Interviews

A Walk Through ‘Paradise’ with White Lung’s Mish Way

The frontwoman gives a song-by-song listening guide to the band’s new album.

by Dan Ozzi
May 20 2016, 1:30pm

Mish Way wanted to prove she can sing. That was the impetus behind her band White Lung’s new album, Paradise. “And not just sing like a punk,” the frontwoman clarifies, “but actually sing. Because I can. And I wanted to do that, and not hide behind fuzz and guitars.”

The band’s most recent release, 2014’s Deep Fantasy, one of the strongest, most scathing rock records of the last decade, was full of spite and personal catharsis, ready to assault the listener at every turn. Paradise, though, is cleaner and more melody-focused, and, as promised, Way makes a point of showcasing her voice. Not just her literal voice, but her her writer’s voice. Way, a part-time journalist, uses her skills with words to create ten different vignettes across Paradise’s ten tracks, each with its own character’s perspective. This is a new method for Way, writing from imagined worlds instead of her own. Many songs see her writing vicariously through serial killers or fame-hungry celebrities. It’s the least autobiographical album White Lung has ever made, she says.

“On Deep Fantasy, I had a little more of a selfish, righteous message. So it was fueled by anger and frustration, and it’s really easy to write songs when you’re angry and frustrated. It’s the perfect outlet to talk about those things,” she says. “But with Paradise, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I wanted to use words and say phrases that me, as Mish, could never say, and the best way to do that is through stories and characters. I mean, what was I gonna do, write ten love songs for my husband?”

Way recently walked us through Paradise, explaining each song’s origins and the voices behind them.

“Dead Weight”

Mish Way: I’ve never had a miscarriage in my life, but this is a song about someone who has had a miscarriage and wants to be pregnant again but is scared. I’ve been really fascinated with motherhood, and thinking of those kinds of things. I was writing an article about uterine prolapse and there was all this weird medical terminology that was in my head, and I was talking to all these women about these horrible things that had happened to them post-pregnancy. So I was thinking about that kind of stuff. There’s just this biological pull that your female body has.

Noisey: Would you ever want to have kids?
Yeah. I never thought I did, and then I met my husband and it was like, “Oh, yeah, you’re who I’m supposed to mate with.” We have a rule about how it’s gonna go. I don’t want to start too late. So if we don’t have children by the time I’m 33 and he’s 35, then that’s OK. We’ll just enjoy our lives otherwise.

Would you ever adopt kids?
I don’t know. I really want to experience giving birth, and that’s a selfish answer, I know. The proper answer is “Yes, of course, I would adopt!” But I don’t know if I’d want to. I’d want to experience that.

“Narcoleptic”

This song is a schizophrenic mess of voices. It's me all over the place. I'm referencing everything from Captain Beefheart to Jim Goad to mob mentality. Sometimes songs don't have a focus. They don't have an end goal and the lyrics are like a bunch of old Christmas lights, tangled up in a box in the basement. It's forgotten trash from the back of your mind that ends up working pretty well when it's all finally plugged in, dusted off, and hung up on the tree.

“Below”

This one is written from my perspective, but it’s not about me at all. It’s based on a quote by Camille Paglia who is probably one of my favorite writers. She said, “Beauty fades, beauty is transient, that’s why we value it.” Then the second half of that quote talks about how there’s this genre of feminism that doesn’t take the beautiful woman—the starlet, the model, the woman whose whole career is based on beautyvery seriously, and devalues her. It talks about how, to achieve great beauty, even if in one photograph, that person is still contributing to culture, and I really love that. So the song is an ode to glamour and beauty.

Can I ask what you think about the feminism behind the perpetual nude Kim Kardashian selfies that keep coming up? They always spark a debate over whether or not that is pro-feminism.
Feminism is so hard because it’s the one umbrella term to cover a lot of things, and now its acceptance and trendiness has almost been its downfall, because I feel like there are so many misinformed people. This Spice Girl feminism that’s come back where it’s like, “Girl power!” and then kick over a chair… that’s ridiculous to me, and I think there’s a lot of misinformed idiots that don’t understand what it means and regurgitate the last tweet that they read. And that really bums me out. I don’t know my opinion of the Kim Kardashian thing. I think her husband is an idiot, and it’s hard to see why anyone is giving him attention. He’s so stupid. I have never been a fan. He said he doesn’t read, OK? That’s it for me. I’m sorry.

But the song, I had this idea that when women die, they just get preserved in the ground like these little beautiful crystal carcases. I think there’s a lot of tragedy with beauty and sadness, but there’s also a lot of achievement and value in it that people often throw away. Beauty is work, you know? So it was just about the preservation of beauty and glamour, inspired by that Camille quote.

“Kiss Me When I Bleed”

I was thinking about love and that pride in love, like Natural Born Killers-style where your parents hate him but you’re like, “Fuck you, dad!” And then I was also watching those documentaries about the Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. They’re like this hillbilly family. I was thinking about prideful love and love that’s not good for you, and how you’d do anything for that person. I imagined this story of this rich aristocrat girl who falls in love a garbage man who lives in a trailer park in West Virginia, and this is the defiant song she’d be singing to her aristocrat dad, like, “Fuck you, I’m going with him!” Riches to rags.

