Holly Miranda seems to be most alive when she’s snoozing. “I kick and scream and dream a little bit, violently awakening to what’s real, it’s really bullshit,” she sings on “Everytime I Go To Sleep,” a track first introduced as a sketch on last summer’s Sleep on Fire EP and more recently colored in with help from TV on The Radio’s Dave Sitek on The Magician’s Private Library (coming Feb. 23 on XL Recordings). Miranda self-released her first solo album—the spare, acoustic High Above the City—in 2002, and then cut two records as one-fourth of chameleonic Brooklyn band The Jealous Girlfriends, which found her affecting a post-punk snarl.
These days, though, she’s more focused on honing her immense art-rock stylings, her ethereal, precise voice carving intricate statues out of every word. Miranda recently called Paste up from Southern California (where she’s taking a break from living in Brooklyn) to talk about her penchant for Natalie Merchant, working with Dave Sitek, and traveling in the dreamworld.
Paste: My mother’s name is Holly, so I’ve always loved the name.
Holly Miranda: I haven’t met too many other Hollys, but my favorite was always Holly Robinson in 21 Jump Street. She was my first Holly.
Paste: Some songs from The Magician’s Private Library have been circulating for nearly a year. How has it felt to sit on this album for this long?
Miranda: Oh, it feels great. It’s the best. I love sitting on records. I didn’t really have much of an option. I was touring. Sorting things out with the record company takes time. It’s a record that I’ve been trying to make for 11 years, so it was worth it to do it right.
Paste: The songs carrying over from your Sleep on Fire EP are quite a bit more complex here.
Miranda: Those were just my demos that I recorded in whatever year. When I went in to make the record, I brought 40 demos and chose from those. I thought it would be cool to release that before the record came out to see the transition of the songs, and there are a couple songs that didn’t make the record, like “Treehouse.” I did most of that recording on Garage Band on tour.
Paste: Why so much emphasis on sleeping and dreams?
Miranda: I just realized myself all of the references to dreams on this record. But I think I’m a very active dreamer. I like to explore, or sometimes be completely out of control. I remember my dreams pretty much every night, which is kinda crazy. I’ve read a lot of books about it, especially The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I first discovered Alejandro while we were making the record. Someone showed me his film El Topo, but I didn’t really get it. Then a few months ago, my guitarist Timmy [Mislock] gave me this book. It’s about the different stages of awakening he has gone through in his life. Now he’s in his 70s, I believe. Mostly with different women, healers, and one monk named Ejo. It’s really been speaking to me. I have really vivid dreams, trying to astral project and travel in the dreamworld. Even lucid dreams, where you have control of dreams and you’re aware of them.
Paste: What happens in your lucid dreams?
Miranda: I haven’t had any lucid dreams lately, but my favorite time of the dreaming state is right before you really fall deep. Right when your brain relaxes and starts to give up the fight, but you are still partially aware of your surroundings. I usually have visual and aural hallucinations right then that can be pretty intense.
Paste: Why did you decide to put so much brass instrumentation on the album?
Miranda: I own a trumpet and I play very poorly, but I really enjoy it. I absolutely love horns, as does Dave Sitek, so putting horns on the album was a natural decision. I played some trumpet on the demo for “Sweet Dreams.” Stuart Bogie and Eric Biando [of Antibalas] played on the record, and I really love the work they did. Some of it was us singing them lines we heard in our head or on the piano, but a good amount is also them. I’m especially fond of the horn lines Stuart wrote for “Joints.” We did a trio show a little while ago—me and Timmy on acoustic guitars and Stuart on sax. That was rad.
Paste: Overall, how was recording with Dave Sitek?
Miranda: It was kind of like home for that month. We were recording dusk til dawn, all night long for about three weeks. Pretty much everything was in its basic form. I’ve never recorded a record in one sitting before. For all of the Jealous Girlfriends albums, we were just recording three days here and three days there. It would take a year and a half to finish an album. It was a really different experience, and much better than stretching it out over a huge length of time, coming back and feeling different about songs after you’d sat with them for a while.
Paste: Was it hard to get your artistic direction across with The Jealous Girlfriends?
Miranda: I think it was like four different artistic directions. We have really different musical backgrounds, and it wasn’t just wanting different things, but it was hard to mash up our ideas. I showed a really different musical side of myself with my band playing guitar solos.
Paste: What do you miss about your old band?
Miranda: I don’t know yet. We’ll have to see about this full-band tour. I think we’re going to rock a little bit too. We’ll probably evolve the songs. I can play piano more, which is cool. Maybe I won’t play anything.
Paste: I notice you’re using Twitter to fill up your guest list on tour.
Miranda: In some cities we get a big list and we don’t really know anyone there or whatever, so it’s fun for me in the car to come up with games to Twitter away list spots. Also, the last few tours we have been on have been completely sold out because of the headliners. By the time we announced being on the tour, even the couple people who wanted to see us play couldn’t get tickets anymore. It’s the least I can do to help a few kids get in to see the show. The kids are alright.
Paste: How do you feel about Lilith Fair returning in 2010?
Miranda: I haven’t really heard about that at all, but I would go to that show. I never went to Lilith Fair. I tried once, but I was pretty young. Tegan and Sara played Lilith Fair back in the day. This last tour that Timmy and I did, I was at the mercy of his iPod, which was great mostly, but very heavy on the emo-boy vibe. I had this urge to hear some Natalie Merchant, who I haven’t listened to in a long time. Last week, I was at a thrift store and was perusing the CD section. Lo and behold, they had Tigerlily, and the 10,000 Maniacs’ Unplugged session. For two bucks, no less. A few of her songs that were really integeral in my youth were “What’s the Matter Here?” and ‘River.” Tigerlily is a really great album. Seeing that took me back to that sound—noodly guitar over a chill beat. Things were different then, both in terms of emphasis and what sorts of songs got played on the radio.