Meet Mi’ens: Vancouver‘s own experimental sparkle noise pop band
With a name like that, you've got to find out what the music sounds like!
This summer I got an email from a local band with the strangest name I’ve seen in a while: Mi’ens. How do you even say that? But I was curious, so I read more. “Vancouver-based experimental art-rock/post-rock duo Mi’ens explore sometimes sparse and sometimes dense tonal and mathy compositional melodic directions. Experimental, with a side of noise and a side of sparklepop.”
After reading that, I went over to the Mi’ens bandcamp page and listened to the duo’s new LP experimentalsparklenoisepop. (You can choose what you’d like to pay for the record on their bandcamp page—which means free if you want.) I’ll be the first to admit that the strange band name and terms like “art-rock,” “post-rock” or “math rock” may be a little daunting. Don’t worry! I get Kim and Evan from Mi’ens to explain everything in the interview!
Scott Wood: Hello Kim and Evan from the band Mi’ens! Mi’ens is a very odd name. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it! Help me out and tell me the story behind your strange-looking band name!
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Mi’ens has a few meanings and a sort of long story. But it’s short for Mittens (pronounced with a glottal stop mɪʔnz). It also has the other meanings of mien (demeanour, mood) and the French meaning of la mien Mi'ens has a few meanings and a sort of long story. But it's short for Mittens (pronounced with a glottal stop m??nz). which means mine, since this is the first time I (Kim) have written all my own melodic material without working with another guitarist (as when I played in Reverter or Starbean). So it’s sort of a playful title with a serious side. Also, one of my nicknames, between my boyfriend Derek and I, has been Mittens because we ride around on a Vespa and sometimes the turn signals don’t always work, so I provide the blinking light by holding out my mitten. Silly.
Scott Wood: You guys introduced yourselves to me by saying, "We’re a Vancouver art-rock/math-rock duo and we just released our full-length LP experimentalsparklenoisepop." I was trying to describe you to my friend who loves female-fronted music. My friend is intimidated by the term "math-rock." Can you break that term down for me and others who don’t know what that means? You can throw in post-rock too if you like... (Another term commonly used a lot to describe Mi’ens magic.)
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): This is a great question. In a way, a music journalist’s job is reductive and a musician’s job is expansive. If a band can succeed in making the job of music writer more difficult, they’re doing something right--and hopefully making things more fun and interesting. A writer needs to categorize a band into genres and comparisons, whereas the job of a creative musician is to expand or defy definition altogether.
Mi’ens doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of math or post-rock because we’re not trying to sound like other bands or a definitive list of terms. And it’s cool that we’re not a typical female-fronted band. That definition might be the most reductive of all, so it’s fun to put a new spin on it. And in a way, because of the loops and pedals, we are robot-fronted. Riff and beat-fronted.
Overall, we sort of straddle the genres of math, post or art-rock in our own way, but we also have a certain pop sensibility in the melodies we come up with. Math rock tends to be rhythmically complex guitar rock, centered around odd-time signatures and angular melodies. Post rock creates timbres and tones with rock instruments in a non-rock, more orchestral, kind of way. Some people find it hard to get into or pretentious, but when done well it can be awesome. The Mi’ens mandate is sort of its own genre: multiple loops, guitar lines that go in and out of phase, poly-rhythms, and some sparkly riffs you can dance to. Experimentalsparklenoisepop.
When we get together to write, we usually base a song on a guitar line in the looper and compose lead guitar and drum parts around that. We’ll often switch into a different time signature from the loop, moving away from that structure to then come back to it again. So it creates a certain tension/resolution, which is an element that makes any art intriguing.
Scott Wood: Kim and Evan, how did you guys come together to form Mi’ens?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Kim put an ad on Craigslist looking for a drummer who liked Battles, Tera Melos, Don Cab, Oneida, Animal Collective, stuff like that. There were already a few songs, loops and a band name. Then it turned out that Evan is a killer drummer, so in honour of how we met we ended up naming a song “Craigslist Killer”. Also, the ad had a Neil Hamburger quote from Great Phone Calls (I’m In Your Band) that said "I’ll hold your f*ckin’ hand all the way to the top." Turns out Evan hadn’t heard that comedy bit. Maybe he’s still waiting.
Scott Wood: You describe your music as "Trippy as f*ck." I listened to your record after lunch and did not take any drugs. Did I do it wrong? Should I have been high? What is the ideal high for listening to Mi’ens? (For the record I still enjoyed it.)
