Talk Thursday to Me – Mishka Shubaly

Today we catch up with singer-songwriter / author / cat daddy Mishka Shubaly about what he’s been doing during the pandemic and his excellent new releases I’ll Be Gone and I Thought More People Would Be Here – both available on Bandcamp here.

Postcard Editor: Hello Mishka, how’re you this morning? (I’m out of practice interviewing, this is my very natural opening)

Mishka Shubaly: And I am fine and also how are you this fine morning and are you enjoying the beautiful weather. Didn’t realize we would be conducting this in ESL but I’ll try to roll with the punches

PE: Lol. It’s actually very nice today in Indiana, I imagine it’s still hot as hell in Arizona though, right?

MS: Phoenix in the summertime makes me think of the Arctic or the moon or the bottom of the ocean. It’s an environment in which humans were never meant to live and you can tell that because the minute you go outside, the world is trying to kill you.

I’m in Bisbee right now, though, and it’s fucking great here.

PE: Well this begs the question, why did you move there? After bouncing around for a few years and living on the road quite a bit you’ve started putting down roots (buying a house) and dedicating more time in your new home even pre-Covid.

MS: The honest, unsexy answer is that I hit a fucking wall. In 2018, I broke up with my girlfriend in Atlanta and did five months on the road. By the end of that, I was whipped. My mom and both of my sisters and I were all just in the wind for different reasons, none of us with a fixed address. My mom owned a rental property in Mesa that was emptying out so we wound up there. I wanted to be closer to her and closer to my older sister who was going through a rough divorce so I looked for an apartment in Phoenix. When I did the math, I figured out it was cheaper to buy a place than rent. I applied for a mortgage, thinking there was no way I would get one but I guess they’ll give ’em to anyone these days? And now I live in this hellhole! My plan was still to do 4 months on the road every summer but then I guess we’re all on Plan B now, right? If not Plan C or D.

PE: Well that is the great thing about hell holes. Very reasonable real estate. So how do you mitigate the summertime misery since touring isn’t an option?

MS: Lord, how I suffer, Mat. It’s good for me– have you listened to the songs? Eh, I have a couple of different strategies. For a while, I was getting up at five so I could get a run in/ work outside a little before it hit 100. Then you go inside and work inside until the sun goes down. I went to dogsit for my sister in Idaho for a couple of weeks and that was a necessary break. And I have a buddy in Bisbee with a tiny house that’s been vacant. It’s fucked up here, a little like indoor camping, but my cat loves the profusion of bugs indoors, so there’s that.

PE: I’m glad to see your reputation as a top cat daddy isn’t all talk. Escaping the heat and providing a bug buffet for your cat is a win/win.

MS: It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously.

PE: Speaking of the songs, let’s talk about them. You just put out two releases in the last two months – the studio EP I’ll Be Gone and the live album I Thought There’d Be More People Here. Was it always the plan to drop two releases back to back like that or is this a result of live touring being shut down for the foreseeable future?

MS: I’m sure you’ve heard that adage that the way to make God laugh is to make a plan. I’ll Be Gone was supposed to be a full length all about life on the road. I was going to do the whole thing on a 4 track in Mark Lanegan’s garage. I spent a month there in 2019, mostly realizing that I no longer knew how to work a 4 track and then realizing why people no longer record on cassette 4 tracks.

I really wanted to capture how my voice sounds after a couple of weeks on the road so I booked a couple days with Stuart Sikes in Austin after Altercation Comedy Festival. Nothing about that session went as planned. I figured we’d try to bang out a gritty little 5 song EP on a 4 track there, this time with a real engineer at the helm. But for some reason, my voice didn’t have that froggy quality it gets on the road. And the recordings– acoustic and vocal direct to 4 track with additional instrumentation recorded digitally– sounded plush instead of janky. Ian MacDougall from Riverboat Gamblers/ Band of Horses added guitar and his contributions really made me realize that the songs were strong enough to go bigger. So I got HEELS to do backing vocals, hired a keys player named Don Cento to contribute Wurlitzer/ Mellotron/ Hammond… I’ve been collaborating musically with my ex Allison Langerak for nearly 20 years so I had to get her to do some backing vox. A fan recorded an all clarinet cover of one of my songs so I got him to play on the recording, too. It was mixed remotely by Dave LeSange in the UK, another fan I’ve never met.

For a project that went off the map early and often, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. And the live record was just a bonus! My aging Mac was getting real slow so I was going through old files and found that recording, listened back and was like “this doesn’t suck at all!” So fuck it, I put it out. It’s good, I needed the money, and who knows when I’ll be performing live again.

PE: They’re both great, especially when you listen to them back to back – because the added instrumentation and arrangements on “I’ll Be Gone” have definitely given the songs a lush melancholic sound that you haven’t really had before. And then on “I Thought There’d Be More People Here” we get you stripped down and raw, just you and your guitar in someone’s house.

It’s interesting how each approach sort of highlights lyrics and moods of the songs in different ways.

