An interview with Tallahassee Quintet Mira
By: Sean Strauss
When was the last time a band grabbed you seductively by the collar and then fucked your brains out again and again and again? Make your list and see how many of these bands are from the last five, or even ten years. Exhale, dear friends, the wait is over. No longer will you have to wade through the endless muck of samplers and promos begging for that keyboard intro to change. There's a new bitch in town, and her name is Mira.
The driving forces behind this Tallahassee quintet are guitarist/engineer Tom Parker, and the modest, sweet, and inexpressibly talented chanteuse, Regina Sosinski. While most critics are trying to piece together how many of their favorite bands they can compare Mira to, the listeners are getting their heads dunked under the icy blue waves of the most important thing, the music itself, and finding a magnificent warm embrace underneath.
After six years of live performances and two studio albums complete, Mira is about to begin their first cross-country tour. Having kicked ass at Projektfest 2002 in Philadelphia, and with growing worldwide attention, Mira is on the brink of major success. In a hysterical interview via e-mail, all five members of Mira, including drummer Alan Donaldson, bassist Melody Fleck, and guitarist Mark Davidson, share candid and romantic tales of what is, and what is soon to be--
Paving the way for Mira's very first West Coast performance tour, Sean Strauss interviews the quintet known only as Mira.
IMWT: Does the band name Mira come from the Spanish word for "it watches," meaning that the music is cinematic?
Melody: The name of the band was already decided before I joined, but the name really took on meaning when someone told us that the Greek translation is "fate", and that's when I knew it was meant to be.
Regina: Well, it wasn't chosen for that meaning, although it is a cool coincidence. As far as cinematic, I think we are only now able to step back from the music enough to think about it in visual terms, like how we might enhance our live shows... but we're still working on that one.
Tom: Yes, the way we chose the band name is a story far too uninteresting to put into print. But it is a good ambiguous moniker that keeps people guessing, I suppose. From Spanish to Greek, to Hindi, it means vastly different things. Our name is up for interpretation, I guess.
IMWT: The first Mira show was at a Halloween party. What was it like that night; the atmosphere and the chemistry of the crowd gathered?
Regina: I don't know if I even noticed the crowd -- I was completely terrified.
Alan: there was a chill in the air. Cut through me like a knife ... but it felt so right.
Tom: ::Laughs:: There's Alan with the comic relief. The party was, well, familiar. It was really a sort of, an "artsy" college party with people that we mostly knew. Julie, the party-thrower, is a pro at decorating, so, there was a very special environment enforced, an almost Disney-make-believe quality (in a good way) to the place. We were well received by the crowd, and once the show was over and we could relax, it was very chill.
IMWT: Mira melds so many genres of music like Goth, pop, ambient, punk, dance, etc. Does this stem from an appreciation of all that music, or merely an ambition to reach the widest possible audience?
Regina: Definitely the former. I don't think we ever really consider writing with an audience in mind; we more or less are just struggling to get the music to come out as true and pure as possible.
Melody: We all come from different musical backgrounds, and I think the music we write together reflects that.
Mark: We are currently trying to expand upon that a bit. As we hear new and exciting things, we are constantly changing our tastes and therefore our personal approaches to our music. It happens almost weekly. Sure we want people to enjoy what we are doing, but mostly we want to play music that we like, and to play music that is exciting to us. Everyone having different ideas of what exactly it is that gets us off is what Mira is all about.
IMWT: You've played tons of shows at Cow Haus in Tallahassee. How might you feel like playing at a club in your hometown has prepared you for war on all the world's stages?
Regina: I never quite thought of it that way, but I guess it helped a lot in the "getting comfortable on stage" department. But, I think we all agree that playing out of town in front of strangers is easier than playing at home in front of our friends.
Melody: In a way it was a place to experiment and get comfortable playing music in front of people.
Mark: We use Tallahassee as proving grounds for new stuff, and as a platform to fall on our faces. Our friends have seen us so many times, that very often their insight is more valuable than our own subjective viewpoints. There is nothing like having a good friend come up and say, "You know Mark, that new song? It was total crap. And you suck on the guitar."
IMWT: What do you want an audience to take away from each Mira live performance?
