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“I’ve been listening to a lot of Lou Reed lately. It’s been really fun,” declares singer songwriter Mirah. She isn’t confessing to some guilty pleasure or bragging about what she’s streaming. She means she’s really been listening to a lot of Lou Reed, because the Flatbush resident is among several artists performing a tribute to the late, undoubtedly great Lou Reed on January 10 at the Manhattan Inn.
“My first impulse was to go with my favorites, which are the songs I already know very well,” says Mirah, speaking from her Brooklyn home. “Then I decided this was my opportunity to dig into his catalog and learn more about him. He had so many albums and songs I didn’t know. I decided to go with some of those songs, especially because I was so drawn to the lyrics.”
Mirah is keeping which songs she’ll do as a surprise. It’s the first time she’s played this regular series, which New York City arts production company Hypnocraft puts on at the Greenpoint bar. In December, Joni Mitchell was honored, and the Hollywood Vampires, Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone have also been featured.
“The idea is to bring prominent artists in New York’s music community together to honor and celebrate the musicians who have influenced their own writing and careers,” says Rachael Pazdan, Hypnocraft’s founder. “What makes these performances different from a covers night or wedding band vibe is that artists interpret these songs through their own distinct styles, and it’s a genuine celebration of the music. We’ve never had artists involved in these tributes who aren’t total worshippers of the artists they’re paying tribute to.”
The Lou Reed tribute’s cast also includes fellow singer songwriter Jolie Holland, DFA Records signee Sinkane, and Brooklyn art folk troupe Invisible Familiars, whose frontman Jared Samuels curated this show with Pazdan. Besides an opportunity to dig deep into an artist’s creative well, it’s an opportunity to collaborate. Mirah will perform with her longtime drummer, Kid in the Attic’s Maia Macdonald, but it marks her debut performance with A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Jen Goma. “Jen and I had talked about doing something,” says Mirah. “I love working with amazing singers: I love the instrument of the voice and when you find someone whose vocal timbre matches yours, you have to do it. This is the perfect opportunity.”
The show puts her among new friends and old ones: Mirah has known former Brooklyn habitué Jolie Holland for a while: “She left Brooklyn when I moved here: I inherited her plants.” Mirah is herself a native of Philadelphia, but lived on the west coast for twenty years, initially making a name for herself on Olympia, Washington’s left-field music scene. She moved east in late 2011 because she “wanted to be closer to family” and could easily settle in. “I found a cheap room in Brooklyn. If you find a cheap room in Brooklyn, you have to take it,” she laughs. “I was bicoastal for a while because I had a cheap room in San Francisco and a cheap room in New York – two of the most expensive places in the country to live. But I started to feel like I was always on tour, so I chose New York. Actually, I fell in love and we bought a house. So I’ve put down roots and now I’m really living here.”
As a new New Yorker, Mirah finds Reed’s songs form a considerable connection to the city. “He is one of the musicians I associate with New York. He has a strong presence here. When he died there was a feeling in the air; he was so much a part of the city.”
Mirah’s relationship with Reed’s work began early in her life: “My dad had an incredible record collection and the Velvet Underground was among them,” she says of Reed’s former band. “In college, I listened to his solo albums and Transformer became my favorite. I have a real appreciation for artists who use guitar and vocals and paint these amazing pictures and tell intricate stories with just that. I feel connected to Reed in that, and it’s what I want my work to do.”
Besides his songs, there’s something else Mirah admires about Reed, something some might not find so endearing. “I love that he wasn’t afraid to be cranky,” she says letting out a big laugh as though she’s revealed another guilty secret. “People think I’m sweet and happy all the time, and I do smile a lot. But I can be really cranky. So I appreciate publicly cranky people. I work on my public crankiness.” She giggles. “When I’m performing I want to glare when people talk through a song. I am sweet and smiley, but I am cranky too; I have both those sides in me. That’s why I love ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror,’ which shows Lou’s sweeter side. Like anyone writing a song, he could show his caustic humor, and his shock and dismay at the world around him, but he was capable of these sweet moments and thoughts.”
Hypnocraft’s Tribute to Lou Reed features Jolie Holland, Sinkane, Mirah, Invisible Familiars and more January 10 at the Manhattan Inn. For ticket information, click here.