By Kevin Zimmerman
“I didn’t really understand what songwriting was; I was just trying to make songs that made my voice sound good.”
A surprising statement, coming from fast-rising singer/songwriter Mieka Pauley, who’s gone on to win the first-ever Starbucks Emerging Artist Award, take the top award at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriter Showcase, be named “Cosmopolitan’s
Fun Fearless Female Rockstar of the Year” in the publication’s StarLaunch competition, and finish in the top three at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s Troubadour Competition – not to mention a plethora of plaudits for her self-released 2007 album, Elijah Drop Your Gun.
But, as Pauley will be the first to admit, her path to a music career has been an unusual one. Born in Boston in 1981 and raised in Kentucky, Colorado and South Florida, Pauley eventually made her way back to the Boston area to get a degree in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University.
After obtaining her degree, Pauley decided to forge ahead with music, and soon realized that her degree hadn’t been a waste. Biological Anthropology includes among its disciplines the study of human behavior and adaptability; the connection to Pauley’s evolving brand of observational writing was obvious.
With the completion of a solo CD while still at Harvard, Pauley spent the next several years honing her sound, entering slowly but steadily building a fan base for her brand of soul / blues / rock / alternative music by playing up to 150 dates a year. A full band EP, Out of Car Wrecks and Hurricanes, emerged in 2006.
By the end of 2006, Pauley began talking with her producer friend Brian Cassagnol, from the band Harriet Street, who suggested they try working up a song together in the studio. The end result was Elijah Drop Your Gun, and in typically unusual fashion, Pauley helped fund the recording sessions by launching a website for fans to preorder the album, along with PBS-style incentives ranging from $15 for an autographed CD to $1,000 for a concert at the fan’s house. All told, Pauley raised $16,000.
Now that music is fully established as her career, Pauley says, “I’m getting into the business side of it, which really freaks me out, even though it shouldn’t. But once I’m done with this tour, I want to continue writing and then record something. I’m always about the short-term plan,” she laughs. “Where it goes from there is something I can’t think about.”