Last year we interviewed Elizabeth Mitchell with her band’s Totally Mild release. A lot has happened since then. Totally Mild dissolved and Elizabeth has a new album called Wonderful World of Nature arriving November 1. The album was produced by John Castle and featured the singles “Parties”, “Beautiful Baby” and “Meander”
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge in making Wonderful World of Nature?
EM: The most difficult thing about this album was knowing how to start. I had a few false starts, thinking that I was ready, that I was finished writing… I really just needed the space to work out what kind of album I wanted to make and what I wanted to say. I guess a hard thing was that I was very excited to make an album but was a bit paralyzed by the many ways I could move on my own.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about John Castle. How did you meet? What made you decide to work with him on the album?
EM: John is really just a wonderful producer and now also a wonderful friend. I loved the work he had done with bands like Cub Sport and Hatchie, and when I explained to him the kind of album I wanted to make he really got it. We just clicked and it was clear to me that we would be able to make something really special together.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest difference working on this album vs working on a Totally Mild album?
EM: A huge difference is that these songs, these arrangements really came together in the studio, I had never played most of them live until after they were recorded. So very different to recording with a band that has been fine tuning arrangements while playing shows. It was both freeing and terrifying to have the final say on all things. I also felt like I could really open out and take up space with the things I wanted to say on an emotional level.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about being a solo artist. What things are easier for you now? What is harder?
EM: I love the feeling of having to take full responsibility for myself; on stage, in the studio, aesthetically, in decision making. Having said that, I’m incredibly supported by my wonderful all girl all star band and my managers. It truly takes a village to keep this tiny pink baby afloat. Creatively, it can be weird to finish things without having bandmates who will agree or disagree with you on when something is finished, but I’m lucky to have a community of artists that I can ask for advice or opinions if I get stuck. I guess the big difference is I don’t have to fight for my way if we disagree, haha.
FEMMUSIC: This album has been in the works for a while now. I remember it August 2018 when “Burn It All” had its Australian premiere. What are your goals and vision for the album?
EM: Yes, I have re-recorded Burn It All for the album which is really nice. I love the 7” version but I really wanted the album to be one cohesive piece of work. My main goal is really just to communicate my feelings and connect with people through that. The album is very raw, it’s ugly and painful but I think that’s the most human experience and I know that I feel less alone when I can share in someone else’s pain. I am really loving playing these songs live so hopefully just lots and lots more shows.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
EM: I tend to write in bursts, follow impulses. I have a piano in my bedroom so I can basically write whenever I want to without setting up. This year I’ve also been trying to have one day a week where I go to a studio just to write, turn off my phone and try to be focused. I never thought that kind of structure would work for me, but even though I find it frustrating it helps to create the space for things to come out. I write in a pretty confessional way, usually about relationships. It’s surprising that anyone still wants to date me…
FEMMUSIC: When I asked you last year about whom you would like to tour with or collaborate with, you began by saying “I feel blessed to tour and collaborate with my band, I’d like to keep doing that until we get tired or kill each other. ” – Now that Totally Mild is dissolved have your thoughts changed? Who would you most like to collaborate with?
EM: Totally Mild was a huge part of my life, and I’m grateful for the things we got to do together. I am in a really good place now where everyone I collaborate with and everything I do feels super intentional, and that’s something I could only have learned from all my past experiences; both good and bad. There are so so many people I’d like to collaborate with, like maybe too many to list… I am truly obsessed with Kacey Musgraves at the moment, maybe I could make a country album next.
FEMMUSIC: As a queer artist what can you do now, that you couldn’t a decade ago? What would you like to still be done?
EM: I guess just the fact that you can be a queer artist but it doesn’t have to be your entire story is something in itself. The video for Beautiful Baby is absolutely the most overtly queer thing I’ve ever put out, but I don’t feel worried about being pigeonholed into being only for a “queer market”. Like, I wouldn’t really mind if that did happen because I love my people but it’s exciting that being queer can just be one of many elements of an artist’s story.
Totally Mild is the brainchild of Elizabeth Mitchell. Starting out as a solo project it has evolved into a 4 piece with developed sound and style. Their album HER comes out on February 23 and Totally Mild is already due to appear at SXSW.
Mitchell has a presence and power similar to Imelda May in HER’s first single “Today Tonight.” She gets close and intimate with the second single and ballad “Lucky Stars.”
EM: We wanted Her to be a more lush pop album, we spent a lot of time making choices in the studio rather than worrying about replicating a live sound. I wanted the lyrics to be concise and honest, they are not very masked in their intentions.
FEMMUSIC: What were the biggest differences between Down Time & HER? What lessons did you learn from Down Time?
EM: Her is more of a considered album. Down Time feels like an artifact of where we were as a band, with Her we opened ourselves up to more elaborate production. I was very naive about the music industry and releasing an album when Down Time came out, you can only release your first album once. I feel more aware now which is positive and negative.
FEMMUSIC: You recently signed to Chapter Music. What made you sign with them? What benefits do they bring?
EM: Chapter Music is such a staple of the Melbourne music scene, they have released so much amazing music over the years. As a local music nerd I feel very honoured to be on their label. Guy and Ben are so committed to their bands, they stay behind everything they release 100%. There is also just something special about working with other queer people. They really see you and your experiences of the world. I really feel like they understand where I am coming from with my approach to music and life in general.
FEMMUSIC: Besides the new album, new label…your band has also changed. Tell me about the new members and what they bring to Totally Mild?
EM: Dylan Young is our new drummer. He is a child prodigy, so young and so talented. He can play every instrument put in front of him and is a pure joy to have in the band.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest impact on you and why?
EM: Huge question. I don’t know if I can pick a single song so I’ll pick an album Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. If ever I’m having a musical problem I look to Rumours for the solution.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
EM: Of course. I don’t like to dwell on all the negative elements of being a woman in the music industry though. Especially now because it feels like a revolutionary time for women, femmes and non-binary people coming together and changing things. I also operate with a lot of privilege within the industry. Sure I’m a queer woman but I’m also white and cis. The problems don’t lie just with being a woman in the music industry, it’s much more intersectional than that, and it’s the whole structure that really needs questioning. It’s a matter of race, gender, class, access; it’s more complicated and nuanced than simply being a woman in the music industry.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to tour with or collaborate with and why?
EM: I feel blessed to tour and collaborate with my band, I’d like to keep doing that until we get tired or kill each other. As for a dream celeb, I’d love to write for a pop star like Miley Cyrus or Kesha…
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry and why?
EM: Things move and change so slowly. More women, more queer people, more people of colour; less boys clubs. It does feel like things are getting better but maybe it’s the bubble? I’d like the bubble to get bigger, I think it is slowly, maybe, I don’t know