Miya Folick interview: "It's important after we express hurt and pain to have fun and to continue to live our own lives."
Last week LA-based singer Miya Folick released her debut album Premonitions. It comes after a number of years gradually gaining recognition through a couple of EPs and a load of live performances. Nevertheless, Premonitions rings with freshness of someone just discovering their musical prowess; it flits between unabashed sugar-rush pop, heartfelt confessions and moments of heavyweight depression. With the aid of co-creators Justin Raisen and Yves Rothman, Folick’s Premonitions is like a box of bright and surprising confections, some sweet, some savoury, but always satisfying and glazed in Folick’s incredibly balletic and powerful voice.
I called Folick in LA, and found that she was out walking around the Silverlake Reservoir as she spoke (“I can't talk on the phone and be still, I have to be walking around,” she admitted). Regardless of her surroundings, or whatever activities were going on around her, she was focused and contemplative in her answers, but always also full of humour and bubbling over with happiness – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone laugh so much in an interview. It made for a lovely and compelling discussion, that has only made the songs on Premonitions shine even more brightly in re-listening.
Firstly, I want to know about the cover art for Premonitions, are those your parents?
Those are my parents! We wanted to convey community and a sense of time, of past and present and future. Brainstorming what the photo should be, me and the creative director I was working with Molly [Hawkins], we thought the strongest way to convey the past and present and future is to have where I came from: my parents. Also, I thought it would be really fun to send my parents a call sheet [laughs]. That was very enjoyable, I just thought it was really funny. They've never done anything like that, but it made sense thematically, and selfishly I thought it would be really nice to have a professional photo taken of me and my parents [laughs]. Made them dress up in weird clothes...
Oh yeah, so there's lots of other photos taken?
Yeah, we did a full shoot, but this photo seemed to be the most on-point for what we were looking for; this playful seriousness, seriously playful...
Will some of the other shots make it into the album?
Yeah! If you get the vinyl, there will be additional photos of my family [laughs].
Premonitions, it could just as easily be called Internal Struggles, do you think that's fair?
Um, yeah. I mean, I feel like every album could be called that [laughs]
Yeah, I'm realising that now too...
I feel like if music isn't about a struggle, then, why? Even party songs should have some depth to them, they usually do.
The album starts with 'Thingamajig', which is a raw opener - did you always know it would be first?
I think that was the prime contender for opening song. I mean, I love that song, and I think it sets an interesting tone for the rest of the album. It's interesting to me because it's basically starting with an apology. I feel like the voice is like your tour guide for the album, and on the very first song I say "only you know what to do now," so I kind of say I'm leaving you alone to figure this out. It's kind of interesting to me, if you think of the voice of the album as a character. Everyone on my team wanted it to come first.
Right! You're all about collaborating in your art.
This is my first full length, but it's also the first time I've really made a truly collaborative body of work. The last two EPs were almost entirely written by me, except for a cover and one song I wrote with my band, but this album is a departure from that, in that every song is a co-write. I love writing with people; for me it's a more exciting and inspiring process.
I read that one of the things that you and your collaborators did was find a bunch of organic sounds.
It's just like me knocking on coffee tables, or using my voice and manipulating it, and then on top of that we tried to create samples of drum machines, like physical drum machines and real physical synthesizers, instead of using sample libraries - which makes things take a very long time! We just wanted it to feel like everything is made. I don't have any judgement against people who use sample libraries, they're awesome, there's definitely ways of making things feel unique when they come from sample libraries; I just didn't want to do that on my first record, and Justin [Raisen] and Yves [Rothman] are very into gear, so it was a process.
Let's talk about the title track, 'Premonitions', which is heavy, and it seems like you're singing to yourself when you sing "you"...
I'm not. Songs shift and who I'm speaking to changes over time, but when we wrote the song it was a specific person. It was somebody that I was dating and I just felt like they wanted to see all the good parts of me and didn't really want to confront the more negative aspects, even when I shoved them in their face. I think that bothers me because I like to be around people who challenge me, and I think that's a huge part of being somebody's real friend, being demanding of them and calling them out. It was this specific song about a specific person who I could tell was kind of fading from my life at that time; I could tell I was drifting away.
But you come to a firm resolution in the end about overcoming that, and then 'Cost Your Love' kind of goes back the other way again with another low point.
'Premonitions' is actually about a specific person, 'Cost Your Love' I'm singing to myself [laughs].
Argh, I got it completely the wrong way round!
'Cost Your Love' definitely sounds like a relationship song - and it is - but to me it's about a relationship to a particular behaviour that wasn't serving me. So when I say "back into your arms," it's like back into the arms of that thing, that behaviour, not a particular person. But I think I intentionally made it seem like a person because I think it felt like the most relatable in that way. It was the easiest way to convey what I was trying to say.
Did writing the song help you to get over that problem?
Um, no [laughs]. I was just talking to a friend about this, sometimes I think I write songs about a particular issue that I have, and then I kind of brush my hands off and say "well that's handled, I wrote a song about it so it can't possibly be a problem anymore!" And then months later I realise I didn't do any actual work in my actual life to fix the problem, I just wrote a song about it and then said to the universe "see, I've acknowledged the problem! I did everything I could possibly do!" [Laughs] That's not the same thing as actually dealing with your problems. I think a lot of musicians do that; they write music as a way of dealing with their issues, and then they don't actually deal with their issues. I think I have gotten better, I mean I've definitely gotten better at being good to myself in real life as well as in my song writing, and not just relying on expressing myself as the means of fixing myself. So that's a long-winded way of saying "no, a song cannot fix your life" [Laughs]. Well, maybe they can fix your life, but not mine - which is why I keep writing them! Otherwise I'd just make one album and then I'd be done!
