Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn speaks with a childlike lilting cadence. Her voice brims with the same sing-song honesty—full of pauses, asides and thoughtfully stitched metaphors—that has filled her music over the last decade. From boasting about her famous apple crisp baked with her family's "almost endless supply" of homemade maple syrup or the pink bike (given to her by her long-time live-in girlfriend) that she pedals around Portland, Oregon, she is both charmingly disarming and slightly intimidating.
Zeitlyn—who goes by Mirah—is a long-time staple in K Records' Northwest indie scene. With 12 varied releases notched in her belt, Mirah's music has developed over the years from lo-fi bedroom fuzz to welling, multi-layered thunderstorms. But even with so many recordings, Mirah's newest album (a)spera—a combination of the Latin words for "hope" and "hardship"—is only her fourth full-length solo studio album.
- photo by Liz Haley
- Mirah, Mirah at Neurolux. Who's that playing for only eight bucks?
"I didn't have the generating influence of my own desire to make an album for a long time," Mirah explains, referring to the nearly five-year hiatus she took after releasing 2004's C'mon Miracle.
But she did have the influence of some talented collaborators. For years, Mirah has worked closely with Phil Elverum (of Microphones/Mt. Eerie fame) both as a musician and a producer. She lovingly likens Elverum's studio persona to a "caveman," explaining that he impulsively grabs and bangs on random instruments, leading to messy, yet jaw-dropping, results. On (a)spera, Elverum produced three songs, while the album's other seven songs were produced by Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens) and Adam Selzer (Norfolk and Western, M. Ward).
"I think all of my albums—and this one in particular—were really able to bloom because of so much input from these different ears and hands that were involved," Mirah says. "I think that it would've flattened it out in a way if I would have been too streamlined with my partners."
And this diversity is seeped into each of (a)spera's 10 tracks. From the call-and-response "I won't give more / We just want more" chorus in "Generosity" to the spooky maritime tale "The World is Falling Apart" to the whirling-skirt, flamenco stomp of "Country of the Future," the album brims with breathy vocals, xylophone pings, bongo slaps, squeaky guitar strums and the harpy pluck of the kora.
"One of the reasons [I like working with multiple producers] is just so that I can ensure that I am being heard," Mirah says. "Like I smear myself all over that whole thing and that I am the unifying factor and it's my mind and my voice which is carrying the flag in front of this album parade."
Like her studio experiences, Mirah's live shows are also an experiment in collaboration. With a lineup that swells and recedes with each tour, Mirah adds band members based on who's available at the time, regardless of whether the instrument was used in the original recording.
"[Performing] is like a recipe that you don't really follow. It's exactly how I cook, actually," Mirah explains. "There's a basic flavor that you're going for, and you want to have this nice combination of colors and textures, but every time you cook the thing, it's going to come out a little different."
And that seems to be Mirah's recipe for singer-songwriter longevity—combine one part thoughtful prose, one part varied songwriting, mix with talented collaborators, then toss the cookbook aside.
Wednesday, April 15, with Tender Forever, 8 p.m., $8 advance, $10 door, Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St., 208-343-0866.