TASHAKI MIYAKI: SUCH A MOVING SOUND
photography by AMMO
The world is just about to welcome Tashaki Miyaki’s long-long-long awaited full-length The Dream, produced by band frontwoman Paige Stark and due out April 7. It’s a powerfully dreamy album, drawn from the break-of-dawn dreamstate that Mazzy Star knew so well, with waves of sound bringing both treasure and wreckage as they break against the shore. Stark and bandmate Luke Paquin are the secret link between much-loved local producer Joel Jerome (who worked on some of Tashaki Miyaki’s sweetest tracks) and top-flight multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion—not to mention ‘Uncle’ Neil Young, whose presence is never far away. They perform at the Echo every Monday in March. This interview by Christina Gubala.
What was yout first instrument?
Paige Stark (vocals/multi-instrumentalist/producer): I played piano as a child, so my first instrument was piano and voice, and then [guitarist] Luke [Paquin] left a guitar at my house. He was in another band and he went on tour and I started playing guitar all the time. I was really young and in the phase where I was like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do!’ I wanted to do something creative. I was making a living as an actor, and I started writing and found myself in acting class and just wanting to go make music. So that was what I ended up doing—follow your inspiration, I guess! I started working on music and it worked out! Luke was really a big supporter too. He really encouraged me and was so supportive and kind and really nurtured me as a songwriter. I feel so eternally grateful to him for that because I don’t think I ever would have publicly performed my songs without his encouragement.
How did you meet Luke? How did you click? How did you meet the rest of the band?
Paige Stark: I met Luke in 2004. I met him walking down the street and he told me he needed an Emmylou, and I told him ‘I’ll be your Emmylou,’ and that’s how we met! We’ve been making music together ever since. He grew up playing music. His dad was sort of a working class musician, and he’s played his whole life and played with his dad and his dad’s friend. We used to go up to Ventura where his dad lived and sit in on his gigs—it was fun. More like folk or country in the vein of John Prine or Loudon Wainwright—folk with a sense of humor. So that was how I met Luke. In the beginning, I didn’t start writing my own songs I would share with other people until like 2008. I was very shy. I had stage fright. I can sit in with someone and sing, and I used to play lap steel with Luke—sit in and play harmonies. It just evolved. I was in an all-girl band and that’s when I met Dora, who played bass on the record. Dora and I have a mutual friend, who is the woman who did our album art, Julia Brokaw—she’s a very talented photographer. I said I wanted to be in an all-girl band that was big in Japan. That was my dream. Like we’re only big in Japan! The rest of the world doesn’t know who we are … and she was like, ‘My friend Dora has the same dream, and she plays bass!’ And so I met Dora. At that time I was playing guitar and singing and it was this all-girl folk-based band, and then that band ended and this one started. Originally it was me and Luke and then Dora joined for live gigs, and then played on the record. She is busy in her life and isn’t going to be joining us for live shows for the current time, so now we have Sandy [pictured] who has stepped in as the bassist for live shows now. Who knows what the future holds!
Did you get to Japan in your all-girl band?
Paige Stark: We didn’t go to Japan! We did SXSW and CMJ and some shows in New York, and then the band ran its course. It wasn’t meant to be and I’m grateful for that experience.
When this band was younger, in 2011, you used to use pseudonyms. I’m curious about when and why that changed.
Paige Stark: That’s a multi-layered question that I figured would come up. I was in a different band before, and that band ended. And it ended in a way that wasn’t fully positive. So there was sort of a … it was like a romantic breakup in a way!
With the custody battle and everything?
Paige Stark: Well, yeah—you’re like living with these people. You go on the road with them, you share creative ideas, you’re making stuff together. That was a bit of a heartbreaking thing. I had experienced a really horrible episode of sexual harassment from a person that worked at a management company that I really wanted to be represented by. They represented one of my heroes, and it was a really sad thing that happened. I haven’t really talked about it with anybody but I think it’s important to share because I felt like I didn’t want to be exploited in any way. I felt really fragile, and I didn’t want my image to be part of my musical identity at that time. I had been hurt and I was afraid, and it was a negative place that I was in in my mind. I wish that I had been able to talk about those things and not be afraid. But at the time, that option wasn’t available to me. So I decided I wanted to be anonymous and let the music be itself. And people were really sweet and really kind, and I feel like I’m ready to not use a moniker or an alias. But on a lighter hand, my thought was … I’m very inspired by hip-hop artists and they use so many names! So that was my name for this project for awhile and now I’m ready to be myself.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. One thing that I’ve found interesting—especially in the wake of Bill Cosby—is how people are starting to feel more empowered to speak. But you make a little bit of progress forward, and then things swing the other way and there’s a lot of backlash.
