watched your "Oceans" video. It's beautiful. Have you always been a dancer or did you pick it up for the video?
When I was starting theater, I was in a musical theater program, so I was forced to take three hours of dance every morning. But I didn't grow up dancing. Around the time I was making that video, I had just discovered Yvonne Rainer, a pretty influential dancer, and she was my stepping stone into learning about different choreographers, which really made me excited about dance. I love moving. I like to move to music. So I don't consider myself a dancer but I do like to dance...People that are good at choreography boggle my mind—there are so many things happening at once, and there are so many permutations of how you can move a body—and the good ones know where everything is; they know every finger and ever toe.
You've clearly got a wide artistic background, medium-wise. Who would you cite as your biggest non-musical influences?
I actually just started re-reading some of these Edward Albee plays, and I think the way that he uses language was very exciting to me when I first read them. But I don't know...I don't really have idols, but I am influenced.
I've seen you cite just the widest span of influences—everywhere from Joni Mitchell to Charli XCX. How does this sort of fluidity in influence play out when you make music?
I was a pretty musically isolated as a kid. I didn't really engage with contemporary music or what my friends were listening to. So when I started playing music, I decided to educate myself, so there was this vast sea of music that I had not encountered before. I was listening to everything. And I've never really felt like I fit into any sort of genre or group, and I think that's why I don't stick to anything because I feel like it would be a struggle for me to stay in one genre. I'd get bored, and I'm always excited about a new sound. I think there's also just a lot of different parts of my personality that I like to be able to express.
What was going on in your life during the time you wrote Strange Darling?
I was in a very frustrating and lonely relationship. I was very frustrated and confused. And I probably should've just left, and instead I wrote songs. So, I guess...that's good [laughs]. Something good came out of it. I learned a lot—I learned a lot—from that relationship, so I'm glad it happened. I felt like I was writing the songs for survival, which is an interesting way to write. They're very personal.
It's got a ton of emotion. But it was released two years ago; do you think, performing these songs now, has your emotional relationship to Strange Darling changed?
Oh yeah, definitely. I didn't listen to it for probably a year, and I just recently listened to it—because I'm putting it on vinyl with you—and I totally still relate to those songs, but I don't think about that person anymore at all, the person that they're about. That recording experience was really thrown together, and it's kind of a miracle that they ended up sounding good. But I really love them; they really feel like where I was at that time. And I can feel, listening to them, how much I needed to make that music at the time. It feels really essential to me. But I'm not that person anymore, so it is like listening to someone else's music.
You've said you don't want to make music "I don’t wanna make music in a way that everyone has figured out already." How do you avoid that?
I think it's really not about trying to "avoid." I really just try to take what's inside of me and make it as honest as possible. I think it's just about going with what I think sounds the best, what I think is the most impactful. I write with a lot of people who like to reference other people throughout the writing process, and I don't like to do that at all. Because I'm not trying to write a hit, I'm just trying to write a song that feels good to me, that should exist, that needs to exist. Otherwise, what's the point? I don't want to make songs that just pollute our internet further [laughs]. I mean, who knows if I succeed or not, but at least I can try? Who knows.
You've mentioned that you look to artists like St. Vincent or Bjork, because their music is kind of this bigger project, and art project. Do you feel like you need to have that kind of control over every, single artistic aspect?
Oh yeah. But at the same time—maybe St. Vincent less so—but Bjork collaborates all the time, and I think her control comes from her choosing who to collaborate with. But I think she puts a lot of trust in the people that she works with to make something that very much comes from their own brain. And that's inspiring to me. I don't want to do everything myself, but I do want to choose the people I'm doing it with.
Referring to your style, you told Vogue, "you can embrace the feminine and still be a feminist." Is this something you're also conscious of in regards to your music?
Not every song, but certain songs, I am aware. There are some songs that I write that could be sung by anybody, it doesn't matter what gender they are. But some of my songs do explore what it's like to be me, Miya, as a woman, because I don't always feel like I know what that means. So I do think about it sometimes, but usually I don't think about my gender when I'm writing music. And I'm not always thinking about myself.
It's interesting that you say that, because your songs feel extremely personal. Where do you draw the line?
The way that I write is very stream of conscious, so I'll create a small piece of music and them loop it and sing over it for a long time—sometimes up to a half an hour. And I'm not thinking about anything, really. I'm just exploring sounds and words together. Then, I look back at the kind of subconscious stuff and figure out what it could be about. And I'll often talk about my songs like, "the person in this song feels this" or "the person in this song feels that." Sometimes it's just, "What is this feeling we're trying to get across?,"What are we trying to say here?" There's this place that I write from that is not me, it's just a voice inside of me that I don't think about as me all of the time.
You're working on a full-length. How's it coming along?
I'm pretty happy with it! We're just starting production right now, but I think it'll be...I think I will like it [laughs]...so that's good! It'll sound quite different from my other stuff, but I guess you'll just have to wait [laughs].