You'd be cured!
Yeah, I need to keep fucking up so I can make my second album.
Does 'Stock Image' come from a similar place? It seems like a power ballad where you’re trying to knock yourself out of a bad habit.
Oh yeah, definitely.
Did you take inspiration from power ballads?
I mean, definitely! I grew up listening to Celine Dion and I love Barbara Streisand [laughs], absolutely.
It would be cool if they put 'Stock Image' on the radio as often as Celine, I bet loads of people would be inspired and sing along in their cars.
Yeah! It's an interesting one to me in that regard, in that I do think it has pop sensibility, but the chorus is definitely a little weirder and a little wordier than the average pop song these days. So I don't know if it'll ever be on the radio, but I would be happy if it were!
'Stop Talking' has a chance of getting on the radio I think; when you released it a couple of weeks ago people were surprised by how poppy it is.
Yeah I think that's funny, because I feel like 'Stock Image' was super poppy, so that was kind of our "this is what's coming, this is not going to be a rock album" warning. But people keep saying that about 'Stop Talking', which is funny to me. I really love pop music, among other types of music, but I think I gravitate toward melodies that are catchy and somewhat poppy, which is part of how I wanted this record to feel; I wanted it to feel super welcoming and make people want to sing along and not feel exclusive or too cool - I wanted to bridge that gap of being cool but still being accessible and poppy.
You definitely do that. Especially in 'Stop Talking' and 'Freak Out' back to back, the really energetic part of the album - but then you go into 'Deadbody', which really brings the mood down, was that a purposeful sequencing decision?
I know... I think the sequencing was honestly one of the most difficult parts of the process for me, because I made an album that had a lot of different types of songs on it, and I did that intentionally, but that makes the sequence really important - not that it's not for other albums, but I think it's particularly important when there's a lot of contrast. I think there were two ways of going into 'Deadbody'; I almost put 'Thingamajig' right before 'Deadbody', like go somewhere very calm and then go somewhere heavy. But I think the way it ended up being sequenced, and what our intention was with that, we wanted it to feel like you exert all this energy during 'Freak Out', and you dance around and you feel kind of raw and a little bit unhinged and ready to say your truth. That was kind of the thought process there - it's easier to speak from your truth when you've shaken out any discomfort, which is what 'Freak Out' is meant to do.
'Deadbody' continues to be a prescient song, unfortunately, how do you feel about that topic at the moment?
It's really interesting. When we made it, I couldn't stop listening to it on my run, because it makes you feel powerful. It made me feel powerful, even listening to it myself. It was an interesting song to put out because the #MeToo movement was just starting, and I didn't want it to feel like "hey look at me, I made this song to profit off of this movement and so that you can pay attention to me," because that wasn't the point. The point was that, I think a lot of women and men, anybody who's been taken advantage of, don't know how to express this pain and hurt and anger, and you feel small in the face of it. I think that song continues to help me and I continue to get messages from people who tell me it helped them, and I think that's an amazing thing - and it's also incredibly sad, because people shouldn't need it. I wish people didn't need it, but I guess I'm glad it's there for people who do.
'Baby Girl' follows, and is almost like a salve for that, since it's much happier. Have you played it to the person it's written for?
Oh yeah, for sure! [Laughs] That was definitely an intentional sequencing decision, like "OK we're going to freak and out get all our juices flowing, then we're going to say 'fuck you' to our enemy, and then we're all going to hug each other" [laughs]. I think it's important after we express hurt and pain to have fun and to continue to live our own lives and not allow people to ruin our lives just because they have some issues. It's important to turn towards the people that we love and say "OK, well let's make something else together now, something positive." The person that I wrote that song for is the same person that I wrote 'Stop Talking' about [laughs]. So she has two songs on the album. I was like "I can't only have this 'Stop Talking' song about her on the album," I wanted to show the other side of that relationship.
Very cool. And the album finishes with 'What We've Made', was that always going to be the last song?
No, but I think once we put 'Thingamajig' first it made sense to put 'What We've Made' last. There's an element of 'Thingamajig' that is about making things, the first lyric is "all the hands I've made grow in time," so sequentially it made sense at the end to talk about all the things that I've made, but from this different perspective. I like that the album ends flying out into a cloud. But that wasn't something that we knew from the beginning, that was looking back at our collection of songs, it became clear that that should go last.
Sweet. And last question, I like to ask if there are any books that have inspired you in the process or that you'd just like to recommend?
I think I was reading at some point Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, it's a collection of short stories, and they're kind of exactly the kind of short stories I like where it's kind of like magical realism; they're realistic stories but there are elements of the surreal that happen in them. I definitely recommend that. And then I recently read this book called Florida by Lauren Groff, and it's just heartbreakingly beautiful - it's also a collection of stories, and I definitely recommend that.
Miya Folick’s debut album Premonitions is out now via Terrible Records.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 31st October 2018.