In celebration of LGBT+ awareness month we interviewed London based singer-songwriter MIRI.
We’re also super excited to share an exclusive playlist, that MIRI put together for WMN, celebrating some of her favourite LGBT+ artists.
MIRI has many strings to her bow, from performing regularly as an artist, to running two regular female focused music nights for LGBT+ and allies in London. She is also a director on the Beat (breakthrough emerging artists) board for the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) and has received BBC Introducing and BBC Radio 6 airplay.
We grabbed a coffee in Forest Gate, in East London, to discuss her career to date, her successes and life as an LGBT+ artist.
When did you first become interested in performing and writing music?
When I was around 11 or 12 I started writing poems and songs on the piano – it just came together naturally really. It took a while to gain confidence and be able to say, “oh this is something I can actually do.”
When did you make it your career?
When I was 16 I received interest from a music publishing company. An A&R guy there heard something I had recorded on cassette. He loved what I did and that gave me the confidence to say “maybe I can have this as a career.” That was the first time that I started pursuing music professionally.
Being self employed and doing what I do now, it’s probably been about six years.
Since I was 16, I’ve been continuing to grow and learn. In my 20s I had moments where I was very close to certain opportunities that could’ve helped me become more recognised in what I do, but they weren’t the right opportunities. I feel everything’s happened in a good time space.
So it’s been a gradual progression for you?
Yeah I think sometimes when you’re younger you can think, “I really want this”, and there are certain reasons why you might not be ready.
In the music industry, you have to be really confident in who you are, what you want to share and what you want to represent. I think there’s a lot of people out there who want the best for you and there will be a lot of people out there who want to manipulate your artistry, the way you do things and the way you think.
The older I get the more self assured and confident I am as an artist and as a person.
You mentioned that there were a couple of opportunities in your mid 20s that weren’t quite right.
At that time I’d had interest from labels, and it didn’t happen. Then I recorded my first album, Canvas, which had some interest from Chrysalis publishing and that didn’t happen. At the time my heart was broken, but I feel where I am now is a good place and I feel more in a position to embrace the opportunities that are coming and enjoy them as well.
What would you say has been your biggest success so far?
To be honest there’s been little stepping stones. Supporting American folk artist Laura Veirs at Bush Hall, that was a really special moment for me, performing at the 100 club for the official Bob Marley birthday celebration was very special, receiving radio airplay on BBC introducing and BBC Radio 6 Music and having three songs in a British film, Fear of Water.
Has social media and the world of streaming had an impact on the way that you interact with fans and how you’ve built yourself as an artist?
Definitely. When I was growing up, artists were allowed to be more private in a way and there was a bit more secrecy. Social media was starting to come in and I was like “I just want to keep myself to myself”.
I had a friend who told me “you need to get on social media and use that to connect with people and get yourself out there”. I would look at different artists that were on Twitter to see how they did it and took inspiration.
There were probably many times when I’d Tweet things or share things on my artist page and delete, and think, “oh, you sound stupid, why did you say that?” As time goes on, the more you feel comfortable within yourself and the more you are able to share who you are accurately through social media.
I think you just have to find and know your true authentic self and through doing that, instead of doing things in a generic way, you can do things in a more personal way and when you’re an artist that’s very important.
On Instagram, there’s people who have invested in my journey for many years or fans that have supported what I do so I use social media to share these moments with them. Not just the good moments but the challenging moments of being an independent artist or just life in general. I try and give it a little something extra.
Can you tell me a bit about the two music nights that you run in London, Blue Monday and Girls To The Front?
Blue Monday is a night for LBQT women and allies. Everyone is welcome. It’s about bringing all communities and people together in a positive environment to listen to live music as well as giving artists an attentive audience.
I run it with my good friend Rosered, who’s a very talented, lovely individual and should get a lot more recognition than she does. Blue Monday was set up eight years ago by Vanessa, a good friend of mine, but she moved away, so me and Rosered continued it.
Blue Monday is very important to me because LGBT+ hate crime has risen by 78% in five years. We have to create spaces like Blue Monday that are bringing people together, to ensure LGBT+ people don’t feel isolated or that they can only go to certain places.
Through doing Blue Monday me and Rosered and were approached by Green Note to run Girls To The Front. A collaborative event between Blue Monday and Green Note bringing female musicians to the forefront and working towards equality in the music industry. We’ve done six so far, and they’ve all sold out in advance.
Can you tell me a bit about ‘Diversity platform: Q&A for young LGBTQ+ artists and allies’ and why it’s important to you to support other LGBTQ+ artists?
I do some freelance work for a wonderful music charity called School Ground Sounds. I was having a chat with the founder, Tom Scott, and I was talking about what it’s like to be an LGBT+ artist. I said, “I sometimes find it challenging, what must it be like for younger LGBT+ artists who haven’t had the experience that I’ve had?” Tom was like, “we need to do something about it”, so I said, “yeah!”
We put on an event called Diversity Platform which was an LGBT+ music industry event for young LGBT+ artists and allies, but also for anyone who might be a creative and was interested. I put a panel together and two of my friends who work at Stonewall joined. It was a very special event – the young people got a lot out of it.
The young people’s reactions definitely confirmed to me that it’s an important event to have. I really want to put one on in Manchester and I want to look at putting on another one here in London.
What kind of challenges might you face as an LGBT+ artist?
I guess everyone’s experience is different. I think for a long time it’s an inner challenge of self acceptance because there’s so many people in the world that are telling you this is wrong. Then to think, I’m going to put myself out there as an artist, as a creative, I’m going to be myself and there’s places in the world where you can get killed for being that. That’s a scary thought.
Personally, continuing to accept and be comfortable with who I am in my sexuality and be confident in not hiding that from the world.
Are there any further steps that you feel could be taken to create a balanced and more equal music industry?
Education is really important. I think education for young people and education for older people to understand what it is to be LGBT+ and also what it’s like to be a women.
I was once in a [recording] session where there was one guy who was trying to undermine me in front of everybody else, my ability, to make himself look like he knew what he was doing. At the time I didn’t think about it. Then I was talking to a friend and they said, “oh, yeah, guys do that in my office all the time”.
It’s not about hating on guys at all. It’s making sure that people are aware that this goes on. If you are a women and you’ve experienced behaviour that doesn’t feel right, but because of society you think that’s acceptable, for you to know this is not acceptable and that you shouldn’t have to deal with that or live with that.
You know in your heart or in your gut when something just isn’t right and I think it’s learning to differentiate what that feeling is in comparison to other stresses we go through in life and just having to trust that.
I feel the problem is there’s so much unacceptable behaviour, that has been deemed acceptable in the entertainment or music industry, or in day to day life. There hasn’t been a line. I think now with the #metoo movement and all these other voices that are coming out are making people more aware.
It’s important to me that equality is equality for everyone. That it’s equality for men, non binary and transgender as well. It’s about everyone generally coming together and being respectful and being treated in a positive and respectful way.
If you had to give young women starting out in the industry one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be you – stay true to that in what you do musically and creatively.
Blue Monday is the second Monday of the month at The Boogaloo in Highgate, North London. The next Girls To The Front is on 15 April. You should also keep an eye out for MIRI’s upcoming gigs in Manchester and Rotterdam and she is planning a tour of Berlin in the summer.