White Lung is a punk rock band from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In advance of their performance at this weekend's Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, Josh Polikov called up frontwoman Mish Way for a talk about the festival, gender studies, blues, and more!
TC: So White Lung has played a lot of festivals in the past couple of months, how’s that been?
MW: It’s great, I like playing festivals, I have no problem with it. It’s great! Especially when they’re not, you know, acting like actual festivals.
TC: So are you excited to play Hopscotch?
MW: Yeah, of course.
TC: Are there any particular bands at Hopscotch this year that you’re looking forward to seeing?
MW: Oh yeah, I would like to see High on Fire but I think they play at the same time as us, so… But that’s okay, I just watched them play in LA, I did [merchandise] for them that night. But yeah, we’ll see. Usually unless you’re there for a couple days you don’t really get to see anything else which is always a bummer.
TC: So I read yesterday that you studied Gender Studies in college.
TC: So for people at Duke who might be considering a similar course of study, would you have anything to say to them—words of advice, anything like that?
MW: Yeah. Well, I got into University through their Creative Writing program. I did that for a year, and then I just took a feminist philosophy course as an elective and it completely changed my way of thinking. Because you know in high school I had one friend who was kind of like the punk feminist friend, and we felt like we were sort of the only two. And, I always had the notions and the ideas in my head but never the concrete theories and academics to back up all the things that I recognized, like sexism. And so to get that out of school was really exciting to me and I switched over and decided I wanted to complete my degree doing that, because it just made me excited, and made me inspired, and made me feel a little more sane about the world around me. And at that time too I was in my early twenties and I was really angry.
MW: I just think its something that’s, you know, great for… It’s just a way to look at the world that’s really critical and can be really positive. And I don’t think it should be limited to just something that women are into. Like when I went in it was still called Women’s Studies which I feel kind of shoos men away. There’s Queer Studies too, I did a lot of that, but, you know, it kind of ends up boxing people. But I think it’s something for everyone. As Bell Hooks once said, “feminism is for everybody.”
TC: Do you think that those studies translated into your music?
MW: Of course, because it was just my way of thinking. You know that was just my brain. It was like a code that was in my brain, and when I started to look at the world through a feminist lens of course it affected my written work, and the way I would write songs. I’m thankful for it.
TC: So what were some of your other influences as far as your music and your written work?
MW: There are a lot. There are, you know, my rock n roll idols which I’ve been staring at since I was a teenager. And certain writers I’ve looked at too.
TC: Who were those rock n roll idols?
MW: Diana Washington, Helene Smith, Van Morrison, Courtney Love, it goes on and on… anyone that has a really strong presence, but is going also to be vulnerable. Because I think vulnerability is what makes you connect to someone faster. That’s something that I really try to do because those are the writers and the musicians that always touched and always make me feel inspired and excited. So that’s how I learned to write… I especially listened to a lot of old blues and jazz growing up because of my grandparents and my parents.
TC: A lot of that old blues stuff is pretty misogynistic, right?
MW: Yeah but then there’s also Diana Washington covering Bessie Smith singing about how she’s going to tie her man to the electric chair and she killed him because she caught him cheating, and that it was worth it. You know what I mean? Those are badass women dealing with situations that maybe weren’t so great towards them. To me that stuff is really powerful and really amazing. Misogyny is there, it’s going to exist forever. Sexism is going to exist. As long as we talk about it and we’re critical about it and we’re willing to listen to each other and try to understand where the other side is coming from. That’s what makes a good lawyer, a good arguer—someone that can actually listen to and understand the other side and then they know how to battle them. I think that’s how you have to look at people you don’t agree with in this world. Not as an enemy situation but like how are we going to try to fix this now?
TC: Well speaking of these kinds of dialogues, there’s obviously a lot of talk going on right now about gender violence on college campuses…
MW: [Sighs.] I don’t know, it’s just such a tough… A lot of it is depressing. But I think the great thing is that we all have this great amazing thing called the internet now where we can be really vocal and be listened to, even if we’re not someone of importance but generally would be listened to by a large amount of people, and it creates these networks, and that’s really valuable in itself.
TC: So what are you and the other members of White Lung listening to right now?
MW: Well, they’re all listening to that—what’s her name—that FKA Twigs. They’re all listening to that, my man. I had my headphones on earlier and I was listening to Fleetwood Mac. I always go back to Stevie because she’s actually one of my favorites. But we have really eclectic tastes, everyone in the band has different things that they’re really into, so we’re pretty willing to listen to anything. I like old music. It’s hard for me to find current things that get me excited. I haven’t listened to that whole FKA Twigs album but she seems pretty incredible, and she has a great voice. But I like old rock music, I’m an old hokey.
White Lung will be playing on Sunday at 12:30 AM at Kennedy Theater.