Laura Misch Interview \\ Woman on a Misch-on
Saxophonist, vocalist and producer Laura Misch is flying from the success of her first album, Playground, but notes that there are challenges to fight in the industry. Before her Peckham Rye Festival appearance, Laura Misch spoke to Nina Fine.
Chatting all the way up to the white walled office at the top of Bussey Building, I have a realisation; I’m not only interviewing Laura Misch – self-produced saxophonist and singer – but I am chatting to Laura Misch, alpine walker. 2017 has presented the South-London native with a series of firsts; an appearance on Gilles Peterson’s radio show, a session on Worldwide FM, and her debut performance as a soloist in a festival setting, for the lucky audience of Peckham Rye Festival. What do all of these firsts make a musician feel? “Just super grateful, I think”, says Misch, “and inspired by everything that’s going on.” Humility and honesty are constants throughout our conversation. Sitting back, she plays with her black jumper between her fingers. She seems entirely comfortable in her surroundings, generously answering all of my questions with the ease and openness of someone who takes pride in her self-awareness.
From EP to LP, there are evident progressions in sounds, space and production. Laura Misch explains that in both time and texture, there are distinct differences. “The EP I did with a collective of musicians who are friends and we recorded it in like 3 days, and then put it out. So it was really rushed.” The friends Misch refers to are faces of the South-East London scene; Alfa Mist, Kaya Thomas-Dyke and Jim Macrae (drummer of Jordan Rakei’s band). Misch continues, “it was like a capsule of that time. It was my first time taking the step to actually sing on a project as well.” The EP opened space to discover new skills and sounds – elements which would grow into her most recent LP, Playground. It’s evident that in this release, Misch has explored a more reflective space; one that is inward-looking; “this LP thing that I did was essentially me deciding that I wanted to take control over every aspect of it.”
In contrast to the 3 day recording of her EP, Playground was recorded and produced over 3 months, in Misch’s bedroom. Stripped of a live band, swapping the collective for self-taught production, the LP is itself a playground. She says, “After the EP I thought ‘that was really fun’, but I want to see what happens if I incubate and isolate myself and make something without these incredible musicians.” Laughing, Misch suggests, “maybe I had a bit of a complex, you know? It’s one thing to be able to make something yourself, but if you have all these musicians on board then what does that sound like? I think it came from insecurity.”
The move from band to solo is important for Misch. She wrote about Playground on her Facebook page; “This project was very much a solo-exploration created in isolation, but we are really a collection of our influences.” In person, she explains that the drive for a one-woman project was practicality. Touring the EP without a full band comes with its own problems. Misch says, “I had to take those stems and manipulate them into something that was sample based, that could be triggered, but worked electronically.”
In light of her recent solo journey, what’s Misch‘s thoughts on working with other musicians? “I think collaboration, for me, has been essential – it was my training, because I didn’t go to a formal music school education as such. Collaboration is where I’ve learnt how to put together a setup, to start with production; it’s where I find inspiration, and sometimes rediscover a love for music… But I also think there is something to be said for taking time out”, says Misch. “If you do a lot of self-production and you’re listening to hundreds of takes of your own voice, and you’re performing with headphones, you can become quite introverted. I think you discover nuances that you wouldn’t if you hadn’t studied yourself – It’s actually really egotistical now I think about it.”
The definition of ‘independent’ alters with each artist. For Misch, she has not only played and created every sound in her LP, but she also designed the artwork cover, with numerous drawings featured across her Instagram. I have to ask, what does the word ‘independent’ mean to her? “I would say the first thing is just having a go at everything”, says Misch. “Just experimenting with every aspect even if you don’t necessarily identify as a painter or you don’t think you are the best person to write your own copy.” There is a contagious child-like curiosity as she speaks; something which is heightened, she tells me, by her current work with teaching children in outreach programmes in Peckham for the past 2 years. “I think the most interesting projects happen when they are fully immersive towards one person’s outlook on life.” With another smile, she continues, “the other thing I like about doing all the stuff, when you are doing projects [is that it’s] often like a production chain. I’ve got so many friends who are waiting on a piece of artwork or waiting on other people. The thing about keeping production in-house and doing things yourself is that you can really quickly express things and put them out.” She adds self-deprecatingly, “it’s also maybe a sign of impatience.”
