When Mirah answered her phone last week, she was on her bike, riding through Golden Gate Park. It was Tuesday afternoon – April 26 – and she was celebrating the release of her new album, “Thao & Mirah,” by enjoying the San Francisco sunshine. But prior to her trek through the park that day, Mirah first made her way to Haight Street to see the album for herself.
“I just stopped in at Amoeba…to look at one, because I hadn’t seen one yet,” she said.
As she continued, riding past Spreckels Lake en route to Ocean Beach, she addressed her own personal take on songwriting, but not before making it clear that she isn’t interested in talking about how this album – a collaboration with Thao from the Get Down Stay Down that was co-produced by Merrill of tUnE-yArDs – came to be, referring to her own take on it as “boring.”
“Why don’t you just make something up?” she said lightheartedly, more as a suggestion than a request.
The specifics are of little importance, but what does matter is the way in which the songs themselves came together.
“I’ll usually, like, come up with some ideas about how I want a song to turn out, and then whoever I’m working with…you know, we just kinda have a meeting about it and start banging around on pots and pans, and then next thing you know, we have a song,” she said of the general songwriting process.
For this album, Mirah said she took an approach to the music she contributed that was similar to the one she applies to her solo work, in that she prefers to write the skeleton of a song alone and later bring it together with other musicians. But she clarified that those other musicians are important to the process.
“[I] like working with people who are highly skilled in a lot of different instruments, because I have my limitations, “ she said, explaining that although she likes to experiment with other instruments in the studio, she is most comfortable playing guitar in a live setting.
Unfortunately, that reality of being a singer-songwriter with a voice and a guitar has been a marginalizing factor for Mirah in the past, because a big deal was made of her being a “female singer-songwriter.”
“I tried to shrug that…off for a long time,” she said. “It irritated me.”
However, she admitted to recently coming to terms with it.
“I feel like my strengths lie in songwriting,” she said. “And honestly, I’m a singer-songwriter. It’s who I am.”
Although she hasn’t been able to completely escape the stigma some associate with the female singer-songwriter label, Mirah admitted there are, of course, positive and negative aspects to it. While she acknowledged that many people have worked hard over the years to make female agency a reality, she also said that her focus is less on who she is and more on the art she creates.
“[Artists should] not only be compelled to make work based on a struggle of identity,” she said. “There’s also a real beauty in just being…in letting go and just seeing what comes out.”
For Mirah, part of that authentic, living-in-the-moment self involves being more aware of her own attitude and actions, and approaching life at any stage as a learning experience.
“One thing that’s really taken me a long time in my life to recognize is that I am an introvert,” she shared. “I really need alone time in order to reboot and regenerate myself and know myself, and so in terms of inspiration, like, I need to spend a lot of time alone or else I can’t hear anything. I can’t think anything. I can’t do anything. I need, even just like, a little bit every day, really helps me. And so I try to get that in.”
This is especially helpful for her mentally, considering that Mirah currently functions as her own manager, a task which she said leaves her feeling bogged down with logistics of things. Luckily, whether its writing a song on her own, recording the music in the studio or performing it live, Mirah is continually reminded of the reason why she does what she does.
“You know, I love singing. And sometimes I forget that,” she said. “[But] that’s why I love what I do.”
Thao & Mirah play at the New Parish in Oakland, Calif., tonight at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and the show is all ages.