Posted November 20, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Arts & Entertainment

Interview: Mirah & Erica Freas


By Blaine Ewig

It’s a rare and exciting opportunity to get two busy and prolific artists like Mirah and Erica Freas to sit down and have an hour-long conversation. But the two somehow managed to make time, and lucky for you, we were there for it.

Mirah stopped in Olympia to play a show at the Northern on Nov. 13, with Freas (also known for her work in local band RVIVR) opening with a solo set.

“I’ve had a pretty mellow day,” said Mirah, as she arrived to what was her second interview of the day, which would be followed by the show later in the evening. Freas joined soon after.

Mirah comes from the land of indie-pop, while Freas hails from the Olympia punk scene. However different they may be, they have a lot more in common than one might think. Both Mirah and Freas write heart-wrenchingly beautiful songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, paired with deeply personal, riveting, and poetic lyrics that cause you to question the presence of a soul in anyone in the audience who isn’t tearing up at least a little bit. Both have performed solo, collaborated with other artists, and experienced playing with a full band. Both have spent significant chunks of time in Olympia, and each had a lot to say about what it’s like to make music in such a small and encouraging community.

As Paula Abdul played in the background of Caffe Vita, we discussed the Olympia music scene’s past and present, the politics of writing personal music, communities of solidarity, and the energy that is lost and gained in performance. After Mirah and Freas were done catching up, we got started.

The conversation began with a discussion of the Olympia music scene, and changes that it does—or doesn’t—go through.

“The Artesian Well, the park, it’s got some painted tiles and some new stuff. But like, it feels the same. I think Olympia has the same feel,” Mirah said, reflecting on Olympia as she looked out the windows of what used to be Dancing Goats, where she worked while living in town.

“I think that the scene goes through changes,” Freas added. “But if you look at it in a pulled back, macro perspective, it’s really consistent for so long. There’s always quite a few really good bands. There’s always shows, all the time. The houses may change, and sometimes that feels really tragic, but then another house comes up.”

Bringing up a beloved, now-defunct show house, Freas looked to Mirah and said “You had an era where it was your friends. And I had an era where it was my really close friends, and now you’re having an era,” she said, looking at me. “So in the moment it might seem like things are changing a lot but in the macro it’s like, yeah…” she said, trailing off.

When I started going to shows…I was like ‘Oh, it’s actually more about the energy than the expertise… That was pretty inspiring to me.” Mirah

“When I lived here, this was the center of my world,” Mirah said. “And I knew all of the bands, and all of my friends were in bands, and it felt really active. Now I just come through to visit people, so I don’t have my finger on the pulse of Olympia.”

While thing have stayed mostly the same, not everything has remained completely consistent. “The economy was hugely influential in the creative output of the town,” Mirah said. “And I do hear that that’s changing. I’ve heard it’s different.” She went on to describe how she and her housemates ran a secret cafe out of their house one night a week to pay their rent. This gave her the opportunity to focus efforts on music and other creative ventures. But Olympia’s post-recession economy has been making it harder for artists to get by without money.

“And it’s so sad!” Freas lamented. She went on to say that in the ‘90s and early 2000s, it was the norm to pay no more than $200 per month for a room. “I think it’s becoming more normal to pay $400 or $500 for a room,” she added. “You can’t make that much money here. You need to make art instead because there’s not money happening.”

The conversation moved on to Olympia’s DIY approach and overall attitude toward music. All you have to do in Olympia to put on a show is to find a place to host it, and both Mirah and Freas expressed that this was essential to their involvement in the scene.

“When I started going to shows…I was like ‘Oh, it’s actually more about the energy than the expertise.’” Mirah said, explaining that the positive atmosphere made her feel more inclined to engage and create music. “That was pretty inspiring to me.”

“Writing in your bedroom and posting it onto the Internet is awesome. And so is playing a live show,” Freas said. She added that live performance aren’t necessarily the apex of creative output, saying, “I think that spending so much time by yourself figuring it out, I don’t know, just singin’ into the mirror, or like, figuring out your dance moves, all of those things.”

