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Learning How to Learn: An Interview with Miya Folick

Learning How to Learn: An Interview with Miya Folick

“My lyrics are about the self that I’m experiencing that day.”

Miya Folick is a talented L.A.-based singer-songwriter whose first album, Premonitions, came out in October 2018. She had previously released two excellent EPs, Strange Darling in 2015 and Give It to Me in 2017. From the start, she has stood out from her indie contemporaries, with a memorable voice and lyrics that bespeak a sense of emotive purpose. We caught up with Folick by e-mail and discussed her path to music, her sense of her career so far and the road ahead. Folick is kicking off a tour in support of Premonitions on February 14th. Check out dates here.

What are your formative musical experiences? When did you first become aware of music, and when did your listening habits develop?

My first instrument was piano. I took piano lessons when I was six or seven, but it didn’t really stick. Then, in third grade, I played the snare drum. I participated in a program where you could go to school early and learn an instrument. We learned “Your Heart Will Go On” on snare drum. I don’t remember at all what that sounded like, but it happened. Then, I tried out the violin because my best friend was doing it, and she basically forced me to do it with her. Then, finally, in fourth grade, I did a community musical theatre camp over the summer and fell in love with singing. I think I realized pretty early on that I loved making sound. With whatever I could.

Do you come from a musical family? When you started playing in earnest, was it by yourself or in the company of others?

My mom and one of my sisters have nice voices and can sing. My sister can do a pretty impressive Mariah Carey. The rest of my family enjoys music but don’t really have musical abilities. They have other talents and strengths though! But, in terms of being a musical family, no, I’m the only musician. When I started playing it was VERY MUCH by myself. I’d practice guitar in my closet because I didn’t want my roommates to hear me. I didn’t really know musicians and I wasn’t part of that community yet.

Did you always intend to pursue a recording career, or was playing and writing initially a private thing you did for yourself?

It was very much a private thing at first. I intended to be an actor, and playing and writing and singing was just a thing I liked to do.

The first time I became aware of you was through a clip of a live performance at a festival a couple years ago. I think you were playing “Pet Body” and I was really struck by the intensity and versatility of your singing. What was the process of finding your voice like?

I studied classical voice growing up and sang in a bunch of different choirs. Then I went to school and studied with a woman named Dr. Pam Phillips who was amazing and taught me so much about the voice as an instrument. So, I had a really good foundation. But I didn’t find my voice until I started writing songs and singing my feelings instead of trying to sound right or good.

Your excellent debut album, Premonitions, came out a few months ago, in October. Did you find that the songs changed shape in the studio, or did you try and capture them the way they came out when you first wrote them?

I feel like the songs all had really strong bones going into the studio, but the production was a time-intensive and emotionally intensive process that expanded their scope and added essential details.

Your lyrics are quite personal, and when a songwriter’s lyrics are personal, it’s easy to assume they must all be about themselves. Do you buy into that, or do you feel like you experiment with personas and “voices” that are not your own, even if you’re singing in the first person?

My lyrics are about the self that I’m experiencing that day. I don’t always relate to all my songs every day. But, at some point, I did. And I probably will again.

With young songwriters as immediately talented as you, it can feel (from the outside) that someone like you just has a natural talent, and all they had to do was tap into it. But in reality, I imagine that it’s been a lot of hard work. Can you speak a little about how you feel you developed as a writer, and what you would recommend to someone wondering if they’re talented or not?

Just keep doing it. Try to do it every day or do something that nourishes that growth. Listen to an album and really listen. Go to a museum and really see. Read a book and really read. I don’t know. I feel like I’m still learning how to learn.

You work mainly in Los Angeles. Do you feel that you’re part of any kind of “scene” with other songwriters and bands?

I feel like I’m on the periphery of many scenes. I know and love and care about a lot of people, but I think I’m naturally a drifter. I drift between communities and, therefore, am not a consistent member of any. Or maybe it’s that I am attracted to specific people and not necessarily “scenes.”

Are there influences outside of music that are important to you, whether they’re writing, visual art, or otherwise?

I read a lot and watch a lot of shitty TV. LOL. I love going to art openings and seeing dance. I love watching video art—if anyone has any suggestions, they should send them to me. I’m pretty open to inspiration anywhere.

What are your plans for 2019? What’s the most important thing you want to accomplish this year?

I am playing my first headline tour in February and March! I’m excited about that. We’re taking a band called Barrie out with us, and they are just so good and cool and nice! It’s fun to take new songs on the road. It teaches you a lot about your own music. And I’m working on new music! I want to have another record finished. Everyone tells me there’s no rush but I want to do it!

What are your five desert island discs?

Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon
Joni Mitchell, Blue
Laura Nyro, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
Broadcast, Tender Buttons
Then IDK! Maybe Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz because I’d need to yell and dance and not just cry all the time.

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