“Another thing that I put a lot of value on is love and not just in a physical, dating, relationship way, but with family and friends and having people you know you can trust. When you feel loved, that gives you a new confidence and I think it is important to develop real relationships with people.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
Mish from White Lung appreciates personal desire. Punk rock is a lifestyle, not colored laces on a pair of Doc Martens. For Mish her music is about being free and doing what she wants, but there are limitations. Life cannot be lived without regard for others’ wellbeing, but it can be organized outside of their expectations, and it is this self-expression that fuels the energy of White Lung. As a band of exceptional talent their display of emotion through music forms an experience of high spirits for a varying crowd. What the band exhibits is more than punk, it is human.
You wrote something for Vice called I am Not a ‘Rock Chick’ … You said, “Look, the point here is that gender isn’t something we need to focus on so much when it comes to music. Throw the term “rock chick” away, please. Focus on gender when you are talking about health rights, abortion laws, and access to birth control (which are all majorly fucked up in North America). When we talk music, when we talk art, leave it at that. I’m a person. My vagina does not make me.” I really respect that statement and agree with you 100%. One of my favorite albums was the first Against Me! record, I was shocked when I heard Tom Gabel was a transgender and was going to start living as a woman, regardless I fully support his decision. I read somewhere that Herndon Graddick, the president of GLAAD said, “Tom’s decision to live life authentically is a not only a personal step forward, but one that will advance the national discussion about treating transgender people with fairness, as more and more Americans get to know people who are transgender, they’re coming to embrace and celebrate them.” Do you agree with Herndon’s statement and for the sake of conversation because I find that more times than not, due to people’s immense insecurities, they don’t know how to handle people. But how do you think your fans and people around you would react if you told them that they you were going to start living life as a man?
This is such a good question. Well, I don’t think my boyfriend would be too happy.
His wife was alright with it which is crazy.
Yea, I’ve read a lot of stories like that. I remember seeing one show with a heterosexual couple and the husband was going through hormones to become a woman. His wife was staying with the guy ‘cause they had kids and she was like, ‘I totally support him.’
It’s funny because I did a lot of women’s studies in university, but I did a lot of queer studies too. I remember one of the big issues gay or lesbian couples have when one person is transforming is that the other partner is like, ‘I’m not attracted to men; I’m attracted to lesbian women.’ The things you do when kids are involved. Anyways, I think if I did that, I don’t know… I really like being a woman.
I think maybe some people would react weirdly. My boyfriend would leave me. I also think it’s important to have strong female idols in rock and stuff. That’s a really tough question, it’s good.
For what I think, in my opinion, is that most people liked Against Me!, and I’m not trying to judge anybody or stereotype anyone, but a lot of their fans are not going to continue to support Against Me! because their insecurities are going to play into the fact that all of a sudden this rad, raspy, butch dude is now a female.
His name is Lauren now right? It’s like if a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers, let’s see, if Anthony Kiedis did that. It’s stadium rock, cock rock kind of stuff, so that kind of scene isn’t generally as open. That’s an interesting prediction, I wonder if people will be weird about it with Against Me?
I’ll be interested to see what happens to his voice and see what happens to the integrity of their music.
Yea, because the sound will change. It’s a pretty bold move, to do it so publicly. It’s a totally different story than to do it as a person who’s not in the public eye.
But there is also that important thing about what the President of GLAAD said, I’m actually happy for him that he did it so publicly because now, other people who have that same dilemma may be able to think, ‘if this guy can do it then I can do it too.’
That’s like when Dan Savage did that whole ‘It Get’s Better’ campaign remember? He did those videos reaching out to gay kids who don’t necessarily have the support of a positive community? It’s important to have people in the public eye who are doing stuff like that because it’s leading by example. It’s role model stuff. It’s brave.
During my early punk years I was listening to a lot of the Unseen. One of their best tracks and a lyric of theirs that I try and remember constantly is:
I’ve got something to say
and I just can’t fucking hold it anymore
it means more to me today
then it ever fucking did before
I’m a punk
and I’ve finally learned what it means to me
it doesn’t dictate who I am
I define what the word means
Cause I ain’t ever scared to say
I’m proud to be where I am today
always follow your dreams
if I ever cared what people say
I wouldn’t be who I am today
be yourself to be free
For myself punk no longer means anything about cliques and appearance it is all in the way you live your life, specifically in what I choose to learn and how I can make an impact with what I’m doing … Anyway I’m curious to hear your thoughts in regards to that statement by Mark Unseen?
