A conversation with Mishka Shubaly

 

    We spoke with singer, songwriter, speaker, author and runner Mishka Shubaly about the indignity of emojis, writing emails that will never be answered, facing down burnout and why the world is neither equal nor fair.

    I think any artist is in a near-constant state of frustration, anxiety and nostalgia.

    1

    Morgan Enos

    Recently, I noticed we’ve both made some complete changes in our lives and home structures. You moved to Atlanta after two years on the road, and my significant other and I just relocated from a shoebox to a family neighborhood. How does having more personal space and quietude change your internal weather?

    Mishka Shubaly

    I guess I’ll let you know how personal space and stability is when I finally get there. I’m still just crashing with my girlfriend in Atlanta and won’t move into my new place until August. I’m writing to you today from my girl’s folks’ place in South Carolina. We drive back to Atlanta today, then fly to California for ten days to visit my sister, then I’m back for three days, out on the road for five, back for three weeks, UK for three weeks with Birdcloud… it’s interminable. I publicly swore to take six months off touring because I was just so physically and mentally worn down but that’s already been cut down to four months as I’m planning a run around the Southeast with Michael Dean Damron for February. And I’ll have a bunch of new recordings to promote: a split 10” with JT Habersaat, a new studio record I’m finishing up, a covers record I’m about to start, possibly some new writing.

    2

    What kind of mood are you in today, and why? What caused it?

    I think any artist is in a near-constant state of frustration, anxiety and nostalgia. I’m frustrated that I spend so much time doing administrative shit – writing emails that are never answered, remembering emails I need to answer as I’m about to fall asleep and instantly forgetting again when I’m at the computer, updating social media, building a new website, booking tours, promoting tours – and so little time actually creating.

    I’m anxious about the tours and the records. Will they be any good? Will anyone care? Will I still care when they finally come out? I have a big day next week where I’m meeting Mark Lanegan, one of my favorite singers and writers of all time. I’m forty years old and I’m worried about what I should wear or what I should say and how do I make him like me, it’s fucking pathetic.

    And I’m feeling nostalgic because I’m in the middle of going through a shed of belongings and the accompanying gulag of self-interrogation. I found some old writing notebooks from ’96 when I was studying fiction with Lucia Berlin with her notes to me and it made me miss the shit out of her. I also located a box titled “Depressing Ex-Girlfriend Hell” which I probably don’t need to explain to you.

    This world is not equal or fair and if you say it is, you’re either stupid or full of shit or stupid and full of shit.

    3

    One of my favorite quotes is from David Briggs – “Be great or be gone.” I think there’s a growing trend in our culture where many choose to accept and celebrate their own flaws, rather than put in the elbow grease to make them better. What should the balance be between acceptance and holding yourself and others to a high standard?

    Oh man, I am gonna dig myself a hole on this one. I think American culture celebrates celebrating ourselves too much. I have little patience for this “everyone is beautiful” shit. I understand what people are getting at, that each person can hold beauty in them. I used to love going to the Russian & Turkish Baths in New York because everyone was in the sauna together – young vegan models and kickboxers and bankers and web bros and moms and old Russian Jews – and the variation in bodies was actually, literally beautiful. I remember thinking “Wow, here we are, all of us human.”

    But to say “everyone is beautiful” is to flatten all those varied experiences. Human beings are obsessed with physical appearance and some folks have had a much harder time because they were deemed more or less “beautiful.” This world is not equal or fair and if you say it is, you’re either stupid or full of shit or stupid and full of shit.

    I’m a sober alcoholic so I have an intimate relationship with my own shortcomings. I’m cranky, I get angry easily, I often have a hard time dealing with groups of people, I’m impatient, I’m a hard-ass, I’m judgy… the list goes on and on. I don’t celebrate any of that. I do my damnedest to keep it in check. I’m grateful I got sober and I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to have the life I have now… but if I was gonna celebrate anything, I’d celebrate the resilience I’ve shown, not the things that have held me back.

    When people are like “Oh yeah, I’m hours late to everything and that’s because I’m a free spirit artist-type LOL YOLO emoji emoji emoji…” yeah, fuck that bullshit to death. If you’re so inconsiderate to be hours late to everything and then you celebrate that, I will celebrate deleting your number.

