Mishkin Fitzgerald from Birdeatsbaby – Interview – 2014

Last week I popped round to Mishkin Fitzgerald from Birdeatsbaby’s flat to have a chat with her about their latest and arguably their best album yet. The Bullet Within is the bands third long player and it’s a bit of a magnum opus: there’s a fantastic amount of detail on a cracking set of songs all finished off with the bands trademark macabre style (for my full album review head here). It’s quite an accomplishment and I’m aware it has been a major undertaking – a labour of love that’s finally come to fruition so I started by asking her how that feels:
It's been a long time coming so we're happy that it's finally out. There's lots going on which is great, I don't think we've even yet fully seen the repercussions from it because it's literally only been out for a couple of weeks. The album has had really good feedback, the best response for us so far has been a four star review in Q Magazine which was really, really cool and hopefully will get us lots of exposure. We got a review in R2 Magazine (Rock & Reel) which was great and we're going back for an interview with them which is really cool and of course BrightonsFinest gave us one of the best reviews we've ever received!

It’s great to have our review acknowledged but in all seriousness the prestige of Q must have been a bit of a boost – I picked up a copy myself and was chuffed for you guys…

It was really cool to go into a shop and buy a magazine that's shelved all over the world and see your little square in it. It's really, really nice. I don't think we've had any bad press. I still don't feel like people really get us but really that's a good thing.

It’s good to be unique, yes, and you guys have released this record yourselves, right?

We’ve done it entirely independently. We raised the funds for the record through kickstarter and the rest of the funds ourselves – so we spent quite a lot of our own money, but the fact we own all those recordings – well it has all come from us which is a really nice feeling but I'm looking forward to not being broke!

This is your third album now have you always been completely independent?

We've always scraped together funds between us as a band or very generous fans and of course credit cards.
Tell me about the early days of Birdeatsbaby – when did the project start?

The early stages of Birdeatsbaby were pretty chaotic, I don't think we really knew what we wanted to do with the band. We had the idea that we wanted to do something completely different and quite theatrical as we were all into theatrical music. I really like Queen and Muse and I really liked The Dresden Dolls at the time as well. So we just sort of put this band together, I couldn't really play the guitar very well at the time, although I really wanted to, so that was my default – I just played the piano instead, playing these really heavy songs. They sounded quite strange on the piano but I guess that's kind of what's given us our unique sound. It's kind of like punk rock but it's all on keyboard instead of traditional guitar. Obviously I adore strings so I got Keeley (our original violinist) in and we had a cellist at the time, so we had this lush classical back drop playing this really heavy music. It just worked really well and it was really fun, but yeah, it was very chaotic in those early days.

Where did you all first meet?

It was in Brighton, when I was pretending to study and secretly just being in bands. It's where I met our original drummer, who now makes a lot of our music videos: Phillipa Bloomfield. She made 'The Trouble' video for us back in the early days and it got quite a lot of exposure, people really, really loved it, latched onto it and it's got loads of views now.
You guys really have quite a strong  presence on YouTube…

Yeah, I get a little report in – we get about five thousand views now a week and that's just all happening on its own and I really believe it's that video still driving that.

There's no replacing quality is there?

Absolutely, people really liked it and it has stood the test of time, which is good, sometimes you look back at your old videos and cringe a little bit, I look back at that one and I still feel really proud of it. Some of the videos, you know, maybe not so much but that one I still really love.

I can imagine there are bands sitting there watching those views going up green with envy but there's no predictor is there – when people find something they think is good they just share it don't they?

When we started out we latched on to the genre of dark cabaret, because there aren’t many bands that do it to such a 'big' level. You've got Amanda Palmer and a few other people but it's not a big genre at all. There's an intensity – well, sometimes it can be a little bit novelty, that genre, when it goes too far into cabaret, which really isn't that serious a musical genre. When it's done quite seriously, with all of those elements, it kind of just lifted off and suddenly we were a really big band in dark cabaret. When people searched for a dark cabaret band we'd come up first and that's how we got all the views but it's quite a hard niche to get out of. We're still being called a dark cabaret band but you listen to our record now and it's just a rock record really. It's still very much there but there's a lot more going on with that.

The new album seems like a big development sound-wise. How much is that down to you taking a stand for what you wanted?

Mishkin's Top Tracks
Yeah I think we took quite a big jump with this one, I don't think the others sound even close to it. When we first started out we didn't really know what we wanted and we just made a record. I love that record still (their debut album ‘Here She Comes a Tumblin’ which came out in 2009). I still listen to it but it was a bit of an experiment. The record we've made today is the record we've always wanted to make and it has just taken all these years to get everything in place and to know exactly what we wanted. To stop letting other people tell us what to do, to tell us how to make a record, to tell us, well, anything really! We just decided we're going to stay true to what we think it should sound like and I think that's why I feel it's our best record, because it is really what we're about. You can tell it's a real record, what we wanted to do instead of what we felt we should do. It's really exciting I feel like we've got a record now where I can say this is what we sound like instead of this is what we used to sound like.

