Nobody who went down to the Echo in Los Angeles on Wednesday night to see Miya Folick play knew what they were in for. Nobody including Folick herself.
The singer is a staple of the east side. It is not unusual to see her name on the marquee in Echo Park’s choice rock room. It’s part of the furniture by this point.
Many of those inside the Echo are Folick’s people, her community, our community. They’re accustomed to seeing her perform regularly, and always innovatively. One of the most affecting shows I’ve seen in five years living in LA was a Folick show in the garden at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center downtown. She performed her song “Dead Body” with a group of interpretative dancers while the sound of nearby sirens filled the air overhead. It was her own personal emergency echoing the thousands of personal emergencies happening all around us, as we fumble about the metropolis connected by our disconnects. Folick feels emblematic of the very notion of what it means to be an artist in this city, of what it feels like to struggle and to succeed, and of how it looks whiplashing between those two states.
The people at the Echo are accustomed to Folick’s story so far. She grew up in Orange County, was a transplant to LA after spending her formative years studying in New York, and then returned to California with a newfound interest in music-oriented expression. And so she began writing songs and singing them with a gift of a voice that seemed to surprise herself more than it does everyone else. She hired players by vetting available musicians on Tinder. She learned how to co-produce her material.
She put out the Strange Darling EP in 2015, followed by her debut album Premonitions in 2018. She started to uncover the seemingly limitless power of her operatic vocals. It has been some time since she’s been headlining her own shows, and certainly a while since any new material. Her last stint traveling was in support of pop act Bishop Briggs.
To play never-before-heard material for more than an hour to any room of people is a brave thing. But to perform 15 songs nobody’s ever heard before for the first time in front of a room full of people you know and respect is fearless. Folick may have been unaware of some of the star power who had gathered by word-of-mouth to see her. In the room were Maggie Rogers, Cherry Glazerr, Lauren Mayberry of the band Chvrches and Lauren Ruth Ward. Just some of her highly renowned peers.
Folick put together a new band for the night’s proceedings, and one whose chemistry meshed with her command better than ever before. She began with a song called “Oh God,” questioning whether she believes in something. But what unfolded over the next hour was an exercise in blind faith, and it paid off gloriously.
Folick had the room in her grasp from end to end as she stoked their fire from the edge of the small stage, sometimes strapping her guitar on, sometimes rocking her own body back and forth, and at one point jumping into the crowd to dance alongside them. There was no lull, no moment in which anyone went to the bar, or out the back for a cigarette. You wouldn’t dare miss a line of one of her new songs, such was their garish specificity. Folick’s prose has always been vulnerable and self-critical. In an interview last year with the Los Angeles Times, she professed to me that she almost used Premonitions as a document by which to call her own future behavior out.
These songs are more naked than ever, and each one she plays is more telling, more melodic, more intimate than the one before. On “Impossible,” she sings about how she loves “to get laid by people who believe I can save them,” until “like clockwork” she breaks their heart two years later. The images she paints are so rooted in LA and her love for this city that it’s easy to assign Folick as spokesperson for the modern beatnik creative’s Angeleno experience. One song is even titled “Short Stop,” after the bar just down Sunset Boulevard from the venue. You can see the dive bar’s pool tables and photo booths and taste its cheap bourbon as she delivers it. On “Lucky Doomed Stressed,” she sings about the feeling of living in a cruel paradise:
“Strangers say/ They’re jealous of the sun in LA/ But they’ve never felt it hot on their face/ As they’re stranded on the side of La Brea/ In a broke-down Prius.”
Between songs, she offers explanations about their meanings or how she’s written them and with whom. Her hypewoman joked that Folick was about to perform a workshop, but this was a far looser form of sermon and all the more thought-provoking for it. Folick tells the crowd that being “doomed” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I guess that’s the kind of practical optimism we need right now…
The music is more committed to rock than Folick’s genre-bending has been in the past on record. Her energetic forcefulness would make her a great accompaniment to the Garbage, Liz Phair, Alanis Morissette revival that’s taking place this summer. She wears that same smile now that her musical ancestors did back then; a defiant gleam of joy that refuses to be wiped from her face despite the tragedies we experience every day, be them tiny or enormous.
Some of the tracks are despairing, some fun and groovy, some angry, some deeply sad (keeping my eyes dry for the confessional “Sociopath,” a song about how Folick cheated on a lover in which she paints herself as a “monster” undeserving of love, was not possible).
Stumbling through the East Village in New York City in the 1970s and chancing upon a very unique Patti Smith show couldn’t have been too dissimilar to the experience of being in the Echo last night. It’s 2020, and there’s no need for such nostalgia. The new generation are finding their own rebellion and counterculture to fight capitalist pressures.
On Thursday (Jan. 16), Folick posted on Instagram that the social media app has been a “hollow” experience but to have people hold a space for her and her band to perform those songs the night before made her feel “very alive.” Everyone who was there breathed that same collective inhale.
Texting me Thursday from a tattoo parlor where she’s getting a butterfly tattooed on her ankle to commemorate the occasion, Folick explained the impetus behind doing a show of completely unheard material. “I was hungry for something raw and wild and scary,” she says. “Last year I struggled with feeling unhappy playing music live. I asked myself when was the last time I was truly happy playing music live, and it was when it felt like a risk.”
She says she cried after the show in the green room, that she was overcome with pride, even though she’s yet to actually make the album she just performed. “I felt that I had ownership of it in a way that I haven’t felt in a while,” she says. But outside, it was the crowd marveling at what they just saw inside who felt an ownership too. Bold actions inspire bold actions. Miya Folick has set the bar for 2020.
the first time i saw @miyafolick play was at the bootleg probably some five years ago and it was the first thing i saw in los angeles that made me think “yeh i moved to the right city”. tonight was probably like stumbling upon a patti smith in the village in new york city back in the day. i wasn’t there though. i was here. miya played for over an hour, debuting only new material, which is so blissfully and fearlessly punk in itself. every song was better and better and somehow better than the one before it with lyrics so specific there’s no hiding from them. one song – “impossible” i think it was called – was particularly extraordinary. i don’t know what bygone eras were like because i didn’t experience them. i experience this! we have this! and thank god. wow miya.