As 2018 winds down, Billboard is asking some of the artists who helped define the year in music to look back on their accomplishments, favorite memories and pop-culture obsessions from the past 12 months. Check out other interviews with St. Vincent, Anne-Marie, Kali Uchis, Dan + Shay, Swae Lee, Lauv and Old Dominion.
Mitski rides into the 2018 sunset with Be the Cowboy landing near the top of any “best albums of 2018” list worth its salt (including ours). On her fifth album, the Japanese-American indie auteur left lo-fi huddling in the corner, returned to the keyboard and delivered an album of eclectic, warped tunes for our uncertain era. Like cowboys whose quiet desolation seems to take on epic proportions as they roam the open plains, her sound is bigger than ever before, even as the lyrics are incisive and isolated.
As 2018 closes out, Billboard asked Mitski about her year, and she generously regaled us with tales of bizarre cab rides, a woman going into labor at her concert and desperately needing a good night’s sleep.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2018?
I’m most proud of letting go of playing an instrument on stage, which I think had become a crutch for me, and seeking out my choreographer friend Monica Mirabile and other people I admire who work in movement, and saying “I want to express myself better and more on stage, I want to use my body, I want to put on a more involved show,” and then working to put together a performance. I don’t have any experience in dance, and I’m actually very shy and scared of being looked at, and so much could have gone horribly awry, but I took the plunge, and I grew so much from there.
If you could travel back in time 11 months ago, what advice would you give yourself about this year?
Please plan something to do for your birthday this year, even if you don’t like making big deals of birthdays, because turning 28 is going to feel real rough for some reason.
What’s the best concert or performance you saw this year?
What’s one song you could not get out of your head this year?
The melody at the end of “Pleasure Suck” by Spirit of the Beehive.
What’s a musical trend you’d like to see go away in 2019?
I’d like for more pop vocal melodies to have a greater range than a fourth. Ariana Grande, please lead us out of this Re Mi Do Re Re Mi Do Re Re Mi Do Re Do.
What was your most memorable fan interaction of 2018?
I don’t know if it counts as a fan interaction, but during our Detroit show, I saw out of the corner of my eye that someone in the crowd had sort of dipped down for a hot second, then they popped back up, then pushed themselves out of the crowd in a real hurry. I didn’t think about it again until a crew member told me later that apparently this person had gone into labor and had to go give birth. I haven’t been able to verify this, but that’s what I was told.
What’s one thing, big or small, that you regret in 2018 — and no saying “no regrets”!
I should have scheduled more off days between shows on tour. There were weeks where we only got about 4 hours of sleep or less, night after night, because of the non-stop shows and all the driving in between. Or maybe I should have just coughed up the money for a tour bus, so we could sleep as the bus took us to our next gig. It just seemed too expensive to pull off when we were planning the tour, but once the tour started and we were all losing our minds from sleep deprivation, I think there was a point where I genuinely would have handed over my savings for good night’s sleep.
Name another artist you’d most like to invite to a holiday dinner with your family and why.
Hobie Doyle from Hail, Caesar! by the Coen Brothers, because he won’t stir the pot.
What’s a gift that’s on your list this year, or one you’re planning to give friends or family?
I like to give practical gifts. Years ago I gifted my manager a gigantic multi-outlet extension cord, and it may not have been exciting for him to receive, but by God he’s still using it to this day. So I’m giving people things that I feel like would actually come in handy in their lives, like a thermos for a friend who travels a lot, or good running socks for the runner friend, or a makeup bag for the friend whose bag has been heavily used.
Whom did you text the most in 2018?
Tell me about your most memorable Uber, Lyft or taxi ride of 2018.
Three rides, two in Texas, one outside of Philly.
The first guy in Houston truly believed he was a messiah of some sort. He said it was him, Jesus, and three other men throughout history. He became incredibly upset because he felt like I didn’t truly believe him and also taunted me and said cruel things. He took an extra-long route so he could keep talking to me. That was scary; I don’t think he should be a driver. He also smelled really bad.
The second guy in Dallas was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. He would keep asking me if I knew a song, I’d say, “I don’t know, I’m not really familiar with Guns N’ Roses,” to which he would recite the lyrics to each song in their entirety. He did this for a few songs. When we finally reached my destination, he didn’t want me to leave until I’d watched a Guns N’ Roses YouTube video with him on his phone, and I had to ask him to please unlock the door because I couldn’t unlock my door manually on my end. That was only scary during those last few seconds — otherwise he was harmless, he just really loved Guns N’ Roses.
The third woman in Pennsylvania was fine until it started raining. Then she pulled into a parking lot in the middle of nowhere at night and just stopped. I asked why she stopped, she said she can’t drive in the rain. She was completely silent, just waiting for the rain that kept pouring harder and harder. I would have left and tried to call another Lyft, but it was pitch dark and raining in a completely open parking lot in the middle of nowhere, so being stranded there alone felt worse than waiting out the rain with this silent woman. I just frantically texted my three friends for about 20 minutes until the rain passed, and thank God it passed.
What was your favorite city you visited this year?
I finally got to go to Savannah, Ga., on tour, after I strong-armed my booking agent into finding me a Savannah show. I’d never been before, but I had built up such a mythology about it because of all the literature that surrounds it. Turns out, it’s just as magical and weird and beautiful as they say it is.