Catch up with singer-songwriter and producer Michelle Miears and listen to her single "Reaching" off her forthcoming solo EP, Who Will Save You?, to be released February 17th.
What got you interested in music and production?
Michelle: I think my earliest introduction to creating music would be my grandparents who both played music pretty much their whole lives - especially my grandpa who was in a band called The Sparkles - and they were in a band together called The Branded Four. They played together and they would show me and my cousins. They had instruments around the house and we would play and they had a grand piano which was definitely my favorite - and they still have that - instrument that they have. That was something that always sparked my interest, I thought, "wow, that is so cool that my grandparents do this". When I was little - maybe 10 years old - my best friend and I, she taught me to play piano and we would record it in the karaoke machine and write songs and lyrics and just play around and I just always loved it. Then I did marching band and band all through my middle school and high school days and I was pretty much obsessed with that; I still love marching band and watching old marching band videos and Drumline and stuff like that. I played flute and snare for two years in high school in the drumline, so just a combination of all those things. I think I just am addicted to playing music or being a part of music somehow. Singing-wise, I didn't do that in public and I didn't like doing it in public; I had major stagefright. Honestly, I always loved singing so much and I would sing in my car and everything and it wasn't until I saw Paramore sing for the first time where I saw the energy - I hadn't been to many shows, to be honest, until then; I'd been to some screamo/hard core shows in high school because I was all over the map - but then I saw Paramore and seeing their energy on stage and a strong female lead like Hayley Williams, something inside me was just like, "oh my gosh, she's amazing". I've seen them three times and one of the times I remember I actually teared up and I was like, "if I could only do what she does..." and I don't know why, but something in me just wanted to do it. For some reason I decided, hey, I'm just going to go for this! [Laughs]
You said you used to record songs on the karaoke machine, but do you remember the first song you wrote that you were really happy with?
[Laughs] Oh my gosh, well, it's so funny because we're still best friends and we met up the other day and - I wouldn't say I was happy about this song - but we were reminiscing about how silly our lyrics were. I think the first song we wrote was called "Someone Loves You" and the first line was [laughs] "there's a flower in the garden and it looks like a rose/it looks like it's dying and you don't know where to go" [laughs]. I think at the time we were really proud of that song! We were huge fans of Hanson, that was our favorite band, and we were constantly listening to their songs and we were singing this song and remembering it and I was like, "man, it has a Hanson-feel to it," so somehow we were channeling our inner-Hanson. For some reason, I wrote when I was little - like, 10, 11, 12, 13 - and then in high school I guess I was so engulfed in marching band that I didn't write vocals or write my own songs at all, I just was constantly rehearsing and competing. After that, the next song I wrote that I was really proud of, my brother did the production and then I wrote and recorded the vocals. It was actually my very first time using a program - I think it was Studio One and it was a free version of some software that I used to record the vocals and I had a really basic starter kit: condenser microphone, audio interface - and we wrote a song called "Light'n Up". It's still on my SoundCloud and it's an upbeat EDM/pop song and I am actually still proud of that song! My brother and I worked together writing that song and it was so much fun and it was the first time that I recorded something myself that wasn't on a karaoke machine [laughs] or a handheld tape cassette recorder so I was super proud of writing "Light'n Up".
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
The artist that stands out to me in my earliest memories is Enya, and I still love Enya. I love the soundscape-y, beautiful, ambient production; just all around it's amazing. I love movie scores and stuff too and I feel like Enya's music could easily be placed in a movie - it could be used as a movie score, just one of her whole albums, you could use it because it's so emotive. If music has a melody and the chord progressions are super emotive and it kind of makes me want to cry or scream or something, then I end up really loving it. But my favorite artist is Imogen Heap just because she's such a well-rounded artist: she's a producer, an engineer, a songwriter, composer. She's constantly pushing boundaries with technology and finding new ways to create and perform with music, so she's extremely influential to me. Just basically any self-produced female artist. I really like Grimes, I really like Lights. I love Ellie Goulding, I just love her vocal tone and all of her albums are amazing; Halcyon is one of my favorite albums. FKA Twigs is another one. I would say it definitely tends to be strong female artists; any strong, self-produced, female artist, I really love.
