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“I may actually be writing the same song over and over” – an interview with Michelle Gurevich

The Canadian musician spoke to SIEGESSÄULE before a rare show in Berlin, this Thursday at Heimathafen Neukölln

"Chinawoman? No, there's no one here by that name…"

Apr. 4, 2017 – As a wise Bon Jovi once said: it's all the same – only the names will change. We spoke with Michelle Gurevich, the artist formerly known as Chinawoman, of slowcore rock fame in advance of her April 6 concert at Heimathafen Neukölln. The Toronto-born Berliner is currently touring in support of her fourth album, New Decadence.

Michelle, you used to perform under the name Chinawoman. Why did you decide to start performing under your birth name? I no longer felt that the name was appropriate. I chose the name ironically the first time I opened GarageBand; now it seems I might be doing this music thing for a while. I’d like to have a name I can feel good about now and 20 years from now. 

Why did you stop feeling good about the name? There were a few people who wrote to tell me that they found my name offensive. Surprisingly few actually, but I’m glad that they did. I thought about it a long time and eventually decided that they were right. So it had to go.

What has been the response? Much better than I expected. Many people said, “You can’t do that!”, which means of course it was necessary. It brought a new era of uncertainty, and uncertainty is good for the soul and for songwriting. I decided that the best way to get listeners to accept the name change was simply to give the new name value, that is, to focus on writing good new songs, and that’s it.

Songs like “The First Six Months of Love”, “End of an Era” and “My Familiar Unfamiliar” in many ways reflect the transient and fleeting relations between people of a certain age in a metropolis like Berlin. What inspired this album's creation? It was an intense few years leading up to the new album, intense good and also intense not-so-good. A lot of everything – romance, tragedy, death, all the good stuff. But really, I’m not sure my themes have changed that much since the first album. I may actually be writing the same song over and over, still trying to get it right. It’s usually about the ending of things, or the difference between how it was and how it is, the inevitabilities of time, trying to keep things fresh. And this idea is getting more overwhelming as I get older – so many moments disappearing without leaving any trace. We like to say these things will live on, in someone’s memory, but nature is cruel and indifferent, and it’s all quite beautiful and horrifying.

Do you see your music increasingly as a means of archiving these moments – or is that too analytical for our discussion? That’s the best part – when discussions get too analytical. Actually, I take that back, it can also be the worst part. I think it’s quite normal for people to want to encapsulate their flicker of existence. Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” We all feel that our lives are passing us by, and we want to harness and raise up our little moments and say, “Hey! We were here! We sat by this lake and we loved each other and it was magnificent!”

You once advised aspiring musicians to write the worst song they could imagine. Have you managed to? Probably not yet. The idea is that when you don’t take yourself so seriously, interesting things happen. Quite an effort for me as I tend towards, unfortunately, the serious side. I’m forever trying to fool myself into doing something interesting. 

When is the last time something really interesting happened while recording? When I was recording the song “Drugs Saved My Life”, it was no thought, all flow and pure enjoyment. The best moments in music happen when you’re not thinking about the result, you’re simply alone in a room and in love with a particular sound or melody and it’s ecstasy for ecstasy’s sake. Then you pass out and wake up the next morning and go, “Ooh, look what I made!”

What kind of person comes to a Michelle Gurevich concert?
 Young queers, old romantics. Old queers, young romantics.

What's the next step? This spring tour is a big one for me, lots of shows coming up. And playing shows usually leads to more shows, which leads to more administrative work. 

So there could be, in theory, more than just one Berlin performance this year? It’s true, I’ve entered a new era, with the new name and album and all. So anything is possible.

Interview: Riri Hylton

Michelle Gurevich + Oneill
Apr. 6, 20:00 at Heimathafen Neukölln



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