Paige Stark: And it’s really tricky when those things happen when it’s someone that’s close in age to you, someone that would be in your peer group or your social group. When you’re working and you have a business relationship, you want to be friendly and you want to be kind. And unfortunately people mistake that for something else and it’s really lame and fucked up and when you’re in a business relationship—whether you’re a man or a woman—you should always have firm lines with your clients and you should never make someone uncomfortable and never mistake something. Err on the side of distance. I wasn’t harmed—it was just a bad situation that I’m glad it’s far in the past.
I’m glad for you as well! I think that you have to walk in the fire and get burned and then you learn how to get out of a situation before it gets out of hand, but I’m sorry you had to go through that, and it makes sense that you’d want to be protective about your output on The Dream, your most recent LP—making sure you’re the one most completely in control. Did that experience influenced the creation of the LP?
Paige Stark: Definitely it influenced my wanting to do everything myself. I really didn’t want any outside forces involved. I wanted to work within the framework of our extended musical family, so like Joel [Jerome] and Jon [Brion]—those people that I bounce ideas off all the time anyway and are like my crew musically—that was the inspiration. Keep it tight and not have any business people involved. There was an understanding that if it takes a while, it takes a while. We probably forfeited a couple opportunities because of that but I was committed to letting the band develop in a natural way, and I’m glad we did. Because our live show has changed and grown and strengthened—when we first started as a band, we hadn’t ever played a live show and we found our footing live and people wanted us to immediately make a record and go on a world tour. I was like, ‘Hey, we need time to develop as artists and as a unit’ and some businesspeople I spoke to and labels that wanted to sign us were not supportive of that. So I took a risk and was like ‘I don’t feel ready.’ I think it was the right decision.
So congratulations on your album! I know it’s been a long time in the making.
Paige Stark: Very exciting to finally get it out for sure!
You’ve been working on it for years?
Paige Stark: Yeah—that whole time wasn’t spent totally working on it. It was done in a fragmented way. I produced it myself and that was sort of a learning curve, and we mixed it ourselves too, so … it was lengthy. It would have been much faster if it had been done by someone else, but I’m really glad we did it that way.
Yes! Now it’s solely your creation! It’s not a light record either—there’s a lot of instrumentation that is on this. There’s a string quartet! You mentioned multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion as well, and I’m curious how you got to know him and how you got him involved with this record.
Paige Stark: I’m very close with Jon. I met him over ten years ago. I was super young. I was still in school, and at this time, I think I was a model. I was in a music video that Roman Coppola directed for Phantom Planet, and I met that band and met all these people through them—people in the L.A. music scene. I wanted to make music but I was still a kid. I played instruments but I wasn’t doing it in a public way, except for singing in choir at school. But I met people through them, and one of them was [producer] Jason Lader, and Jason introduced me to Jon, and Jon and I have stayed very close. And he has been one of my mentors musically for a long time.
That’s quite a mentor to have! As an Elliott Smith fan, I used to see Jon Brion do his thing at the Largo. And you’ve spent lots of time with Benmont Tench as well?
Paige Stark: Ben is another of my mentors. I met him through Jonathan Wilson. When he moved here from New York he’d have these parties in Laurel Canyon, and everyone would go have a jam session and I originally met Ben at one of those. At that moment, I had like no female friends and I was complaining to him about that, and he set me up with this girl Julia Wick, who became one of my best friends—she does the video visuals for us for our live shows. She’s a writer by trade but she’s a very creative person and became one of my best friends through Benmont. Benmont has been a very supportive force as well!
And a living legend! Member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!
Paige Stark: I know—that too! Living legend!
You’ve crossed paths with a few legends. I’ve noticed mention of ‘Uncle Neil.’