The indie queen draws inspiration from the ground up
Don’t box Mirah in. This becomes crystal clear to me about 10 minutes into my phone interview with the 35-year-old indie musician when I suggest that entomology writings are an odd place to draw artistic inspiration from. I am swiftly taken to task, admonished for harboring a narrow view of music, and informed that such a muse can come from anywhere. I feel I’ve just learned a great deal about the songstress.
Originally hailing from Philadelphia, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn now lives in San Francisco after having spent a number of years residing in the Pacific Northwest and splitting time between Seattle and Portland. “There are just such beautiful views everywhere, the air is really good,” says Mirah of her new home. “I like to climb and get up high—whether it be on my bike or on foot—to get views of the ocean.”
Since 1997, the openly gay, Jewish singer-songwriter has put out a baker’s dozen of releases, including four proper studio albums. Last year she released (a)spera, her first album since 2004, and the album features a distinctly dark tone and is flush with lyrical longing—but good luck getting Mirah to admit what subject she personally had in mind. “I leave room for people to view into it what they will,” she explains about her lyrics. “It would be so boring if I didn’t leave space for ‘the other.’ It’s not all about me.”
So while she may leave many of her lyrics intentionally vague, there is one project in which Mirah’s impetus is less convoluted, but far more out of the ordinary—even if Mirah herself doesn’t think so. 2007’s collaboration with Spectratone International, entitled Share This Place: Stories and Observations, draws upon the writings of entomologist Jean Henri Fabre and is, in fact, written from the point of view of bugs. “It was actually my friend Lori’s (Goldston, of Spectratone International) idea, she just happened to be reading a book by Fabre and handed it off to me,” remembers Mirah.
Among the other projects that Mirah took on during her five years between official studio albums was a remix project. Though in recent years it’s been far from uncommon for indie acts to put out such remix albums—Minus the Bear’s Interpretaciones Del Oso and Explosions in the Sky’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone immediately come to mind—for Mirah it was all part of expanding the creative process. “I thought it would be fun, and I didn’t really have any expectations for the final result,” she says about allowing others to tinker with her creation. “It was a really liberating experience just letting go of control of my own material and passing it off to others. It was super informative, I really got a new vantage point.”
Despite the fact it took her five years to put out a new studio album, it’s only been about two since the last time Mirah made the short jaunt down to Santa Cruz. In January of 2008 Mirah played the Rio Theatre, with electronic act The Blow opening, and brought a full backing band. This time around—coming to the smaller Crepe Place on Friday, Feb. 19—her plan is to form a duo with multi-instrumentalist Kane Mathis providing licks on a West African harp and Middle Eastern lute.
“I pleaded with my booking agent to send me back (to Santa Cruz),” Mirah admits. “After my last show (at the Rio) there was a couple outside who had parked their car and were blasting my album, dancing in the street.”
Mirah performs with Birds Fled From Me at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 at the door. For more information, call 429-6994.