Seattle-based musician Mirabai Kukathas is having a breakthrough moment. The 19-year-old's sweet, theatrical folk landed her a top spot in Sound Off! 2020, MoPOP's annual 21-and-under showcase of Pacific Northwest musicians. Building off that appearance, she recently released her debut album, Songs to the Monster Under My Bed.
The 11-track album is a collection of songs Kukathas wrote between the ages of 15 and 18 about her relationship with fear. "I grew up dealing with physical pain and often debilitating levels of anxiety. I felt scared almost all the time," she writes in her album description. "The only way I was able to self-soothe was by telling stories and writing songs. Thirteen years later and this album is once again me attempting to self-soothe."
The local riot grrrl zine Ra Ra Rebel interviewed Kukathas for its fifth issue, themed around flowers and power. The zine is run by Tali Ashkenazy, Sofia Krutikova, and Kennady Quille, who say they chose Kukathas to be the issue's spotlight artist "because no one embodies flower power as wholeheartedly as them." (Kukathas uses she and they pronouns interchangeably.)
Ashkenazy, Krutikova, and Quille chatted with Kukathas about their identity, songwriting, and their relationship with music organizations across the city. Read the interview after the jump.
We pruned this interview for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview here.
Ra Ra Rebel: We are so happy to have you here for this interview! What's something new you learned about yourself while creating this album?
Mirabai Kukathas: Ahhh! Excellent question. I think before, I kind of assumed that making art is inherently healing and inherently energizing and writing about your trauma fixes the trauma, however I kind of learned that when you spend everyday workshopping a song about how sad you are, it can sometimes make you a little more sad.
I was reminded of how emotionally grueling creating art can be and how vulnerable it is. You have to be vulnerable with yourself, then with all the people you choose to collaborate with, then you put it out and the entire world essentially sees your diary of emotions and sadness and all the rough, crappy things that happened to you. I felt really honored to be able to show my soul to people, but I don’t think I accounted for how hard it is to be vulnerable.
I love that. What role does your community play in creating your artistic vision?
All of it. I’m a very extroverted and community-oriented person. I love my friends and I love my family and I fully acknowledge that I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. Before I started making music with other people, my music stayed in my notebook, in my head, and in my voice memos. It’s other people and their talent and their kindness that allows me to take my ideas and turn them into something.
I have a lot of physical illnesses and I have pretty intense OCD and anxiety. I was a sick kid and my mom was the person who dropped everything to take care of me. I think I had a really rough go of things and I survived it because I had a really strong community of people who love me a lot. Those things have not gone away, and so I still rely on people a lot and I think more often than not I lean on people and they catch me.
I feel like my music is a love letter to people who love me and this is kinda sad—it’s all for them! I love them so much! I wouldn’t be able to make anything without those people.
Could you tell us about your involvement in the local nonprofit Totem Star?
I first got involved when I was 14 and a flyer for their summer camp quite literally got thrown in my face. I was so nervous to go into the Totem Star building and when I did, I just poked my head into the door, looked at the studio and ran out. I spent the rest of the day in the parking lot with my friend until she took me home. We actually ended up writing a song in the parking lot, which was the first song on the album, “Dirt".
Pak, the executive director of Totem Star, said, “Once you step foot in the studio, you’re part of the family.” But I was like, “Okay, I stepped foot in there, now I'm part of the family, let me goooo."
I got into the summer camp and then applied for an internship. I interned there for two years, and then I worked there as the junior studio manager. I wrote articles for the website, wrote Thank Yous to donors, coordinated the mixtapes, hosted all of the shows, the fundraisers, and organized events.
What was it like participating in MoPOP’S Sound Off! last year and making it to the finals?
In classic Mirabai fashion, someone sent me the link to apply, and I said no. I’m not going to get into that. And then my friend made me a stupid bet, she was like, “You have to do it and if you make it to the semi-finals, you have to get a tattoo." And I, having no faith in myself was like, “I’ll get whatever tattoo you want me to get if I make it to the finals.” Thankfully the finals were canceled. COVID-19.
I got a call from Robert Rutherford and almost hung up on him because I couldn’t believe I got into Sound Off! I was so excited and got to assemble a band full of my friends from Totem Star. It was just really nice, and during orientation, I met all these really cool people at Sound Off! and I thought, oh the people here are cool talented musicians and I'm just me. They’re all these tall, long-haired jazz people, you know the type. And then they were all the nicest, sweetest people I have ever met. My head was like, they’re gonna beat me up in the parking lot [laughs.. But it was really cool, we had a little party with all the Sound Off! kids where I got to know them, and I realized, oh. These are a bunch of teenage dorks, I don’t know why I was so afraid of them.
How do you feel your identity ties into your performance style?
I am queer! I am actually working on an EP of love songs and I feel it is very queer, very nice, and I like it a lot. I don’t write a lot of love songs. "Bellyache," which is my first single, is an explicitly queer song, that was nerve-wracking for me to put out because I’ve never told all my family. People who knew I was queer were like, “Ah, it's a queer song,” so it wasn’t that big of a deal... but this next EP is much more explicitly like, this is a love song about a boy, this is a love song about a girl.
My song “Dinner with the Devil” is about my identity as a mixed-race person and the instances in which I do experience privilege and those where I don’t experience privilege. Sometimes there is this understanding that if you want to thrive you have to throw people who are like you under the bus. It is also about my queerness and racial identity and my family. There is also a rocking bassline in there and it is a song that makes me really happy.
Are there any artists you want to spotlight? Any friends?
If people don’t know who Cody Choi of Supercoze is, they are missing out! They released a new single "Happy Mind" that is fantastic. Once again, Greenhorn Riot, Skid Mark, those are all of my pals. Matt Sablan, aka Sabyu, is an incredible singer-songwriter with an island vibe but also made a hip hop record recently. Honestly if y’all have any songs you have been rocking since your childhood and you are an adult now, go listen to them.
You can stream and support Seattle local artist Mirabai Kukathas’ latest album Songs to the Monster Under my Bed on Bandcamp and all streaming platforms. You can grab a copy of the Ra Ra Rebel zine through our Instagram @RiotGrrrlRecords or Etsy shop.