Alan: Our cds... and maybe a t-shirt or two. But seriously, maybe having one of our songs stuck in their heads.
Regina: Like they've experienced something. Felt something.
Mark: We would hope that the energy of us playing live would be a totally different experience than the recording. Not that the records are poorly recorded, but we have been told time and time again that it is a different experience altogether. The records are really intimate; it is something that one listens to in a more individual experience. Shows, by their very nature, are completely different, as they should be, and we approach it that way. It is a group of people gathered together; the energy exchanges; we can see each others faces, and interact and respond to each other on a totally different level. Most importantly, we can heckle each other.
IMWT: Mira's music seems to conjure so much romantic sensory stimulation. How might visual stimulants such as painting or photography seep influence into your song writing?
Melody: I think our moods and the band chemistry influence our songwriting more than anything.
Regina: I agree. It's whatever we are feeling and how that is expressed between the 5 of us.
Mark: We have worked a bit with the eye-of-the-hurricane idea, with Regina's voice and the wall of sound of the instruments, and I think that is best seen in live performance.
Tom: It's hard to say how visual art seeps into your music. Back in my college days as a shoe gazer, I liked Impressionistic art a lot...but that was when I was taking art history. For me, writing is mostly the mood cast by the songs and forming short emotional sentences and phrases expressed by a "riff".
IMWT: Mira spent three years putting together a solid debut album, but within a year you completed "apart" which is a gargantuan leap in terms of song writing, mixing, and production value. What happened in that gap between albums? What made "apart" come together so much more quickly than the debut?
Mark: Apart was the introduction to the band as it is now. Not hat is was at all half-baked. That time was a very special moment where we were feeling out how the band was going to be, and we were learning a lot about how the band was going to function as the five of us. We have grown so much as friends and partners that I can only say that we are starting to know what we are doing as cogs in the Mira machine. I personally have become a much different musician in terms of how I play and think about the music. Tom and I both have learned a lot about each other, and I am sure the rhythm section would concur.
Tom: Mostly, those three years were spent forming as a band. We would write some songs, play some shows, and then lose a member, or set aside time for me to learn how to record.
IMWT: Tom, do you anticipate other bands approaching you to produce or mix their albums?
Tom: Well, I hope so! It is something I plan to do throughout my life. There are a handful of bands in town here that I have done records for, and a few that I'm currently working with now. I do it primarily for the experience right now, even though I could make a career of it in Tallahassee. I hear a lot of bad stories of bands recording with the "Pros" here in town. Especially since Creed began in Tallahassee, there have been quite a few guys who decide they want to "make records." So, they buy a bunch of stuff from a mail-order catalog and charge people $50 an hour to make a CD with the compressor turned up too high. It was for this reason alone that I decided that I could record Mira myself. And sure, the records show the mistakes that I had to learn, but we got to record at our own whim, in our own houses. I don't have a "studio" now, so me, and my stuff have to travel to record. Or do it at my house. It is kind of fun really. Never sounds the same.
IMWT: Regina, what if you were approached to sing on another project? Perhaps this happens frequently already? How would you respond to such opportunities?
Regina: I have had the opportunity to sing a song live with another band from Tallahassee - Overlords of the Underworld - a few times, which was a lot of fun. Their music is really different than ours so I had the chance to try some new things. Explore some new ground.
IMWT: Have you had the opportunity to meet or jam with any musicians that inspire Mira?
Melody: The split 7-inch we recently recorded with Cream Abdul Babar was really cool, not only because we are covering each other's songs, but also because I've known some of those guys for years.
Mark: There are a ton of really good musicians here in town that we have played with individually, and we love to be blown away by the other bands we watch. I like to steal new dance steps.
IMWT: Regina, you've repeatedly noted the Cocteau Twins as an influence, and like Elizabeth Fraser, it's sometimes difficult to understand your lyrics. How might you balance the emotion and the mystique of the words in comparison the literal message or story that you're telling? Which is more important to you: the emotive values, or the lyrical themes?
Regina: Definitely the emotive values. Words have always been the hardest part of songwriting for me. I always found it much easier to express myself through sound, rather than try and define what I'm feeling in just so many words.
IMWT: The lyrics seem so hauntingly beautiful, and yet, no lyrics appear in the cd jacket. Was the omission intentional, or merely an oversight?
