Noise Mag: Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview today- you’ve got an EP out, that’s super exciting!
Meiwei: Thanks! Yeah, honestly thank you I am so excited to just have anyone writing about my music. This is like the first big music thing that i’ve put out and so I’m very grateful for you and Noise.
NM: Aw, awesome, well I’m happy to be involved with the release of this project. That’s kind of how this magazine started. Trying to promote independent musicians and just help their music get out into the world in a written format. But I digress- I have a couple questions for you that I’ve written up if you wanna hop right into it! I don’t want to be too formal about it, but you know, it’s an interview. First of all, just tell me where you’re at right now, you said you had your guitar there.
MW: Yeah, right now…. So I graduated from Northeastern in December, and I moved all my worldly possessions from Boston to the West Coast where my mom and sister live. I’ve been in the San Francisco bay area since December, but right now at this very moment I am in Santa Cruz at my sister’s little hobbit home that she lives in, and yeah. I’m just chilling with her before I start work in March.
NM: Oh that’s’ so cool, I love the bay area. My aunt lives out there and I’ve gotten to go to Santa Cruz and San Francisco a couple of times, so I can kinda picture the part of the world where you’re at. Is that where you lived since 18, or before college since moving from Beijing?
MW: No! I went straight from Beijing to Northeastern, and like to Boston. But my — It’s funny, my sister, she also grew up in Beijing, she ended up just like finding work in San Francisco near this area, and my mom moved from China to near San Francisco, kinda cuz my sister was in that area and she wanted to move to the US so, yeah. My family just kinda all ended up here.
NM: I see, okay cool, well, thank you for the background, I appreciate it. And congratulations on graduating in December, oh my gosh!
MW: Thanks, I am so happy that it’s over.
NM: Yeah, I know the feeling…Seriously. And perfect timing too, great job market and so much going on in the world. [laughs]
MW: Yeah it’s really…. times are just fabulous.
NM: Jokes jokes jokes… But let’s not get into that. So, I have listened to your EP a couple times and I am loving it! It sounds so sweet and lovely but also raw with emotion and conflict, and there’s themes that I picked up on that I want to ask you about. And your voice and your guitar just sounded so good and so I’m excited for this to come out on Friday! But I want to ask you, just kind of generally, what can you tell me about this EP?
MW: Thank you so much first of all, that made me smile hearing that you enjoyed listening to it, and also that you picked up on the emotions. But, okay. This EP… I’ve never cried from happiness before, but when I put out the single for my EP last week I shed tears, cuz I feel like it’s been such a long time coming. I’ve been playing music since I was really young but I only started writing songs a couple years ago, and so I feel like it’s been like 23 years of buildup, and little young Michelle playing guitar in her room constantly would never have thought that I could do this, and so it was… it just feels like a really big project and I also put a lot of work and effort into it. I got my friend Craig to help me produce it and I actually recorded it in a real studio, it’s actually a barn-turned-recording studio, which I thought was very much my aesthetic. But yeah I put a lot of effort into it and it feels very exciting.
NM: That is super exciting. Tell me a bit more about the studio where you recorded it!
MW: Yeah, so it’s called Nothing Productions, and it was in Weston, Massachusetts, and through a friend I found out about Dave, he’s the person who owns it, and Dave and his dog Olivia run the studio (Olivia’s adorable) But yeah, it’s a really special place because Craig and I were able to use the actual barn — like the old barn had a lot of creaks, and we sampled the sounds of the barn creaking, and we also sampled the sink and some pipes that we were banging, and so I feel like it very much fit the feel of the music I wanted to create. Also Dave the owner of the studio was just so helpful, because Craig and I were both kinda like newbies doing this the whole time. Craig has more experience, but yeah it was a great space for us to learn.
NM: Aw that’s so good, I’m going to listen for the creaks and the drips from the sink in the barn on my next listen… When it officially comes out I’ll listen to it again along with everyone else… Your comments just now make me think of one of the other questions I wanted to ask you which was about some of the themes of place that I’m picking up on in this project, and I’m curious, beside the barn recording studio, what other places are you thinking about, or were you in, maybe, when you were writing these songs?
MW: The one that stands out to me the most is a place that I had in mind when I was writing was the song Ring Roads. I really wanted to write a song about growing up in Beijing, and so I think I really tried to capture that place in the song. At the very beginning you hear a voice memo that I took in 2017. I have no idea why I decided to take it, but I was riding the bus in Beijing on the way to see my grandma, and I just took a recording of the bus announcing that it made it to the stop. And there’s also me- I brought my bike into the studio and was playing it and recording me spinning the pedals with my bike upside down, because Craig had an idea to make it sound like I was biking in the city throughout the whole song, and sorta give it some energy. And so for that song, I was really very much thinking about Beijing, and trying to capture a snippet of my childhood, or like my adolescence. And the other song that really stands out to me in terms of place is December’s End. I actually wrote that song in my uncle’s cabin. He owns a bunch of land in Wisconsin and he built a campground on it and I stayed in one of the little cabins that he built and I wrote that song in the cabin and I feel like December’s End very much captures the snowy Wisconsin feel that I was living in. And when I played that song for my sister, she said that the bridge kinda made her think of wind through the trees. So those two are very place specific.