Is there a song or an album that you've had on repeat lately?
Oh, yeah. I recently went back to London Grammar and their If You Wait album and was playing that on repeat. I go back to SOHN's Tremors and his production is incredible, that's been on repeat lately. And, for some reason, [laughs] I've been listening a lot to the Twilight movie score - it's like the piano rendition of the music that you hear in the movie and it's on Spotify and I've had that on repeat a ton lately.
What made you decide to release this new music as a solo act?
It kind of just organically happened. I'm in a band called BLSHS as well and we were super, super busy and mainly in 2014 - and trickling into 2015 - we started writing again and we just slowed down. I think everyone that's in aband can relate that, basically, life gets in the way sometimes. You're dealing with multiple people and things going on so we slowed down and we weren't playing as many shows and we weren't moving as quickly along with our second EP - which did get released - as we thought we would so I had more time on my hands. We weren't meeting up as often and I'm super restless when it comes to music - I just am constantly sitting down to right or sitting down with Logic and working on a song in the production stage after I've written it - so I decided I would start learning to be a little more self-sufficient within the software, within Logic. I was used to working in a collaborative environment with BLSHS - they work in Ableton and I work in Logic - and I always recorded my own vocals and my role with production grew over time as I learned Logic, but I would produce something, compose something, and then I would send that over and that would all get dumped into Ableton as MIDI data and we would work on it from there. I was like, "wow, this would be really cool to be able to complete a song from start to finish in Logic by myself and I need this skill set because I want to be able to do it," because life happens, time moves on, and as my life goes on, I want to be able to create music no matter who I'm with; if I'm in a band, if I'm not in a band. I love BLSHS and I'm super proud of it, but I want to have this down so that I can create music so matter what is going on. I started writing and producing some songs and, before I knew it, I had three and then I had four of them and then I had five and I was like, "this could be an EP so I might as well finish it out!" [laughs]. So I created a sixth song and I talked to my bandmates and they were super supportive and I decided, instead of sending these songs to BLSHS to become BLSHS songs, I was really proud of what I had learned and I just wanted to finish them and go through the whole process myself and put them out there, so that's what I decided to do!
How does your sound as a solo artist compare to your sound as BLSHS?
I think, since the vocals are coming from me with both projects, you'll hear some similarities with the vocals. I like trance music and vocal melodies really get me, so hopefully my melodies are just as emotive and similar to BLSHS. Production-wise, I think sound selection and my instruments are different than what we use in BLSHS. Chris, my bandmate, has a lot of hardware/analog stuff - more than I do - and he has a certain preference on his sound selection and I have a preference on my sound selection, so I think you'll hear more trance-y type sounds with my synth parts and chord progressions. I can hear little nuances but I've already talked to a lot of people that can hear some similarities, as well. I think that's a good thing, because I put a lot into the sound with BLSHS and I put everything into my sound, so I can see how it would sound similar. Hopefully you can hear my own little flavor and I think, with time, that sound will develop and you'll really be able to hear where I'm coming from as a producer versus the collaborative environment with BLSHS.
What were your inspirations behind your single "Reaching"?
I tend to write about how I'm feeling in a moment or thinking about someone. I do tend to write a lot about relationships or lost love and my songs don't tend to be really happy [laughs]. Usually, I'm feeling nostalgic and I'm just thinking about the past and "Reaching" is definitely about a past relationship and it's just someone that you still really care about and life tears you apart and it's hard, because you really still want to make sure they're okay and you worry about them; especially if you were really close to them for a long time and it's hard to remove yourself from that position of being able to be there for them if you found out something's happened to them. It's kind of a desperate song where it's like, I still want to be here for you, I just don't know if you'll let me anymore; it's sad because you realize you can't be, but you're wishing you could.
