Brooklyn artist Mitski and Los Angeles artist Mark Redito (f.k.a. Spazzkid) chat with each other about good touring food, ESL (English as a Second Language), who they make their music for, and more.
Mitski: What are four foods you’d totally love to eat right now? Is there a food you didn’t like/were grossed out by when you were younger but are cool with now? Do you have any foods/flavors that you just can’t handle?
Mark Redito: Aaaah, you know me. I love talking about food! Let’s see… It’s morning right now and I’d love to get dimsum: shu mai, sesame balls, har gow, and lo mai gai. There’s a place that’s kinda nearby that I go to and I always end up with mad food coma. I used to hate avocados a lot because my mom would always force me to eat them. Growing up, I thought that the only way to consume avocado was preparing it sweet. My mom would make homemade avocado ice-cream or would eat it with milk and sugar. That kind of grossed me out but now I think avocados are great (both consumed savory or sweet).
Mark: When I was on tour I looked forward to eating. I’m a big diner guy and love waking up to get some cheap breakfast food (hi Waffle House). What are your spots? What food brings you comfort when you’re out on the road? Do you find yourself eating less or more?
Mitski: Eating good food is honestly what saves you on the road—me and Eskimeaux, who I went on tour with, have talked in-depth about this. My band members know that if they ever ask me where I want to eat I will always say “Asian food.” I keep it broad because I never know what’s available in any given city. Then my band is like, “I mean I like Vietnamese, but I can’t eat it every day,” but that’s how I feel about Western food. Rice, vegetables and fish are my everyday food that my body responds best to, I’d eat it for every meal if I could. I can’t eat dairy.
Photo by Daniel Dorsa
On tour I make sure we go on a grocery store run at least every week. It’s important to have healthy snacks on hand at all times so I don’t get hungry at a gas station and fill my body with overpriced sludge. I realized very early on that I’m not a hardy rocker—I can’t drink every day the way bands do on tour, and eat bullshit pizza, and not sleep, and still put on meaningful performances every night. I just can’t. I’m on tour to play music the best I possibly can, not to keep up punk appearances, and I’m going to make sure my instrument is taken care of.
Mitski: When I write music, my main goal is to convey a specific emotion, and I build my songs around an essence. Without that emotional essence grounding the song, no matter how pretty of a melody or harmony I come up with, I don’t feel like I’ve made something meaningful. I’m telling you this because I want to know what you try to achieve when you make your music, since our music is very different, and I’d love to know how you arrive at the music you put out into the world. What determines whether you think you’ve made a good track?
Mark: That emotional essence exists in my process, too. But not necessarily a starting point. Sometimes I start with a musical idea, a melody or a beat. And then build elements around it, and at some point I’m gonna meet that emotional essence in between track-building, and that usually informs me what kind of vibe I should go for. Most of my songs are instrumental or have few lyrics, but I like how people can feel certain feelings from a track without a lyric necessary guiding them what to feel. I do want to exude a feeling of positivity and fun on my songs; even my “sad” songs have a happy vibe to them. To add, I’m a fan of a good melody or hook and I always try to find that when I’m making a song. I try to share most of my work online as much as possible wether its meaningful to me or not. Personally, letting my fans in on my process via sharing good or okay songs is sharing my music journey with them. Hopefully it adds to a bigger body of work that I want to share.
Mark: How does your background and experience shape your art? I know we talked about ESL (English as a Second Language) when we were at Arcosanti and that we both have english as our 2nd language; would you ever write a song entirely in your first language?
Photo by Daniel Dorsa
Mitski: The thing is, I switched to an English-speaking school in 7th grade, right when I hit peak puberty, and was in English-systems ever since. The year before that, in 6th grade, I was living with my grandparents in the countryside of Japan, just being a cute idiot running around in nature and having kid-feelings. So I’ve never been in love in Japanese, I’ve never had sex in Japanese, I’ve never really had to be an adult in Japanese and try to navigate that while interacting with the world. I can still speak it, and I still read and write in it, but when I have strong emotions that I want to write songs about, I’m not thinking them in Japanese. Does that make sense? Sometimes I do write phrases of lyrics in Japanese, like the one in “First Love / Late Spring.” But honestly that was because I couldn’t think of the perfect English phrase to fit that melody, haha.
Mark: How do you think your first language/the cultures you grew up with inform your music today?
Mitski: I often find that when I’m making my art I have to translate the pure form of what’s inside me into something comprehensible for the general English-speaking population that grew up in one place, instead of twenty like me. Obviously every artist does this, whatever their native language and whoever they’re writing for, because that’s essentially what Art is, right? Creating metaphors and form for formless, abstract things? But I do think there are a few extra layers of translation when you’re taking what you experienced in one cultural context and trying to express it to a whole other culture. Am I even making sense anymore? Sorry, it’s 5 a.m. for me right now.
On that note, do you have people you make music for, in the global sense? Like, are you thinking, “I want people like me to ‘get’ and relate to what I’m doing,” or are you thinking, “I want people who don’t understand or know where I’m coming from to say, ‘Hey, this is cool’”? I find that I make my music hoping that maybe another version of me out there hears me calling out to them. But sometimes I wish I could pull off what M.I.A. does, where she calls out to people who don’t know what’s happening in the world and goes, “Hey, pay attention and do something.”
Mark: I guess for myself its a combination of both: I want it to be relatable as well as interesting for people who can’t relate. My past work tends to lean towards a more general approach: speaking to a wider crowd. I don’t know if it will change with my newer stuff. But I guess the more people who get it, the better.
Read our previous Conversations piece—featuring Eskimeaux and Frankie Cosmos—here.