“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. 🙂

 

 

Hello….how are you? Have you been alright?

 

Wow…what a few months.

If it seems like I’ve been away or like things have been quiet it’s because things have been more than a little busy…tumultuous even.

Quick rundown: I had a brief health scare that turned out to be nothing I can’t manage, nothing tooo serious. I quit smoking, and I hurt my back (again).

I’ve been drowning in school work, but the end is in sight to the point that I was able to take part in commencement. I even got to visit New Hampshire to visit the university campus. It was awesome!

 

 

I have to say, the Irish pub there in Manchester, NH poured me the most beautiful pint of Guinness I’ve ever had!

 

 

 

 

My home continues to be a hive of activity with Young Master Oliver evolving from a tiny baby to a not-so-tiny kid.

He’s stretching out, his weight redistributed and what was once a chubby adorable baby is now a lean, incredibly active little boy who lights up my tired, broken soul even when I think I’m about to drop.

How about them Astros?! My son and I greatly enjoy each evening as we cuddle up for bed and watch what might be my favorite incarnation of my beloved Astros. We even managed to go to a game with my dad a couple weeks back and we’ll be going again in June and July!

As far as music goes well…me personally I’ve not had a ton of time to write or record, save for a demo I posted to SoundCloud a couple weeks back. It’s called “Drink to Forget” and you can check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/jason-r-becerra.

I still hope to do proper recordings and work with some of my friends within the Houston music community with final mixing/mastering to release my first EP hopefully by year’s end but if there’s something I’ve learned over the course of this year it’s that I have to be careful about placing deadlines on myself.

With a baby and a house to run and a full-time career and everything that comes with all of that, it can be more stressful than anything to try and set deadlines.

One thing is setting a goal and striving for it. Another thing is setting a deadline and stressing about meeting it and then feeling awful because you missed it. Right?

So as of now, my plan is to finish up these last few weeks of school assignments and then take a nice break from everything. I want to take a month or two, or three and just relax knowing I don’t have weekly assignments to turn in, no research to do, no frantic weekends scrambling to write term papers…and more important than all that I want to enjoy what I’ve achieved.

People tell me all the time that they don’t know “how I do it.” They tell me how commendable it is to get a masters degree while working full time, raising a baby, serving as the operations manager for a household and trying to do something with my little Cathedral Records project and writing professional pieces for www.jasonrbecerra.com and LinkedIn.

So while I’ve never thought much of it and don’t typically stop long enough to congratulate myself, I think I want to do just that. I think I want to kind of sit around and see what it feels like to feel successful, like I’ve accomplished something.

But not for too long mind you. Hopefully by the fall/early winter I’ll hole up in the Cathedral and sift through songs and begin the process of making proper recordings with polished lyrics and arrangements. At that point I’ll be making phone calls to see who wants to help mix/master and then we’ll see.

I think it would awesome to do a digital release and have a few LPs pressed.

As for performing…I don’t think I have it in me to do it extensively but if the opportunity arises to share a bill or take part in a series of shows in a cool intimate storytelling setting then I may just jump on that…once Oliver is old enough and I don’t feel guilty about not being around for bedtime. We’ll see. Again…my new thing is trying not to put artificial, unrealistic, or stressful deadlines or expectations on myself.

That doesn’t mean I want to be lazy and remove all goals but it does mean I want to do a better job of managing stress and how much I take on at once.

Anyway – in the next few days I’ll be publishing what I hope will be a very well-received article about the one and only MIEARS! She was kind enough to take some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to discuss a variety of topics related to music, life, the universe, and everything.

Shortly thereafter the promised album review of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve listened to it several times on 180 gram vinyl and it’s just excellent. I’m fascinated by the technical undertaking involved with making that record what it is and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of you.

Also, I’m putting my thoughts together regarding a look back on the Singles film and soundtrack. That album is essential listening for me and I seem to listen to it at least monthly.

Chris Cornell’s death has hit me harder than most deaths…his, Robin Williams, and Prince’s deaths have really impacted me.

