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Premiere: Mirah Streams Her Sundial EP 

Premiere: Mirah Streams Her Sundial EP

Emily Zeitlyn
Photography: Emily Zeitlyn

An interview with the queer singer/songwriter & an exclusive stream of her new EP. 

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the lack of pomp and circumstance involved in meeting an artist whose work has been described as "DIY mini-masterpieces that express a punk sensibility," but the ease of coordinating a meeting with Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn is still bewildering, to both of us. "It's weird!" she observes, of agreeing to sit down to a formal interview, after biking to a cafe in Brooklyn's Prospect Lefferts Garden neighborhood. She introduces herself (she's known professionally as the singer/songwriter Mirah) with her helmet on, before locking up her bike and taking a seat next to a wilted, potted honeysuckle plant. It's the end of September, and a week before the release of her latest EP, Sundial.

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The project, which features the song "Sundial" from her forthcoming full-length album, is a collaborative offshoot with the musician and composer Jherek Bischoff. Mirah, a pioneer of the independent music scene of the Pacific Northwest since her debut in 2000, recalls meeting Bischoff a decade ago in Seattle. Aside from the title track, Sundial EP is comprised of reworked arrangements from her back catalog that they've revisited together. "When you record a song, you're sort of giving it an outfit," Mirah says. "You can always take off that outfit, and the song is still standing there. You put on a new outfit, and it can have a whole new life." In the past, she's let other people be the stylist, having released an album of her songs remixed by other artists in 2006, called Joyride: Remixes.

This time, Mirah leads with a new single that she wrote while at an artist residency in California, before adapting her 2009 song, "The World is Falling," into a lushly arranged string version renamed "The World is Falling Apart." She has her own K Records imprint, Absolute Magnitude Recordings, which will be releasing the seven-song Sundial EP as a limited edition 12" clear vinyl record. For direct orders, she partnered with Hudson Valley Seed Company to make Sundial-branded sunflower seed packets. A deluxe digital version, with bonus tracks including a version of "The Country of the Future" recently featured on Jill Soloway's television series I Love Dick, will also be available.

Related | We Love Dick: Jill Soloway & Sarah Gubbins on Today's Queer Revolution

"Why would you go off looking for another whole world?" she sings on the song "Sundial," her honeyed vocals belied by the anxious edge of her songwriting. She tells me this particular lyric was inspired by thinking about man's search for life on other planets, and an appreciation for life on ours. She notes, "Even in New York City, we're surrounded by 10 billion amazing life forms that are generating themselves all the time. There are plants coming up through the cracks in the sidewalk. We can't stop it, although people seem to be trying to."

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Mirah relocated to Brooklyn 5 years ago, and jokes that the two biggest misconceptions about her are that she still lives in the Pacific Northwest, and that she's vegan. We selected our interview destination based on what would be a convenient bike ride for her. She chose her current residence based on its proximity to Prospect Park, which she says was a requirement of her moving to the city. When I ask if she enjoys a degree of anonymity in New York compared to the Northwest where she rose to fame, she says, "I've sold a bunch of records, and I've toured for a couple decades, but if someone is like, 'Are you Mirah?' my first thought is, 'Do I have spinach in my teeth?'"

She says she spends a lot of time thinking about the universe--and has even considered auditing a Cosmology course at Brooklyn College--as part of her interest in "hearing about the science of things so that I can cherry-pick the beautiful parts, and then make a song lyric out of it." She hints that her upcoming full-length is being made the same way as her last album, 2014's Changing Light, by recording demos that she keeps and mixes herself, "because there's a really beautiful thing about using the initial impulse of a song."

Despite her unease around interviewing, Mirah is very easy to spend time with. She dances along to the music playing in the cafe, not expressly to be polite, but perhaps as an expression of her belief that "for any kind of art medium, it's important not to lose contact with your ability to have an emotional connection with it, because it's sort of the point." When we relocate from the outdoor patio to inside, she seems genuinely curious about the events happening in the room. She also doesn't check her cell phone once, which I don't realize until she asks me for the time an hour and a half into our meeting.

Mirah doesn't post often on social media outside of album cycles, and in addition to being private, she questions, "Is anyone going to fall to their knees from watching anything on their phone? I don't think so." She prefers to keep in mind that "the very complete experience of having a physical emotional response to your environment requires you to be fully in your environment. If you're connected to this other thing that's removing you from the environment, then there is a possibility of the loss of that, and getting used to the loss of that in a way where it doesn't even feel like a loss."

Still, she appreciates technology, if only to use it in a way that mimics more analog systems. Several years ago, she taught herself how to use Pro Tools to mix her music with more facility, but likes to use it in "the same messy way as I used to use my cassette four track." The songs on her forthcoming full length were written a year and a half ago at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, California, and she's polishing them up now. She says copies of Sundial have been in her basement since June, and it's the first time in her music career that she's felt organized "as a self-managed band." She explains, "All these years, I've never successfully done the thing where I'm already working on my next album before the current album comes out." Mirah has to bike home soon and prepare for the big week ahead--there are orders to ship, and a show at The Park Church Co-op in northern Brooklyn on Friday-- but for now, she's giving the moment her full attention. She seems especially ready for what comes next.

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