Mishka Shubaly was a chance discovery, in late 2014 I was making a dishevelled house at the brink of the North feel something akin to home. Peeling away the layers of other people's lives, listening to the Doug Stanhope podcast for company. Back then the tracks Don’t Cut Yr Hair and The Only One Drinking Tonight featured regularly, calling out to me like lullabies across the void of the internet and demanding greater attention.
For the uninitiated Mishka Shubaly is an award winning author and wildly underrated singer songwriter. Since his website (mishkashubaly.com) was published he’s released a steady stream of albums, launched a podcast in early 2022, made the New York Times best seller list with his audiobook ‘Cold Turkey’ and edited the late Mark Lanegan's best selling memoir ‘Sing Backwards and Weep’.
In the years that have passed since first hearing his work a thorough exploration of his back catalogue of musical and written releases has granted me access to tales told with humour and soul-bearing honesty. Through these I’ve gained not just an insight into the life and mind of Mishka Shubaly but a deeper understanding of my own. Whether you read, or listen to his work you’re met with a human connection, drawn closer by both his authenticity and the eloquence with which he spins the threads of ideas into narratives.
Going to his live shows would become an annual ritual. Whilst life was throwing a series of curve balls in my direction, I punctuated those chapters by surrendering myself to the music and listening to candid tales of his life over the previous year. Simple stripped back one man shows, those were nights when music acted as a vector, connecting the audience to a moment in time that they had never lived, but could feel as vividly as their own memories. During that time listening to new material as it emerged, I’d notice lyrics from previous year's stories. Witnessing ideas evolve in real time has always piqued my curiosity into the creative process of others. Whilst I’d usually hang around long enough to buy the latest album, and have a brief exchange. The last show I attended, Mishka was obviously unwell and with no medicine or soup to offer I hadn’t wanted to bombard him with questions. Whether it was writing that kept him on the road in perpetuity, or if the difficulties of that kind of lifestyle were what led him to write. I figured this could wait till next year. Only that was back in 2019 and by the time 2020 came around the world was on hiatus. This just added to my wondering, for me the world being closed for business was surreal but what must it be like for someone who’d been travelling the world non-stop like a wandering minstrel for those whom life didn’t afford rose tinted glasses.
When I reviewed Paper Plates in October, Mishka was generous enough to offer me some of his time. Oceans made an in-person interview impossible, so we improvised, with a letter...
OGGLYPOOGLY: How’ve you been? I hope you’re finally busy again? Because the past 2 ½ years have at times felt like the Universe one-upping itself in real time, for every “things can’t get any worse” it’s called back “yeah, it can”. In the lead up to the “unprecedented times” you seemed to be perpetually on the road, year on year as anecdotes appeared to evolve into songs. Was your creative process as intertwined with travelling or performing as it appeared to be? and what was it like when the whole world just, stopped?
Mishka Shubaly: It’s been a long couple of years, hasn’t it? By which I meant it’s been a gulag of anxiety and terror, grief and despair.. But I have an excellent cat and I got a puppy during lockdown, so I guess it wasn’t all terrible. One of the trickiest things has been trying to sort out how bad we’re allowed to feel. In the last couple of years, it seems like everyone has had The Worst Year Of My Life, both privately and publicly, together and alone. So we marvel at how much pain or loss or terror we’re feeling and then compare it to the hardship of our friends, family and neighbor’s and try to place it somewhere on the infinite spectrum of suffering. I feel like it’s made us all crazy. It certainly made me lose my mind. But also, in the last couple of months, I feel like I’ve found my mind again. I largely feel restored to who I was in 2019, with some notable damage. But is damage all bad? Rental cars are undamaged, new condos are undamaged, and both of those feel like death to me. I want a car that’s a little ragged so I’m not afraid to use it. I want other folks to have lived and maybe even died in my house before me so it doesn’t just feel like a storage unit for humans. So yeah, I’m worse for the wear after the pandemic, but absolutely happy to be alive.
Some of it was even good for me. I had really been living on the road for years, and it was killing me. Being forced to quit touring by COVID felt a little bit like getting sober in jail. Not a fun time, but it made me realize that the way I’d been living was slowly killing me. The road had become my life and my muse and when it ended, yeah, I had no idea what I was going to write about. But when you gripe that you’re out of suffering to write about, the universe has a way of providing for you. So yes, I had a very shitty 2021. And because of that, there will be a new record.
O: From a fans perspective, throughout the pandemic there’s been a steady stream of releases, and for those subscribed to your patreon the bonus of periodic demo’s, cover’s and glimpses into your life. Anticipation slowly builds with mentions that you’re working on something new and we’re waiting like a dog for a morsel, all hope and pleading eyes.
What’s next after Paper Plates, or have you sworn yourself to secrecy?
MS: My friend Mark Lanegan had offered to produce my next record. Actually, he had given me some kind, pointed feedback on a couple of songs and then I posted a song that he hated so much that he offered to produce a record for me just so he could keep that song off it. It was incredibly hard when he died in February. But I have been working hard on the new record and NOBODY WINS will be out late this year or early next.
O: ps, If you could have a super power, what would it be?
MS:This is a tough one. Maybe the ability to travel back and forward in time? I’d probably drive myself insane very quickly with that one. Maybe even end the entire universe. Whoops.
Main image Mishka Shubaly by Gareth Jarvis
Find the Mishka Shubaly podcast here
For updates on live shows and pictures of his pets, follow @mishkashubaly on instagram.
For details of where to buy his music and books check out Linktree.