    4

    I keep struggling with acceptance vs. complacency, though. I wonder if peace of mind is a worthy bargain for a “good job” rather than a great one. Is that wrongheaded?

    You’re either asking the totally right guy or the totally wrong guy. Folks keep hassling me to tour more or take on big new projects or write another book. They’re totally right – I should be doing epic shit and I’m grateful for the encouragement. And also, if you’re constantly lurching in manic exhaustion from one massive project to the next, you’ll be unhappy and you’ll be a drag to be around. And I know so many people who have tapped out on making records or touring or playing music or making art entirely because it’s too much of a hassle. I think you’ve got to find a balance between the two. Aspire to make an awesome record, a classic record, a perfect album of twelve cohesive tracks. And if only five songs come together, put it out as an EP. An imperfect record you release is always better than the perfect record you can’t finish.

    I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie with my sisters and that seemed like a better, simpler time to live. There’s no dignity in emojis, you know?

    5

    You’ve traveled the country – and the entire planet – so much more than I have. What revelations have you had on the road? Have you found beauty in unexpected places?

    Traveling often makes me lament humanity. People are sort of the same throughout the Western world. They want to eat the food that’s worst for them. They want to get laid, preferably with the person who is the worst for them. They want to get fucked up and they don’t want to pay the bill afterwards. It’s dispiriting.

    And two years of rootless touring (i.e. living as a professional guest) has been incredible. America seems to be a country wrapped around fear like a kid might clutch a stuffed animal in their sleep. And I have experienced such fantastic hospitality and kindness from people I’ve never met before. For all its flaws, I still love America, but I’ve loved America for a long time so what stands out to me about these last years on the road is Europe.

    I’ve been to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany and France. A guy in Scotland I exchanged about ten messages with on Twitter turned his garage into a club for an afternoon with a tiny little stage and red curtain and my name on a marquee the size of a briefcase. A woman who saw me play a show in Portland brought me over to Paris for a show and gave me her apartment for the weekend.

    I went to Berlin, I got to stay with Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues in Dublin and she brought me to the James Joyce tower, a dude in Wales put me up in this incredibly plush apartment over a hobbit hole of a tavern. I think borders are bogus and I think nationalism is even more hollow than racism… but fucking A, do I ever love the UK. I was trying to sort out what I love beyond the accents and I realize it’s that they invest in education. Instead of being anti-intellectual, they’re anti-guns. Crazy, huh?

    6

    Ian Anderson and Randy Newman are two of my favorite songwriters. Anderson usually writes about agriculture and the pre-Industrial era, Newman’s mostly about the 20th century. It’s a cliché to say one was “born in the wrong era,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a curiosity about a world powered by horses, or one without electricity. Do you ever feel emotional about a bygone time in world history?

    This right here is why we’re friends. I’m down with Randy Newman but I can only conceptualize listening to Jethro Tull as some form of punishment, like you can pay a $500 fine or listen to fifty hours of flute rock. Maybe I’ll throw some on today while I do the dishes just to maximize the unpleasantness of the situation and perhaps also learn something.

    I guess I think wistfully about living in any time other than our own. I remember pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook, pre-iTunes, pre-cellphone, pre-web, pre-email. I’m no Luddite but I do feel like with each of those technological advancements, the quality of my life has diminished, or at least the quality of my internal life. There’s no dignity in emojis, you know? I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie with my sisters and that seemed like a better, simpler time to live. It was also a great time to die of diarrhea or whooping cough or stepping on a nail, which makes our over-determined modern world seem not quite so bad. So yes, I do wish I lived in basically any other time than what we live in now. But wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first. I’m here, you’re here, let’s get to living.

       

    Thank you.

    Data


    Conversation: 23
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: August 23, 2017
    Total questions: 6
    Word count: 1642
    Reading time: Six minutes
    Hyperlinks: 8
    Luddite: Questionably
    Turkish baths: Yes
    Emails: Unanswered
    Occupation: Professional guest
    Perfection or imperfection: Depends
    Nervous future meeting: Mark Lanegan

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