I just wrote this thing for the band Heavy Cream and I think I wrote ‘punk means doing whatever you want.’ It becomes another cliquey thing which is so ridiculous, but that happens with everything. That happens with feminism, that happens with anything. People get too tied up in how you’re supposed to be. I got asked a question a while ago and the other person was like, ‘ah you live the dirt bag lifestyle.’ I’m like, ‘please, I’m constantly sanitizing my hands, I want to stay in a nice hotel.’ I think with people, especially in punk music, like, okay, our music is loud, melodic and aggressive, but sometimes I feel that people automatically associate the stereotypical politics of punk just because of the way we sound. Do you understand what I mean? I’ve never written a political lyric in my life about smashing authority or anarchy or hating cops, you know? I mean, I write some feminist lyrics but my feminism is abstract in the lyrics. It’s not obvious; do you know what I mean?
I remember once we took a Scion car on tour and people lost their minds. Scion throws a lot of money into musicians by sponsoring shows and lending them cars, etc. It’s corporate sponsorship in a way, but it’s also a ride when you cannot afford a car for a two week tour. It’s not like we have to sing about Scion and wear Scion sunglasses. It’s not product placement. Anyways, I know some people looked down on us for it and I was like, “Fuck you! We don’t have the money! Do you know how expensive it is to tour? Do you want to see us play at your house in Ottawa?” People don’t really think about that stuff the right way. If we were a pop group no one would blink about us taking a car from a big company, but because we play aggressive music that some writer called “punk” and now everyone else calls “punk”, we get all these politics along side of it. Anyways, that’s just an example.
I agree with the statement of doing whatever you want, that’s essentially what he’s saying isn’t it? Ignore everything else.
But why does it become less punk rock? I went to my first show in like 8 years the other day and was like, ‘who are these people?’ Where are the guys with the white laced Docs everyday? I don’t see them walking down the street or going to work like that … If you’re really about that then be that. That’s what I’m trying to get at, is like too many people base wrong pretences on what it should be. It’s like my docs have these color laces, or my boots are …
It’s like getting the fashion rather than…
It becomes more of a clique all the way through, like punk rock is a plague. That to me is bullshit, I’m here for the music, I’m here for the comradery.
Or just here to have fun and be introduced to some new music! I know what you mean. It’s an ongoing battle. I think that’s something that happens when you mature. When you’re younger you’re really into fitting in and understanding what’s going on and as you get older you realize it doesn’t really matter. I like what I like and that’s it. That’s just a maturity thing.
I have been reading a lot of Allen Ginsberg’s poems lately … Here is one that I quite like called Death on All Fronts … First of two parts … Do you think that Earth Cities are poisoned at war without any chance of reaching any type of peace …. And you can look at life one of two ways, living to die or living to live knowing that death is inevitable, so are you like Ginsberg, living death or living life?
Death on All Fronts
“The Planet is Finished”
A new moon looks down on our sick sweet planet
Orion’s chased the Immovable Bear halfway across the sky
from winter to winter. I wake, earlier in bed, fly corpses
cover gas lit sheets, my head aches, left temple
brain fibre throbbing for Death I created on all Fronts.
Poisoned rats in the Chickenhouse and myriad lice
Sprayed with white arsenics filtering to the brook, City
stomped on Country kitchen floors. No babies for me.
Cut earth boy & girl hordes by half & breathe free
say Revolutionary expert Computers:
Half the blue globe’s germ population’s more than enough
keep the cloudy lung from stinking pneumonia.
I called in the Exterminator Who soaked the Wall floor
with bed-bug death-oil. Who’ll soak my brain with death-oil?
I wake before dawn dreading my wooden possessions,
my gnostic books, my loud mouth, old loves silent, charms
turned to image money, my body sexless fat, Father dying,
Earth Cities poisoned at war, my art hopeless —
Mind fragmented—and still abstract—Pain in
left temple living death —
That’s so sad. [Mish could not respond at the moment and asked me to send her the poem so she could read it again.] I re-read this. The language is sad, but the idea of it… it just feels so real. “I wake before dawn dreading my wooden possessions, my gnostic books, my loud mouth, my old loves silent… my body sexless, fat…” I imagine this guy waking up early because he has woken up early every day of his life to go to his job – maybe he loved the job at one point, maybe he grew to hate it – and it’s his internal clock now. He’s surrounded by possessions, but totally unhealthy (because “sexless, fat” implies ugliness and poor health or just aging, which in our culture is the ultimate living death), you know? It’s that whole idea that having things but no love from people means life was worth nothing. Right? Do you believe that?
