Mirabai Kukathas is a storyteller, playwright, spirited conversationalist, and singer-songwriter. She loves nothing more than telling an absurd story with an honest emotional core. People often tell Mirabai she was born in the wrong millennium, but she’d much rather be in this one, where she can vote and marry who she likes and watch WALL-E for the millionth time. But she does pull plenty of musical inspiration from the past, finding ways to blend ‘60s folk with contemporary pop and everything in between. Mirabai’s music is an act of healing; a confusing celebration of her culture, identity, and life.
Here's what Mirabai had to say heading into her Sound Off! 2020 performance, which is set for Saturday, February 29 at the Museum of Pop Culture.
What was your reaction when you found out you'd be part of Sound Off! 2020?
Mirabai Kukathas: I was on the bus and [MoPOP's Manager of Public Engagement] Robert [Rutherford] called me and I said, 'the bus is noisy. I'm going to hang up, I'll call you later.' I got to work, called him back, and he said, 'we had a lot of applicants this year, most people didn't get in.' So I said, 'OK, well thank you for the opportunity, maybe next time.' And he said, 'Oh no, no, no, but you did get in.' And I was like, 'that was a very misleading way of telling me that information, but yay!' Then I had him repeat the information maybe five times and kept saying, 'are you sure? Are you 100% sure that you're talking about me?' But I was very excited, turned off my phone, and was like, 'oh crap, I need a band.' But I found one. I've got local people helping me out.
What has your initial Sound Off! 2020 experience been like?
Mirabai Kukathas: Everyone is so kind, so cool, and everyone has great hair. Every person, every band has at least one person where I'm like, 'I want your hair.' We could all be Pantene models. It's just a room full of really talented musicians with great hair and they're all really nice. I don't know what else you could ask for.
How would you describe your sound?
Mirabai Kukathas: We settled on indie folk, which I think is a good way of describing it. I love old '60s and '70s music — and also fashion as you might be able to tell with my Scooby-Doo fit. But a '60s folk legend, Joan Baez, is one of my biggest influences. But I also love some new stuff; I love Janelle Monáe. I love some stuff in the middle of that, from the '60s to the current day; I love Queen. And I think for me, my music is about blending genres and blending eras, just finding some kind of emotional truth and express how I'm feeling, which is usually moody, but yeah.
Why do you make music?
Mirabai Kukathas: I started singing when I was six months old. I've never been able to contain the fact that I am a musician, I want to make music, and I want to sing always. A couple of years ago, I started experiencing some really bad throat pain and my doctor's like, 'you have to stop singing, your throat looks really bad.' Then a couple of months ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that affects my ability to sing. So I've been struggling a lot with, 'why do I sing? If I physically cannot, why do I have this desire to?' And I feel like it's just something in me that I feel like it's the only way I can truly express who I am, what I am, and what I feel. I feel like I'm able to make people feel something too, and I can connect with them. It's like my one superpower, my one way to communicate, and I feel like I need it.
What are you hoping to achieve through your music?
Mirabai Kukathas: I don't know if I make music to make people happy, but I want people to feel as if their pain, their suffering, and their joy is seen, shared, and that they are appreciated and they have a place, they have a community. I also want to feel like I have a place and I have a community. I think I make music so that we can all find that together. I have found a wonderful community through music, because you meet cool people when you make cool music. That's just the way it is, and it's a great city for doing that.
If you could describe your sound or your music as an animal, what would it be and why?
Mirabai Kukathas: One of my songs is called 'Canary,' so I feel it's kind of a cop out to say a canary, but I'm going to say a canary because canaries are very sensitive and they die really easily and they get sick really easily. But if you give them some love and you give them some food, they'll just sing forever.