Activism, journalism and music-making with White Lung vocalist Mish Barber-Way
“I don’t like writing on the internet, I don’t feel like I have a lot to say anymore. When did we stop being curious about things we disagree on?”
The internet is an echo chamber, filled with voices all trying to speak louder than the other, all the while holding the power to simply log off. It's this common lack of constructive discussion that disillusioned notorious activist and frontwoman of White Lung, Mish Barber-Way, and pushed along a shift in her life.
“I started being curious about the politics and ideologies that I’d been trained in my entire life, as a democratic liberal, to see as evil or bad, and started being curious about those things, ‘cause why not? Especially with the election last year. And my biggest problem right now is that everyone's stuck in their own ideology, and I think that’s wrong, and separates us even further.”
Brutally honest about herself, Barber-Way provides an example of what she’s talking about, straight from her own life, and the pages of online journalism. In November 2016, she published a very critical open letter to the members of metal band Allegaeon, who had made a video asking their fans to donate money to allow them to continue with the band. She was less than impressed with their attitude, with her letter including the phrase “You are officially the laziest, most pathetic, sub-human beta males in America.”
“I was really mean when I wrote that, I shouldn’t have. But a good thing came out of it.”
She’d provided her contact details, and frontman Greg Burgess called her for what turned into a two hour conversation.
“Regardless of the rude words I said, or how they see it fit to raise money, a good debate was had between two people. And it was a respectful debate, he proved me wrong in a lot of ways, I respectfully disagreed in a lot of ways, but I’m glad that conversation happened. And that’s it, that’s my biggest problem with the internet now, is that people are too quick to insult and then they log off, and no one wants to have a discussion.
“There's a place for sensitivity, and there’s a place where being a victim becomes a currency, and I don’t get it, I don’t understand.”
She’s one part musician, one part journalist, a writer through and through, but for the first time since Barber-Way’s dual career took off, she's taking a step back from stringing words together.
“I’m sick of writing. I still write for Hustle and Penthouse, I’ll always do the girly mags, I love that shit, but I need a break, and I felt my politics weren’t aligning with the narrative I was supposed to write about. But that’s life, things change.”
She may be tired of writing, but that doesn't mean she's not absolutely great at it. Even at a time where she’s dissatisfied with the media landscape, Barber-Way pushed herself as a writer in a totally fresh way on the Canadian three-piece’s Polaris Prize nominated fourth album. Paradise features narrative-centric tracks, shifting between perspectives other than her own.
“Instead of whining about my life – and quite frankly I didn’t have a lot to whine about, I was quite contented and happy with my life – I decided to put myself in the position of these characters that I’d either invented, or people that existed, and write as if I were them. It was a freeing exercise, to say things I couldn’t say as myself.”
On her favourite track of the record, Sister, Barber-Way sings as Karla Homolka, a serial killer in the late 1980s who operated in partnership with husband Paul Bernardo, and murdered her own sister. The eery track sits amongst a sea of narratives about women and empowerment and love, as varied and complex and fascinating as the writer.
“Paradise was all really exciting to write, and I really got into the lyrics, I’d always cared, but this time I really went through and rewrote a million times, and spent a lot of time on lyrics. It’s a different beast. The record is perfect in that.”
By Claire Varley