“It’s hard to choose between messing with knobs and dancing” a talk with Michelle Miears

 

This is the latest in a series of articles about some of Houston’s most fascinating female members of our music community. I’m not sure I meant for it to become a series but what began with wanting to showcase people who live lives in and around our community, juggle responsibilities, manage what often seem like conflicting goals, led me to the women you’ve read about here at Cathedral Records.

I’m inspired by people who live with their feet firmly planted in different worlds; musician and parent, spouse and business owner, band member and athlete, songwriter and business executive. That duality and those seemingly diametrically opposing forces are where the magic happens and where I find reassurance that my own ambitions are not impossible to achieve.

So with that, I give you this article about Michelle Miears. Her debut solo EP, “Who Will Save You” is amazing but you probably already know that from the incredible love she is receiving both in the press and from audiences who have been fortunate enough to see her perform.

This article, I hope, will shed a little light on the lady behind that powerful voice and those incredible arrangements. Her story is one of balance, of persistence, ambition, bravery, and certainly talent.

Her musical journey began, like that of so many of us. Her grandparents were avid musicians who performed regularly both on stage as part of multiple bands and in their homes for their children and grandchildren. One of her first memories of being attracted to commercial music was as a young child riding in a car with her mother as Enya came on the airwaves.

By 10, melodies were becoming imprinted in her mind and one of her first musical fascinations arrived on radio and TV in the form of three talented brothers from California, Hanson.

“I formed a little ‘band’ with my best friend and we would write songs while jumping on the trampoline day-dreaming about making it big” Miears explained.

The ambition and determination that have marked much her evolution as an artist began to take root early on as Michelle described her feelings at the time, “I took myself very seriously inside and I really thought this could happen for me and it was around this time that I taught myself piano.”

Piano led to flute in junior high band which she continues to play this day. During her high school days in band, Michelle even participated in the drum line challenging herself by competing and performing with players with many more years of experience. She cites the challenge as one of the “best and most rewarding times of (her) life.”

This notion of a sense of reward and empowerment through challenge and perseverance is a common refrain throughout her life and musical journey.

As the discussion turns to her influences she cites a long list of varied artists, two of the first being Paramore’s Hayley Williams as well as Imogen Heap.

“The first artist that made feel completely gutted inside (in a good way) and made me desperate to perform was Hayley Williams. I was living in California listening to (Paramore and Imogen Heap) on repeat. These two women taught me how to sing.”

A couple of start-stop band experiences led to an opportunity to join her brother’s band where she found her place within the word of electronic music.

“I had spent a lot of time listening to a few electronic bands in the past but in working with ZolotiNatioN I dug deeper into it. From that point, I felt like stylistically my voice fit better in this world than the pop-punk world that I had previously day-dreamed about.”

Shortly thereafter, hungry for a new band after ZolotiNatioN ended, BLSHS was born which further deepened her love of electronic music, composition, production, and expanded her horizons as an artist and performer. It was during a lull in the band’s activity that Michelle decided to take the massive step of writing, producing, releasing, and ultimately performing an EP of solo music.

When asked about the inspiration for the songs she doesn’t really have any artist or bands to rattle off.  Rather, her muse is born from the emotions and reflections of past relationships, her role in them, and how they have shaped her life and outlook moving forward.

“The songs on this EP were inspired by my own self-exploration and discovery of my relationship patterns, past and present, and my tendency to be codependent. I have a habit of assuming the role of caretaker, so far. Unfortunately I tend to measure my self-worth through feeling needed.”

These stark self-observations belie the powerful, passionate woman who commands the stage but give further insight into the high-wire act she walks between seemingly opposite forces: co-dependent and insecure but at the same time masterful and confident; inexperienced as a solo artist but having the focus and sheer force of will to craft an entire stage show while teaching herself an entirely new medium of performance in using Ableton Live.

The songs on “Who Will Save You” are meticulously crafted with a polished production that mask the fact that they were composed on an old keyboard with initial demos recorded not in Logix but on her mobile phone.

By day, she sits at a desk managing accounts for a staffing agency but by night Michelle becomes MIEARS as she anxiously races home, leaving her “civilian” life behind and embraces the world she much prefers, a world where “anything is possible.”

When the time came to perform the songs found on “Who Will Save You,” Michelle had a decision to make. She could perform alone, singing to her pre-recorded tracks or she could create something else, something more. The decisions to include a live drummer as well as a keytar were born of the same kind of duality that has defined so much of her musical journey.

