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MusicUnderFire | February 10, 2016

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Interview: Mieka Pauley Discusses Her Upcoming Album The Science of Making Choices

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Boston-born songwriter Mieka Pauley has been doing something that has proven popular among artists these days- she reached out to music-lovers through a fan-funding platform to support her upcoming record The Science of Making Choices.  The key to getting people excited about an album, or any creative project, and thus motivated to help make it happen is to keep them involved in the process every step of the way.  That’s exactly what Pauley has been doing, and so far she’s gotten more than what she bargained for in donations.  Using the website PledgeMusic, she kept listeners attune to the album’s progress by streaming tracks as they were finished.  She offered CDs, lyric sheets, and album credits to fans for helping out in her creative endeavor.

Pauley discusses her latest project, her ideas about producing records without a label, and her inspirations and influences.

Michele Zipkin: What has been your experience so far using PledgeMusic to fund your album?

Mieka Pauley: It’s been awesome.  I already reached my goal, and now everything else I’m making is going to help get the record out there, it’ll go toward promotion.  I’m just so happy to have my fans be psyched about the music before the record comes out.  It gives me a reason to keep doing it because there are people waiting for it.

MZ: Where are you in the process of making this album?

MP: The tracks are basically mastered, but there are a couple changes that we have to make.  I’m not releasing the album until June so we have enough time to get the word out and get people psyched to listen to it.  I want to make people feel like they’re the first ones to listen to it.

MZ: Are you on a label, and if not, do you plan to get on a label?

MP: I’m not on a label, and never have been.  I would love help with the record.  People are trying to take pride in doing things indie, but I just don’t necessarily have that business expertise, so I’m going to need help.  I can make the money but I just don’t know how to spend it.  I think it was Ingrid Michaelson who put together a “Franken-business”, in which there’s not one label that’s doing everything.  I’m not even looking to get my stuff in stores (that’s the kind of distribution that major labels would have.)  I’m going to see if I can have people help me figure out someone to hire for publicity… I’d want the best people involved as possible- the best publicity, the best licensing.

When you’re on a label you sign away everything.  You have to negotiate the rights to your name.  What I loved about PledgeMusic is that they don’t take anything beyond the money you raise- they take their commission and that’s it.  It’s so nice to be working with people who aren’t trying to deplete you of your resources.  Artists have a lot more access to money and people who are psyched about your project now than in the past.

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MZ: What’s your writing process like?

MP: I wish I could write whenever I wanted to, but I can’t.  People say all you have to do is sit down and force yourself to write, but I’ve never found that to be true.  The only time I write is when I’m supposed to be doing something else.  I think it’s more of a subconscious process than a front-of-mind process.  People talk about the idea of a muse, which is when your subconscious jumps in, which can make a lot more connections than your conscious mind can.  I feel like it’s coming from somewhere else.  On this last record I finished some of the songs in the studio itself.

MZ: Do you have a band you play with?

MP: It has changed record to record.  The band that played on this record was actually associated with the producer who I was working with in Seattle, Geoff Stanfield.  For the most part I play pretty much solo.  I played with a regular band a year or two ago and I’ve played with other musicians, but I’ve been the only constant.  There are some songwriters who play with the same band over and over and they get used to each other, but bands have come and gone with me.  You play with people who have different things to bring.  I wish I could write rock, but I can’t.  My producer sometimes blew my mind- he added stuff that I never could have done with my own music.

Geoff drew on ideas from bands that I had never really listened to, like for example, The Beach Boys.  I’m not really moved by them.  However, Geoff is hugely influenced by them, and all of a sudden he put these great, almost creepy background vocals on my song.  And I was like, oh my god where did this come from, and he said- The Beach Boys.  The people who have influenced me are people I’m listening to now, like Patty Griffin and Jeff Buckley, and my producer is bringing to the table influences from these artists I haven’t listened to.

MZ: Have you ever recorded at home, or can you get behind a mixing board and mix your own recordings?

MP: I always have to have a producer and engineer to do that for me.  I don’t have the ear for getting things to sound exactly right.  I know I’d be able to learn, but it doesn’t interest me enough.  I know how to make myself not sound awful, but beyond that… Sound check always goes a lot better if I have an engineer run it.  What I hear on stage is not necessarily what people want to hear in the house.  I have to hear a lot of high and mid end so I can hear the guitar, but if you put my monitor mix in the house, it wouldn’t be pleasant.  You need someone on the outside to make sure everyone is comfortable and that their ears aren’t bleeding.

MZ: Any long time idols or influences?

MP: Patty Griffin and Jeff Buckley.  And Lucinda Williams- she writes some great f***in’ songs.

MZ: You always kind of struck me as Fiona Apple with a guitar… Would you agree with that description?

MP: Thank you for that.  I like Fiona Apple a lot- she’s brilliant.  She’s not just a girl with a piano.

MZ: If you could have coffee with one famous musician, dead or alive, who would it be?

MP: Can it be a beer, and can I have already had like, five beers before I meet them?  I think it’d be Radiohead- all of them.  And their producer, Nigel Godrich.  Maybe Billie Holiday.  I love Nina Simone, too.

MZ:  Who of note have you shared a stage with?

MP: My favorite was Citizen Cope and Edwin McCain.  I’ve also opened for Ben Kweller and Mason Jennings.  Those were two people I was so psyched about before I even shared a stage with them.  I played with John Legend, way back when he was just starting to work with Kanye, and I had barely heard of Kanye at that point.

MZ: What are your thoughts on today’s music industry versus that of 30 or 40 years ago?

MP: I can only imagine how much more access I’d have to everything now than decades ago.  But there are so many people in it now- the industry’s inundated and it’s so much harder to get noticed by anyone.  I don’t think it was ever an easy career.  Everybody is a writer- everybody’s doing it.  You have to seriously believe in what you’re doing, but I think it rocks now.

Check Mieka Pauley’s website for a list of upcoming concerts and other news:

“All the Same Mistakes”

Barbara Stern
Barbara Stern

Great interview. You let her express her thoughts without editing her words to a few simple phrases. Good to read an honest interview.