Normally in The Music Spotlight, I’ll pick five songs that I think are the perfect entry-level for anyone interested in exploring whichever artist or band I’ve chosen to focus on that week and then give you links to the videos on YouTube, along with my opinion on what makes these tunes so special.
It’s a simple formula and one that I like, but today’s column is going to be different.
Last week I was lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with Mishkin Fitzgerald.
She’s the vocalist, lyricist, pianist, and all-around driving force behind one of the most underrated bands in existence today, Birdeatsbaby.
She’s also a very complex person with some very interesting, and very dark, stories to tell.
As you shall see.
Who Are Birdeatsbaby?
Mishkin Fitzgerald: Birdeatsbaby has been going since 2009 (officially) but 2006 was actually our first gig. The name comes from a long bout of insomnia I had in my teens—I was on a lot of sleep medication and having strange and lucid nightmares. The first record was born out of this.
Neil Gray: So you had a dream where a bird ate a baby I take it?
MF: Kind of. I always used to see this bird-like creature on the ceiling; it was pretty creepy.
NG: Yeah, I bet it was. But from this nightmare, one of the best bands from the Dark Cabaret era was born. Did you mind being put into that niche when it happened? You’ve obviously grown from that point but that was where I found you at the time.
MF: No, we didn’t mind. It was nice to find a genre that could describe what we were doing and we ran with it, it gained us our first fanbase and we were able to find other artists to tour with through this. Yes, we’ve changed a lot but we don’t forget our roots and sometimes the cabaret sound pops up again in newer sounds, just for a moment and it’s a nod to the old sound.
NG: As you’re my guest this week, let’s start with one of your choices. “Mary”. To me, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but “Mary” strikes me as the ultimate middle finger towards organized religion.
MF: Yeah [laughs]. Well, I guess it’s not the ultimate middle finger, but it does point towards the Catholic Church. I chose the Hail Mary because it’s supposed to be a prayer towards the feminine symbol of God, the mother of God, etc., but it’s just a joke because the Catholic Church has repeatedly used its power to oppress and control women and their bodies. So I turned the Hail Mary into a poem about how the church uses a male figure to press down on women and keep them in place. Recently the Catholic Church in South America has been arresting women who miscarried or had life-saving abortions as a crime against God. Women were waking up on hospital beds in handcuffs. I get very angry about religion because I think it’s caused so much unnecessary damage to the world, avoided scientific evidence, and in this day and age people are still using it to control each other. It’s just bollocks.
NG: I totally agree with you here, it’s always struck me as weird that a male virgin in white robes has so much power over the lives and actions of millions of people worldwide and we’re all just supposed to go with it and be “Oh, him yeah, that’s cool”. The problem with religion, as expressed so well in this song, is that it makes you blind to reality.
MF: Yeah, it’s just so sad. The world would be a better place if religion could only move with the times and accept science, instead of always wanting to keep people in the dark. I’m not against religion if it helps people and they’re getting something positive out of it, but the minute it contradicts what we know to be fact in a damaging way then it should be put down. It just baffles me that most of the population still believe in a floaty-sky-man who sends you to hell if you’re naughty.
NG: On the subject of the video to Mary, shot in an actual church or?
NG: Really? How did you manage to swing that?
MF: The pastor was very kind to let us use the space—I don’t think he knew much about the song though [laughs]. One of my student’s parents helps out there. It was funny cos he was like “Okay, I’ll leave you to it then”. Then when he came back I was dressed as a vicar with black eye contacts and my manager was like, “Hide! I’ll distract him!” and just talked his ear off while we continued the shoot. It was a fun day.
NG: Next up, I want to talk about my first choice, “The Trouble”. This was the song that clued me into Birdeatsbaby and it’s true that you can never forget your first love. To me, even to this day, it stands the test of time, but the subject matter is something I’ve always been curious about. It strikes me as almost Bowie-esque in the way the lyrics are written, not really saying anything, cut up to a degree, but at the same time getting across a feeling that people can relate to, rather than a message. Was this intentional?
MF: It’s a pretty dark subject matter. You might want to brace yourself [laughs]. When I was 19 I was assaulted by ex-boyfriend at a house party in Brighton. The experience was fairly traumatic and shaped my 20s. I can’t even walk past that place in Brighton without still feeling a sense of panic. The guy then moved in down my street, just a stone’s throw away from my house, that’s when I wrote, “Through Ten Walls”. Many of my songs are based around experience, I couldn’t help but use it at a subject matter as that kind of trauma can consume you and if you don’t get it out, then it can destroy you.
NG: I kind of feel bad for liking the song so much now.
MF: Don’t feel bad! I f*ckin love that song! I was able to turn it into something that changed other people’s lives; otherwise, it would’ve killed me.
NG: That is a subject that seems to appear throughout your work, and as a failed poet I understand how cathartic that expressing your emotions through words can be, which leads me onto the next video “My Arms Will Open Wide”.
My Arms Will Open Wide
NG: Is this as cut and dried as it seems? Is it your goodbye to the world? Thankfully, you haven’t but was it that note?
