Apart from her amazing performance in her band White Lung, it was Mish Way's unabashed admiration for Courtney Love that first endeared her to me. For all her faults, Courtney taught a generation of girls that women could be wild rock stars too. Sure, there were lots of female-fronted rock groups like Veruca Salt and Garbage around, but none were nearly as in-your-face, smart and unapologetic as Courtney. She always had an articulate and witty reply for her detractors and it spoke to my jaded teenage heart.
Before I saw her on the cover of Rolling Stone, I really didn’t know there were badass women like her out there and even with all her ostensible issues, I've always been grateful to have had her music and interviews in my life. Keep in mind, this was before the internet and all we really had in the small town I grew up in was late-night MTV and the magazine rack at a strip mall's record store.
Mish is an important figure in music today for many of the same reasons that Courtney struck a chord with me back then. She's just as whip-smart and articulate as Courtney, but without the drama and controversy. A jack-of-all-trades, she also writes for all your favorite hip publications and does the occasional podcast for Vice where she interviews other musicians. Mish kindly took time out from the band's European tour (promoting their third full-length LP, Deep Fantasy) to share thoughts on the best-dressed person in rock, the importance of empathy, and how good fashion is really just about being confident.
White Lung is often defined as a punk band. How do you define punk? How did you first come to discover it?
I don't even consider myself a punk really. There are a bunch of elitist sell-out police "I only liked the first EP" snobs who will say I'm not punk because I don't eat vegan meals from dumpsters and I embrace the mainstream music press or whatever the issue is. Someone called my band a punk band because we play fast and mean and started off in that scene but none of us give a shit about that kind of classification. If you spend your life trying to define exactly what you are by other people's standards you won't do anything of importance because you would be so busy catering to the impossible. This is the ultimate snob face answer, but we are just musicians.
White Lung recently signed to a bigger label and continue to get more and more press. Now that the band has a few albums and tours under your belt it feels like you're here to stay for a while. Are there any artists out there you'd like to model your music career after?
I never expected this band to become a career for me and now that it seems to be going that way I have to just be as smart and aware as possible and take it with a grain of salt. That's all I can do. This industry is fleeting. It's fickle. Of course, there's this little kid in my head who always wanted to be a rock star but logic overtook that kid and that's why I focused and hustled so hard with writing. That's why I listened to my parents and got my education. I don't believe it's possible to model my career after anyone else's, because the landscape of the music industry has changed so drastically since my idols’ days. I have my own timeline.
You've said when you first discovered feminism it was like a "light going off in your head." Are there any books or activists that were particularly eye-opening or affecting at that time?
Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, bell hooks, Tracie Egan Morrissey (pop culture writing; her blog “One D At A Time” really taught me to write publicly about intimacy and how to tactfully overexpose with humor), and most importantly, Jessica Valenti.
But I will say this, I'm in my hotel and I just read this and it made me so fucking angry. Feminism is a mess in so many ways...This isn't Nazi Germany. No one is being forced into one way of thinking and therefore we are all under the same umbrella of "feminism" yet I DO NOT agree with this kind of radical, anti-sex feminist bullshit. What good does this kind of thinking do for men or women or anyone? Nothing. It creates enemies, it festers distance and fear between men and women. It makes it a he-said, she-said war.
Look, maybe you are Andrea Dworkin and you have personal reasons for thinking men are the enemy but I do not think this way and I hate this kind of thinking. It's a step away from people who think all Muslims are terrorists or whatever. It's retarded. It's disgusting. It's so counteractive it's unreal. I'm a big believer in trying to understand the thinking of those you don't agree with because in the end, it will help you convince them otherwise when in conversation. Empathy and understanding is the only thing that separates us from sociopaths but this kind of hateful, victimizing way of thinking about sex is not my definition of feminism. At all.
I don't believe in feeling sorry for my gender, especially not in North America. I also don't think alienating people who weren't born women does anything for the conversation either. At the end of the day, I want to do what I want to do without someone defining feminism for me. None of us do and that's why it's so contentious.
You have university background in feminism and, I imagine, a lot of knowledge you could share with the young women who come to your shows or follow you on Tumblr. Do you wish to be seen as something of a role model for young feminists?
If someone looks up to me, that's great. I would think young women today are aware enough to not suffer from idolization. There's barely a degree of separation from our idols even if they do curate what they expose.
You've toured through a lot of Europe with the band and went to university in the Netherlands. Do you think as many women get involved in punk or attend shows in Europe compared to North America?
It's not so much NA vs. Europe as big cities vs. metropolitans. It's just different.
You've been writing more and more about fashion recently and are kinda known - "Mish Way fashion style," for example, came up on a suggested google search - for your own sense of style. Do you have any personal style icons?
Jennifer Herrema is the best dressed person in rock ‘n’ roll and no one can imitate her because she's not a human. Basically I am drawn to people who have really unique style that’s kind of butch and kind of slutty in unusual ways (a hole under the ass of your jeans is always sexier than a crop top) and as a woman, I want to wear clothes that FIT my body.
Do you have any fashion tips for these people googling about your fashion?
Take any clothes people get you for free whether it's hand-me-downs or gifts. Never cheap out on jeans or shoes. Those items must be yours and quality. Everything else can be stolen from your boyfriend (or girlfriend which is better because as Jerry Seinfeld said, being gay doubles your wardrobe) or a thrift store/free box/your grandma. I’m big on accessories. I go for shoes and jewelry and hair. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty for wearing fur. Never leave the house wearing something you feel uncomfortable in. If you tug at your clothes like a squirming child you become a squirming child and that rarely looks smart on anyone. Dress your age. Fashion is a fucking LUXURY and it's really stupid and it's 100% confidence. That's it.
You're clearly a huge fan of keeping up with current music and have mentioned Last.fm and Spotify in interviews past. How do you find most of your new music these days?
Friends. Touring. It's actually hard to keep up. I'm pretty useless about anything that isn't guitar-oriented and I listen to the same Van Morrison record about nine times a day in the van.
You've said you try to listen to vinyl and cassette tapes exclusively when at home so as not to be tempted to skip over songs. Are there any albums you listen to and never feel tempted to skip any songs?
Right now? Girlschool’s Hit and Run, the first John Frusciante solo record, J.T. IV’s Cosmic Lightning, Danzig’s Danzig 4, Butterglove’s The John Monrad Sessions.
You're published all over the place. Who are some of your favorite writers?
Gavin McInnes. He's an asshole and he's smart and funny. Sometimes I don't agree with him but that makes it all the better.
Last year, you wrote a piece on your experience in the teenage figure skater circuit. You skated competitively from ages 5-17. What made you give it up? Do you still follow the figure skating scene?
I have not skated a day since I quit, not even for fun. Isn't that weird? There comes a time with sports at that level where it's time to say, "Okay, let's get real here. Are you going to be an Olympic champion?" Only you know the answer. I was never going to be an Olympic champion. If you aren't going to compete at the Olympic level you stop because figure skating is expensive and my parents had worked their assess off so I could skate for long enough. I am grateful for the sport and for what it taught me about self-discipline. It was just logical to stop, plus I wanted to play guitar and do mushrooms and go to shows and be a shithead. Figure skaters don't get afforded that kind of reckless fun. If I see skating on TV I will stop and watch and it gets me excited. I remember what it was like to nail a jump or pull my blade behind my head, you know?
Deep Fantasy is out today on Domino Records!
Photos via Piper Ferguson