Calling Mi Ami’s music dance punk may be bordering on derision given the negative baggage now attached to the term. The facts, however, are clear: its attitude is ferociously punk and you will want to dance to it.
Formed from the ashes of Washington DC’s high-strung post punk outfit Black Eyes, Mi Ami is a tight melting pot of screeching vocals, ricocheting riffs and erratic rhythm sections. On records, the result can at times be nauseating, like eating rich chocolate cake in tropical heat. Live, the intensity of the sound comes into its own, filling the venue’s space and enveloping the listener in sonic fog with just enough room to breathe.
“Essentially, we are really focused on the feeling of playing live,” frontman Daniel Martin-McCormick (left) told me before their gig at Stoke Newington’s Barden Boudoir. After the show I knew what he meant. Backed by serious horsepower from bassist Jacob Long and drummer Damon Palermo, Daniel convulsed his way around the small set, throwing his guitar on and off while singing, and shooting occasional jokes.
“This song is about diversity,” he introduced ‘Latin Lover’, a standout from new album 'Steal Your Face'. “It’s about keeping things multi-culti in the workplace.” Amid the funky cacophony of the music, Daniel’s false falsetto rendition of Whitney Houston in the chorus - “I want to dance with somebody, damn it/ With somebody who loves me” – only added to the general feeling of disorientation.
Slow burners like ‘The Man In Your House’ slowed the pace down at times, leaving us drifting on dubby plateaus before the next tidal wave. By the end of the show, pretty much everyone in the audience was moving to the beat, hardly a common site at ‘challenging’ art-rock concert. Give Mi Ami a go, you just may catch yourself tapping away to their quirky sounds.
Earlier that day, Daniel explained to us the thoughts behind his music, starting with his decision to leave D.C. for San Francisco to study classical guitar.
Q. Why did you to move to West Coast after Black Eyes run its course?
Daniel. In Black Eyes I didn’t know any chords, I didn’t know where the key was, I didn’t know what harmony was, I didn’t know the names of the notes I was playing most of the time… It’s the thing that really bothered me in that band. If I wanted to play with anyone else, I wouldn’t be able to do that… [My] priority was just learn how the music works.
Q. What guides your song-writing?
Daniel. The main thing about lyrics, I was never interested in asking questions that can be answered in a song... [I write about] places about my life or about the world; a place that’s miraculous or beautiful or confusing.
Q. Would you describes your lyrics as political?
Daniel. They are political in a way… [that] they are about personal experiences in a political world. I’m not interested in telling people what their politics should be. Our world is so affected by social movements and political directions, so you can’t really avoid it. I don’t know where the social ends and political begins… Your own body and a country you live in - there’s nothing isolated. Its always so connected.
Q. There is a sense of resignation in lines “If there was any difference/I wouldn’t make a difference” from ‘Native Americans’. Is that so?
Daniel. That is something I have been struggling with for a long time. People want to change things in the world and sometimes they miraculously make the world a better place, but what they are up against is just a tidal wave of total destruction. Somehow the humanity is getting to a point when it’s collapsing under the weight of the pressure that people are putting on it.
Will the [beauty, kindness] ever take over the dark side? Maybe it’s giving voice to that feeling, I can’t say for sure. There’s doubt, there’s sadness. It naturally flows to those feelings that are confronting me and I don’t necessarily feel I have to resolve it in a song. Better to leave it on display, as everybody felt powerful at some time and that’s a very powerful feeling.
Q. Pictures of Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia on your record are more of a cultural commentary than a musical tribute, correct?
Daniel. I think so. All the musical figures… there’s commodity to gain. Marley is presented as such a vision of freedom and natural body… but the way you see him presented, he just becomes a sh**ty commodity. The idea of Marley that made him so important to so many people is completely built on the way he is actually used in popular culture.
Q. You have previously described MI Ami as ‘a live band’. What do you mean?
Daniel. It’s about live dynamics, [although] song-writing is [also] important. It isn’t about chord changes, essentially we are really focused on the feeling of playing live. We had to record [our albums] live. We have built [Mi Ami] as a live unit. It’s really important to me - the things that happen when people play live together - [rather] than [just] writing a nice song.
Catch Mi Ami on their next European tour. Steal Your Face is out now on Thrill Jockey.
Photo copyright Leyna Noel