MF: Yeah, I wrote that song as a suicide letter. I had really given up on my music, it felt like it was going nowhere and what was the point, I was really ill and had completely lost my faith which was a good thing, but at the time it felt very empty without it. When we made the video I was standing on the bridge and I was like, f*ck, I really don’t want to fall. It was a good feeling to not want to die. It turns out I had more albums to write and a lot more music to give the world. Yeah, as long as I can write it, I’ll stick around. That’s my favorite video though. I’ve never felt a video could sum up my words so clearly, I was really happy with it and the shoes were nice too [laughs]. You can see them in “Tenterhooks” too.
NG: I have a story about this tune. In a previous life I used to work as a chef for a rather large chain of “If we can cook it, you can eat it” type business. Now, I used to take music in with me to get me through the grind of the day and one of the myriads of songs on the cd’s, yes they had a cd player, was “Deathbed Confession”. Thanks to Forbes production on that I used to get a bollocking every time I played it as it was so much louder than anything else I’d play. To the point, they’d have to send someone in from the front of house to ask me to turn it down because it was annoying the customers as they tried to listen to Frank Sinatra.
MF: [laughs] Brilliant! You make us proud.
NG: I love this song, with a passion and feel that it’s the perfect example of how you grew from that band I first heard in “The Trouble” into one of the most ass-kicking rock acts of all time.
MF: It’s actually a really old BEB song too. I wrote it in 2010, and it was just too heavy to go on the early stuff, so I kept it until the time was right. Forbes was definitely the right drummer for that album.
NG: So what finally brought it to the light?
MF: The line-up was perfect and we had freedom in the studio for the first time, plus Garry was playing more guitars which were what it needed too.
NG: That is very true. Garry’s guitar work on that song is sensational. The pure noise that he wrings from each note is something I hadn’t heard in a long time, not since my days of listening to the likes of Sonic Youth and The Pixies and the way that Forbes assaults the skins would get him arrested in 90% of countries. And when you add in your vocals, which are on point, and Hana, well, just being Hana, which is always a good thing, then there isn’t a bad note in the entire thing. There seems to be an underlying thought in your lyrics as well, is this another pretty f*cking awful relationship one as well?
MF: No that’s not about anyone, it’s about politics, human nature and probably religion again too but this time how it’s used as a reason to go to war.
NG: Ah, so I’ve been approaching the song from the wrong angle all this time, at least from a lyrical standpoint, musically it’s the f*cking boss.
MF: [laughs] Cool, thank you.
NG: I can understand why The Flock loves this video so much, the song is just downright nasty and is driven by the kind of groove that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iggy and The Stooges record.
MF: Yeah it’s hard not to like, we were listening to a lot of QOTSA that record and I had the chorus in my head while we were touring Europe, going around and around—Hana was helping me write the lyrics. It was very fun—the band grew a lot over that record.
NG: So, as I’m a sucker for your lyrics, it’s interesting to me to hear that this was a collaborative effort between you and Miss Piranha.
MF: She’s really good at lyrics, better than me. I take forever to write one line and it usually makes little sense. Hana is amazing at creating a picture and constantly referencing it again and again in new ways, the Heiress project we’re doing together now is her brilliant lyrics. I’m better at chord progressions and structure and she’s great at melodies and lyrics—we make a good team.
NG: As for the video, it seems to keep the simplicity of the song, except for your face paint. What inspired that?
MF: I think I wanted to make myself look truly evil [laughs]—the make-up was necessary to remove myself from the fragile/vulnerable Mishkin and become something empowering and seductive. I really wanted to grow as a person through that song and music video and it was definitely a turning point for me. I remember feeling like it was a risk—I mean you do open yourself up to people’s nonsense when you choose to express yourself as a sexual person, especially as a woman, but at the same time I always follow the Birdeatsbaby rule—“do what you want”. We used to announce the song on stage by saying “a good song should make you want to fight someone, f*ck someone or kill yourself”. I stand by that—I don’t think there’s a single BEB song that doesn’t apply to. Also, it was a bit of fun. Being “naughty” is always so appealing and that video is just utter filth. The afterparty was… legendary.
It is very rare in this line of work that you meet someone so open and willing to discuss the demons that have driven their creative process.
Normally, artists will skirt around the issue, which is understandable, as no-one wants to relive their traumatic past any longer than they have to.
Mishkin Fitzgerald is not that kind of person.
She is a raw nerve exposed to the elements, a musician and lyricist who has had to fight against some truly horrific experiences just so her art can see the light of day.
But what she isn’t, is a victim.
She has taken what life has thrown at her and turned it into some of the most power, beautiful, and sometimes downright nasty music you’ll ever hear.
There have been close calls along the way, which she has openly admitted, but as she said;
I love growing up, I feel more like the person I want to be with every year, hitting 30 was like realising who I am and making the big changes I needed to.”
Even if I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and talk with her, I would’ve recommended Birdeatsbaby to you and anyone else who would listen, just because I love the band that much, but having spent a couple of hours in her company and getting just a small taste of how passionate she is about her craft, then I cannot think of a single reason that Birdeatsbaby doesn’t find their way into your playlist.
Music should touch you, lyrics should speak to you and in Birdeatsbaby you have the perfect combination of both.
So go, seek and ye shall find, and when you’re done filling your life with some of the most essential songs you’ll ever hear, then visit their Patreon page and help them continue to make the kind of music that makes you want to fight someone or f*ck someone.