Does this relate to your family’s relationship with your husband?
My family loves my husband. My father loves my husband more than he loves me, it’s crazy. He even puts on an accent when talking to him, it’s like a joke.

“Demented”

This is Fred and Rosemary West fighting back and forth to each other. They were a really famous serial killer couple in England. Fred was such a spineless worm that when they got caught, Fred killed himself in jail so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the repercussions. They found, like, 13 bodies buried in their yard. They ran a lodging house, and they would drive out and pick up young girls and just rape and torture them. This is them fighting back and forth. I was doing a study about how women help their husbands rape and murder.

“Sister”

“Sister” is in the voice of Karla Homolka. She was a famous Canadian killer. Her and her husband, Paul Bernardo, were around in the 90s. They were known as the Ken and Barbie Killers. Karla helped Pauland they did look like Ken and Barbie, this perfect college couplethey raped, tortured, and murdered three young women including her own sister. There’s so much more to this story, it’s insane. I got really obsessed with Karla, because she made a deal where, if she ratted out Paul, she’d only have to go to jail for 12 years. They called it “the deal with the devil.” Paul and Karla would videotape all of their sexual tortures, and Karla was always like, “I didn’t do anything, it was all him! I was forced!” So right after they signed off on all this, they found all their tapes, and they watched the videos, and she’s right in there. So she had really gotten away with murder, basically. But “Sister” is Karla apologizing to her sister, Tammy, for what she did to her. Paul wanted Tammy’s virginity, so Karla offered it to him as a Christmas present. So at the family Christmas, they kept Tammy up and were drinking, and Karla worked at a veterinary clinic and had stolen some chemical that they used to knock her out so Paul could have his way with her. But Tammy accidentally died, they didn’t mean to kill her. Karla is alive now, she ended up marrying her lawyer’s cousin, which to me is greasy and weird. She’s got kids, she was living in Montreal, but people kept spotting her and she’s very hated. I was thinking about whether she feels bad about what she did and whether she was coerced or was totally complacent and malicious. I imagined her feeling bad and apologizing to her sister.

“Hungry”

This one is about everyone wanting to be famous. When you want that so bad, you’re your own worst enemy. My friend Jennifer said something to me once that if you want that so badly, people will feel that energy, and it won’t happen.

You’re “thirsty,” to borrow internet-speak.
Yeah, and I wanted to use the word “thirsty” in this song, but I didn’t want it to get dated.

Were you thinking about anyone specific or was this about being internet famous or what?
Everyone. You ever listen to that song “The Marshall Plan” by Blue Oyster Cult? It’s about this guy named Johnny who wants to be a rock star and listens to the radio every day and he thinks the only way to get a girl to like him is if he plays guitar. So he gets this band and he gets huge, but he never gets her in the end. He did all this stuff for love and he never got it.

And now we can create our own niche fame with social media, and I was thinking: There’s an end to it. Like, at the end of your life, do you want to be scrolling through your life on Google or do you want to be surrounded by your family? What’s more important? There’s always someone waiting to take your place. No one is special. Sorry.

What do you think the worst part about being famous is?
Well I’m not famous so I don’t know.

What would you conjecture is the worst part?
I think the worst part would be… being mad about stuff and then realizing that you’re famous and can look at your bank account and shut your fucking mouth. I’m sure there’s parts I’m missing. I remember when I interviewed Joan Rivers, she was like, “There’s nothing bad about being famous. When you go to a hospital, they say, ‘Oh Ms. Rivers, we’ll let you go first.’ If you don’t like it, get out, because there’s someone else willing to take your place.” She was also one of the most hard-working women in show business.

“I Beg You”

This one is me. It’s about fighting with the person you love, and that frustration of wanting the fight to be over. I hate fighting with people. I hate fighting with my husband more than anything. It breaks my heart.

Do you think there’s something good about the fact that you fight?
Yes. There’s something good in fighting because it means there’s something between you that you need to work out and, if you have a strong enough relationship, you’ll resolve it, you’ll get all your emotions out, and at the end you’ll say “I love you.” Fighting is important, but I really hate it. My husband and I fight all the time, but we laugh about it. Like, “You fucking make me crazy, I love you, but you’re fucking stupid, and I want to chop your head off!” But there should be that.

“Vegas”

This song is about a news story I read last year that stuck out in my mind. I don't even want to say what that story was for privacy of the person I am talking about as well as being reluctant myself to have that story follow me around to every single interview I do. Because you know that's how things work, especially now. I should have thought ahead. I am going to be talking about Karla Homolka all year. I think I need to be less honest and start lying about lyrical meanings... I'll start now: Vegas is a song about a bachelorette party gone rouge.

“Paradise”

This is my cheesy teenage love song for my husband. Straight-up, fuck it. Don’t you think it’s harder to be earnest and do it right than be snarky? Being snarky and cynical is easy. I think it’s really hard to write good love songs. You’re not going to say anything new. It’s about saying it your way. I want to write a cheesy love songs, and I’m gonna do it, who gives a shit?

Dan Ozzi is on Twitter - @danozzi