It’s quite windy, gusty winds, but it’s not like a downpour,” says Mirah by phone from Brooklyn, late in the afternoon of Oct. 29 just hours before Hurricane Sandy made landfall southwest of Atlantic City. “I just was on a little walk to a friend’s house a couple of blocks away. I was inside of his house, and every time the wind started shaking the windows, I was like, ‘Maybe I should go home.’”
Mirah recently moved back to the East Coast for the first time in 20 years, just in time for epic bad weather, and is now plotting a brief welcome home tour that hits Johnny Brenda’s next week. The K Records mainstay—more often associated with Olympia, Wash., and Portland, Ore., and, now, San Francisco—was born Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn in Mt. Airy, and she lived from age 5 to 17 in Bala Cynwyd. Her family owns a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, where her mother grew up and where she visits from time to time to recharge and reconnect with her roots.
That’s a common theme right now in Mirah’s life, as she returns to old East Coast haunts and revisits older material in preparation for the tour, which will lean on old favorites, she says. A new album, the first to follow 2009’s (a)spera, has been delayed by the dislocations and logistical challenges of her move, but she hopes to get back into the studio in early 2013. “The tour is not in support of a new album,” she says. “But for us musicians, the reason why we play music is not just to promote a product. It’s because we love playing, and that’s what our life is. The tour is in support of being alive and loving to play music for people.”
Mirah says she may be unveiling some new songs, but only a few. “I think most touring musicians would also probably agree that there’s a never-ending, sort of insatiable desire by your audience to hear you play the classics,” she says. “People like to hear stuff that they’re familiar with.”
That means you can damned near count on a rendition of “Cold, Cold Water,” a crowd favorite from her second album Advisory Committee, and perhaps one or two tracks from 2000’s You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This. “I was a baby when I wrote those,” says Mirah, “but people still seem to really want to hear them.”
Her band is full of vets as well. Arriving in New York this fall, she knew she didn’t have time to put together an all-new ensemble before an early-November tour launch, so she flew in some long-time collaborators from the West Coast to fill out her sound. Cellist Lori Goldston, also of Black Cat Orchestra, is making the trip, as is violinist/violist Alex Guy of Led to Sea. The sole new face is Andrew McGuire, a San Francisco-based percussionist and vibraphone player.
Mirah’s show at JB’s falls roughly a week after the presidential election, too late to urge people to vote, as she has been doing for weeks on her Twitter feed, but not too late to share her thoughts on who she hoped would win: “The Republican party—and specifically Romney and Ryan—have shown a real lack of support on women’s issues, women’s health issues, gay rights and marriage equality and environmental issues. It just seems like bad things could happen.” Still, she says, listeners from all parts of the political spectrum are welcome, and she encourages even the most conservative of her fans to join the dialogue. “I don’t mean to only be communicating with people who feel as I do. One of the unfortunate things that has happened, especially within the left, is people end up communing amongst themselves and preaching to the choir. It really is useful for people to have a chance to talk to each other, not in a combative way or at the polls or through referendums, to actually try to connect with each other.”
It is, ironically, just about then, as we chat about dialogue and open lines of communications that—at Sandy’s wicked hand—my power cuts out and the wind howls, lashing at the windows with the icy rain. And Mirah—her warm, knowing voice made specifically for times like these—wishes me luck in the storm.
Tues., Nov. 13, 8pm. $14. With Mount Moriah. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014