Miya Folick Wants to Make You Dance and Cry with Her Debut LP, Premonitions

Music Features Miya Folick
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Miya Folick Wants to Make You Dance and Cry with Her Debut LP, <i>Premonitions</i>

It’s not often that a singer has such a powerful voice that they transcend whatever genre they’re unwillingly lumped into. Los Angeles pop singer/songwriter Miya Folick is a rare, welcome example. She has the kind of voice that would make you huff and puff, sprinting down the street en route to the venue if you were late to one of her shows. “Growing up I studied classical voice, so I was always concerned with singing correctly,” says Folick. “I don’t think it was until I started singing as more of a form of expression that I realized the capabilities of my voice.”

While her debut album Premonitions is out Oct. 26, she’s already released two EP’s—2015’s Strange Darling and 2017’s Give It To Me. Raised in Southern California by a Japanese mother and a Russian-Italian father, she eventually shifted her career trajectory in college from acting to singing. Her parents are two of her biggest cheerleaders, and fittingly, their faces are squished against opposite sides of Folick on the cover of the new album.

Folick enthusiastically chuckles when describing her parent’s musical fandom. “I think my dad loves music more than I do. When he’s listening to something he likes, he looks like he’s in ecstasy. But he doesn’t really have any musical talent at all. Like negative musical ability.” Her mother on the other hand has hilariously raised the stakes even higher. “My mom loves when I make political songs, and she’s obsessed with the fact that I make music. My mom plays my Spotify channel 24 hours a day on silent just to get me plays. She sent out an instructional email to all our relatives to tell them how to do it too. It’s insane. I’m like, “Mom, you could have just sent me 20 dollars every once in a while.’”

When I called Folick for our interview, she was driving home from Joshua Tree, Calif., after spending a spontaneous night with friends, singing at an open mic in a venue called Pappy and Harriet’s. “We brought an acoustic guitar and played our own songs with all of these old country people,” recounts Folick. “We just got coffee this morning and this older man recognized us from the open mic. It’s just funny because it’s a tiny town and if I play a show in L.A., it’s really unlikely that the next morning someone at a coffee shop would be like, ‘I saw you playing last night.’ We were just joking that we’re already famous in Joshua Tree.”

Quickly gaining admirers across the globe, Folick’s bold, operatic vocals are both divine and burly. Toggling from the angelic pop heights of “Stock Image” and the intoxicating delicate vocal loops of “Thingamajig” to the tempestuous, #MeToo-inspired call to arms of “Deadbody” and the fierce, buoyant “Freak Out,” worthy of closing the world’s greatest party, Folick is nothing if not dynamic. Premonitions proves she’s capable of framing her otherworldly, glistening pop as both intimate, grounding inner monologues and towering pop epics. The one constant is her success in morphing from one sound to another without having to bend over backwards in a way that feels gimmicky or jarring.

It’s no wonder that she namedrops Bjork’s Post as a musical reference point. “All of the songs go into many different worlds, and it incorporates a lot of different sonic references from many eras. I wanted to make a record like that—that had a solid emotional core.”

The fact that she doesn’t position herself as an untouchable pop goddess is also part of this record’s appeal. She sings about relatable, everyday occurrences like falling asleep while reading Wikipedia, talking about boys and crying in an alleyway. The LP’s subject matters of female friendship, growing old with a lover and the joyful triumph over abusive men are also timely and worth cherishing in these tumultuous times.

Despite her stunning vocal range, being a professional musician wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities until fairly recently, and since she was self-taught on the guitar, she used to suffer from self-described “imposter syndrome.” “Every once in a while, I slip back into that,” she says, “but I think I identify as a musician now. And I can say it without feeling like a fraud. I’ve moved past that, but it took a couple years.”

A few years ago, some described Folick as a “punk rocker” due to her more overtly feisty earlier songs, but you won’t find any punk musicality on Premonitions. “I think we used to have a loud, somewhat punk-rock set where I screamed, so people put me in that category. I would never have described myself that way. I think it’s the normal ebb and flow of being a creative person of wanting to do things differently all the time. On this album, I wanted it to still be big and powerful but I wanted it to be a little bit less aggressive.”