“I don’t have the best self-esteem at times. I think the idea was originally conceptualized from my fear that people would be bored watching little ol’ me on stage by myself. I was actually terrified at the thought of being on a stage all by myself. The thought sounded very exposing and I couldn’t think of a more vulnerable position to be in.”

These words sound surprising coming from a woman with such masterful command of the stage as well as the creative vision needed to arrange the songs in such a manner that would allow space for live drums and in-the-moment performance using her cherished key-tar. “I love my keytar. I feel naked without it!”

That key-tar might as well be Thor’s hammer. As soon as she puts it on, the shy young lady I met in a parking lot outside Rock 4 Recovery becomes the incendiary performer who takes the stage night after night.

When asked how her busy performance schedule has been and how the process has evolved she expresses nothing but enthusiasm. The insecure, even shy young lady loses ground to the master craftswoman who values the kind work ethic that many fans or aspiring musicians may not realize are needed to reach the measure of their ambition.

“I’ve performed both with and without my drummer and I have received positive feedback in both circumstances. I am glad that I’m still pushing myself out there totally solo because it forces me to work on my confidence and stage presence.”

When the topic turns to Houston as a community Michelle’s passion is once again ignited. The environment’s collaborative and supportive nature that is often overlooked by outsiders is a huge source of inspiration.

“I am lucky to be emerging as a female solo artist at a time when there are so many other strong women surrounding me. I am so excited that there are women taking charge of the music scene like Mandy Clinton (of the Lories and Pearl Crush) who has a booking collective called DAMN GXRL which advocates for inclusiveness and diversity in the music scene. Teresa Vicinanza (Tee Vee) and Vicki Tippit (Black Kite) are pushing the boundaries of creativity and how an audience experiences live music. Black Kite recently wrapped up a series of immersive theater performances called Red House which completely blew my mind.”

Michelle quickly catches a breath and begins again:

“All three of these artists produce incredible music and I am a huge fan. Kam Franklin is touring Europe with her band, The Suffers, and taking on the globe one venue at a time. There are so many, it’s hard to name them everyone. These women are inspiring me daily with their creative journeys. I feel super empowered to be a woman in music and a woman in the Houston music scene right now.”

With the perspective and outlook Michelle has developed an audience may think her career is decades long when in fact Who Will Save You is her debut album (though the follow up is nearing completion). As I often say however, it’s not the number of years, it’s the number of miles and in Michelle’s case she’s logged enough to understand that the life of a musician, male or female, is not one to be entered into lightly.

While she can see no other life for herself because the thought of not pursuing her passion provides more pain than that of continuing and facing all struggles the road may bring, she is quick to offer both strong words of caution as well as a call to arms. (There’s that duality again)

“Being a musician requires a lot of time, work, dedication, and some thick skin. Somehow you have to force yourself beyond any doubt that you may feel. You have to put yourself out there, even when it’s scary and unsure of the outcome.”

Her advice to aspiring musicians?

“No matter what your age is, you can start any time. The time is now!”

Her words of encouragement ring as a sort of carpe diem, an anthem calling even the most trepidatious to step up to the microphone or piano or computer.

“Just take that first step. Whether it’s sharing a demo with a friend, finding a way to materialize the ideas in your head, learning to produce on your own in a DAW, learning to record at home with some basic equipment, learning an instrument or finally singing in front of people you have to take that jump!”
She concludes with a bit more self-reflection:

“I finally realized that every day I let slip by without taking another baby step is a day that I’ve lost at growing and being productive towards my dreams and passion.”

Oh and if that’s not enough to endear you Ms. MIEARS…she’s a Beatles fan…be still my beating heart. 🙂

 

 

Can you feel it?

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…

Perhaps it’s the gentle shift from Houston’s brutal and persistent summer to the crisp chill we woke up to these last two mornings but there’s definitely a new energy in the air.

What started with a Houston Press blog written by He Who Shall Remain Nameless led to an inspired and spirited discussion on Facebook after Sarah Hirsch of Jealous Creatures shared it among her friends and fans.

Sure, the threads had plenty of heated criticism of the blog in question but what was more striking, and reassurring, was the spirit of collaboration, of community…there was a “We Can” spirit throughout the discussion that was really quite inspiring.

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds

Within a matter of hours, writers, including myself, quickly logged into their dashboards and wrote. We wrote about what defines a music scene, what makes it great, what helps it be “awesome.”

The Houston Press quickly followed with two terrific pieces. One, by writer/musician Eric Smith, gave a very unique assessment that was greeted with immense praise. You can read that article here.