NM: That’s awesome, thank you. That’s perfect, I love being able to visualize what a songwriter was thinking about, or where, so thank you. And you’re talking a bit about your aesthetic, and the barn recording studio fitting that, and then this cabin that you’re out writing in, and I’m also thinking about the cover for this EP and the flowers.. Can you elaborate a bit about your aesthetic choices and how you’re trying to represent yourself visually? I guess specifically on the cover — the choice to use the Chinese characters for example, and the playfulness that’s exhibited. But also really a beautiful nod to the indie tradition maybe, like in a field of flowers. I don’t want talk too much…
MW: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s all very new to me, having to make a choice of what I present, of what part of me… It really is an image of myself I’m putting out. Like there are so many parts of me, but I’m like ‘okay I’m choosing this specific part.’ It got a little existential at one point, but now I think I’m sorting it out [laughs]. But the reason that I wanted to put Chinese characters was because that’s my name — MeiWei is my Chinese name and it’s actually my middle name in English. What’s on my ID and passport, says Michelle Meiwei Mouw, and I always wish more people would call me MeiWei, my Chinese name. So yeah I really wanted to put that on the cover. I speak Mandarin in one of the songs and it really is a big part of who I am and so I wanted to put that out there. And the flowers, I think… [laughs] growing up in a city I feel like I really wished I was that naturey person, and had that growing up, and I think that’s why I’ve latched on to it so much with my music. Having lived in the US for a couple years, the reason that I’m seeking out all these cabins and stuff is because I feel like I missed out on so much of that, like hearing about [Casey] growing up in Brattleboro, I’m like ‘damn that sounds amazing’. My childhood was full of pollution. Yeah I really like the flowers. And also they’re in my nose because I feel like that’s just who I am. There’s a photo of me on facebook, when I’m probably like 12, it’s like a photobooth picture and there’s cheerios in my nose, like in my nostrils, one in each. And I only discovered that after I took the album cover and I’m like ‘wow absolutely nothing has changed’.
NM: There’s another moment of this project connecting you to your past. You’ve got the sample and the reflections and your name, and then the photo. That’s so great. I guess I can ask you about some of the conflict that I’m picking up on in some of your lyrics. You talk about not being able to stay or go, and not wanting someone to pull you close but let you go, and there’s kind of a duality with your two names, and your current self and your past self, I don’t want to get too philosophical with it but what can you tell me about the tension and the conflict that you might be drawing from in whatever domain to support this songwriting process?
MW: Yeah, that’s really a great question. I feel like whenever I write a song it always gives me perspective on something that I’m feeling. Sometimes I’ll write a lyric and then not realize what it means until after. And so I think all the strong, conflicting emotions are like sometimes me feeling one way and then compelled to write the song, and then after I write the song I have a different perspective on it, and so I feel like that’s the two parts of myself that are coming out in my music. And also I am just a very indecisive person. I’m a Libra and I think that is a characteristic of a Libra and so I’m going to blame it on my horoscope.
NM: Sure, yeah, that’s something I do often I have to admit. I’m a Pisces, and so we’re about to go into Pisces season in a couple days, and so I always feel like when the stars align for me, it’s like a moment and things shift around… I don’t know not to ramble about astrology, but it’s real [laughs] So I want to shift gears and ask you a little more broad of a question, maybe a little less personal. What do you see as the role of a musician in today’s world, and is that how you see yourself?
MW: Damn. You really got me thinking on this Wednesday night. I don’t know, it took a long time for me to even consider myself a musician, let alone think about what it means to make music and put it out in the world, but I think that the role of a musician is just to.. Like any artist, just be authentic in what they create and put it out there and hope that people will connect with it, but I think that music is really special in the sense that it can also be used for greater social change. Like there are songs that completely take over a generation and define a generation.When you go to a rally people are singing songs and chanting and things like that. I don’t know, maybe I’m biased as a musician but I think that music can be very, very powerful in that sense. But me as a musician, I’m still figuring it out. Check back in, in, I don’t know… a couple months after the EP is out. [laughs]
NM: Okay great I’ll check back in on Friday [laughs] see if you’ve figured out the great existential question of what our purpose is. Didn’t mean to put you on the spot there, it’s a tough question figuring out what our roles are for any of us. Maybe I thought you’d be able to give me some answers, because I’m just out here trying to be a person like the rest of us [laughs] but thank you, that’s a great answer. Okay so maybe this is not fair, on your single on December’s End in your chorus you say, you talk about not having future plans, and kind of being at peace with that, which I admire. Despite that though, I’m wondering if I can ask you, are there visions for the future? For this project or for yourself that you can tell me about and share now?
MW: Yeah totally. That was a very rare moment of me not having future plans and being okay with it, which is why I think it made it into the song, so I relate to you right now. But I have managed to get some future plans. I’m moving to Washington state in March, and I’m going to be a farmer! I’m going to be working on a farm on Vashon Island which is off the coast of Seattle and I’m there for the growing season, March until November. So yeah, I’m going to be farming and I also foresee myself in my little cabin continuing to write songs. Like the songs are already still coming out, and so I want to keep writing songs and hopefully have enough for a full length album. I also want everyone to be vaccinated so I can go and hug and play music with other people. I’m going to say it’s in my future so hopefully it’ll happen!
NM: Yes! Absolutely, speak it into existence. I’m manifesting along with you. Well it sounds like that is perfect for you based on what you described wanting, like being in nature, connected to the earth in a cabin, and so I hope that you’re able to be very inspired and happy. I worked a summer on a farm and so I’m excited on your behalf, it’s awesome. Okay so when we are back together and you’re done on your farm and we’re able to play music in person, you’re going to come play a show in person?
MW: Yes! I will fly to Portland Maine and I will play a show.