MIRA LU KOVACS will present her first solo album “What Else Can Break” at the end of March. After three trio albums as SCHMIEDS PULS, the Burgenland native has now recorded her vocals and guitar tracks on her own for the first time, in bedroom recording sessions. Actually, she would have liked to become a drummer as a child, but her parents gave her a guitar, which allowed her to meet a guitar teacher who encouraged her to sing. And now, her self-composed songs have already taken her halfway around the world. In collectives like MY UGLY CLEMENTINE or 5K HD she knows how to use her voice and her sense of melody and melancholy. She’s proving once again now with her current release, “What Else Can Break”, which also features a track that is almost twenty years old, how powerful introspective tones can be. In an interview with Michael Franz Woels, the meticulous introspectionist MIRA LU KOVACS explains conceptual considerations for telephone loops, the proponent of post-patriarchal radical softness, the apparent contradictions that everyone carries within themselves, and the consequences of being overcharged with sobriety, something she has experienced since her teenage days.
You curated Popfest Wien in 2019 together with Yasmin Hafedh aka Yasmo. Can you summarize your Popfest experience? What were some important aspects for you?
Mira Lu Kovacs: Wow, it’s so long ago! That was the last festival summer, wasn’t it? Actually, when I think back to Yasmo’s and my work together for Popfest, only fond memories come to mind. She and I worked incredibly well together, we often took different roles when something needed to be negotiated or communicated and almost magically complemented each other in that, I think. We only booked our favorite acts or bands that we really wanted to support. The selection was partly interpreted as some kind of statement. But we simply booked uncompromisingly good, relevant music that we didn’t see and hear enough of on stages in Vienna at the time. Good times! If I could do just one thing differently in retrospect, it would be that I would have given Ebow a better slot. She performed on day one, around 5 p.m. on the Seebühne. What was I thinking? She played one of the coolest sets of the festival with BadnBoujee. That should have happened at prime time!
“MUSICALLY SOMEWHERE BETWEEN DARBO FRUIT YOGURT COMMERCIALS AND PAUL SIMON”
For the Vienna Belvedere Museum, together with Manu Mayr, you created, a corporate sound design. How did this happen? What considerations did you have for the conception of the sound package for such diverse formats as telephone loops, sound logos for videos, background music for events or for the daily museum activities?
Mira Lu Kovacs: The focus was on the mood the listener might be in when listening to the different pieces. That also strongly depends on the space and listening device. The theme of the museum always signifies space. And you also need space in your head to be able to absorb new things. Therefore it was clear that we would not produce anything too dense. The theme of dreaming, mental wandering, timelessness, supposed technoid coolness and then again the very human, nostalgic indulgence, were the emotional starting points.
The funniest part was the phone loop anyway. That’s when we just asked each other, ‘What would we need to hear, not to hang up?’ And that’s when I went like, ‘I need to be able to connect emotionally.’ So the loop became a longer, acoustic guitar melody that’s musically somewhere between Darbo fruit yogurt commercials and Paul Simon.
You’ve been successful with many collaborations, such as the grunge-pop formation My Ugly Clementine or the jazzy electro combo 5K HD. Do you find it easy to keep repositioning yourself in different configurations, or is it simply very appealing to slip into slightly different roles again and again?
Mira Lu Kovacs: The main difference between this band and my other projects is that it’s much rockier than anything I’ve done before. Basically, I’ve never been a side woman before. It’s an extremely nice experience; for once not having to stand upfront alone, but being a band member with very equal rights, also singing lead vocals sometimes. I think I would be missing a lot if I didn’t have one of my projects. The variety in gesture, in the different bands, with the different personalities, and ultimately musically, is very fulfilling to me. I’m very grateful that I am able do so many different things. And then, besides these bands, there are also collaborations and other engagements. I really feel very privileged and have the feeling that I can act out a lot of what’s dormant in me. The other side is that every now and then my brain and heart are on the verge of bursting. (laughs) Well, that’s how it is. So when I play a solo gig in Vorarlberg, and the next day I’m supposed to play a festival in Ljubljana with 5K HD, and 12 hours later I’m on a plane to Hamburg with the Clementines, I’m already asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s really exhausting and sometimes you’re losing the pleasure if it’s too much. Then I urgently need a break. My goal is to organize things better in the future and be happier with less madness.
“What Else Can Break” is the first album to be released explicitly under your real name, Mira Lu Kovacs. You describe the album as“relentlessly suffering and honest”. With your trio Schmieds Puls, you were also the sole composer responsible for the “text and sound” of the melancholic ballads. Can you tell us something about the process of creating your new album, and about what makes it different from a Schmieds Puls one?
Mira Lu Kovacs: Hey, it wasn’t always “just” ballads (laughs). Even before the first lockdown in 2020, there were about five unfinished songs; the rest being written after April of last year. What the difference was this time was that I recorded all the vocals and guitar tracks at my house. I’ve never worked like that before. I was always well-behaved in the studio, rehearsing with the band for weeks or months beforehand, and then up to twelve songs were recorded in four days. Almost without any overdubs, because we recorded everything the way it would be in the end. That was always very stressful. You want to do something special, capture special moments, and with such a tight schedule, it’s really not easy! So bedroom-recording was very, very pleasant and I think I’m singing a bit differently. I’m also happier than usual with the vocal takes. I always sent the recordings straight to Sophie (Lindinger), with whom I produced the album. Schmieds Puls was my first real band, with whom I took my first steps in the scene. That’s how it feels today. The sound we created together was something very special. And that is still my sound. But with Christian Grobauer and Walter Singer it will always be something different. That was an independent band sound. That’s why I dropped the name, so that you don’t expect this special sound. You get something a little different and new.
