An Interview With Mikaela Davis
by Karigan Wright
Mikaela Davis is not like other pop artists. Mikaela Davis is a deviation from those in her genre, and at 26, she is already standing out against her counterparts. Her deeply personal and soulful lyrics are also incredibly catchy, Davis creating music you can both relate to and sing along to. I was lucky enough to chat with Davis about her album released in 2018, Delivery, and the journey that got her to this point.
What inspired you to pursue music?
I guess I’ve been singing since I can remember and as a kid I loved being in school chorus and when I was in third grade I decided to play the harp. They offered it at my public school which is pretty awesome, pretty rare that a public school has harp. So I think when I saw the instrument I immediately fell in love with it and I guess as I got older I realized like oh, I think I’m good at this and I started writing songs when I was in sixth grade...I think I was twelve. I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else, I think I always just knew growing up that I wanted to be a musician. I decided to go to school for harp performance and ended up graduating from the Crane School of Music but instead of going on to grad school or going to an orchestra I decided to just tour.
Was there a moment in your childhood or teen years where you thought ‘this is it, i want to make music’?
I don’t know, I guess I don’t really remember thinking any other way. Maybe when I started writing songs. I started writing songs because I was trying to figure out some of my favorite songs on piano and then I would end up playing a chord that’s not the same chord as in the song but I liked it and then I started realizing, oh I can do this too, I can write a song that’s my own. Maybe that moment when I wrote my first song I thought, Wow, this is really cool, I want to do this.
When you were on tour with Lake Street Dive I was in the front row in Baltimore. It seemed like you gained so many fans that night, people were drawn to you. What kind of experiences have you had with the audiences on tour?
Lake Street Dive was probably one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. Their audience is so cool and I feel like they embraced us. It can be tough as an opening band because you kind of have to win over the audience in a half hour and they also don’t know who you are and most of them have never heard your music so it can be a little daunting. Especially since I’ve had times I’ve gone out and played solo and no one’s really listening and everyone’s talking but you have to look at the five people who are watching you and say okay I just have to play for them because they’ll remember this, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t. Lake Street Dive was awesome and I did a big tour with Bon Iver in Europe a few years ago, and that was solo. That was pretty amazing too but I think Lake Street Dive’s fanbase has embraced me a little more, which I’m okay with. I guess it’s different every time, we’re about to go on tour with Rubblebucket. They’re cool, and it’ll again be a different thing so I can we’re not sure what to expect but every crowd is different but it’s always fun.
“Delivery” is one of my favorite songs off the album. I interpreted it as being about being frustrated with yourself and struggling doing what you want to do. One of the lyrics is “So I take it back to New York, and cried to my mom”. Since returning to Rochester, do you feel like you’ve found your musical identity?
Yeah, definitely. I think when I moved home and was able to be near my band and my band is now in Rochester, we're all in the same place which was never the case before that; and being in a smaller community of artists, a lot of people support each other in Rochester, the music scene is pretty awesome here, there’s a lot of great bands. I definitely felt more comfortable once I was here and even now my writing is...I feel better about it everyday. I feel like I’ve found how I want to sound.
I recently wrote an article about the lack of gender diversity in the music industry. According to Billboard Magazine only 16.8% of artists in 2017 were women. What’s your experience been like being a successful woman artist?
There’s definitely times where I feel like people aren’t taking me seriously or people think I don’t know what the ‘good’ decision is, but I’ve also come across people who are super supportive and I just try to surround myself with likeminded people and my band is really awesome, and they’re always supportive of women artists and I like to work with other women as much as possible even though I’ve come across more men sound engineers and producers than women, but it always makes me smile when we go to a venue and the sound engineer is a woman. There’s never a difference, it’s never like someone’s gonna be better than the other. I think people are embracing it more but it is still...I guess I’m not too surprised in that statistic. But, I don’t even know if that’s true because 16%, maybe it’s 16% of women musicians are getting credit or being noticed. In Rochester, there’s tons of women as the front of the band. But the whole world only hears about three of them. There’s an Instagram account called “Book More Women” that posts all the music festivals and it’ll tell you the percentage of women that are playing the festival and then they’ll edit out all the bands that are fronted by men and just show the festival with only the women. Sometimes it’s pretty alarming.
What’s your non musical life like? What are your other hobbies, favorite places, favorite people to be with? What do you do to destress from your busy life?
Hmm...this is a hard question because I don’t do much else. I wake up in the morning and answer emails and then I usually just play music for the rest of the day. But I really like to ski, although I haven’t gone skiing this winter. But growing up I was in ski club and went skiing all the time. I don’t know if it’s really a hobby but I have a juicer and I get really obsessed with juicing things and making really yummy and healthy juices, trying to find the best combination. I hang out with my friends and we play music and I don’t really do much else. I really like to cook too, I wouldn’t say I’m an amazing cook but when you’re on the road so much and you have to eat shitty food...we’ve been pretty good at making sure we go to Wegmans or Whole Foods to get some healthy things. But it makes me want to cook a lot more when I’m home so I like to cook. And I’m just starting to learn jazz harp. I really want to learn, I wanna start transcribing solos maybe like John Coltrane solos or, there’s this harpist Dorothy Ashby who is incredible who basically invented jazz harp, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Dorothy Ashby and trying to start to learn jazz on the harp.
What was your process in writing your album, Delivery?
I didn’t really go by any set of rules, some of the songs I co-write so I think for the songs I co-wrote with my drummer and we would just find days where we were free and he’d come over and I’d have an idea that I hadn’t finished yet and then he’d just help me finish the song. I have a lot of melodies that pop into my head but sometimes I have trouble crafting the lyrics I want with them so Alex will help me figure out what I want to say and put it on paper. Sometimes I’ll just be sitting down and a song will just come to me and some of the songs on the record are songs that I just wrote, and usually those were written pretty fast -- like in a day. I’d just be sitting with the piano or harp and I don’t even know how it would happen. All of a sudden I’d just have a song written down in my notebook. A few of them were written with friends in L.A. or Nashville. It really was songs that were written after a few years that were put together and I had over twenty songs I think, and we chose ten.
Which songs did you write in one day?
“Delivery” was one of those, and I wrote “Delivery” when I was really frustrated and I was not having as much fun writing as I used to. It was starting to feel more like a job than a passion. It was just one of those days where I wasn’t even trying to write a song, it just happened. “Delivery” and “In My Groove,” and “All I Do Is Disappear,” those songs came to me pretty fast.
Delivery seems to be influenced by folk, rock, funk, psychedelic, and pop. Are there specific artists or bands who have inspired your album?
I was listening to a lot of Carole King...I guess Neil Young for sure. I really like Cass McCombs, he’s awesome. Carole King and Neil Young were the big ones I was listening to a lot around that time.
Your songs are very personal and tend to resonate with listeners. What does it feel like knowing your music triggers an emotional response in your fans?
I mean that’s really all I want. I don’t really like to talk about what my songs are exactly about all the time because it is better when people can relate the songs to their life. So it almost feels like ‘oh this song makes me feel a certain way about something I’m going through and if people can relate it to their lives personally then I’m doing what I want to be doing. I want my songs to be helping other people too.
What’s your biggest dream when it comes to music, and have you achieved it yet?
I’d say I’ve done a lot of touring, which is what I wanted to do and my biggest dream is to just live comfortably and play music for a living and be able to do that comfortably. Not quite there yet, not quite comfortable yet but that’s the dream. To just be able to be a working musician and just live off that and just have a house with a studio in it and just play music with my friends all the time. That’s the dream.
You can listen to Delivery on several platforms, including, mikaeladavis.com, Amazon Music, iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play. Though a relatively new artist, Davis is taking audiences by storm, gaining new fans every night, while coming closer to achieving her biggest dream.