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Mieka Pauley

By Gary Wien

originally published: 11/01/2004

Mieka Pauley is a performer from the Boston area that is very quickly generating a buzz in the music industry.

She was one of 22 artists to be included on a special Starbucks compiliation CD that was released in October and will be sold in over 170 Starbucks locations throughout the East Coast; She won the prestigious Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase this past August; and she's been playing festivals throughout the country. But it was the fact that she recently opened six shows for Eric Clapton that caught her on. Obviously, she's not you're normal folky singer-songwriter, in fact it's labels like that that drive her crazy.

"Uh... I actually don't like folk music and I think I dislike it even more because I've been pigeonholed into the genre," said Pauley. "I didn't grow up with folk. I never listened to it. I wasn't influenced by it... and then to discover that I'm a folk musician, it was like what?"

Pauley says she's been trying to do a lot of things to separate herself from the folk genre. When she plays shows in New York City or Boston, she generally plays them now with a full band backing her.

"I guess I am more careful in what words I use now," she adds. "I've been more singer-songwriter because once I put a band behind me, it's not a folk band. I try to draw from rock and draw from soul music. I'm somewhere between Patty Griffin and Ben Harper.

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"When I go on tour it's going to be solo mainly for financial reasons, but if I had the choice I think I'd be bringing a band everywhere. But in Boston and New York - my home places - I'm keeping a band now."

Mieka Pauley moved around a bit while growing up. She was born in Boston and raised in Kentucky, Colorado and South Florida. School brought her back to Cambridge. She started to sing when she was "tiny". She wrote and sang privately in her bedroom until her folks left the house and then would sneak down and flesh out a song on the family piano until they returned. She spent years studying classical voice and piano, and in high school sang in everything from alt rock garage bands and Motown funk bands to jazz and classical choirs and church. At the end of high school she taught herself guitar when an uncle gave her his old acoustic. But the sum of these parts wasn't clear to anyone until she left home for college, where the truth was finally revealed on the streets of Harvard Square.

Mieka's ability to captivate audiences first made her a favorite of Boston's best clubs including the Paradise, House of Blues, Club Passim, Kendall Café and the Middle East - and next at New York's renowned Bitter End, Living Room, Makor, CB's Gallery, Cutting Room, Knitting Factory and Village Underground. In Summer 2002 she won BMI's Rock Boat Song Contest, placed top three at the famed Telluride Troubadour Competition and graduated from Harvard with a degree in Biological Anthropology. In Summer 2003 she was invited to perform at four of the top music festivals in the U.S. including The Newport Folk Festival, On The Bricks in Atlanta, Dancin' In The District in Nashville and a return trip to The Rock Boat.

Her win at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival this summer was a break from tradition for her. She jokes that her friends and her used to say that, "You come, you play, you lose, and you go home."

Pauley says that she loves touring and seeing the country. The past few years for her have been a mixture of clubs and festival performances. She says that she really enjoys facets of each style. Together, they help form the basis for her work.

"They both have their charms," explained Pauley. "I was in Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and it was just amazing. I get up on that stage and it's just beautiful with all of the people and the scenery. But there's something really moody and artistic about being in a dark club with smoke and lights. The smoke isn't good for my voice, but it makes for a cool club. I don't think I could really pick and choose. I don't think I could do without either. I really have to keep them both."

"I don't what initially got me into music, which makes me think I was just sort of born loving it," said Pauley. "I think it was good for me to be close to all different types of music because I have a lot to pick and choose from in what I'm doing now. "

Moving around a lot while she was young may or may not have played a role in influencing her musical style, but it probably had something to do with her love of touring. "I don't really feel rooted anywhere, so it's not a big problem for me to just get in a car and go," she says. "I just love seeing all of the different parts of the country and getting to perform. I'm not getting jaded at that kind of thing. I get to go see different clubs and different musicians who are part of that particular scene, so I think it's great!"

Mieka Pauley will be doing several shows in the area this November. She took part in a singer-songwriter showcase at Triumph Breweryin Princeton on November 3rd and will be performing at Championship Bar in Trenton on the 12th before taking part in the Magazine Anniversary Show / Benefit on the 13th. She also has upcoming dates at The Point (Bryn Mawr, PA) on the 18th; and Postcrypt (NYC) on the 20th before heading out to the midwest.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.




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