That's interesting – do you feel like the band has so far been stronger than the recordings?

I think our band developed – just accelerated really quickly. You can see the progression with the first few records slowly building up then suddenly in the last few months it just went POW – everything just went up a level! Actually we want to sound really huge – we want to sound big! We don't want to sound like four instruments and be a niche dark cabaret band any more. we want to sound like a big fuck off rock band and that's what this record is to us. That's the direction we want to go in: a bigger sound and heavier music, like a really rock’n’roll record.
At BrightonsFinest we always like to explore the Brighton connection with the artists we talk to. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with this city?

I'm like every person who lives in Brighton who came down here to study and then never left. I'm actually from London, so I'm not too far from home. Brighton's just got such a good vibe to it. Instantly you feel comfortable in Brighton, if you're into alternative music and you’re into the alternative world you come to Brighton and it's like you've arrived home. Everyone's in a band. Everyone's an artist. There's so much going on, I find it a really inspiring place. Being by the sea is great, I absolutely love that. I'd never move back to London because I just feel that London is so big and so expensive that you just get lost in it. There's always a million things going on in London but there's not really a sense of community which I feel we have in Brighton. I like living here but I also like being close to London so you can go up and play gigs there and experience all that. I totally love Brighton and I would never leave.

What did you study?

I studied digital music at Brighton University, I didn't really feel like I got very much education out of it in terms of what I actually wanted to do. At the end of the course I didn't really want to do music tech, I wanted to do composition and start writing music so I did a top up degree at Northbrook in music composition where I just dithered around trying to write music for film. I got really bored of writing things for other people and being told, “you must write a piece on trumpet for this” so I just kept writing my own stuff instead.
Is that where you met Phillipa?

Phillipa was studying sculpture at Brighton University – well actually I'll tell you how I met Phillipa… I was playing bass really badly in a punk band called The Arse Rockets at the time and she auditioned for the band as the drummer. The other people in the band decided she wasn't quite right for it but I really loved her and thought, actually, I really want to do a project with her. So I met up with her afterwards and said forget about that band: I want to do something with you. We discovered we had almost identical tastes in music. So the two of us formed the band and worked out the first few songs, then my friend Keeley played violin so I said we should get her in. The three of us terrifyingly played a gig and it was a complete meltdown – really bad – but that formed the idea and then it just got bigger.

Where did the name come from?
I used to have insomnia really badly when I was a teenager. They put me on this sleep medication that was so strong I actually used to hallucinate. It gave me chronic nightmares – you know, really realistic ones. I didn't really know half the time if I was dreaming or awake but I know I woke up one morning with that band name in my head and it was from a very vivid dream that was a recurring one that was really terrifying! So then I had the band name and the music I was writing was all about these dreams. There was a real dark energy going on, the whole of the first record is about all of these crazy dreams I had and the band name just popped out of one of them.
The line up now is completely different from those early days, right?
Yes, the band evolved. Various members grew up and got real jobs, I think it's nearly impossible to keep the same line up going for seven-eight years. Every time the line up has changed its breathed new life into the band so I welcome the changes. I just think it's not a band that needs to stay the same; you can tell from our records that it's changing and the members change as well.

Are you the sole song-writer?

I used to be – I used to come up with the whole concept and everything myself. It was all in my head and I would say to the band, this is exactly how I want it to sound. During the last record Gary and I started writing together quite a lot. His background is heavy metal and jazz so he comes up with really cool riffs and actually we’ve started writing lyrics together as well. I think its better; you never know what's going to happen when you've got two people from such different backgrounds in a writing session together.

How did you meet Gary?

I met Gary at Northbrook on the second course that I did. He was going to teach me how to play guitar or something, I can't really remember, but I said, ‘hey do you want to jam out something?’ and played the first line of what turned into ‘Shiver’. He picked up the bass and soon joined my band as well, so then there were four of us. ‘Tenterhooks’, the really proggy one on the new album, that was me and Gary, and there's a new song we haven't brought out yet that we’re hoping to release around Christmas time. He wrote bits of ‘The Bullet’ with me and all of those beautiful chordy bits in ‘Spiders’. ‘Tenterhooks’ was the one though – Gary pulled out this riff in 5/4 time and I was like, ‘Yes! We will play this.’

What led to your solo album then? (Present Company released May 2013)

I just had extra songs and none of them were really right for Birdeatsbaby otherwise we would have released a really slow depressing album which wasn't really the direction I wanted the band to go in. I had all these slow depressing songs and I really wanted to experiment with sound a little bit more and have no piano on them at all. That's when I began my collaboration with Forbes [Forbes Coleman from Audiobeach Studios] who was the producer of the new Birdeatsbaby record. I went into his studio and I said, ‘I've got these eight songs do you want to have some fun with it and see where it takes us?’ As soon as I worked with him on my record I just knew he would definitely be the producer on the Birdeatsbaby one.

