Mish Way is a feminist. She's a writer. She's a musician. She writes about feminism for Rookie, BUST and Vice and for her band White Lung, who have just released their third studio album Deep Fantasy, on their new record label – and major independent - Domino. All of this is to say that she has many opinions on the subject, and therefore makes for an incredibly intimidating interview subject (her veracity on stage withstanding).
However, down the line from her home in L.A, only a small amount of the vehemence with which she approaches her written work is at play; only a pleasant amount of curse words and dismissing of her detractors remain. Instead, she approaches our conversation, which inevitably becomes a discussion about the current state of feminism, with the same kind of measure with which she approaches the subject itself. While she explains that the songs on Deep Fantasy are about brutal subjects like rape ('I Believe You'), she also notes that she writes them like diary entries: honestly, vulnerably. And while she considers herself a feminist, she's sick of "the misconception that it describes women who don't want men to be involved in the conversation."
Hey Mish! How are you?
I'm good! I just got back from Japan, and now I have a break, I'm relaxing!
How did the new album, Deep Fantasy, come to be?
Wellllll, we knew we wanted to write a new record, and we knew that Domino Records were interested, and we also knew that we were going to kick out our bass player.
- Haha -
Yeah, so there was some thinking that had to go into it. We decided that just the three of us would write the record, and that Kenny (William), our guitarist, would handle bass duties as well.
As a professional writer, the lyrics are obviously pretty important to you. What did you want to say?
Well, in the past my lyrics have been really reactionary. I'm the kind of person who, if something happens to me the night before I sit down to write, I'll write about it.
The way I write lyrics is the same way I used to write in my diary, which is in little jokes to myself. Also, I'll always use the word 'you' when I'm talking to someone – whether I'm talking to myself or to another person or to a bigger cultural entity – because as a kid I was super paranoid that people would find my journals and read them.
I've asserted myself as a feminist writer, and right now I'm really sick of the misconception about what 'feminism' means, so I really wanted to make a feminist record that wasn't alienating. I wanted it to be smart, and quick, and culturally relevant but not so radical that it was alienating, because I don't find that productive. I wanted to be able to write songs about things that were messing up my life, or making me frustrated, and I knew other people would relate to those.
Your lyrics, as with your essay writing, are honest and frank, and give a lot of you to the public. Was there a moment when you were just like, "fuck it, I'm going to tell everybody everything"?
Yeah, there was. It was when I started being public with my writing, because all of the people I'd looked up to, whether they were musicians or writers, were really vulnerable, and that vulnerability gave them a new kind of power. Admitting your humanness is important. That was how I wanted to story tell: I wanted to give away a piece of myself and be vulnerable, because it brings the person who's digesting the work it closer to me.
I just made a choice a while ago that I wasn't going to be embarrassed about anything, and that I was going to replicate the kind of writing that I found inspiring.
I imagine that you've received both positive and negative responses to your work, right?
Haha yeah. If you put yourself out there, you have to expect there's a million other people out there who are going to disagree with you and say something mean, and I'm actually an extremely sensitive person! But I just got to a certain point where I stopped caring. If someone wants to tell me I'm a slut or I'm a whore it's like "wow, big deal, those words don't mean anything to me". A, you're not using those words correctly, and B, why don't you dig in and actually criticise my work?
You mentioned before that you're sick of the misconception about what feminism is. Can you elaborate?
Yeah. I feel like the word 'feminism' has taken such a hammering in the last little while, and people are completely misunderstanding what it means. Maybe, at one point, it was important to respect the marginalisation of women and let them do their thing on their own. But feminism today isn't supposed to be exclusive, it's supposed to be inclusive. I think it's supposed to be a discussion that anyone can be a part of.
There are all those weird 'Why I Don't Need Feminism' Tumblrs that are getting it so wrong! They're taking all the negative stereotypes that have been put against the word feminism, and rebelling against those. I don't really know how to solve that problem, and I don't think being angry or taking it too seriously is the answer. I just think conversing more with other people and writing about it in a positive way helps.
The misconception of feminism is basically that it describes women who don't want men to be involved in the conversation.
There's an angle in contemporary feminism where women who consider themselves feminists, are incredibly critical of other women, which is quite unhealthy, too.
Yeah, totally, I know what you mean. When I used to teach music we had this rule: "you've got to support all other women, whether you like what they're creating or not, because they're women and it's important to support other women". I don't necessarily agree with that. I don't think I should have to agree with someone just because we both happen to have a vagina. On the other hand, when women are critical of other women it can get twisted in a way that makes it look like unhealthy female competition, which it isn't.
The older I get, and the more I'm questioned about my values, and the more I'm using my life experience instead of my academic experience, the more I have to re-think what being a feminist means, which is exciting. But it's really confusing too.
With specific reference to women in music this is all interesting, too. I interviewed Joan Jett and Savages in the same week last year. Joan Jett, as one of the first female rock stars who had to deal with a lot of criticism for being a female rock star, vehemently believes that we should specifically promote women in music. Savages thought the opposite: they wanted to be spoken to as musicians, not female musicians.
And I totally understand both viewpoints. Joan Jett came of age in the '70s and her fight was totally different to Savages'. She had to say, "look, I'm a young women, I can play this guitar, and I want you to see me as both a female, and as someone who is playing guitar, or like, fuck you!" She had to puff up her chest and do it!
My band goes through the same thing as Savages go through, where all the media focuses on is the fact that we're girls; we get associated with music genres that we sound nothing like, like riot grrrl, just because we're political and we're female. We're like "OK, all of these other great women have been playing aggressive music for a really long time, there's nothing new, get over it, we don't want to be seen as just women". I don't want to be the best female frontperson, I just want to be the best frontperson. I don't want to be in some special vagina Olympics.
Both points are completely valid, and it is possible to straddle both.
That comes back to what we were talking about earlier: feminism doesn't have to be about one thing, it can be about many things and still be valid.
That's the great part about it! And also having something that is so deeply personal be political.
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