Mitski On 'Puberty 2' And The Nature Of Happiness On her latest album, one of the most talked-about young artists in rock ponders just what kind of happiness is worth chasing. She speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin.
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Mitski On 'Puberty 2' And The Nature Of Happiness

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Mitski On 'Puberty 2' And The Nature Of Happiness

Mitski On 'Puberty 2' And The Nature Of Happiness

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Mitski Miyawaki likes to probe heartache in her music, but not in some melodramatic way. Her songs explore vulnerability and yet never sound weak. It's this combination that's helped push her into the vanguard of the indie rock scene.


MITSKI MIYAWAKI: (Singing) One morning this sadness will fossilize. And I will forget how to cry. I'll keep going to work. And he won't see a change, save perhaps a slight gray in my eye.

MARTIN: Mitski was born in Japan, and she grew up all over the world. In her suitcase, she always made sure to pack her dad's American folk records and her mom's collection of Japanese pop tunes. Mitski has just released her fourth studio album. It's called "Puberty 2." And she joins us now from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Mitski, thanks for being with us.

MIYAWAKI: Oh, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I want to play a song off the new CD. This is the first track. And it's called "Happy." It is introducing this idea that you kind of return to a lot throughout your work. Let's take a listen first, and then we'll talk about it on the other side.


MIYAWAKI: (Singing) Happy came to visit me. He bought cookies on the way. I poured him tea. And he told me it'll all be OK. Well, I told him I'd do anything...

MARTIN: There's a lot going on in there. Just as a listener, you're, like, fixated on your voice, which sounds really haunting and the lyrics themselves. There's a lot in there, but then that bass line. What is that?

MIYAWAKI: Some kind of kick sample that's just repeating over and over. I wanted something that was obsessive a little bit - just incessant and...


MIYAWAKI: And I guess, you know, I mention trains in the song. And I think I wanted to kind of evoke that without actually using train sounds.

MARTIN: And what about the obsessive quality? I mean, what about happiness and obsessiveness paired together for you?

MIYAWAKI: I don't think I'm alone in this. I think I'm just obsessed with trying to, not only be happy, but maintain happiness. But my definition of happiness is very skewed more towards ecstasy rather than contentment. So, you know, ecstasy can't last forever. So then there's the inevitable kind of comedown from that.

MARTIN: So can you tell me a little bit more about that? Has that crystallized for you in one relationship or in pursuing one goal? What have you sought this kind of ecstatic experience from that, in the end, didn't sustain you?

MIYAWAKI: I think it's less the what and more the thing itself. I've been kind of learning that I can use many different things to try to chase that feeling. But the most unhealthy thing is the chasing of it itself. When I was writing this song, I just wanted none of it. I didn't want the happiness. And I didn't want the sadness that comes after it. I just wanted, like, nothing. I think that's kind of what this song is ultimately about - not wanting to go up or down anymore.


MIYAWAKI: (Singing) Glory, glory, glory to the night that shows me what I am. As I go to the party on my knees, saying take it all, please. And tell me no. Tell me no.

MARTIN: So where are you at today?

MIYAWAKI: In this moment, I'm feeling pretty content. I feel like I'm - like I said, I'm doing a job. For so long, I worked towards, you know, people listening to my music. And now people are listening to my music. And I'm talking to you. And my album's coming out. So I think I'm feeling pretty content. We'll see how I feel in an hour and tomorrow and in a year, you know.

MARTIN: In 2014, you wrote a post on Facebook. And you were talking about the first time that you wrote music. And you said in the post you knew right you saw the rest of your life. And you knew that you were, quote, "doomed."

MIYAWAKI: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What did that mean? Doomed to what?

MIYAWAKI: Doomed to pursue it, you know. Now I had a taste of, I don't know, like, I'd touched God, I felt like. And once you feel that, you can't keep living your life like it didn't happen, you know. I felt like I'd finally found some kind of, I don't know, mysterious inner spring. And I had to keep pursuing it.

MARTIN: Mitski - her fourth album, "Puberty 2," is out now. She joined us from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MIYAWAKI: Oh, thank you for having me.


MIYAWAKI: (Singing) Today, I will wear my white button-down. I'm tired of wanting more.

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. BJ Leiderman wrote our theme. I'm Rachel Martin.

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