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): We played an all-ages show and one of the bands we played with said we were "Trippy as f*ck" which is basically the most fun band description we’ve had yet. So we went with it. And the ideal high is always a music high.
Scott Wood: You guys are an instrumental band. A lot of instrumental bands are marginalized because people expect a singer. I’m not sure why this is. Why do you think this is? And why did you guys decide to be an instrumental band?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Mi’ens is mostly instrumental with a few small vocal touches here and there. From the other bands we’ve been in and the influences we’ve both had, it made sense. Both of us had limited vocal contributions in other projects (Kim sang backup in Reverter and Evan had been primarily a drummer in previous bands Diamond Dancer and American Geography) but we did want to keep some voice in there. A nod to that whole female-fronted thing. It’s a nice addition to a project that delves mostly in some pretty compositional instrumental stuff and gives it a bit of pop. People relate to music that features vocalists partly because it’s what they’re used to and partly for that human element; people like to have something they can engage with. But guitar melody lines and drum patterns have their own voice as well...it's cool that we're not a typical female-fronted band. And in a way, because of the loops and pedals, we are robot-fronted.
Scott Wood: I think I read somewhere that Mi’ens played a show in Reykjavik this summer. How awesome was that? After the show did you two bath in volcanic hot springs with people who look like Bjork and the Sigur Ros? Tell me a crazy story from Iceland!
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): The Iceland shows are schedule for late September, so no stories yet, but we’ve been in touch with some pretty great bands. Bjork’s son Sindri Eldon has a cool project there; Reykjavik has a pretty diverse and lively music scene. It’s gonna be fun! We did a mini-tour this summer down the coast and had our best show of tour in Portland at an all-ages venue called Porchcouch. We’ve played there before and people really get into it. There are some pretty interesting post-grunge, second-wave, math-rock scenes currently flourishing in the Pacific Northwest so it’s fun to tour down there and be part of it.
Scott Wood: Here’s review of a Mi’ens show: "(Kim) Glennie spoke through her guitar with complex conversational playing..." Kim, what is conversational guitar playing?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): I like that quote! It’s from a review of our Music Waste show at The Cobalt. There’s a call and response thing we do with some of our melodic lines, and also a thing with repeating themes and movements. It’s pretty common, but more often than not, the voice will fill the role of carrying those melodies. But with us, it’s often the guitar. I guess it comes from melodies I hum to myself while I’m thinking about how the songs should go, so even though it’s played with a guitar, there is a certain human, conversational element to it all.
Scott Wood: Nu Sensae, Vancouver’s legendary punk duo, recently added a third guy to the band. They said that, after a few albums together as two, they felt that they had exhausted what they could do as a two piece. Nu Sensae and Mi’ens are **very** different bands, but could this ever happen to Mi’ens?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Constraints can actually make you more creative; a narrower definition leads to the challenge of coming up with more unique variations. The constraints of being a two-piece have lead us to more inventive ways of redefining the form, through the use of the looper, octave pedal for more range, various tone and effects pedals to develop the sound. The constraint of playing live loops with a drummer challenged us to come up with more creative compositions that always come back to finding the first beat of the loop and allowing some space and breathing room amidst all of the tonal density. Also there can only be two in a pair of Mittens. In fact, we were jokingly going to call the album ‘Nice Pair’. Still might use that title for the next one.
Scott Wood: Is there anything I should have asked you?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Our new LP experimentalsparklenoisepop has been out for a few months now; we recorded at Rain City with Jesse Gander, who also mixed and mastered the album for us. It’s been doing pretty well on the college charts, yay! When we tour the record, we’ll have our vinyl record for sale—it’s on tricolour swirled vinyl with handcrafted, artisanal riffs.
We’ve also just started a music collective for other mathy/arty bands called Sonic Cinema. We’re putting together a 10 band/10 song release due out in November. Some of the featured bands are Double Standards, BTRX, Yes Bear, What’s Wrong Tohei, Maet and of course Mi’ens. That’s pretty exciting too.
Scott Wood: Thanks for answering my questions, Mi’ens! Can you introduce your favorite Mi’ens video?
Kim + Evan (Mi’ens): Thanks for interviewing us! Very much appreciate it—and the thought-provoking questions. Super fun!!! Here is our video for “Terrorist Attraction.”
Listen to upcoming episodes of the interview show for an audio chat with Mi’ens!
Find more about Mi’ens online.@miensband
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