INTERVIEW 61. Lisle Mitnik (Fireflies)

Lisle lives in Chicago. He makes music in his home and has a few different projects. Holding them all together, there's a delicate and fragile sense of melody with roots in classical music and dreams of being part of The Beatles.

Throughout the years - wether as Fireflies, Very Truly Yours (where he plays guitars), Tiny Fireflies (a duo with Kristine, also from Very Truly Yours), or Edine Avec Lisle Mitnik Et Son Orchestre (with Edine from The Marshmallow Kisses) - Lisle's been crafting melancholic gems that are a hybrid of infectious, addictive indiepop with the prettiest - sometimes guitar, sometimes mellotron, sometimes piano - strums, a DIY aesthetic resembling lo fi acts from the 80s and an imagery field with hopeless love and winter scenarios.
All in all, his music is a celebration of beauty in a world where classical music goes very well with indie pop guitars and winter wonderlands.

Below you'll be able to go even deeper into Lisle's world and aesthetic. Get a cup of coffee or tea, put on your headphones and just let Fireflies music be your companion as you read his words.

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01. What's your first musical memory? And when did you started making music?
My earliest memories associated with music come from when I moved into a new house around age 4-5.  The previous owners had left behind a piano, and I started taking lessons shortly thereafter. My teacher was very keen on classical music, so I learned how to play all the standard beginner arrangements of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and my personal favourite, Bach. From this point, I think I was always surrounded by music in some way. If I wasn't practising, I was hearing my parents' record collection, or little blips and beeps from my Nintendo. Looking back, I think all these things helped shape my taste in music.
Though I was always hearing music, and dreaming of being a Beatle, it took a long time before I felt like it was something I could do myself. I wrote one piece of music in high school on the piano (the tune of which became "Frosti" from the Fireflies "Snowstorm" EP) but I didn't really start making songs properly until college, when I picked up the guitar. I found it much easier to write humming melodies while strumming chords on the guitar, rather than at the piano. Actually, discovering indie-pop (specifically, the band Brittlestars and the K records world) helped me feel like making music was something I could do.

02. You have several musical projects: Fireflies, Tiny Fireflies (with Kristine from Very Truly Yours and Tiny Microphone) and more recently collaborated in a beautiful EP with Edine (from The Marshmallow Kisses). Do you have a different approach to each? Are they all 'active' projects or do you consider this collaborations as something temporary?
To me, they are all always active. For Tiny Fireflies, Kristine is writing the chords/melody, and so I am usually expanding on that with drums, bass, and guitar. Kristine writes much more complicated chords than I do, so it makes me play instruments in a different kind of way than I am used to. Probably the key difference is that Fireflies songs always resolve, musically, whereas with Tiny Fireflies, we always try to leave a bit of tension.
The project with Edine started with "Movie Life," a song I had written originally for Fireflies. Once we finished that song, I felt inspired to write a whole bunch more songs in that same vein. Knowing that Edine would be singing the songs, I actually changed my approach, both in terms of melody and lyrics. I guess I was trying to write from a more feminine perspective. We ended up with about an album's worth of material. I also challenged myself to use as little electric guitar as possible. It being my normal primary instrument, this forced me to change the way I was writing.
Fireflies is more of my "default" mode of writing. Doing everything myself, it's very much my singular vision...which can be limiting in some ways, so I appreciate being able to have these collaborations to bounce ideas off of people. It challenges me to try things I wouldn't normally do myself..and then I can learn new things to improve my own song writing. For example, I typically was always most inspired by music from 1968 - terms of sound quality and production..but after working on Tiny Fireflies, I've found more early 80s electronics creeping into my newer songs.

