Michelle Obama and Miya Folick have a lot more in common than you would think. Albeit very different, they are both powerful, successful women creating meaningful conversations around the same ideas of power structures, self-identity, the #MeToo movement and dozens of others.
I wouldn’t have ever thought to make this comparison between these two women, but when Miya revealed at the beginning of her set that she had been listening to Michelle’s audiobook on tour – mentioning that she had felt inclined to share this info since she was in Chicago – I couldn’t help but start a mini list in my head about the similarities they both shared.
Miya (pronounced me-a, not my-a), Folick was born in Santa Ana, California and was raised as a Jōdo Shinshū Buddhist. Her mother is Japanese and her father is Russian. As a teenager, Folick decided to attend New York University to study acting and later the University of Southern California, but she wasn’t too enthralled in any of the acting roles she was getting offered. After a friend taught her how to play guitar, Folick decided to test her luck on finding not a date, but a band, on Tinder.
“I realised that most people in LA were on Tinder and, of those people, many were probably musicians – so I just made a profile that said ‘looking for a band’ and put my Instagram handle on it. My bass player Brian reached out to me, and that was that.” – Miya via BBC.com.
Miya’s first two EPs, “Strange Darling” and “Give It To Me” were released in 2015 and 2017, while Miya continued to build a network in Los Angeles and play shows. Her debut album, Premonitions, was released in October 2018 on Terrible Records, home to artists like Blood Orange, Solange and Twin Shadow.
Premonitions received positive reviews across the board. Paste Magazine complimented her ability to “handcraft everyday situations into something angelic yet relatable and celebratory yet poignant.” Pitchfork claimed the debut is “gripping and redemptive.”
The bridge between Miya’s earlier releases and her debut is her classically trained voice. It’s astonishing to hear the grit in her vocals as she belts low notes with just as much ease as the higher ones. Coming from someone who sang from the time I was in third grade to my senior year of high school, this was one of the things I was drawn to most when I first heard Miya’s music. I knew that if she was able to execute these vocals at a live show, I was truly in for something amazing.
There was enthusiasm in the air as the minutes counted down to Miya’s set last weekend in Chicago. The exit door on the left side of the stage swung open as you could hear cheering erupt as Miya and her band made her way to the stage. The 14-song set started with an a cappella “I’m Hard,” which I believe is an unreleased song, which seemed to be last just under 90 seconds. It led perfectly into the album’s title track, “Premonitions,” which allowed Miya to warm up her vocals for the rest of the performance. Her voice slides over the notes with an ease that makes you wonder if she can sing in her sleep. I’ve seen plenty of musicians sing beautifully live, but not all of them are able to do it with such a relaxed sense of confidence and comfort that Miya showcases
In “Stop Talking,” Miya tells the story of a friend who is obsessing over a boy and how her friendship with the subject is being affected due to the aberrant amount of conversations revolving around said boy. “We will become the words we say,” she sings. As this song closes, she talks about how the idea of language and how we communicate ultimately forms who we are – and the importance of those words should not be lost in an era where knowing what truth is has become harder than ever. Whatever you want to say, say it wisely.
Folick has a particular talent when it comes to singing about the mundane. “Leave The Party” talks about just that – leaving a house party – to “eat my cheerios,” “paint my pinky toes” and “read Wikipedia ’til my eyelids fall down,” three things I’m sure we can all admit that we do when we get home from an emotionally exhaustive social situation.
But my favorite example of this ability has to be her song “Trouble Adjusting,” a track from her 2017 EP Give It To Me – which is also the first song I had ever heard by her.
Although I can’t tell you what the true meaning of the song is, to me, it’s about the sense of feeling as though everything you knew how to do in your day to day live has been forgotten after something traumatic has happened to you. She sings about showering, making breakfast, getting to work. Singing about such simplistic everyday things which the emotional range that Miya has is strangely satisfying.
The dynamic throughout Miya’s set releases represents Miya’s chameleon-like ability to showcase different sides of herself – she doesn’t want to just be one thing. And she’s really good at being multiple things. You could see this through the versatility she brings to each song: “Freak Out” is a singalong anthem reminiscent of a college house party with a local punk band urging attendees to start a mosh pit. The intro to “Baby Girl” reminds me of a Savage Garden song. “Deadbody,” (probably the most emotionally powerful performance of the evening), explores the #MeToo movement – inspired by actress Lupita Nyong’o’s experience with Harvey Weinstein.
“There are lyrics in that song that are directly taken from her story. Not word for word – but the idea of pouring coke and vodka and telling her to drink it, and saying, “Baby, be a nice girl and drink the drink I got you,” – Miya shared in a BBC interview.
As I’ve said before, Schubas Tavern can be a tricky venue to perform in if you don’t sell out the venue (Miya did). 165 people were lucky to see such a show-stopping performance from an artist who should be performing to 1650 people. I’ve seen a handful of shows at Schubas and this was, without question, the best one I had ever seen. Throughout the evening, I could hear pieces of the vocals of Florence Welch, the confidence of Sinéad O’Connor, the emotional power of Joni Mitchell.
Oh, and of course, the likability of Michelle Obama. Not bad company to be in, whatsoever.
Click here for her upcoming tour dates.
All photos by Nic Kosirog-Jones shot for Chicago Haze.