Mieka Pauley: On The Rise
I first met Mieka a couple of years ago when a group of friends took me down to the Lower East Side (or maybe it was the East Village, I’m not sure) to catch her show. I remember that she captured me straightaway with lyrics that were honest and gritty and gorgeous. And her sound (I thought, Fiona Apple, but less grrr-factor) was both enchanting and haunting. We chatted a few times at her shows in the city, and JoyHoggers have been paying attention ever since. Last fall, she took the Howard Dean path of fundraising, getting her ever-growing fanbase to help finance her new disc, “Elijah Drop Your Gun.” Now, she’s ready to hit the road again (she does about 150 shows a year), so I sent her some burning questions by email to get the scoop before she hops on the bus.
JP: How would you describe your sound?
Mieka Pauley: I know who I’d LIKE to be similar to, and that’s Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper, Patty Griffin, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey etc … but I have no idea who I actually am similar to or what I sound like – what you want and think is always different than who you are.
JP: Who are your biggest influences?
MP: I’m very into lyrics, so a lot of my influences are actually literary figures and not musicians. in high school I was obsessed with poets like emily dickinson, samuel taylor coleridge, sylvia plath, dorothy parker. in college and afterward I was more into novelists like herman hesse, china mieville, philip k dick, orson scott card, even stephen king (he writes some great stuff…). but then I was also influenced by female vocalists like ella fitzgerald and billie holiday.
JP: Tell us about how “Elijah…” got produced. You had a bit of a grass roots campaign to finance its recording, right?
MP: I had started off recording the cd by depending on the goodwill of friends, but I have a mental limit on how much I can ask of friends for free. For example, my producer/friend Brian Cassagnol, though willing to work for next to nothing, still had the matter of rent to think about – he had been making a living street performing in the subway, but that got more and more difficult as I was locking him in his apartment studio…. After I had ebayed my last extraneous guitar, and we were still nowhere near finished, I realized I needed another way. I remembered friends of mine like Gregory Douglass and Sirsy had run pre-order campaigns and successfully financed multiple releases; I thought it was worth a shot. I initially told myself I’d be happy if I raised an extra thousand or two to ease the strain, but I’m ecstatic to say I raised $17K. I sold almost 600 cds before there was a physical cd to sell, and the average price folks paid per cd was almost $30.
JP: In one of your songs, you talk about fans coming up to you and asking what your “real job is.” At what point were you finally able to make it your real job?
MP: I started street performing while working a real job (secretary) after college, and ended up making enough money on the street to allow me to quit. the freedom of street performing allowed me to tour extensively, and then it just sort of solidified into a career.
JP: Do you believe in the phenomenon of getting signed to a major label by way of MySpace?
MP: I have done no research that would support either side. maybe it’s the same as those fairytale artist bios that claim a band got signed after their first gig ever, when a record label exec just happened to be passing through Smalltown Indiana. that shit doesn’t happen and maybe this is a new version of that story. band uploads a song, and millions of fans find that song just because it happens to be available on the internet, and the labels can’t help but pick them up on the spot. or maybe I’m using the wrong internet.
JP: You play a lot in NYC. What venue there has the coolest cats in the audience?
MP: rockwood music hall is great, a great tiny club that just rocks when you pack it in.
JP: Now that “Elijah” is out in the world, are you taking to the road?
MP: of course! there’s iTunes and record stores, and then there’s the trunk of my car.
JP: Being from Cambridge, Mass, you must’ve seen plenty of cool singer-songwriters strumming for change by the entrance to the red line. So many great artists come out of that town. What is it about Boston, do you think?
MP: I have no idea! I wasn’t there when it started, all I know is how it is now, and it’s a self-propogating thing – you see and hear about artists like martin sexton, mary lou lord, tracy chapman, and you want to live that romantic life style. and the people walking around harvard square welcome and even expect it.
JP: You cross paths with so many great young artists while on the road. If 2008 is your year to bust out at the seems for complete awesome-ness, who would you like in your class?
MP: oh! my favorites: Harriet Street, Dwight & Nicole, Emily Easterly, Dean Fields, Noam Weinstein. and comedians like Baratunde Thurston and Myq Kaplan.
JP: Are you looking forward to anything cool this year – like a movie, CD, book or presidential hopeful?
MP: President Obama, the last season of The Wire, Erykah Badu – New Amerykah