“Production process feels like a playground to me; you build a climbing frame”.
Misch conveys a gorgeous balance of thoughtfulness and light-heartedness. While clearly spending time self-analysing and self-producing, there is a vitality that exudes from her relaxed being as we talk about sound-making, influences and her electronic inspiration. “I say at the moment I am reading books than I am listening to music, which is a funny phase, but I want to develop more and find better ways of expressing my songs lyrically. I feel like for the next project I want there to really be refined stories.” Talking about the making of Playground, Misch adds, “I had a need for mantras and repetitions, so a lot of the choruses are very loopy – loopy does sound crazy!” She ponders the next body of work; “I want there to be much more progressive narratives – I’ve been reading a lot about music theory and around how we engage with technology.” She tells me about a book by composer Holly Herndon; “[It] talks a lot about the laptop being the most intimate instrument because it knows the most about you. It mediates all your communication.”
There’s an undeniable shift from live instrumentation to electronic sounds in Playground. In light of her reading material, I ask Misch what interests her most about electronic processes? “I think I’ve been inspired most recently by a lot of electronic producers and their manipulation of live sound. That’s why I use a lot of effects and pedals in my live set up, because I like the pure sound of the saxophone being like mixed with lots of other manipulated versions of that sound. I also like the way sound becomes very malleable when you get into electronics in the production phase. That’s really playful.” Misch links this to how the “production process feels like a playground to me: you build a climbing frame – with the microphones quite literally and you programme different things with them – and then you can just play within that space.” It’s this set up that means Misch’s live sets are mostly improvisation.
What about Misch‘s writing habits? “When I’m making tracks”, says Misch, “there’s often a symbiotic relationship between how I’ve set up the recording space and whether I’m going in for a loop based recording, or if I track vocals to a track with a lot of saxophone lines and then improvise.” She tells me, “a lot of the time I start with the saxophone. In the new LP, often I wanted the saxophone to replace chords, so there is a lot of multilayering. She explains that she wanted them to be like sonic hugs. She points to Bjork’s The Anchor Song as her inspiration.
The music industry is still grossly dominated by men when it comes to production. As a self-taught producer (of only three months at time of publishing), I ask Misch how she has overcome gender inequality as a female producer and what the industry could be doing to change the imbalance. “I think things are shifting which is really positive, but I think it is about visible representation – calling up on any little discrimination. Like Bjork, for example. She self-produces a lot of stuff, and then as soon as there is a co-production going on, like with Arca on her last album – suddenly, because he’s a man – he becomes the main producer; she calls it up. I think stamping out any of the mis-preconceptions is important.” Misch explains, “for me, it was never like I felt like I couldn’t do it, so I don’t think I had to overcome that if you see what I mean.” She comments on the value of sibling encouragement from her younger brother, singer-songwriter and DJ Tom Misch: “For the last five years, my little brother, he’s been producing. The nice thing was that Tom was producing next door, and that was a massive inspiration to me. He encouraged me to just have a go and do it on your own.”
Looking to the future, Laura Misch has multiple projects on the go, but to both our frustrations, they’re not quite ready to disclose. That being said, she revealed something to wet the appetite. Misch confirmed she’ll be performing a headline show at Brainchild Festival (7-9 July) and Corsica Studios (2 August). Excitedly she tells me, “I’m focusing on an album, and I have concepts in my head, and I’m just actually going through the process of trying to decide whether to invest in a hardware synthesizer”. She pauses to ponder her thoughts. “I want to limit the sound to live saxophone, live synth and electronic drums. I really want to pare down for an album to create a body of work which has a really distinctive sound.”
JS | Nina Fine