The radical softness movement has been quietly but forcefully heralding a post-patriarchal age for some years now. What aspects and concerns can be found in your music?
Mira Lu Kovacs: I think my music always highlights the fact that humans are not linear beings. We are all individually and emotionally extremely complex. I don’t know any person who doesn’t have at least one apparent contradiction in them. I think it’s a kind of inner friction that you’re carrying around with you, but that is also driving you. My lyrics often sound accusatory, because I’m addressing a “you”. But they are almost always monologues. So these conversations – thought experiments – which talk a lot about self-love and self-doubt, they are my themes, I think. Apart from that, my goal is to come up every other year with the corniest love ballad EVER …
“A COMMON THREAD OF THE ALBUM IS THIS HIGH DEGREE OF VULNERABILITY”
The songs on your current album stretch over a very long time period. One of your first compositions, the instrumental “Zufriedenheit”, but also very recent pieces, can be found on it. What is holding these pieces together?
Mira Lu Kovacs: Oh yes, I’m glad that “Zufriedenheit” (satisfaction) finally found a place on an album of mine after almost 20 years. That was one of the first, or maybe the very first riff I ever wrote. I can’t remember it that well, unfortunately. But I’ve just been unpacking it ever since, and I still like it as much as I used to. I also baptized the piece “Zufriedenheit” when I was eleven or twelve years old. It just sounds like a fine day, without any heavy incidents. A common thread on the album is just this high degree of vulnerability – the openness with which I’m playing the repertoire. It just doesn’t make sense for me to hold anything back anymore. Why else would I be an artist then?
Would you describe yourself as a content person?
Mira Lu Kovacs: Contentment is a great word! Often I’m striving for it, and I want to learn to be content. But no, I am a very dissatisfied person. Because very often I want something else than what I’m having at the moment. That’s what I would call a lack of peace.
You are satisfied with the choice of your fellow musicians, aren’t you? How did you pick them for your new album?
Mira Lu Kovacs: I simply asked the best musicians I know. I’ve known Beate Wiesinger for a long time, from my student days. She plays everything: double bass, electric bass and synth. So, musically, we can easily switch between chamber music and pop. I’ve also known Mona Matbou Riahi for a long time, but now we’re finally working together. Mona’s sound is simply unmistakable. I don’t know any clarinetist who sounds like her. There is a depth to her playing, like a giant whale far down at the bottom of the ocean. I don’t understand it, but it is so beautiful. And with Kathrin Kolleritsch on drums and backing vocals, we form a really nice live-crew that also fits together incredibly well vocally. We’re almost more of a choir than a band (laughs). The combo is really a lucky find and I’m glad that the three of them are on stage with me – hopefully soon again.
There are already a few videos for the songs on your album “What Else Can Break”. What is the concept behind the “Pull Away” video, for example?
Mira Lu Kovacs: “Pull Away” is about pulling yourself out of a toxic situation, out of something that is not doing you any good. And it’s about what could happen if you don’t free yourself from it: You could lose a part of yourself. And that’s what I wanted to express with the grotesque animation of my face: this self-alienation. As if at some point you can no longer recognize yourself. You’re just an image of yourself; a bad fake. The animation was done by my cousin Max Gsell who did too great of a job at the beginning, so that the producer Gersin and I had to tell him, ‘Please make it look a little cheaper, worse, more like a fake.’ He then managed to do that, but only with a lot of effort.
The Pannonian emptiness and vastness, with the shifting and twisting of horizons, seems to be the theme of the video “Stay a little longer.” What is this song about? How did you choose this scenic setting?
Mira Lu Kovacs: I’ve wanted to collaborate with the artist Lydia Nsiah for quite a while. She works with a 16mm camera and creates insanely intense, lengthy moods with her images. She made a film called “To forget” and it really inspired me personally. I wanted to use this eye for emotional landscapes that Lydia has to underscore a story of mine as well. “Stay a little longer” is a survival song. It’s about how – in certain circumstances – you can only save yourself. In this song, I’m singing to myself: wait a little longer, maybe there’s another, more beautiful truth lurking around the next corner, a new perspective worth living for. This message, and the loneliness and endless vastness of the eastern Austrian plains together, made a lot of sense to me. One often feels so lonesome and lost in one’s personal struggle with the world and the psychological burden of living a hypersensitive life. But to realize that you have such strong feelings can empower you and make you want to persevere, all the more. I think the vastness in the video beautifully shows how much interpretive space we have in looking at our lives and possibilities.
The video “Stuck” seems to arise from a state of (self-)isolation. In times of alternating between hard and light lockdowns, the last possibility to calm down seems to be taking a shower…
Mira Lu Kovacs: Yes (laughs). I love my bathtub. For the first time in my adult life I have one of my own and it’s a huge privilege and my only hobby.
The song “84” suggests that you have something of an ‘old soul.’ Would you agree with that? And how does it manifest itself concretely?
Mira Lu Kovacs: The number 84 is a number I’m using when I want to express that I’m feeling old. Behind it is the fact that I never felt to be really “youthful”, whatever that means, exactly. I was always waiting to feel like partying and kind of liking what everyone liked in school and elsewhere. But, somehow, I never got around to it. I was already so overcharged with sobriety as a teenager, always only thinking of the most serious issues, and always a very serious person, I think. A real party pooper.
The song is about family and inherited traumas. About the roles that everyone takes in a family and what that does to everyone. I think it’s important to let kids be kids as long as they can. If you learn to take responsibilities too early, for things you can’t understand yet, that’s not good, I think. I can’t explain that more concretely, unfortunately. But in that sense, maybe I am something of an old soul…
Thank you very much for the interview!
Michael Franz Woels
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld