A thoughtful songwriter with a deceptively sweet voice, Mirah blends indie pop, folk, jazz, soul, and more into her empathetic music. In the late '90s and early 2000s, she defined the sound of K Records along with artists such as the Microphones, whose leader, Phil Elverum, became one of her most inspired collaborators. Together, on albums including 2000's You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This and 2002's Advisory Committee, they crafted a skillful concoction of guileless indie and more sophisticated influences. As the years went on, Mirah expanded the range of people she worked with to include artists such as Thao Nguyen, the Black Cat Orchestra, and Jherek Bischoff, and collaborative projects such as 2007's Share This Place and 2010's Thao + Mirah were just as vital to her body of work as her solo albums. Mirah's style also evolved over the years, encompassing 2009's subtle, sparse (A)spera and the more eclectic sounds of 2018's Understanding. As her music grew, the sensitivity of her songwriting and her ability to switch from playful to profound from one breath to another remained.
Born to music-loving parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn grew up listening to Motown and folk, and counted Sinéad O'Connor, Huggy Bear, Cat Stevens, Nina Simone, and the Pretenders among her favorites by the time she moved to Olympia, Washington to attend Evergreen State College in 1992. After teaching herself guitar — and writing her first song as a class assignment — Mirah became part of Olympia's thriving indie rock scene, and played with bands including the Drivers and Old Time Relijun.
Once she graduated from college, she fronted the jazz band the Hot Set, playing wedding parties and bar mitzvahs to earn extra cash. She also began recording her own lo-fi, slice-of-life indie pop songs on her four-track recorder and released a pair of EPs, 1997's Storageland and 1999's Parts of Human Desire. Mirah's music caught the ear of the Microphones' Phil Elverum, and she appeared on that band's albums Window and Don't Wake Me Up. During this time, Elverum also produced her debut album, You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This, which K Records released in June 2000. Mirah followed it with 2001's Small Sale EP, a set of songs she recorded at home and at Dub Narcotic, the studio of K Records founder Calvin Johnson. For her second album, Mirah once again worked with Elverum, this time spending the better part of a year recording at Dub Narcotic. The results, 2002's Advisory Committee, added a grander scale and more eclectic arrangements to her down-to-earth songwriting. The album also spawned an EP, 2002's Cold Cold Water. That year, Mirah and singer/songwriter Ginger Brooks Takahashi took a working holiday in the Blue Ridge Mountains, recording songs and field recordings that became 2003's Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project.
In 2004, Mirah collaborated with the Black Cat Orchestra on To All We Stretch the Open Arm, an album of original and classic political songs by artists including Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Kurt Weill, and released her third album, C'mon Miracle. A more subdued and thoughtful work than any of her previous music, the album took inspiration from a trip to Buenos Aires. Late in 2006, the remix collection Joyride — which featured contributions from YACHT, Mount Eerie, and Guy Sigsworth — arrived. In 2007, Mirah collaborated with Spectratone International (the project of former Black Cat Orchestra members) on Share This Place: Stories and Observations, a multimedia project inspired by the lives of insects. The following year, The Old Days Feeling, a collection of pre-You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This songs with liner notes courtesy of Calvin Johnson, arrived.
Mirah returned to her solo career in 2009 with (A)spera, which featured production by Elverum, Tucker Martine, and Adam Selzer. She then followed it with another string of collaborative projects and short-form releases. The single Don't/The Tears That Fall arrived in 2010. That year, she toured with Thao Nguyen, and the pair went into the studio with tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus to record Thao + Mirah, which Kill Rock Stars released the following year. In 2012, she co-wrote a song with Jherek Bischoff for his album Composed, sparking an ongoing collaboration with the musician, producer, and arranger. Two years later, "We Float," an opera piece written with percussionist/composer Susie Ibarra, premiered at the Ecstatic Music Festival in New York City. That year also saw the release of her fifth album, Changing Light, a harrowing set of songs inspired by a messy breakup. Recorded in different locations across America, the album's creative team included Bischoff, Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, and Mary Timony.
In 2016, Mirah recruited Bischoff to write string arrangements of her songs for a show put on by Brooklyn's BRIC Arts/Media House. Following a joint tour with a string quartet, the pair recorded several of the reworked songs plus a new composition for 2017's Sundial EP, which Mirah released on her own Absolute Magnitude Recordings imprint. The following September she issued her sixth full-length, Understanding, a collection of personal and political songs that recalled her early work for K Records and featured collaborations with Saunier and co-producer Eli Crews. ~ Heather Phares