Miya Folick on Quitting Drugs, Watching Gossip Girl, and Getting Bored With Pop

Miya Folick on Quitting Drugs, Watching Gossip Girl, and Getting Bored With Pop
Photo by Johnny Marlow

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I thought Miya Folick's Roach was an underrated record this year, as well as a sizable step up from her debut Premonitions; she expanded her sound in a way that reminded me of 2000s indie, and I think she's heading in a really interesting direction as a result. We hopped on a call last month to talk all things Roach, as well as a host of other topics...

You've lived in L.A. for a decade now. Tell me about piecing together how you belong there.
L.A. continues to treat me well. The more I am close to trees and trails, that's the happiest I am. I like to be outside. I'm not very into heat, and I've never been into the heat, so that hasn't changed. I don't think I was made for the desert, but this is where I live. I felt the most rooted in the city before I started playing music—a long time ago—just because I was home more. Now I'm not home at all. So it's harder to feel as involved in the community.

I have friends, and when I come home I see them and we reconnect very easily, but when I wasn't touring as much, I was much more in the know about what's happening at galleries and community-based organizations. When I'm out of town, trying to plug back into that space is difficult when I'm back—especially because, when I'm home, I just want to rest. My feelings about the city change a lot. I still love it, but also for everyone, things are different post-pandemic.

When it comes to the pandemic, a lot of people I've talked to from the West Coast have talked about being outside and in nature in a way that's different from the East Coast. What was your quarantine experience like? I know we're a few years out from it now and it's hard to talk about for people...
I think we're far out enough that I haven't been talking about it as much, so it's refreshing to talk about it again now that there's distance. I've always been a person who loves being out of my house. When the pandemic happened, I was going for walks as much as possible. The one thing that changed for me was that I used to really enjoy jogging and walking in places that were heavily populated—I'd go to the reservoir here, and if you live in L.A., the Silverlake reservoir is a very popular walking space. I loved to go to places where I'd see other people. I might run into somebody, even a friend, but I'd encounter humanity.

During the pandemic, it was the opposite. I was just trying to go for walks and jogs in places where I didn't think I would see anyone. I'd go to Pasadena and wealthier neighborhoods where people don't walk very much. I really liked jogging around CalTech, where there's these insane mansions all over the place and no one's on the sidewalk. We had that awful apocalyptic fire season.

I remember seeing pictures of that.
Obviously, it's difficult to complain about it, because we were not in any danger. The place I lived was fine and safe. But I'm a person who needs to move to feel sane, and I felt extremely trapped in my apartment. I entered this phase where I was just watching Gossip Girl all day long while doing calisthenics. Growing up, television was heavily restricted in our house, so I didn't watch that much TV. I missed what's considered these cultural touchstones that everyone knows about and uses as ways to relate to each other. I felt like I didn't understand what anyone was talking about my whole life. So I was like, "I'm gonna find out what the deal is with Gossip Girl." I watched every single episode, every single season. It was pretty dark. The characters were very mean.

I rewatched the first couple of seasons during the pandemic too. It was a lot funnier than I remembered, but also, when you watch something that you've seen before in a younger part of your life, you're like, "Maybe I'm viewing this with a level of ironic distance now."
I didn't have that ironic distance while watching it. [Laughs] It's pretty compelling. The sheer volume of episodes I was watching every day...it was seeping into my psyche in a way that felt really toxic. I was like, "These are my friends. This is my community. These are the people I see every day." I was talking to my therapist about it, I was like, "I think I have to stop watching Gossip Girl, but I can't stop."

There were also different phases of the pandemic for me. There was the phase where I was waking up at 5 a.m. trying to write a novel, and then there was the Gossip Girl phase. Other than that crazy and horrible fire season, though, it was really nice to be outside. But the one thing we don't really have is parks. We have the beach, we have trails, we have mountains, we have hiking—but I would've loved to have some place like Prospect Park to go to.

Talk to me about the progression of your sound. I feel like I heard new things from you on Roach compared to the last record.
In many ways, some of the sounds on the record are a return to a previous sound. My first couple of EPs were much more guitar-based indie music. Some of the songs on the new record come back to that, like "Get Out of My House" and "2007." The other thing I was trying to tap into on this record was more of a homemade feel. There's more elements where I recorded it at home, or we used demo vocals. There's a lot of underdeveloped moments on this record that don't exist on Premonitions, a record where every vocal is pristine and recorded through a very specific processing chain.

With Roach, there's many different mics and techniques being used. On "Nothing to See," I tracked some additional backing vocals, but all of the main vocals we recorded when we made the demo in my friend's garage. I literally recorded my vocal with the mic resting on a wrench on his workbench with every intention of re-recording it. All of the vocals on "Cockroach" are demo vocals recorded on an SM-7. Very simple chains, very simple instruments, very simple microphones.

There's also more involved production on this record. There's always this push-and-pull inside of me between wanting things to feel personal intimate, and wanting things to sound big and epic and with a pop sensibility. As I move forward, I'm like, "Which side of that do I want to focus on?" Both Premonitions and Roach were fairly eclectic collections of music, and now I'm interested in focusing more on one vibe. But I do really like dynamic records, so that's always what I'll make. I can't imagine myself making just ballads, or just dance songs. I don't even know if I'm capable of doing that, or if I have the attention span.

Do you have an idea of where you're being pulled towards now?
The era of 2000s experimental indie rock is where I'm landing right now. There's so many people who are making more in-the-box pop production—everything's being heavily processed. There are so many people who are doing that, and they're doing it very well, and I'm so bored with it. [Laughs] I'm so bored with it! I love playing with people, and what I'm interested in is a warmer tone. Sometimes, that more digital approach feels harsh on my ears.