03. What inspires you?
At the risk of sounding very hokey, I think I am most inspired by beauty. Though this is very vague, it's also very specific to me and my taste...there's beauty in feelings: joy, sadness, and also in the world around us: nature and culture. Whenever I behold something I would define as beautiful, whether it's a song, a book, a person, or even just a memory of a moment in time, it makes me feel inspired. It's very I'm not even sure if it's beauty that leads to inspiration, or if it's feeling inspired makes things become beautiful...
Of course, the other thing about beauty is that it is delicate and always fleeting. Songs and books always end. Spring flowers wither and die..and of course people are always coming and going from our lives...and so I think songwriting for me is about preserving and capturing beautiful moments and beautiful feelings. By writing a song, it's like I can preserve something and keep it from fading away.
I guess this is why I always tend to write "pretty" music, and gravitate toward pretty sounds in my own personal listening habits. The songs I hold most dear are always pretty, whether it's on the surface like song silly pop tune, or deep and spiritual beauty, like an old folk or classical melody. I've never really understood very dark music, like death metal or something, where the goal is to create something extreme or "ugly." I'm sure that's fine for some, but it just isn't me.

04. This is a new question I'll start asking to the people I interview and it's somehow connected to the one about creative process…
You record your music at your house, right? What's the structure you have? Could you send a photo or describe the place you create your music?
For the most part, making music has always been a very private activity for me. In college, my dorm had a dedicated music room in the basement. The nice part was, only about 5-6 people at that time actually were really using it. My school had plenty of real practice rooms in the music building, so all the serious musicians used those. I shared equipment with a couple of friends who later became the successful dance-punk band, Hockey. Whenever I could, I would lock myself up down there to write. In those days, I had a lot more free time, so I was churning out a lot of songs.
When I moved to Chicago, I couldn't really have a dedicated home space for music, living in small apartments. Luckily, this year I moved into a detached single-family home, and now have a dedicated space in the basement which Kristine (of Tiny Fireflies, VTY, Tiny Microphone) and I share. It is sound-proof and acoustically treated, so it's perfect for both recording and practising for shows. I attached a few photos of our set-up.

05. Several releases from Fireflies are available for free download. What are your views - as an artists and as a consumer - on music distribution?
As a consumer, the record + download code is really the ideal format. When I'm at home, I mostly listen to records, but when I'm out and about in the world, having the mp3s is a really nice convenience.
As far as Fireflies releases being available for free wasn't really a conscious decision, as much as it just the way things turned out. Of course, In my ideal fantasy world, I would have loved for all those download singles to have been 7" records, but I understand that making records is very expensive, and really I'm just grateful that people want to hear my songs at all. It's something I never really expected when I started writing. It was always just for me, and so when other people like them, I'm OK with letting people hear them in whatever way economy dictates.

06. Do you get to live off music? Do you have another job?
Currently I do have a day job. I'm not sure how the situation is abroad, but in the US, I think it's very difficult for people to make a living doing solely music these days. I would love to have more time to write and record, but I realize that not everyone gets to do that, so for the time, I don't mind having this split life. Maybe one day I'll win the lottery and this dream life of making music and travelling can be possible ;)

07. Place and time to listen to Fireflies.
I guess it's really up to the person listening! For me, I always make the songs by myself, so I think my music has a solitary, reflective feel to it. It's probably better suited for a rainy afternoon than a sweaty night at the disco.

08. Name 3 songs you've been listening lately. And 3 artists you'd like to collaborate with.
Songs: (these are the three highest played songs on my iPod in 2013 so far!)

As far as collaborations, I really love recording, engineering, mixing, production, I'm really up to do any kind of work together with other musicians. A top three is very difficult for me to figure out. I'm lucky to know quite a few very talented musicians, so to all those folks, my door is open! Let's make a record! That being said, if you'll allow me to be a bit unrealistic, the top of my dream list (but still living) would likely be John Cale. I'd love to have him produce and play on a record of mine...sort of like Nick Drake's Bryter Layter.

09. You live in Chicago. Are you part of an indiepop scene there? Any bands that we should know?
If there is an indie-pop scene here, I am neither aware nor a part of it. Of course I haven't played a Fireflies show since college, but even with Very Truly Yours and Tiny Fireflies, we always seemed to be on our own a bit here in Chicago. I really don't think people much care for pop here. It's a bit of a hard-edged town. Rough winters, hot summers, not especially scenic...People like their music a bit more intense I think than we can deliver.

10. Anything else you feel like saying?
Thanks a lot for asking me to do this interview! You've forced me to think about Fireflies, which I have neglected to do for a little while.

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