Mitski on World Cafe
Studio Session
  • "Bug Like an Angel"
  • "Heaven"
  • "Buffalo Replaced"
  • "I Don't Like My Mind"
  • "My Love Mine All Mine"

The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, which is out today, is full of sweeping strings, orchestral drama and even a few, as she puts it, “jump scares.”

She was going for a classic Hollywood sound for the album, tapping into the work of Ennio Morricone and old-school Disney films.

Like any good film, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We embraces big ideas about love and America, but it’s Mitski’s eye for the little details that really pulls you into her cinematic world.

In this session, Mitski talks about incorporating orchestral and choral arrangements into her new record; about why she feels like her Oscar nom was “sheer, improbable luck”; and about finding the right balance when it comes to performing live.
Interview Highlights

On the choral arrangement on “Bug Like an Angel”:

Well, my fans know that I love a jump scare. I especially love a jump scare in the first track of an album, so I guess I’m doing that again.
Sponsor Message

With music, the beautiful thing is sometimes you don’t need to have a concise verbal explanation. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling and at the end of the day, it was just a feeling like, “You know what? I want a big choir at this moment.”

The song without the choir is super simple. It’s my vocal and then it starts with just acoustic guitar. Eventually, there’s some light keyboard and bass, but otherwise, there’s not much else. The song structure is also very simple. There’s not really a chorus, and so it’s kind of a way to bring the audience in — another tool to make the song a little bit more exciting than maybe it wouldn’t be otherwise.

And I just love choirs. I grew up in choirs, and I’m just looking for any excuse to put a choir in a song. I think I wanted the choirs to come in at really crucial words: words or lines that I wanted the listener to really hear. And I think “family” is a big, multi-layered, complex, emotional word. I felt like it would make a big impact if an entire choir was singing it.

On working with producer Drew Erickson

In general, he’s just a really great orchestrator, so I think anybody would be lucky to have him, but in our case, we were specifically looking for an almost classic Hollywood sound or a sort of sweeping, almost Disney soundtrack sound. We also had some like Ennio Morricone influence, and we just felt like he is exactly the person who can do that, because he’s provided sounds like that for other artists, like you said: Lana Del Rey and Father John Misty. I found out about him through Father John Misty. His most recent album features a lot of Drew’s orchestration.

On the song “Heaven”

This song is basically about love. It’s about how we should treasure this thing that we have. Maybe it’s just within our own room. Outside of our room, maybe the world is terrible or hard to be in, but for now, let’s put the world aside and just treasure this precious love we have.

In 2023, Mitski was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, alongside David Byrne and Son Lux, for co-writing “This Is a Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once.

On being nominated for an Academy Award

It still doesn’t feel real. Also, it kind of felt like cheating a little bit because this was just this amazing film. Like, it’s one of my favorite films, and it would be, even if I wasn’t a small part of it.

But I wasn’t part of the filmmaking. I wasn’t part of anything that made the film great. And then, of course, Son Lux and David Byrne. Son Lux did the majority of the writing of the song. I feel like I contributed just a little tiny bit. So it’s felt like just sheer, improbable luck that I got an “Oscar nomination.”

It doesn’t really feel like my Oscar nomination. I feel like I’m piggybacking on everyone else’s great work, and I’m really grateful to be a tiny part of it, but again, I’m just kind of like, “Well, this is nice, but I don’t know if I can claim this.”

On tapping into the “America” depicted by film composers like Carter Burwell (Fargo) and Ennio Morricone

I’ve always wanted to be American, and I could never figure out exactly what made me American. How I could be more American.

I really wanted to figure out this place that I was supposedly from but I didn’t really know how to connect to. A lot of the world outside of America connects to America through the movies that it’s produced and the media and all these almost American caricatures. I think that’s kind of my way into understanding this place that, again, I’m technically from, but I will never, I don’t think I will ever fully understand.

On performing

It’s kind of like Judo or Aikido: those martial arts where, instead of trying to exert force, you sort of take the energy of your opponent and use it for yourself, and I feel like I’m learning to do that, in terms of performing. Just feeding off of what I’m given and giving back so that it’s more like recycling energy, rather than me trying to push myself onto the audience.

World Cafe producer Miguel Perez contributed to this post.

Episode Playlist

World Cafe: 09/15/2023