Right now, I want everything to feel beautiful and warm. I'm not interested in overly processing things. That's what I like about those records from the 2000s—there's so much experimentation going on in terms of form and recording, but it still sounds beautiful and warm, not overly processed in a way that hurts my brain. I don't know if that's just me getting older, but I just don't like harsh, abrasive music anymore. [Laughs] I used to, and now I'm like, "I just want it to sound nice. I want it to sound beautiful." I don't want to make bright, metallic-sounding things.

One thing I noticed about the lyrics on Roach was a lot of focus on substance use.
A majority of the record was written at the time where I was dealing very acutely with that issue—trying to stop doing cocaine, specifically. I'm definitely the kind of person who's writing about what I'm going through, so that's what I wrote about. I was focused on just being honest. But I go through phases, and I don't think that's a topic I'll continue to talk about—and it's not the overwhelming issue of my life anymore. It's something I've been through, and now I'm in another place, so it doesn't interest me as much. But when I was writing Roach, it interested me and it was something I was actively dealing with.

I quit drinking two and a half years ago, and after doing so it definitely felt like the main thing I was interested in talking—and writing—about for a period of time. Now it's more just part of my life and my experience. I definitely get the urge to ultimately want to talk about something else.
Yeah. Also, for a majority of writing this record, I was totally sober. Now, I'm not sober anymore. I definitely don't do cocaine anymore, and there are certain things that are absolutely off the table for me, but I drink. I've found that that's OK for me. It's not an issue for me.

I think I feel very sensitive about talking about it, because everybody is so different. I don't want to be out here saying, "It's totally OK for you to drink, as long as you don't do cocaine!" That's not true for everybody. I think it's interesting now that the record's out and I'm not out here being like, "I'm sober! Everyone should be sober!" Because I'm not. It's a sensitive thing to talk about. I think people can be extremely...I just never know what my influence might be, and I think I feel sensitive about talking about...first of all, I don't like to be dishonest, so I'm never gonna be like "I'm sober," when I'm not. But I also don't want to be like, "Hey, if you're sober but you think you should be able to have a drink totally normally, you should try it!" I think that was something I wanted to try because I suspected it would be OK, and it has been OK.

I don't know. I think I'm just sensitive about talking about it. But I do think—and this is absolutely true—that quitting drugs and being sober for that period of my life absolutely changed my life. It was so essential for me in order to move into this new phase where, obviously, I still have problems—they haven't gone away—but, almost every day, at least several times a day, at some point in the day, I'm like, "Oh my God, my life is so much easier." I can't imagine how much I was suffering every day, just feeling like absolute shit all the time. I can't believe I just went through life like that. That seems horrible! Now, every morning, I'm like, "I'm never hungover. This is amazing!"

I might be anxious, I still get anxiety, and anxiety for me now can be kind of triggering, because anxiety reminds me of hangovers. It scares me. But I definitely have that feeling of gratitude and joyfulness. Like, "If anyone ever needed me for anything, I would be totally fine." [Laughs]

You just got off tour. What's it been like for you on the road?
I've had so many different experiences on the road this year. I think it's hard to talk about without mentioning how difficult it is, post-pandemic. It's almost boring to focus on it, but it's hard not to mention that everything got way more expensive. It's just very hard, financially, and it's hard for everyone. When my friends are going out on tour, we're all like, "Man, I feel for you. Good luck." [Laughs] But I've had very lovely experiences on the road this year. I love playing shows, I love meeting people. I'm actively in the process of trying to figure out a way of playing music live for people that makes more sense for me. The traditional touring schedule—the length—is very hard on me. When I was first starting out, I didn't even realize how difficult it was, because I was so excited to be on the road at all. I don't know if it's my age, or the pandemic, but I think that I'm finally in a place where I care about taking care of myself, and I don't think I cared before. "I'll sleep on the floor! I don't need to sleep at all! We can drive for ten hours today and play a show!" Now, that really doesn't work for me, and it doesn't allow me to feel like I'm putting on the best show I can. It doesn't feel fair to anyone. I'm trying to figure it out. The traditional touring structure is not sustainable for me.

I don't think it's sustainable for anybody, man.
It's so hard, because you want everyone to have access to shows. You don't want to just play in L.A. and New York, or just venues where you know you're gonna sell a bunch of tickets. But it's so hard to play those shows where you haven't sold that many tickets and you're so tired. It's about trying to make sure people have access to live music, but also so musicians feel safe and healthy. If there's a way to make both of those things happen, that would be ideal. The U.S. is a big country. At the same time, there have been some lovely tours. I opened for Father John Misty and the Head and the Heart, and that tour was so fun for me because almost every venue we played was near a river or creek. I was on their bus, so I wasn't having to chase around in a van, it saved me a ton of money, and I felt extremely grateful for that. That felt so lovely—a privilege I don't usually get, which is to wake up in the city we play, go swimming in a creek, soundcheck, and go play a show. That was amazing. But it's rarely like that. It's never like that. I don't need that every time...

It would be nice, though.
It would be really nice. On my headline run, I felt very lucky. The crew that was with me had amazing attitudes, no complaining or fighting. I've never been in a crew that was like that—I don't think I would work with people like that, but I know others who have. It's very nice to be with people who are like, "Yes we may be tired, we may feel sick, we may not want to play the show today," but it's not the overwhelming vibe. It's also important for me not to have toxic positivity, where everyone's supposed to feel good. I'd much rather be with a group of people where someone's like, "I feel like shit today." And they're not taking it out on us! It's so important for people in my band to say to me, "I don't want to play the show tonight." It makes me feel so much safer when people say things like that to me, because then I can say things like that too. I don't feel like I want to do it today...so we're gonna go out and do it.

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Jamie Larson