Regina: Intentional. For the debut I just said no way. I wasn't comfortable with people hearing, let alone reading, the lyrics. And for *Apart* I just didn't think it was that important...that the lyrics weren't as crucial to the feel of the songs as the overall sound. But for the next one I am planning on including them. I am actually looking forward to it.
IMWT: How does it feel to finally get out west? What concerns might you be having about heading out into performance in Western states of the USA?
Melody: Hell yeah, I can't wait. Our east coast tour was a teaser.
Regina: We've been waiting for this a long time. I can't believe we're actually doing it.
Mark: It is a long drive. I hope that we are intelligent, and don't get stranded in the mountains of Utah. I would hate to have to eat these fuckers.
Tom: It's going to be fun as hell. It's also going to be completely new for all of us. For some of us, it'll be our first trip out west. I have no concerns about the performances out there; that'll be the fun part. Just the whole stupid issue of responsibly doing a tour, with handling money, vans, equipment and each other's emotions. It's really easy to let things spin out of control quickly to where things can get really un-fun if they do. We have such a tight schedule; we can't really afford to screw up too much.
IMWT: Attention has been building for Mira within England and France; any international tour plans on the horizon?
Mira in unison: Send us some plane tickets, and we're there.
Tom (says on the side): Really? Has it been mounting? Projekt hardly ever tells us what's happening overseas....
IMWT: Does having a beautiful female front the band make you nervous about media spotlighting? How does everyone keep his (or her) egos in check?
Melody: What egos?
Mark: One would hope that the music would be the kicker. We are definitely not trying to out-do each other, and as long as we feel comfortable on stage, moving, and acting as our personalities delineate, then we are just fine. I'll never tell Tommy to bang his head.
Tom: You know, there's always that Diva jealousy, (I'm trying not to liken us to No Doubt.) Regina does get the majority of the attention, but tensions have never risen higher than the occasional wisecrack about it. It's weird. It's like an understanding, or something....
IMWT: Will Mira be traveling by Air, Van, or Tour Bus?
Alan: On a steel horse I ride.... or an Aztec.
Regina: A very expensive rental van.
Mark: If anyone has a tour bus laying around that they are not using, and won't mind an extra 8,000 miles on it, please, don't hesitate to call.
Tom: ::Laughs:: Alan refers to a bright-yellow rental Aztec he once had. Now, THAT looked funny. He had to meet us in Atlanta for a show once, and he drove up to the club in this big, Jurassic Park looking theme-ride vehicle. And he f'in LOVED the thing. We still make fun of him for it. But uh, a Van will be our vehicle. Hopefully not a rental.
IMWT: Any survival stories, or Road demons you'd like to share with our readers?
Mark: Not really any we can print. Maybe there will be some fodder when we get to Portland.
Tom: Jeez, yeah, they are all too long of stories and ultimately boring.
IMWT: Which dates on the tour are you most looking forward to, other than Portland, of course?
Mark: Chicago will be a lot of fun, because I get to see my Mom, and we will have a couple of days to hang out, and perhaps record live versions and demos of some of our songs. Oh yeah, and really good pizza. My brother is in L.A., and there are a lot of people we haven't' seen in a long time.
Tom: We will get to see and play with Audra again in Phoenix. That's on Mark's birthday. That'll be a party. LA should be a good show; we are playing at a great venue. Then, the whole LoveSpirals tour thing will be an experience in and of itself. So, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. Driving through the Rockies will be awesome, and Chicago is again, much anticipated.
Regina: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, PORTLAND, Chicago... all of them really!
IMWT: Alan seems to have developed an original percussion technique, doubling up on the half measure, and Regina's voice has gone places I've only heard Lisa Gerrard (from Dead Can Dance) travel to, does Mira constantly strive for that extra something special?
Tom: You know, good drummers; they all have that weird 'tich' that sets them apart from everyone else. But, I can't really say that we are consciously striving for something special. In the early days, we had a good idea of what we wanted a band to sound like. Then we got two new members and, kind of just let some things grow from the old and new "energies." Now, we are kind of, deliberately writing styles of music. We've gotten to that weird place where, we must conjure the songs out of ourselves, rather than it just flowing out because we just got together to "jam." It's a lot like love in a way. The honeymoon is over. We're going shopping for a minivan.
