Image: Totally Mild by Mia Mala McDonald.
Author: Melody Menu
Welcome to the Killer Female Talent Spotlight: a fortnightly column dedicated to shining a greater light on female and gender non-conforming artists in the music industry.
There is a transient beauty to Totally Mild. From the songs to the album artwork and accompanying videos, the group’s second album Her positively gleams. Elizabeth Mitchell’s vocals resemble crystal clear water, pooling in and around shimmering guitar flourishes and grounded by warm and flowing basslines. Coupled with this shining exterior and rippling production are Elizabeth’s lyrics, which take a deep dive into complex and enduring themes of interpersonal relationships, and the feeling of relinquishing one’s independence to cohabitation.
Here, Elizabeth opens up on these themes, and how her music is inevitably coloured by her mental health.
How did Totally Mild take shape?
Zach and I met in high school, in a choir. Zach was a cool boy that played in bands and I was a nerdy girl that played trumpet. We have played in bands together ever since. We met Lehmann through Myspace because it was 2009. He played in one of our favourite Melbourne bands Kes. Totally Mild started as a folk band and evolved into a rock band when I was tired of being quiet, and we strung an electric guitar like a ukulele. We met Dylan through the incestuous Melbourne music scene, he has played in about a thousand bands…We are lucky to have found each other.
How would you describe your music?
It’s melodic pop music. It’s melodies and feelings.
Tell us a little about the track ‘Today Tonight’ and the video?
Today Tonight was written during a long period of unemployment where I was basically sitting in my house every day, waiting for my wife to come home. It’s about feeling pathetic for having everything and nothing to do, the pressure of potential, the crushing banality that depression can create. The video casts these ideas into a character. I play a glamorous but lonely woman, stagnating in her apartment, putting on the ritz just for herself. We made it with Tobias Willis at KEWL studios, we wanted it to play on old Hollywood films like ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’, and ‘A Woman Under the Influence’.
Your album covers tend to be quite stylised and theatrical, what is the significance of aesthetics to you and your music?
For me there is something powerful in creating an aesthetic universe for our music. I am a big fan of pop music; I love the elaborate worlds that someone like Lana Del Rey creates for each album. I think trying to achieve that in indie music with a fairly minimal budget is really exciting. Also as a queer person, I find it really empowering to create these representations of myself, of my community. It’s important to tell different kinds of stories, and we can do that through aesthetic, photography, videos and music. Making my queer, fat, femme body extremely visible in the consumption of our music is important to me because it contributes to a landscape of diversity. For me, it’s political.
How have the complexities of domesticity influenced Her as an album?
Being domestic is a weird thing; cohabitation, the melding of your day-to-day with someone else. It creates this version of yourself where you define yourself in relation to another person, even if you are very independent, it’s kind of inevitable. What are ‘we’ having for dinner? etc etc etc. Being queer, you don’t have that many models for what a healthy domestic situation looks like…the model itself is very heteronormative…it’s monogamous, it’s about comfort and the notion of forever. I was really struggling with all of that when I wrote Her. The idea of a housewife is kind of appealing to me, but can that ever really be ‘queered’? And how do you retain your own identity when you are living in the pocket of someone else, even if you are happy in that pocket for that moment.
How have the concepts of mental health affected the new record?
My mental health inevitably permeates everything I write, because whatever I write, I’m writing from the current state of my brain. So sometimes I’m writing about mental health; depression; addiction; and suicidal ideation actively, and sometimes those things are just colouring my experiences of whatever I’m writing about i.e. relationships, the world. The most pervasive thing about mental health on Her is the weird duality that I experience (and I would assume a lot of other people with mental health problems also do) where I can know that objectively my life is happy and good, but I still feel the boring yet crushing feelings that come with being chronically sad. It’s about feeling joy and content, and wanting to destroy that because your brain is being bad.
Totally Mild play the Union Hotel on Friday May 25.