Not often do you happen upon a soul quite like Mishka Shubaly. Author, musician and with a few tales to tell himself, his debut novel I Swear I’ll Make It Up To You is as honest as his music in that he doesn’t shy away from spilling his guts, be it on the page or through the mic. He plays The Bierkeller in Bristol on Friday 20 May.
Mishka was born in Ontario but moved to the States as a child, when his father (a rocket scientist, no less) took up a job opportunity. Residing in between the edge of the world and Neverland, these days, he is no wall flower when it comes to divulging his own self sabotaging ways (now firmly in the past) which he has used as fuel for both his novels and his lyrics. Ruminating on the struggles that we face as the human race, Mishka has lived a life on the road, as a travelling musician, making connections along the way that would ultimately inform much of his creative work. He now writes (books and songs) and plays bass with the band, Freshkills.
Receiving his MFA from Colombia University, Mishka decided his destiny was to be found in hauling his guitar around the length and breadth of the US, bringing his optimism and bright side of life to all who came to witness his live transmissions. With records titled How To Make a Bad Situation Worse and Thanks For Letting Me Crash, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a slight tinge of bitterness to this man’s outlook. But having conversed (via email, albeit) with Mr Mishka Shubaly himself, for the benefit of you, The Bristol Magazine, readers – it is clear that this is someone with the crucial ability to make good out of something potentially annihilating. Mishka’s memoir, The Long Run is testament to this personal transformation. We had a quick chat with the man himself.
Presumably, you are not a fan of Pavement’s song Cut Your Hair? Please discuss.
A close read reveals that, despite its misleading title, Pavement actually comes down on the same side of the haircutting debate as I do. An interesting side note– the video for Cut Your Hair was shot in the beauty salon that became Beauty Bar– a bar that I blacked out in several times before finally getting my act together and getting sober. Beauty Bar played an oddly integral role in my discovery of running and is featured prominently in my new memoir, I Swear I’ll Make It Up to You.
How’s Brooklyn at the moment? Do you have a favourite place to hang out and make music or write a book or two?
I’ve actually had to leave my beloved Brooklyn. After 17 years there, my building was sold to a bloodthirsty capitalist and I was forced to move out. So I’ve been dividing my time between wandering the earth like Cain and crashing in a camper (you call them caravans) in the far corner of my sister’s backyard. It’s a good life, if lonely. I’ve been touring a tonne and it’s a little like being fifteen again — trapped in a small town with no friends, nothing to do and no prospects — so I’ve been writing songs like I did when I was fifteen.
Touring sounds as though it is both a blessing and a curse for you – how do the folks you meet feed into your songwriting in general?
I’m out on tour with Star Anna right now (great songwriter, another road dog) and we were talking about this on the drive yesterday. When we’re on the road, we feel lonely and alienated and depressed and exhausted, always about to weep from triumph or defeat, pivoting between “I’m never going to stop doing this” to “I’m never doing this again” in the span of a minute. Yes, I love all my fans, drunk or sober. And, because I love them, the sadnesses of their lives exhaust me. I feel like I’m finally okay and I just want everyone else to be okay. And they aren’t. That’s life, but it bums me out every day.
Are you an advocate of sitting on the back porch, in a rocking chair, surrounded by mosquitoes and your dog, and singing about the cynical sides of life? Who are your kindred spirits in this world (musically or otherwise)?
I wish I could say yes. In reality, the arms on a rocking chair interfere with guitar playing and I couldn’t recommend mosquitos to anyone. Dogs… yeah, I like dogs I don’t know better than people I do know. Comics inform my songwriting more than most songwriters do — Doug Stanhope, Kyle Kinane, Andy Andrist, Brett Erickson, Richard Pryor. I’m a fan of the songwriters you’d probably expect me to love: John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey, The Pogues, Townes Van Zandt. And I’ll always have a soft spot for the hopeless-and-doomed, the people who die fighting tigers at the zoo on a dare or tie balloons to their lawn chairs in hopes of flying and end up violating federal air space and causing massive power outages when they crash on power lines. Dream big, nutters!
How far into your memoir are you and is your songwriting mostly autobiographical, or do you apply a lot of artistic licence to your lyrics?
Having had a couple of months distance from it, I can finally say both that I’m proud of it and that it’s the greatest work I’ve produced in my short, mostly misspent life. I’m sad to say that it’s 100% true — all the bad behavior described in it actually happened. My songs used to be the same way — I’m usually still the terror at the centre of the tornado.
What’s on your record player right now (or in general?)
There’s not a lot of current music I like– not cause it’s necessarily bad, just cause I’m old– but I was delighted to find out PJ Harvey hit number one over there in the UK. I love Sharon Van Etten, too. Most of the recent stuff I like is hip hop.
Who would you most like to share a stage with or collaborate with?
I’d love to record at Rancho De La Luna where Mark Lanegan and Queens of the Stone Age have recorded. And I’d love to do a record with no guitars with a hip hop producer like Blockhead or any of the mad geniuses who worked on Yeezus.
Mishka Shubaly plays at The Bierkeller on Friday 20 May. Tickets are priced at £11 and available from Bristol Ticket Shop: www.bristolticketshop.co.uk
(a version of this article also appears on Louder Than War).