Forbes and I have very similar musical influences, as soon as we started working together on the Birdeatsbaby record we would tell him what we wanted it to sound like and from a production point of view he was able to just layer on whatever we needed and make it sound huge. We would definitely recommend him to anyone who wants to make a really massive sounding album.
Audiobeach Studios.

What's your favourite track on the album?

I don't have a favourite really but I do quite like ‘Silence’ which is the last track on the album. I think it's quite unexpected and I guess that song is quite personal to me and about something I care about so when I listen to it, it's you know…

How did you end up working with Melora Creager?

I think I'd e-mailed her previously because I’ve been a big fan of her band Rasputina for years but I didn't actually know she'd played with Nirvana on their ‘In Utero’ tour and Marilyn Manson until I started looking up her profile. She just e-mailed out of the blue and said, ‘I heard your record ‘Feast Of Hammers’ and I thought it was great, let me know if there's anything fun you'd like to do together?’ At that exact moment we were finishing off the tracks for ‘The Bullet Within’ and we had this really short track with a violin part was really messy, kind of all over the place, this ridiculous part that didn't really need to be done. So I said, ‘scrap the violin let's send it to Melora and see what she does with it.’ About a week later she sent back this recorded track with this lovely cello part and that was it. It's really short – it's kind of a connecting track and it allowed us to let her do whatever she wants and it works really well.
Gabby Young from Gabby Young and Other Animals sings a duet with you on ‘Spiders’ – how did that come about?

Actually both our bands played together in Portsmouth when we were starting out at some random gig. I had always remembered that she was really good. Our bands played together again recently at Blind Tiger in Brighton and I found her really easy to get on with, a fantastic musician, amazing vocal range and I just though there was one track on the record that could benefit from another female vocalist. I scored it out so that she didn't have to worry about writing extra parts and I found our voices worked really well together.

So you guys are linked to classical music not just in the instrumentation but in the fact you can and do write out the parts you play?

Yes, and we've made a musical score of the entire album in a songbook you can buy. I've just been at the printers to get them printed.

So everyone in the band can read music? That is probably quite unusual for a rock band.

I would say Gary wouldn't read treble cleft too much but he could read bass cleft and he's started playing double bass now, we've got a 50 year old electric double bass thing that's absolutely beautiful and that comes around with us now. So, yeah, we're all a bit of a classical bunch.

You also seem to have a Mexican connection, how did that come about?

That all seemed to happen when 'The Trouble' came out too, we suddenly started getting a lot of fans in Mexico. I think dark cabaret is quite big over in Mexico, you know, they love Dresden Dolls, they love Muse and they love all the dark music.

Do you think that is to do with the Day of the Dead stuff? They seem to have a different attitude to death over there…

Yes, they do, they're quite open about death and quite celebratory about it It's just part of the culture and all our songs are pretty morbid and about death so it probably goes down quite well with the Mexicans! Also Frida Khalo is my favourite artist. Some of the songs I've written are based on her paintings and that's made quite obvious in the lyrics. She's a massive Mexican icon, so when you go to Mexico there are skulls or paintings of Frida Khalo everywhere. A lot of the music, especially Feast of Hammers (their second ablum released 2012), is based on her paintings. ‘What The Water Gave Me’, for example, is the name of one of her paintings and there are a lot of references to that. So I think there is a bit of a Mexican connection even if it's accidental.

Mishkin Fitzgerald is an interesting sounding name, where does it come from? Is it half Irish half Russian or something like that?

The Irish part, ‘Fitzgerald’ comes from my husband, but my maiden name was Irish too so there was always going to be some Irish in there somewhere. ‘Mishkin’ is actually a pet name my Dad used to call me as a kid, it's not my real name but it sort of stuck. I think he got it from the Dostoevsky book 'The Idiot'. The story is about this really naïve prince called Mishkin, he’s really nice to everyone and just gets completely screwed over constantly. He's a loveable idiot and he just goes a bit mental because he can't live in a world where people are so mean. It might have been my Dad making fun out of my sensitivity or something, but it's a cool name. He always denies it now and he hates the fact I've actually changed my name to it. It's a boys name in Russian and it means idiot so I'm not sure how much of that is good! I'm sure if I went to Russia and introduced myself as Mishkin I'd get laughed at!

Any chances of a Birdeatsbaby Russian tour in the future?

We would love to play in Russia, I think we'd go down a storm in Russia but we haven't got a connection out there yet… so, we'll wait until, maybe a couple of years time: Russian tour. I'd love to go to Moscow.

What's next for Birdeatsbaby?

Christmas number one! Ha! We will probably put out that single towards the end of the year and do a UK tour. Next year we're going to get back to America and Mexico for sure, we have to because that's where our biggest fan base is. There'll be a lot more gigs, another single, and another music video. We're going to release a cover of something as an official single and I've got another side project that's going to come out but its top secret. All will be revealed but there will be new music from me and from Birdeatsbaby this year.

Adam Kidd