I’ve been unable to really put pen to paper about it all in any formal way but I think it’s time I did…for my benefit more than anything.

Finally, support your favorite musicians and get out to live shows when you can.

MIEARS just announced a gig at Eleanor Tinsley Park on June 4th. That should be a great start to these incredibly hot and sweaty days of summer. Her EP continues to make for an dynamic and impactful listen. If you haven’t listed to “Who Will Save You” then make that top of list.

I just found out Ian Moore is playing Main Street Crossing in Tomball TX of all places! Mark your calendars, August 18th.

All of us outer-loopers love to talk about how none of the great bands come out to the ‘burbs…well, The Glass played Spring’s 19th hole a few weeks ago and Ian is hitting Tomball. TOMBALL!?

Raquel Cepeda played Katy not too long ago. KATY!?

We can’t expect these artists to come back to the ‘burbs if no one shows up to see them play right? So let’s do our part.

So that’s about it for now.

Until next time folks…

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

 

Women Rock!

I’ve been listening to Michelle Miears a lot lately. Her new album is stellar and I’m looking forward to publishing a piece on her soon.

I recently wrote a piece on Tessa Cole of PuraPharm and she did an incredible job performing our national anthem at a recent Houston Dynamo match.

Simultaneously I’ve been digging back through Juliana Hatfield’s catalog as her new record is about to drop. I adore her music and she’s written several songs that are cemented in my life’s mix tape.

All this feminine energy got me thinking about all the incredible women songwriters and bands that have been such an intrinsic part of my musical upbringing and have provided me with incredible inspiration.

So…I decided to put a bit of a list together…in no particular order here are some of my essential female artists from the 90s. Maybe I’ll do another article like this about artists from other decades so we can talk about my beloved Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, Darlene Love, Blondie, Janice, Mama Cass and so many, many others but for now let’s do this rapid fire style and keep it to the 90s because that’s what I’ve been listening to a lot these last few weeks.

Most of you will be familiar with them, if so, polish off those albums and give them a listen. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with some of these ladies, well…what are you waiting for?!

The Breeders

All respect to the boys in the Pixies, Kim Deal has always been my favorite part of that band. The Breeders are of one of my favorite bands and while I’m disappointed at not being able to see a “proper” Pixies show, I’m really happy that Kim is focusing on the Breeders right now.

I remember the first time I heard them. A dear friend and I would swap mix tapes and one of hers included three songs: Metal Man, Opened, and Cannonball.

Metal Man was so different than anything I’d ever heard. That rough acoustic intro, all by itself and then the big build that implies its’ going to explode but nope…drops right back down.

I was hooked. Over the years I’ve come to cherish Pod and Last Splash as much as any album from that time period and I’ve enjoyed following along as Kim and her cohorts have churned out some of the most interesting and passionate rock I’ve ever heard.

Veruca Salt

Jeez…what a great band. I had the pleasure to finally see them live in Houston a few years back. At that time the lineup did not include co-founder Nina Gordon but did include another female artist who I absolutely adore: Nicole Fiorentino who has played bass for some of the great bands of the 90s and 2000s including a long run with the Smashing Pumpkins. Their albums, beginning-to-end, are so raw and dirty and embody everything I love about that period in rock.

Garbage

I’m definitely not the only one who thinks Shirley Manson is a goddess. She’s gorgeous and sexy and commands a stage and audience like few ever have but it’s really all about that voice…that voice is killer. Garbage hit me like a truck when their first album dropped in 1995. I obsessed over every dimension of that insanely good record and they have followed it up over and over again with incredible albums and shows.

Juliana Hatfield

As mentioned above, so many of her songs have just become intrinsic to my soul. “Feelin’ Massachusetts,” “Supermodel,” “Spin the Bottle,” “Fleur de Lys,” and “What a Life” are go-to songs for me. And don’t ignore her work in other groups like the Lemonheads!

She is a classically trained musician who plays a bevy of instruments and I fondly remember reading her columns in Guitar World magazine. While the other artists were focused on teaching speed and technique she placed her emphasis on songwriting and melody…how to conjure the best from what you already have inside. That resonated with me…and still does. I’m incredibly excited to hear the new album because she is spitting fire and rage right now and I can’t wait for my deluxe pack to arrive!

