White Lung's Mish Way on Canadian Rock and the Prejudices of Male Bouncers
Mish Way is the lead vocalist of Vancouver, B.C.'s White Lung, whose sophomore full-length Sorry from 2012 is a relentless gust of uptempo, melodic punk. Notable as much for its instrumental ferocity as critical lyrical intelligence, Way draws from her experiences as a formal student of gender studies, a professional writer for such publications as Vice and Noisey, and a self-professed Courtney Love acolyte to inject her lyrics and public persona with iconoclasm and urgency. Way wears many hats, so we discussed her travels, her vulnerability, and the intrinsic connection between feminism and punk. White Lung opens for fellow Canadians Metz today, Tuesday, April 30, at Bottom of the Hill.
Michelle Ford White Lung
You've been on tour in the US with White Lung for nearly two months now. In one of your advice columns, you mention the impeccable complexion of Canadians. How would you respond to a question from a Canadian about how to resist the skin-damaging grease and grime of American lifestyle when traveling stateside?
I try to eat healthy when I am on tour, or else my insides start to fade. Plus, I'm drinking and indulging on a daily basis which is extremely unhealthy, but that's the life I chose. I'm not an athlete or an accountant. My office is the bar. I'm in a world that relies on recreational substance abuse and entertainment. I mean, how are people straight edge and on tour? I do not get it. At home, my diet is very strict and I trail-run and hike four times a week. My body is always confused on tour.
You have quite an affinity for the West Coast, considering your writing and public fondness for West Coast bands. Since you're about to play San Francisco, I must ask how you struck your rather public friendship with the Bay Area's own Hether Fortune of Wax Idols?
I first met Hether two years ago in a park in Oakland. Seth from Hunx and his Punx introduced us. He read me some of her tweets in the car one day and I thought, "I'm either going to love this girl or absolutely hate her guts." Fortunately, it was kind of love at first sight. We sat and drank grapefruit juice and vodka and talked so easily. I remember she was wearing all these chunky bracelets and she quoted Coco Chanel, [so] I knew we were going to be friends. We always say we are the ying to one another's yang. I think Hether is an extremely talented, strong woman who is a total alpha-female like me, but she's also poetic, intellectual, and quite vulnerable. We need more women like Hether in the world who are not afraid to assert themselves. I very much respect her and the music she makes.
With music so decentralized and accessible, do you still find distinct regional characteristics of music scenes as you tour?
Yes, I do see it in funny little ways. I mean, in Montreal there is always an opening band who is going to employ some kind of theatrical, art-school performance piece into their act. It's so Montreal. Like, paper mach√© dicks glued on the players heads as they bounce around the stage screaming and throwing glitter -- so goddamn French Canadian.
In recent memory, Canadian rock, especially from Montreal, meant overblown, orchestral grandiosity. Between bands like White Lung, Nu Sensae, Steve Adamyk, Metz, Pregnancy Scares, Eagulls, and Sceptres, that perception is definitely changing. Are you proud to be part of the reinstatement of Canadian rock as tough and scrappy?
Yes, of course. We are tough and scrappy. Thick skin, man. You Yankees have been making fun of us forever, so we know how to take it. We may apologize too much, but we know how to put up a fight.
Canadian musicians are generally well-travelled in the US because there's a larger marketplace. Are there any generalized perceptions of Americans held by Canadian bands that we might not be privy to?
Maybe. All I know is that White Lung loves American cash. Canadians have twoonies and loonies. It's ridiculous. Our money is a joke. After our show at the Bowery in New York with Iceage, we had to go to Canada for two shows and I could not wait to get back to the U.S.A. I mean, I love being Canadian. We have thick skin and passports.
It's interesting that you avoided making White Lung's lyrics public early on considering the wealth of your writing published elsewhere. Are the lyrics you write for White Lung somehow more personal or vulnerable?
Thinking back, I do not know why I resisted revealing my lyrics on our first record. I just thought that no one really cared. Then, with Sorry, people just kept asking me about the lyrics at shows and misquoting me in record reviews, and I got sick of it. So I just posted them online. Then we added a lyrics sheet when it came time to re-press the record. It was weird to see all the words typed up and clumped together instead of on the messy scraps of paper they were produced on. I mean, the most common words of Sorry are "rot," "inject," and "dead." Come on! I realize that I am quite a public person and I do reveal a lot of myself in my written work. I just prefer to read that kind of writing, you know? Vulnerability is attractive to me. I gave up on being embarrassed a while ago.
You've studied feminism and gender issues formally, and these have been very important issues for punks, especially in the Pacific Northwest, for a long time. Was is punk that introduced you to identity politics and feminism and encouraged you to study it, or was it the other way around?
Feminism and punk came into my life around the same time. I started getting into punk at the end of high school and naturally, I was attracted to mostly female bands because I could identify with them. I mean, I fucking love Fang, Red Kross, the Germs, the Replacements, the list goes on. But when I was 17 years old and heard a woman intellectualizing gender and powerfully screaming over a guitar, it made me excited. That's all I was thinking about at that time in my life. I was trying to make sense of being a woman, so those bands made me feel less alone.
As much as I find it very frustrating that journalists still feel the need to ask my female bandmates and myself what it's like to be women playing aggressive music, I am proud to be playing with such assertive, intelligent women who know how to really play their fucking instruments. That is very important to me. It's insulting to not learn your craft. I am not one of those people who's like, "Fuck it! You don't need to know what you are doing, just go for it." Sorry. I'm not. Especially since women have been scrutinized in the music industry, like, "Oh, she's pretty okay for a chick," or whatever. No. I take my job seriously because it is a job. You know how many times we get bouncers or bartenders or soundmen coming up after we playing saying, "Wow. I never expected that to come out of you ladies!" It's insulting, but you know what? I don't care. It makes me happy. It's like, "Yeah, motherfucker. What did you expect?" We know how to shut up ignorance.