“I still need to do that someday. Figure out my dance moves. I’m gonna put that on my list right now,” Mirah said, gesturing as if she were writing it down in an invisible notebook.

Freas informed Mirah that that art of playing guitar and dancing at the same time is two parts “practice and desire,” but quickly changed her mind and corrected herself “actually, I think it’s just desire.”

Writing personal songs like Mirah and Freas do is no small endeavor. People connect with music in profound ways. “I think that the personal is political,” Freas said. “I think that by writing about personal things, you’re opening the doorway for people who have had similar experiences to also feel those experiences through your music.”

“I’ve heard it from so many people after shows who share with me the effectiveness of my songs in their lives, and that’s super meaningful for me,” Mirah said. “‘cause I’m like ‘oh good, I am doing something useful.’ It helps them with their relationships with themselves, or their relationships with other people, or it was the soundtrack to this important event or part of their lives. I do think that music speaks to people on a level which is like, there’s nothing else that can go in to people in the same way. It’s really unique. Listening to a human voice sing is powerful. It’s powerful to be a singer.”

“When you think about it that way, it’s like magic,” Freas said.

“It is! It’s like magic,” Mirah agreed, adding, “and it’s so multifaceted. There’s so many different kinds of energies of music and singing that inspire people.”

Both agree that putting one’s emotions on display for an attentive audience is a positive experience that one gets accustomed to in time. But sometimes shows can be energetic roller coasters.

We’re all human, and we’re all trying to figure our shit out. We’ve all got areas where we are the victims of the lot that society has given us, and areas where we benefit from the lot that society has given us.” Erica Freas

Freas said that when she began performing she was “activating and thinking about energetic boundaries,” likening her energy to a bubble that surrounds her, which can be popped at any moment during a performance.

“The energy thing is so fascinating for me,” Mirah said. “How at some shows, sometimes I get so tired right before I play and I’m just like ‘oh my god I could fall asleep right now,’ and I can’t imagine how I’ll be able to pull that up, but somehow it’s there. And sometimes that after those shows whether or not I had energy before the show, afterwards I can also be like unable to talk and it’s such an expenditure of energy. And other times I’ll play it’s like I just had a cup of coffee or something.”

This discussion of vulnerability on stage soon shifted towards the idea of “safe-spaces” and communities of solidarity within larger music scenes.

“I had no idea what a privilege it was, my experience when I started making music,” said Mirah, describing the Olympia in the ‘90s. “It was female-dominated, and it was really queer, and it was awesome. It’s sort of like I didn’t have to physically confront it. I could intellectually confront the sexism that I knew existed, but within the world of music that I began creating music and touring in, it wasn’t a physical reality of my experience. It was amazing, and really unique, unfortunately.”

“I think the ideal is that we don’t need spaces like that because we’ve socially evolved. I hate separatism,” said Freas. “I would rather be in a different space than in a queer safe-space if it’s gonna be one that’s just a bunch of people pointing fingers outward and separating. We’re all human, and we’re all trying to figure our shit out. We’ve all got areas where we are the victims of the lot that society has given us, and areas where we benefit from the lot that society has given us.”

“In Olympia, I never think about the genders of the shows. Like, I would happily play a show where I was the only cis-woman or the only non cis-male person in the whole show, and I would probably not even notice,” Freas said, adding that living in Olympia has given her the opportunity to see shows by people of all genders on a nearly daily basis. But it’s not like that everywhere.

“Having toured in different parts of the world and in different parts of the United States, sometimes it’s been like …” Freas trailed off.

“It’s like time travel!” Mirah added.

“Yeah,” Freas said, “like sometimes after discussing it with the local people and discussing it amongst ourselves, in RVIVR we’ve been like ‘women to the front,’ which I would never say here. What would that even mean here? Who are the women? Why would we do that?”

Mirah will be continuing a U.S. tour with her new album, Changing Light, through mid-December, and Freas recently released a new 12” EP, Bicker & Breathe, with her band RVIVR.