Q&A: Holly Miranda on Magic, Sneaking Records, and The Need to “Come Out”


Known for being the face of Brooklyn rock act the Jealous Girlfriends, Holly Miranda quietly released her debut solo album The Magician’s Private Library this past February. It’s a washed-out, hazy record that has Miranda’s airy voice sounding something like ’80s 4AD meets old bluesy gospel. (This is a sound that TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, who produced Magician, is well established at capturing.)

Miranda’s spent most of spring as the opening act for Tegan & Sara and is winding down a short headlining tour tonight (still tickets left!) at the Bowery Ballroom. Later this summer, she’ll join Metric and Joan as Policewoman at a Celebrate Brooklyn! event on August 5. We spoke with Miranda as she was stuck in traffic on the FDR.

Your album is called The Magician’s Private Library. Are you into magic?

[laughs]. I am into magic. More like the hippiesh, ethereal way of magic. Although I have been obsessed with the Magic Castle in L.A. You can only get in there if you’re a magician. It’s a secret meeting place for magicians, and it has a hotel, restaurants and it has a recording studio in there. I’m working on getting in there. So yeah. I guess I’m into magic.

So, you’ll bribe someone or you’re working on actual tricks?

Trying to find somebody I know who can get me in. It’s like the Disney Land castle, except you can go inside. It’s very ominous. Can you do any tricks?

I can’t do shit.

I don’t know any tricks. I’m a poser. But I think the last time I saw someone do a magic trick, it was at a Red Lobster in Michigan.

What was the trick? Making the food taste amazing?

Yes. They made the food taste great and probably made a balloon animal.

I know that people make a big to-do about your religious upbringing and that you weren’t allowed to listen to pop music. But did you anyways?

Yeah, I’d hear stuff on the radio, but it wasn’t until I was about 10, 11 or 12, where I started seeking out and sneaking to listen to it.

Did you have a place where you’d have to sneak away to?

Friends’ houses. I remember the first time I ever saw the Nirvana Unplugged on MTV, I had no idea who they were. I was like “What is going on?” But also, my sister had a secret stash that my parents didn’t know about, and I’d go to her room and listen to them on headphones. The Cure’s Disintegration, Nine Inch Nails “Closer,” Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and some Carly Simon in there.

If you’re going to go down the rebellious path, those are good to start with.

James. The James record, too. You know that band?

The dudes that wore dresses.

Yeah, you know that song “Laid.” That was a good record.

I loved that record-and it’s not just one song.

Did you put on a dress and do the drum solo?

I didn’t. But maybe I should have. But I prided myself in knowing the words to that song.

You thought knowing all the words to that song would get you laid?

It didn’t work. But for a high school kid, you don’t have much to hope for. Anyway, I know that your band the Jealous Girlfriends had some moderate success over the last few years, but what was the rationale for going solo?

It’s not like I went “solo.” I was playing solo prior to starting that band and was always doing stuff on the side, while I was playing with the band. There wasn’t a huge departure from that. The first Jealous Girlfriends album was meant to be a solo album, but when we were done with it, [keyboardist] Alex [Lipsen] and I just decided to make it a band under that name. It’s something that I’ve been trying to do for a few years, so this is the first time it’s actually gone that way. I’m happy with the way it’s gone. I hear that it’s sort of a slow build. I don’t know. I’ve been doing it so long at this point that I know without anyone giving a shit, I’ll still be doing it.

I read a little piece about you in Out Magazine. But it doesn’t really seem that sexuality is a big component as who you’ve come to be as a musician, or who people see you as.

It’s not. It has nothing really to do with music. I feel like it’s important in this day and age to be open. Having to come out or do things like that. There was definitely a point when I was young and confused, and people were open about their sexuality-it made a big effect on me and made me feel like it was okay to have the feelings I was having. So for that reason, I feel like it’s important. But for all the other reasons, it’s a part of who I am, but just a part.

Sometimes pop musicians get carried away, where they use that aspect and it overshadows the songs or the songwriting. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite, where people are the ones who make the big deal over an artist’s sexuality.

Right. There was article that came out recently-I think it was about Lady Sovereign coming out. And the headline was something like “Lady Sovereign Comes Out…But Does Anyone Really Care?” [laughs] And that’s the point. Does anyone really need to “come out”? It shouldn’t matter is the point, I guess. But it does. So.

I noticed on record, your voice has a very Elizabeth Fraser/Cocteau Twins quality to it. Are you using a lot of effects on it in the studio?

I love the Cocteau Twins. But that’s just what my voice sounds like. Outside of putting in a little reverb, I think all the vocals and all the harmonies are effected or pitch corrected.
A lot of the songs reference sleep. And there is a girl on the cover who looks like she’s having a snooze. Do you enjoy a good rest?

I do. I enjoy a good sleep. I recently nailed some blackout curtains to my wall so I can sleep if I have to. But I don’t get to sleep these days.

Holly Miranda plays the Bowery Ballroom on May 26 and the Prospect Park Bandshell on August 5.