Speaking of punk, Folick recently contributed lead vocals to a track from Fucked Up’s latest album, Dose Your Dreams. One of her former producers Shane Stoneback mixed the new Fucked Up LP and he introduced Folick’s music to the band. “They asked me to sing on it, so they sent me the track with no vocals. It has that nervous energy that I really like,” Folick says.

Her album still has plenty of moments of cogent catharsis that carry the spirit of punk, most prominently on the single, “Deadbody.” Contrary to its title, the song “Deadbody” is a living, breathing thing as its #MeToo message isn’t leaving the minds of survivors or the public discourse any time soon. “I don’t feel angry when I sing it,” she says. “I feel more powerful. It’s more emotional in that way. It’s sad that every time we perform it, there’s a new reason to perform it. I also feel that way about the cover we do of [Joni Mitchell’s] ‘Woodstock.’ The last verse of that song to me is very political in a certain way because she wrote, ‘I dreamed I saw the bombers/ Riding shotgun in the sky/ And they were turning into butterflies/ Above our nation.’ When we started playing that song live, it was horribly sad. It was around the time of the attack at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester.”

The album’s haunting, majestic opening track, “Thingamajig,” also has a political bent to it. “When we were writing it, in my head, it was directed at a person and then we were just talking about it and realizing it’s a little bit more interesting if it’s not,” Folick says. “We talked about the show Westworld. We were imagining a simulated universe where you were playing God and you were very cruel to the people in the simulation, and they also didn’t know they were in a simulation. Then, imagine you discovered you were also in a simulation, and you also have overlords controlling you. The song is basically a ruler’s apology to the people.”

There’s a noticeable duality to Premonitions. It displays humanity’s angels and devils in equal measure, but it never veers too far into optimism or pessimism. “I think that’s like me,” says Folick. “I’m a Gemini. I’m not really super into that kind of stuff but I do think that I’m—almost to a fault—always seeing things from multiple angles, so it’s really hard for me to be like, ‘Everything is amazing’ or ‘Everything sucks.’ I’m not absolute. Also that’s the kind of music that I like listening to. Like you’re dancing but you’re crying and you don’t know why. That’s what I wanted it to feel like.”

After repeated listens of Premonitions, I picture a good chunk of this record being sung into a hairbrush during a morning pep talk in front of the mirror, especially songs like “Stock Image” and “Freak Out,” though I’m not willing to confirm or deny whether or not I’ve already taken part. Tracks like “Leave the Party” and “Stop Talking” are playful and make for perfect singalongs, while “Baby Girl” and “What We’ve Made” are brooding, introspective ruminations.

Folick giggles and agrees with the setting I envisioned and says that she hoped the record would translate in both mundane and grand environments. “That’s a good setting. In the studio, I do imagine an audience when we’re making music, and I often think about teenagers in their bedrooms, jumping on their beds. But I also wanted it to feel musically big or expansive. Like outside during a sunset at a festival or with everyone dancing in the rain. Those are the scenarios that I would like to imagine. We wanted to talk about very small things and shine a light on them—make them feel magical. Like going and getting coffee or dancing in your living room.”

The euphoric, brass-filled “Leave The Party” celebrates the moment of relief you feel from sneaking away from a party that you’re just not feeling. After a fit of contagious laughter, Folick says she isn’t worried that the release of such a track will blow her cover. “No, my friends know that I’ll just leave. I am trying to get better at staying. Honestly, I think I’m almost too good at leaving!”

Folick has mentioned feeling like an outsider in interviews before—in part due to her unusual family background—but now as a musician, she feels a sense of belonging. “I still feel like an outsider sometimes,” she says,’but when I look objectively at my life, I know I’m not. I have friends and I have community. I think my life is so much better because of this job that I do. I think being in a band and touring makes you a better person. Having people message me on the Internet, telling me how they relate to my song feels insane every time. It really makes you feel like you’re part of the fabric of human existence and not just one pinpoint.”

Premonitions is out on Oct. 26 via Terrible Records and Interscope. Check out her tour dates here

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