IMWT: There are so many processing layers on "apart" that take forever to digest (the feedback breaks on "green", the strings in "plastique".) Please describe the process of development that went into the production of "apart".
Mark: We had a bit of time with that record to map a few things out. Nothing was set in stone, but the ideas were there. Live the ideas are still there, but they come off differently, night to night. We plan to do a lot more of that in future recordings. Knowing a lot of other musicians in town to help us out is the key.
Tom: Layered is right! We had so many different discarded ideas recorded on each song, that the computer sometimes choked. We had broad ideas for the song parts, that weren't really realized until they were cut and pasted together onto the tracks. There were a lot of ideas that never came to be. We originally planned to have a whole string section record on many more of the songs. There is still an unused string track on the archive of Stainless that just didn't work with the guitars. But mostly, we write and record first as a 'live' band, then, instrument parts get modified, or changed, or cut. Then add other instruments.
IMWT: Does Mira walk into the studio with a mapped out agenda in mind? Or, do band members collaborate and brainstorm on the developments?
Mark: Historically the studio thing has been in totally familiar surroundings with totally familiar music, and we have tried to document the songs we do live. Things get added and expanded upon, and I can think of a few songs that are great that are an exception to the rule, on both records. In fact, I think we are going to re-evaluate that sort of writing process, because it is a totally different philosophy to music making.
Tom: Yeah, not so much as an agenda, but more, just, ideas. We have the basic parts, and then the rest is just invented on the spot.
IMWT: Regina, the vocal melodies on "apart" are such a crucial part to the album's complexities ("green", "stainless", "in theory"); does Tom encourage you to use your voice like a third guitar, or is it your doing?
Regina: The band pretty much lets me do what I want vocally, which is cool for me. And I have always used my voice more as an instrument than a vehicle for lyrics when coming up with melodies to songs.
Mark: I will often times intentionally double her melody in places that I think will strengthen things up. It is a cool thing to create this foreign-sounding hybrid instrument between the voice and guitars.
IMWT: Regina, tell me about that incredible vocal outr? of "in theory."
Regina: Wow. Well, it just kind of came out. The "everyday everyday" part was written first, and the other line just sort of happened when I started thinking about backing vocals for that part. It was that dreary, late Sunday afternoon feeling.
IMWT: Mira has packed a pretty tight tour schedule. How is Mira preparing and planning to make time for the avid fans expected to attend along the route of the tour?
Mark: Hopefully this time we will have a lot more time to do things outside of the van and show. We sort of planned it that way intentionally. It would be great to find cool people to show us around their city so we can get an Insider's feel for what is happening there. That would mean a ton to us.
Regina: If they're around I'm sure we will have time to meet them.
IMWT: How are you preparing for the gruel that comes with back-to-back nights in different states, e.g. vitamins, extra toothpaste, etc.?
Mark: The free beer thing has lost some of its luster over time. We all realize that being on tour for an extended amount of time is an unnatural way to live. Drinking every night, not sleeping in familiar surroundings, and eating fast food...well, that is perfectly normal for me, but for most it is really taxing. Lots of our friends have said, "Buy groceries, and don't always eat out." It saves money and our intestines. So, all in all, one has to be a tad more responsible on the road, and that is not at all what one would initially think. I thought it was all fun and games, but really it is irresponsible to anyone who would actually pay money to see us to show up hung over, or tired, or late, or whatever.
Tom: Preparing? What?
Regina: Vitamin C, Echinacea, mega multi's, throat coat tea, cough drops/throat spray, a personal pillow for sure, and a hoodie.
IMWT: I'm personally ready to jump out of my skin with the anticipation I have for Mira. After six years of performance and releasing music, how do you feel about the progress you have made? Where are you right now in terms of where you want to *be* with Mira?
Mark: I think personally the time flies right by. No one in the band is ever going to sit back and be satisfied, and I think that if we had another 6 or 7 years (Jeez, should bands last that long?) we might get closer to what it is we are trying for. I think that we are all getting a pretty clear picture of where we are headed and what we want, and I can tell you that we are really hard on ourselves. We are starting to work really hard on pushing ourselves as musicians, songwriters, and most importantly in our own individual personalities to try to make something mature and beautiful. Our most important growth from last year's tour is something within the individuals in the band, and that will reflect ultimately in what we write. What you eat is what you shit.