The Houston Press also published another well-received article shining a light on 10 local groups that should be at the Austin City Limits festival this year and it’s exactly the kind of piece most of us, if not all, like to see. With links to videos and informative bits about each group, it provided both the connoisseur and anyone just dipping their toes in the water of independent local music everything they need to start digging deeper into some very noteworthy groups. Read it here.

Shortly thereafter He Who Shall Name Nameless posted a follow-up article essentially claiming “mia culpa.”

Then…it happened. Tessa Kole of Musicians’ DIY Fight Club dropped the bomb.

With a fiery, inspired passion she sounded the most intense call-to-arms since “Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

It immediately sparked fervent discussion and frantic sharing which has energized my beloved community in a way I’ve not seen in years.

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

So where do we go from here?

First I think it’s amazing how things work today. Just 20-25 years ago, I would have read an article like that one that got all this juice flowing and I would have mentioned it to my band and we would have talked about it, shrugged our shoulders and gone to practice. Hundreds of bands and musicians would have read the article over coffee around town, argued its merits and gone about their day…but that’s not the way things work anymore.

The internet has connected us to such a degree that within an hour we can all be talking and brainstorming and sharing ideas and making plans.

But again, where do we go from here? All this energy…all this talk of “we should” and “we totally could” and “Yeah we need to.”

Will it lead to action beyond clicking “like” and “share?” Or…will the next cool meme pull our collective attention? Or our next gig or our day job or those plans we made to hangout with our buddy?

Let’s not let this die.

Organizations like Musicians’ DIY Fight Club and Cathedral Records, HAAM, and Houston’s Songwriters Association are just a few of the places aimed solely at providing songwriters and bands whatever they need in the way of support, information, guidance, and a platform from which to let their music be heard…and for audiences to find artists.

I’m so inspired this morning because the scene I came up in twenty-some-odd years ago was a much colder place. Bands seemed to be so critical and condescending towards younger groups.

There was a machismo that seemed to drench a lot of bands that felt they were “higher up the ladder” and venues seemed all too happy to take advantage of as many bands as possible by charging them to play, refusing to pay out even when these groups drew the “minimum” crowd requirements, refusing to help promote events, or even supply the minimum back line equipment any self-respecting venue should have if they’re going to offer live music.

Back then I remember my little band, my first “real” band performing at the Oven over off Montrose and Westheimer. Most of you will probably remember this place.

We played there several times but one night in particular was special. We were on a bill with Japanic. I had heard the legend and knew Josh Barry from being close friends with his brother but had yet to witness their glory in person.

We were taken to school that night. Japanic was everything we weren’t. Confident, proficient, sexy, intelligent, talented…haha.

But you know what? There was no snark. There were no “good effort guys.” We were congratulated on our set, were asked to hang out for their set, Josh even borrowed my snare drum when he had a problem with his.

They were so humble, so willing to share their experience and knowledge that it really made an impact on me both as a player/performer but as a member of the community.

Aside from performing with my father, sharing that bill with Japanic is about as perfect a memory as I have in my musical life and it helped shape who I am now and why I wanted to establish Cathedral Records.

So this is what I want:

I want to see this wave carry all of us further into an era of even more collaboration, support, cross-promotion, and cooperation.

I’m currently trying to put a schedule together where I can begin booking sessions for the Cathedral Records Podcast Series. I’m looking for bands, songwriters, retailers, amp techs, service providers, enthusiasts…all members of the community who want to have their voices heard.

I’m actively seeking community members who want to write columns here on this site…no boundaries. Write about your band, write about your favorite records, whatever. My voice should not be the only one featured here.

The third big project I’m hoping to launch as we head into the new year is a series of educational sessions. I’d like to bring community members, be they players, instrument techs, retailers, bands, or venue owners into the Cathedral to hold information group sessions targeted towards the younger, aspiring musicians and songwriters.

I want to provide kids with what I think we all agree would have been very useful when we were kids: knowledge gained through experience.

If we can let these kids know about how to network, how to negotiate with venues, how to self-promote, how to get better at their instruments, how to take care of their instruments, how manage their time, what to look for in instruments/effects/home recording equipment…WHATEVER.

I think doing these things contribute to the overall community. It keeps us connected and provides us with opportunities to network but also to provide a service and blessings to the larger community, particularly the younger members who, just like we did, are walking blind in what can be a very complicated, stressful, and intimidating environment.

So there you go – that’s my piece for today.

Really and truly everyone – let’s keep all these good vibes going and turn it into real action.

Contact me through www.cathedralrecords.com or through Facebook.

Be well and kind,
Jason