Lisa Loeb

Oh my…Lisa Loeb. How I adore thee. In a way she is responsible for my marriage. I was working out the guitar part to her big hit “Stay” one night and this girl my brother knew wanted to be a singer. I didn’t have a band at the time and thought it would be cool to do a duo so she came over one night and we started doing that song. After a bit she suggested we go to the local Starbucks where some friends of hers were hanging out and playing music. We did. My not-yet-wife walked onto the patio and I was taken aback. Leslie walked up and asked what we were doing and I said I was working out the progression to Stay and she said she loved that song and started singing. So did the girl I showed up with. I ended up telling that girl to shush so I could hear Leslie sing haha…probably not the most polite thing to do but again, I was more than a little smitten.

Loeb combines that gorgeous sweet voice with a great turn-of-phrase and while many may relegate her to the one hit wonder bin, her catalog is full of wildly well-crafted songs. I particularly love “Alone,” “Do You Sleep,” and “Rose-Colored Times” from her 1995 release Tails.

Sarah McLachlan

Can you mention women artists without bringing up Sarah McLachlan? I don’t think so. Surfacing and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy are masterpieces. I’m not going to bother listing tunes because we all know them, and if you don’t you need to look them up.

 

Concrete Blonde

Jeez…is there a more powerful voice than that of Johnette Napolitano? Their 1990 album Bloodletting was another album I was introduced to via a friend’s mix tape. The album is great but the magic is in their live acoustic performances of “Joey” and “Tomorrow, Wendy.” She also performed with Steven Wynn on the track “The Ship Song” which again displays her incredible vocals.

Belly

Another band that I was turned onto via that same mix tape…jeez what a gift that tape is.

Tanya Donnelly has been a busy lady. Throwing Muses, the Breeders, and Belly were all part of the fabric of the times. Belly had their first hit with “Feed the Trees” off their first album Star but it was their second album, King,that featured a real favorite of mine: “Puberty.”

Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find two cover songs that blew my mind: Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” and Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” Tanya’s bold fearlessness has always been a source of great inspiration to me…and again, that voice. Sweet and girly but not weak…there’s a troublemaker there.

Tracy Freaking Bonham

What an incredible talent…classically trained violinist and pianist who can blow the roof off any juke joint or stadium with a rage that  would intimidate Zack de la Rocha. “Mother Mother” was her big hit, and I love it (even tried to cover it once) but dig deeper and you’ll find gems like “Brain Crack” where she puts those violin chops to work.

The Cranberries

I’m in love with Dolores O’Riordan…have been since the first time I heard her voice and I pull out “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We” on a very regular basis. The moodiness, the sweet melancholy, and yearning in her voice and the melodies she crafted over the Smiths-inspired music they so tightly crafted that I can’t imagine my upbringing without her or them.

 

The 90s were a spectacular time for women in rock. I didn’t mention above but 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, and the Indigo Girls are also absolutely generational talents that are just as essential to my musical identity as anyone else.

There was Dido, Alanis, Natalie Imbruglia, Jewel, Sheryl Crow, Sixpence None the Richer, and so many others. We could do this for days!

It seems like some of that spirit is still alive in artists like Sara Bareilles, Lily Allen, KT Tunstall, and certainly Norah Jones. We also can’t forget about Lady Gaga. There are still great women out there killing but it doesn’t feel the same.

Maybe I’m old and out of touch. Maybe I’ve gotten to that point where I’m locked into “my era” and modern music doesn’t resonate with me like it did when I was younger.

Regardless, the 90s female rock scene felt like a movement. It felt revolutionary and so different.

Obviously there have always been fantastic female artists but man…during this time it seemed like the ladies were outdoing their male counterparts in a lot of areas.

Anyway, that’s it for now…just wanted to throw a few words on the page to let everyone know what I’ve been listening to and mulling on for the last week or two.

Until next time,
Be Well and Kind,
Jason