Tom: Yes, well, as an "artist" you should never be comfortable where you are. You always can grow somewhere else. So, with that said, I can't say that I'm where I would like to be with Mira. I'm still striving for some kind of goal. But things like this are only really defined in retrospect.
Regina: I want to be able to play music full time. No more working all day and having no energy left at night when it's time to create. I feel like we've grown a lot, but there's a lot more still to do.
IMWT: How does it feel to have almost 100,000 plays of your mp3s? More importantly, how do you believe this helps you develop and diversify your fan base?
Mark: The mp3 thing has been really great for us. As it goes, I would like to see us use it in more unorthodox ways, because really there is no financially sound way to release everything we do, and perhaps we can use it more as an experiment in trying out things that we might not do for a record. It is sort of like trying out new songs live and seeing what happens.
Tom: Well, I'd like to say that we owe mp3.com in its early days a great deal for getting the word out. I think many of our west coast fans first heard us there. How does it feel to have so many plays? It's crazy. I still don't know how to take it.
Regina: It definitely gets our music heard by people around the world. It's amazing; we've gotten emails from all over the place. I think it's a positive thing.
IMWT: How might the Projekt label folks be giving you the artistic freedom you desire, or are there pressures to compromise?
Mark: Being on Projekt is great for a ton of reasons, and I am not just saying this for anyone else's sake. We all really believe that the group at Projekt is great and that they are wonderful people, and we really found that out at Projektfest. The unfortunate side to all of that is that I don't think that Projekt gets its due from most of the people that listen to music and would probably like what the label is doing. That is not the label's fault, but rather that there are a lot of labels and bands that are given much more attention than the folks on Projekt. Turn on any college radio station and you are going to hear a few different styles of music, generated from a few different areas of the country, and then a lot of bands that ape those different styles of music. The Great Apes are running the stations, and the record stores, and most of them just don't pay attention. That has historically been the case, in my experience, not only here in Tallahassee, but with my friends around the country. Today (or was it last week?) it was the Strokes, before it was the Athens scene, or Built to Spill, or the Tortoise scene. And we all love that stuff as well.
Tom: Projekt has shown us total artistic freedom. No complaints there.
Regina: We've always had complete artistic freedom with Projekt.
IMWT: How do you write on the road? Or, don't you?
Alan: Well, they say that the road is no place to start a family...
Mark: We haven't really ever had the chance to write much on the road. Our last tour consisted of us driving the entire day (or night) from place to place, falling out of the van with our instruments and jumping onstage. Maybe this time we'll have a few more opportunities to try that, but I have always wondered how bands on the road wrote new material.
Regina: In a journal. Always bring a couple of good pens.
IMWT: What plans may be in development and unfolding for the next album?
Mark: I think that we are trying a few different approaches to the whole songwriting thing. We are realizing some of the shortcomings of trying to write as a five piece rock band, usually starting with a riff, or bass line, and then hashing it out from there. We are going to try different combinations, and write a bunch of music, so that we a have a lot to pick from. Most of it you will never hear in a proper recording, but as it is said, "Edit yourself mercilessly." We are also going to try to plan out a greater idea for the record itself. Not from a 70's concept record sort of thing, but rather as the idea of the flow of the record. I can think of a dozen records off the top of my head right now that take the listener from one place to another, seamlessly, and beautifully. So, in short, we have our work cut out for us, and not a whole lot of time to do it.
Regina: That's still in the process of becoming...
Mira's tour dates are available at their website. If you are fortunate enough to be attending the Portland show on August 23rd, be prepared for what will probably be the best show of the year. Joining Mira will be the alluring acoustic textures of the nightingale-voiced LoveSpirals (formerly Love Spirals Downward) and Portland's own star-on-the-rise: Sumerland (http://www.sumerland.com/). Any one of these three bands would be worth the price of admission, instead allow yourself to be spoiled rotten this once and join us at the Paris Theatre, SW 3rd & Burnside, Portland, Oregon.