I do believe that … Life is strange, love is complicated and possessions can be meaningless. At least for me, whether people love me or not and whether I have surrounded myself with a bunch of meaningless shit, as long as I have stayed true to myself and tried to live a full life and treated others the way I wanted to be treated then I’m okay with that … But unfortunately I think that Earth cities will always be poisoned at war and my art will remain hopeless (laughs)…’
One of the most beautiful lines ever written in my opinion is by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, it says, “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” Do you agree with this statement and can you talk deeper about how leaving something behind creates a legacy for yourself and others that you interacted with?
When you said that I immediately thought of my grandfather. We were really close. I used to go to his house every Sunday and we’d listen to jazz records. When he died it was the first time where I really realized the importance of, for lack of a better word, legacy. The only way you continue to exist after you die is through the memories of the people that are alive, and the thoughts and the conversations of the people who remember you. Right before my grandfather died he started to write his memoirs but he never finished. He was a really, really amazing guy. Yeah, that kind of stuck with me and I’ve subconsciously, or perhaps consciously, tried to leave something behind. I have always enjoyed sharing writing, performing and music and I’m lucky enough to have a few people who actually care about what I’m doing. That’s just the importance of having human relationships. There is always someone who will remember you, there’s always someone who will remember one little moment, something that’s still special, you never know how you’ve affected someone… as Hallmark-y as that sounds.
But then what I get into is the insignificance of all that, like the microcosm of our existence in the universe. I hope that someone reads one of these interviews and is like, ‘well I don’t know this dude, but I know this chick and she talks about stuff that I really respect so I’m going to start living like that.’ But at the end of the day in the grand scheme of things it kind of goes back to living to live and push the perspective, or living to die and thinking fuck it, it doesn’t matter. It’s something you have to be conscious of because too many people go through this existence where like myself I spent a short miserable existence working a 9-5 and I was just making money, spending money, living for the weekend, being an asshole before I realized I had to change my life for the better …
And it got boring?
It wasn’t boring it was just, what was I doing … All of a sudden I’d wake up and be 45 with money, have a trophy wife and kids that hate me or maybe not, that’s the stereotype but the idea is I’m going to do what I can to leave something behind and help form conversations even if it doesn’t mean anything to anybody but that one person.
That’s why awhile ago in my writing I was always so conscious about what I was putting out, really scared about saying the wrong thing or offending someone and then I just got to a point where I forgot about that. It doesn’t matter because everyone is going to have their opinion and just put stuff out there and how people react is beyond your control.
I feel like we could get religious soon. This is like heavy, heavy thoughts. I like it though.
I’m going to turn 27 soon. I’m really obsessing over this for some reason. I keep talking about it to everyone. I think I’ve mentioned it in a few interviews. Recently, I was watching the documentary “Hit So Hard” about Patty Shemel, she was the drummer of Hole, and there is one part in the film where Melissa Auf de Maur [bassist of Hole] was talking about how 27 is the year you get tested. There’s this astrological thing that happens and you get tested by the universe and that’s why so many people kill themselves when they’re 27, or die or whatever, and I was thinking about that a lot and I was like maybe it’s hookey, maybe it’s just cooky, who knows?
I totally think so, I’m going to be 27 myself in a couple of months, it’s looming, I can feel the shift coming.
It’s a really good documentary because no one really knew about her and her story is incredible, so sad. Cause it’s the Courtney show so people don’t really know about Patty.
I have and always will be a huge fan of Dr. Seuss … My favorite book of his is “Oh the Places You’ll Go” something I refer to frequently is a passage that says, “I’m afraid sometimes you’ll play lonely games too, games you can’t win because you’ll play them against you.” … How have you had dealt with self-doubt, internal mind games against yourself and do you find there is a way to win the game against yourself, psychologically that is?
I deal with that constantly. The thing that I’m realizing more and more is that self-consciousness and self-doubt happen at anytime whether it happens having sex with someone for the first time, or being on stage, taking a photo of yourself and thinking you look shitty, or putting something into the public for critique. I’ve been talking about this a lot with my one friend and I think that you get confidence from people being tough on you and from learning to rely on yourself and trust yourself. There are a lot of things people miss in their lives like trusting themselves. I have so many friends who constantly need reassurance, and everyone needs reassurance, but I think it’s really hard to find complete confidence in yourself. Don’t you think?
I don’t know, it is but …
Without being a sociopathic dick about it.
I think the quest of life is knowledge of self, I mean I have no idea, but the more I talk to people I find this connection that what everyone searches for is actually this true knowledge of who they are, the knowledge of themselves.
And they’re the only ones that can give themselves that answer.
That’s what I’m saying, I’m playing this game against myself. You might be a conduit to help me figure something out, but then I have to internalize it and figure it out for myself.