MS: Those house shows, they are the fucking best. That’s my natural environment, not the studio, certainly not a big club. I feel really happy that we were able to capture that intimacy, that immediacy. And I like that there’s two versions of most of the songs floating around because they really are totally different things live and in the studio.

One day, I would love to do a special/ documentary/ live album where we do a national tour of just house shows.

PE: As it is a live album, “I Thought…” also features quite a bit of banter too. I know for the last few years you’ve been doing more storytelling and even straight up stand-up in your live sets. Is this album the bridge to you focusing more on that side of things? Will there be a Mishka stand-up album in the future?

MS: Man, I don’t know. I have a conflicted relationship with standup. On the one hand, I feel like it is the last pure art form. It’s just a person with a microphone using their thoughts and words to elicit an involuntary physical response from the audience. It’s very easy to do it badly and it’s incredibly hard to do it well. Kyle Kinane once made me laugh so hard that I coughed, then coughed so hard that I farted. That’s fucking black magic, that is comedy operating at a very high level. I have so much respect for comedy and comedians that the last thing I’m going to do is call my juvenile dick jokes and humiliating stories “comedy.” Annnnnnd then there’s a bunch of petty, insecure gatekeeping comics who insist that what I do isn’t comedy even though I’m performing at comedy festivals and people are laughing so I’m like yeah, fuck you, it’s comedy. All that said, I doubt you will ever hear a straight standup record from me with no songs. People might say that my songs and my guitar are a crutch. For a man with a bad leg, a crutch is a fantastic thing. I have no intention of ever letting go of mine.

Album cover for “I Thought There’d Be More People Here.”

PE: Very well put, and I agree. Comedy is a very beautiful art form that can be made ugly very easily.

I know that you similarly have a love/hate relationship with touring. Now that it’s not an option are you missing it or have you been content not living out the songs on “Ill Be Gone?”

MS: Being forced to quit touring is a little like being forced to get sober in jail in that it’s a really shitty, painful way to confront the fact that your lifestyle is killing you. This time last year, I was fatter/ skinnier/ weaker/ sadder/ angrier/ nearly insane. Making art is always worth the price you pay… but I don’t know, man, I feel like the process of delivering it to folks has been slowly killing me. I love touring and the road has informed my life to the extent that it’s become who I am… but also, it is the worst drug out there.

If you look at massive artists with long careers like Dylan or Bowie or Neil Young or Madonna, they are constantly transforming. I’ll argue that as artists, transformation is a huge part of what we do. It’s not just the product, it’s our sacred responsibility. This pandemic fucking sucks… but it presents us with a great opportunity to transform. JT Habersaat pivoted on a dime from being the hard living punk rock comedy guru to making these incredibly detailed action figures of underground cultural icons. That’s exactly the kind of evolution that’s required of us now. I’m doing my damnedest to follow his lead.

PE: It has been a fascinating part of the pandemic – to see people in all different types of creative endeavors take it as an opportunity to explore new things. In what ways have you pivoted? What has the touring shut down lead you to pick up?

MS: Eh, I’ve been pulled in so many ways for such a long time that I’ve tried to resist the temptation to be like “underwater basketweaving is my new thing!” I’ve mostly been doing boring adult shit– trying to get back in shape, fixing up my house, spending time with my mom and my cat and trying to appreciate simple shit like that more. COVID-19 is perhaps the greatest ‘memento mori’ of our lives and it’s made me realize that our time here is finite, that those small decisions matter a lot. I get mad at my cat when I’m busy and she wants to play… but that’s the exact reason I got her. If I’m sitting at my computer writing and she’s on my lap, I try to just keep working until she gets up on her own. If I’m taking a break and she comes and sits on me, well, the break lasts until she gets up. So many of my close friends have lost parents recently. When my mom dies, I do not want to feel like I should have spent more time with her. So I guess maybe this pandemic, this shutdown, this Big Pause hasn’t led me to pick up new things as much as it’s taught me to put some shit down and actually try to enjoy my life a little.

PE: I’ve been having a very similar Big Pause, so I totally feel that. I know you gotta get back to doing boring adult stuff, but before we go what’s your favorite track off of each of the new releases and why?

MS: Oh man. Off of I’ll Be Gone, I’m going to have to go with Professional Guest. Lyrically, it’s a weird song where I cop to all kinds of shitty thoughts and behaviors, so much so that I almost left it off the record. But the recording really took flight and now I’m proud to expose what a terrible human I am against such a beautiful sonic backdrop. Off of I Thought There Would Be More People Here, I’m going to go with ‘The Beautiful South.’ That was a scary bit to write and a scarier bit to perform– no one really wants to hear a white bro make light of racism– but the crowd came with me and I pulled it off. And since it’s recorded, I never have to do it again!

PE: Perfect way to end it. Thanks dude, stay inside in your indoor camp site and say hi to your cat for me.

MS: Thanks, man! This was fun, appreciate you doing it.

You can purchase both of Mishka’s new releases (as well as his back catalog) at his Bandcamp page here.

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