Mish Way-Barber of White Lung on Being Married, Touring, Motherhood
Mish Way-Barber needs little introduction. The frontwoman of critical favorites White Lung, whose new LP Paradise is out now (and streaming below), Way has also authored several pieces at homes across the web and in print. While her public persona is familiar to many, little is known about her home life in Los Angeles and, specifically, her marriage to Austin Barber of the band Saviours.
In the following interview, Way opens up about her relationship with the metal guitarist, how they met, possible collaborative efforts, and how her personal life intersects with White Lung.
How did you and your husband meet? Was it music-related?
So, I was playing a show in Los Angeles at the Echo, and this is before I moved there. My friend Stephen McBean, who plays in Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops, he had a fun punk band with some of his guy friends called Obliterations. I don’t think they even had made up the name yet. Anyway, he brought all his bandmates to our show, and my husband was one of them. After the show, we went back to Steve’s house, partied all night. I didn’t even realize [Austin] was hitting on me, because, you know, I remember having a towel on my head and was drinking off the bottle … one of those kind of nights.
At 5 a.m. or whatever, way too late, he was like, "Hey, you want to get out of here with me?” And I said no, and that I had to leave for Phoenix. I was wasted, like an idiot, so he left. Then Anne-Marie [Vassiliou, White Lung drummer] said to me, “Why didn’t you go with that guy?” And of course, I was like, “Yeah, why didn’t I go?” He gave me his number earlier, so I texted him to come back, but he was like, “I’m already home, you missed your chance,” because he had to go to work in an hour. I was pissed, but then we kept in touch. And soon he was just my guy in L.A. that I would see when we were in town playing shows. It was like that for a little while, and then one time we went on a trip to the desert together and it just kind of changed into something serious.
Were you aware of Saviours before that?
Yeah, because his band toured with this band Bison from Vancouver, and I dated the drummer of that band many years ago. So, I remember Saviours being talked about, and I listened to the band before, but I never really made the connection until much later on.
It’s funny because I had their LPs, digital copies of their LPs, on my hard drive when I was cleaning it out recently. Austin and I were together and laughing about it … how you can connect the dots in a weird way
So, the two of you married — which, by all accounts, was a fun wedding — and then soon after that, Obliterations went out for a tour and you went out with them. What was that like? Obviously, tour is weird and uncomfortable — you're not home, eating weird food, talking to new people every day. What was it like having probably your most stable person in your life around you during that chaos?
It is the best. I don’t know how to describe it. On this last tour we did, the one we just came home from, Anne-Marie’s fiancé came on for a couple of days. Austin was with us for five days, we had a break, then he and I went to my family’s farm at the northern Quebec border. And the minute he would leave, I would be cranky that whole day because I was sad and irritated. Anne-Marie’s fiancé would leave, and she would be short with everyone, too. At a certain point, when you found the person you love, everyone else becomes Gilbert Gottfried. [Laughs]
So, when you are in a hotel room with your husband, as opposed to sharing a hotel room with your bandmate, it’s like a little feeling of home. So, it’s the best thing ever. I wish that my husband was independently wealthy and never has to work, so he can just come with me everywhere I go. That said, I think [the fact] that we have to spend so much time apart — as much as I hate it more than anything — it does help rejuvenate things all the time. Right now it’s been too many trips, and we are both sick of it. But he’s not touring that much anymore, which is great, and he said that he doesn’t want to tour anymore and instead focus on work here. We are both leaving all the time. It’s … depressing.
Since he’s a musician, has he ever contributed your personal creative process as well?
Of course, in my own way. I let him read lyrics and I get feedback, but he would never step into the studio and say, “Do this, or you should do this.” That will never happen.
I don’t mean a Yoko situation, but something more along the lines of you're doing demos or something, and maybe he would say, “Try it like this,” or something along those lines.
I always let him listen to takes. I want feedback, ultimately, but not to join the process. That’s just not the way White Lung works. We’re working on something very intensely for a month and a half, and so we don’t see any other people when that’s happening. But he has helped my process in the way that — and I’m sure I’ve done the same to him, too — he’s introduced me to so many things: bands and music that I probably would have independently only scratched the surface. And I introduced him so many books that he would’ve never read, and he’s done that to me. I mean, that’s the natural way of a couple, right? Sharing your view of the world with each other.
I don’t understand these people that are married or dating someone and they don’t see that person as their best friend. Why would you want to keep hanging out with them? I’ve been there when you are dating someone and you don’t want to spend a lot of time with them. I want to hang out with him all the time — even when he pisses me the fuck off or is being a total baby or an asshole. In the end, he’s my best friend.
What are your personal plans for the future? Is settling down in the cards eventually?
Yeah, that’s the plan. That’s the eventual plan! I mean, for the next two years, we will be in California. But we would like to move, and we haven’t decided exactly where. We are drumming around a few ideas. I want to have babies. I want to be a mother. I would be happy to take a big break from everything and do that. I want to have a family, so that is the next step.
Clearly, you aren’t a mother yet, but how do you think being a mother could change the creative dynamic of the band?
I write all my melodies and my lyrics, and Kenny [William, guitarist] will give me a song to write to. It will obviously change the lyrical content, but … I mean, I know Camella [Lobo] from Tropic of Cancer, and she was pregnant and did her last European tour at seven months. Julie [Edwards] from Deap Vally just brought her baby on tour. I think that if you want to continue on, you can … I remember having this conversation with Lars [Stalfors], who produced our album. He said, “I’m trying to think of a woman, like a female who’s big, who had a baby and her career did not stop, or halt or die down a bit, and who didn’t have to crawl back up.” That’s kind of changed, but I think for me that’s not something really scary, but actually exciting.
Are there other examples of musical couples out there that you are in contact with?
I think Brody Dalle. She had another baby recently. Actually, I texted her the other day to say, “You need to give me some real advice for when I want to be a mom … and tell me the truth.” I don’t think there’s a mold or way how it should be done, honestly. I mean, this is all hypothetical because I’m not even pregnant.
Do you think there will come a time where you play music with your husband?
I have been really wanting to record some covers with him, just a fun project. So, I’m hoping we get to do that, because … yeah, we both sit around and play guitar together or sing — sometimes we will switch. But I’m trying to get him to do more of that with me. So, we will see. But November and December is when I don't have to travel at all, so …
One last question: You said that he’s taught you many different bands and vice versa. What is the union of your individual listening habits?
We have a few albums that are our favorites. Our wedding song [is] “I Need You” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Austin is a big Skynyrd guy … I found some romance in their songs. I like it. I was a big fan of this truck-driving country singer called Dick Curless. He’s dead now, but I showed him that. He loved that. We both love Girlschool — we agreed on that band from day one. We just love rock and roll. I mean, he doesn’t love all the girl shit that I listen to that much, but I can kind of sway him on a few. He likes his death metal and his old rock and roll, old country — which I love — and blues. We listen to Muddy Waters. I listen a lot of old jazz singers like Dinah Washington, women like that, and he’s starting to like that, so we share a lot. Our record collection is huge, and there is very little that we don’t agree on.
I mean, we met because we both were playing music, so obviously that’s kind of the binding thread. Our favorite thing to do is hang out together, listen to music, play cards, drink and have fun. Enjoy our house together. We’re both very domestic at heart. We just want to be together.