And re-digest it and put it out. I think too another thing that I put a lot of value on is love and not just in a physical, dating, relationship way but with family and friends and having people you know you can trust. When you feel loved, that gives you a new confidence and I think it is important to develop real relationships with people. I’ve stopped being afraid of embarrassing myself a long time ago which I think is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I remember being young and doing something so dumb like slipping down the stairs and that crippling me for hours. Who cares? It doesn’t break you as a person, it makes you more of a person because you made a mistake. It’s all maturing, a lot of people don’t get to do that. Confidence is a hard thing to master. I don’t even feel that I’m fully confident at all, I have a lot of things that I constantly worry about and I have to get that little voice in the very back of my head that’s like, ‘you know better, that’s stupid, you don’t need to worry about that.’ Everyone has that, but I think it’s important to have that voice that’s small and make it grow bigger and bigger. I think being a performer helps. People critique you, you get stronger. Not to the point where you’re a total asshole though because then you’re such a dick that no one wants to converse with you and you’re not going to learn anything. You learn the most from talking to people and listening. I mean having conversations, listening to people talk. I had a really good conversation the other day with this woman outside of a McDonalds somewhere in North Carolina and I was outside smoking and she asked me if I needed to buy any nurse uniforms, well she asked if I knew any nurses cause she was trying to sell these uniforms then I got into this huge talk with her because she had a broken hand and I was like, ‘what happened to your hand?’ Some guy had pushed her down the stairs, and we got into this big talk but it was the nicest, most real conversation I had all tour. I felt kind of cheesy about relishing the moment so much but at the same time it was really nice, I’ll never forget that woman. Teresa, I know her name. She was so interesting and sad too, but we were both kind of sad. I was trapped at a McDonalds to try and use the internet and she’s trying to sell nurse uniforms and talking about her tragic life.
So what did that teach you? What was the lesson?
What I kept thinking about the whole time ‘cause what happened was that she was going upstairs to try and knock on her son’s door and the neighbor came out and yelled at her and pushed her down the stairs, broke her wrist, and her face got all injured and she ended up going to jail for 30 days and this guy just walked away with it. It made me think of women’s health rights and getting all bummed out by that kind of stuff. The thing about her that really astounded me was that she told me that story so openly. Most people wouldn’t tell you a story like that within thirty seconds of random a conversation. She was obviously lonely, but I was too.
But it’s an extraction process, it’s trust. Like I’m surprised you told me the thing about your grandfather.
I like sharing stories, I think it’s important.
I really like how heavy this interview is … all of the other one’s have been like, ‘so how is your tour going? How’d your band start? Blah blab la.’ I appreciate this as a journalist because I get so bored.
Yeah, I’m not fucking with that, this is what I’m trying to do.
That’s what people want, that’s what people are trying to do. I really work hard at doing stuff like that too because it sucks if …
It’s tough but that’s the whole idea behind what we are doing, deep relevant interviews.
Just getting people off into different stuff…
‘Cause it’s a privilege, that’s the thing, a lot of people are going to talk about the same regurgitated shit. Let’s talk about your life, being a role model, let’s talk about being loyal …
I always try to do that too in interviews, try to find something funny, and get them talking about something other than music
Let’s talk about shit I actually think about everyday
But people want to read that, that’s the way I approach when I interview people too it people want to read the funny little details and into your actual head rather than that programmed answer of, ‘my record sounds like this, this sounds like this.”
Straight up, I don’t care who your inspirations are. It doesn’t matter. If I hang out and we’re driving in a car and you put on a CD cool, but besides that it’s like every interview I read is the same fucking thing every time. What happened to the standard of caring? Why aren’t people challenging this and saying,’ dude you have this publication that so many people read and you’re asking these people the same fucking boring questions.’ That’s why it’s so hard to get an interview with somebody because they just think it’s going to be the same cookie cutter bullshit.
One time I got a dream interview with Joan Rivers because I love Joan, I think she’s so smart and it was great, because you know when it’s a big person it’s like 15 minutes max and she ended up giving me almost an hour because we just started talking. She was asking me questions and it was more of a back and forth, so nice, but I think that’s the thing right away is you kind of have to be like,’ PR aside, let’s talk about stuff.’ So it’s super fun. Seriously it’s been like droning since we started in this year. And I get it but it’s also like there’s Google now. You type it in, I see everything, you can find out anything. Do your research, it will take ten minutes, you can do it on your phone on the bus, it’s not like you have to go to the library, it’s not like it’s the 80’s. That’s why there is no excuse for lazy journalism.
It’s everywhere, the market is saturated with laziness
That’s true too, that’s why you have to make the shiners and stand out.