Over the last eight years, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and friends have released nine different albums, including a remix collection and a rarities compilation; now the quirky singer-songwriter is gearing up for her next release in the winter. Though she had gone through an unfortunate accident, Mirah was still psyched for her new album and her Chicago show when we chatted last week.
Yusuf Siddiquee: Standard question—how did you start making music?
Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn: It was kind of an accident in a way. I had to write a song for a class at school when I was 18. I kind of fell into it.
YS: I see your name alongside many others for albums and in the news....Who has been your most prominent/favorite musical partner?
MZ: Someone who has been really consistent and who’s been on most of my albums as a player is Bryce Panic. I collaborated with Phil Elvrum and Ginger Brooks Takahashi and all that, but we [Bryce and I] started in Evergreen, OH, when I was 17. He’s the most consistent musical collaboration I’ve had.
YS: Explain to me the progression through your albums. What were your motivations typically?
MZ: I kind of made them as I could. Some of the projects it was like—here’s the time I have set aside to work with this person; i.e., Joyride: Remixes and To All We Stretch the Open Arm, which was more of a coordination project between lots of people. All the other ones, it would feel like about time to make a new album. I’d have some songs and start recording.
You know…I always plan out my cooking and, like, where all the food is in the cupboard, and I plan where I’m gonna go, what I’m gonna wear, and what I’ll do when I get there. For being a planner, I haven’t really planned much about music, and that has kind of worked out. I think it would be kind of stressful for me to have some big idea or big expectations. It has a little bit more to do with serendipity and the current interest.
YS: Dream collaboration?
MZ: Yeah, they’re all dead.
But people who aren’t dead? I’ve never thought about that much. I just finished making a new album and just collaborated with a bunch of new people.
I’m actually really preoccupied since I accidentally chopped off part of my pinky finger cutting vegetables. I’m going to see the doctor today. I’m hoping they’ll give me a hollow prosthetic pinky so I can play guitar.
YS: Wow, I’m terribly sorry.
MZ: It’s only about the size of a hard contact lens, but I’m just worried I won’t be able to play guitar.
YS: Well, do you ever plan on stopping your career? When, if ever, should a musician stop?
MZ: I think that probably some people can exhaust their musical capabilities. I know people who are so productive musically, artistically, and creatively. There is just this tidal wave coming out of them of beautiful stuff. Not everybody has that….I don’t have that. I’m very careful and kind of slow about making my albums.
I go about it like a total Virgo—it’s very particular. I don’t have extra stuff floating around. I kind of do it one thing at a time. I think some people either run out of creative steam or just want to spend some time on other things. With the travel component of being a musician, it’s hard to go back to school or go live in Spain with my girlfriend for a year. So short answer, yes.
YS: What’s different about your brand of “intimate” acoustic indie/folk/pop? Among critics there seems to be an agreement on your level of sincerity. What does that mean?
MZ: How do I come across as close—how do I do that? I’m just a sincere person, maybe almost to a fault. I don’t always get jokes. I have my cynical moments; I do live in America and I have lived under all the presidents since 1974, so there is a lot to be cynical about living this country.
I’ve always been a very earnest person really. I’m not into joke music. I can have a sense of humor in my songs, but at the same time, I feel I maintain a straightforwardness that’s not making fun of myself and not just being funny. I always thought it important to share everything and help the world be a better place. Kind of cheesy and maybe even boring, but I’m not into this fast talking practice.
YS: So the only way to sound sincere is…?
MZ: To actually be sincere. That’s my advice to you.
YS: Tell me about the last piece of music you purchased?
MZ: I don’t purchase music too often, but I bought this record…of an Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke. She sings super afro-pop music. I really like Ethiopian music, but as a listener, I can’t talk much about names of rhythm styles like an ethnomusicologist.
I love the singing. It’s amazing to listen to people who all have a human voice. I listen to some people sing and think “I can’t do that” and it’s because my ears were not brought into the world in that style. I find it fascinating that given the same physical parts we end up being totally unable to do certain things that others can.
YS: Your style seems often emulated these days by plenty of indie bands. Were you the first to do it?
MZ: All I know really is what I’ve been doing. What I’ve been doing is just beautifully and accidentally me. I started doing it when I did because I was born when I was born.
Along with No Kids, Mirah will perform at Epiphany Episcopal Church on Wednesday.