Is that style indicative of what we can expect from your EP and could you tell us more about Who Will Save You??
Yeah, all the songs are definitely written about some form of relationship struggle that I've had. Theme-wise, once I got through a couple of songs, I realized that what was on my mind at the time was codependency, in a way. I tend to really want to be there for someone really badly when I'm in a relationship and sometimes that's healthy and sometimes that's not and it's something that I've struggled with... Codependency is a strange word, if you look it up there are all sorts of definitions out there, but I think I tend to find my worth in relationships with being the rock that someone stands on when they're struggling. My next single that's coming out today is about a relationship where the person is losing themselves in a depression and you're really trying to pull them out of it and be the light at the end of the tunnel for them; I guess it's feeling like you can be there to save someone but, ultimately, I feel like that has never happened for me. It doesn't end up being that way, you can't take someone's happiness on your shoulders - and I've tried - and that can sometimes become an unhealthy dynamic. I think all the songs ended up being about that or about feeling hurt from those situations. I have a track on the EP where the title is "He Never Loved Me"; it's that feeling of, you're giving everything you have into a relationship but then you're not feeling either appreciated or all your efforts haven't gotten you anywhere with the situation. I guess I've been in a couple of those situations and have a lot to write about it [laughs].
Is there one track off the album you're most excited to share with listeners?
Actually I really love the song "Cycle". It was the last one I wrote - it wasn't the last one that I finished. "Cycle" definitely embodies what I was talking about, it's that on-again, off-again cycle that you get into with someone. I think it's definitely the song that I identify with the most when I think about my past relationships and it still makes me sad; I remember writing that song and really feeling it so much. Of all the songs, the title track, "Who Will Save You?", I'm proud of that one as well. That was the first song that I wrote of the bunch, but it kind of sat around for awhile as a demo and then it ended up being the last one that I finished; it was actually the most challenging, so I'm really proud of the production on that one. And that one is personal for a couple of reasons, but it's actually about an animal shelter. I volunteer at an animal shelter every Sunday and I walk dogs and it's actually written from the perspective of - and I have a rescued toy poodle, as well, so I say this is her song but I can relate as well - the eyes of being abandoned. It asks a lot of questions but it comes through with a hopeful theme of, even though you go through these things and you've been abandoned, it makes you stronger; but it asks the question back to the person who hurt you, "I'm free, I'm where I was meant to be, who will save you from yourself?". It's just turning the question back around, even though I'm the one who was hurt, I'm saved because I grew stronger from the experience. I like that song because it covers a couple of things that are important to me and I feel like I can relate to it, others can relate to it, but it was ultimately inspired by the animals who are hurt and abandoned at the shelter that I volunteer at.
How would you sum up Who Will Save You? in one sentence?
One sentence? [Laughs] It explores the cyclical and compulsive nature of relationships - and even in the healthiest relationships I think we all go through these cycles of the ups and downs and unhealthy times - and hopefully we can grow from those things; it's emotive and, sound-wise, I call it a melodic, pop soundscape [laughs].
It's just got a lot going on, there's a lot of vocal accents and a lot of synths and just, hopefully, a lot of pretty sounds that people like. There's a lot of emotion going on in there [laughs].
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I think that it would be great if someone were to listen to it and realize that - especially an aspiring producer or musician - I feel like I still have only scratched the surface of what there is to know with production and songwriting and recording and creating music and I never would have thought that I could do this, so I hope that any aspiring musician can listen to my EP and realize that, with whatever tools you have in front of you, you can start and create a body of work and that it's a really amazing experience. As far as the message and the music goes, I hope that people can relate to it and find comfort in it in some way and understand their own tendencies in relationships. I think, for me, it just helps me reflect and understand who I am and where I've come from in my relationships, so hopefully it helps someone else understand who they are and understand their past and help them reflect as well and let them know that there are other people out there who struggle.
Is there anything you want to add?
I'm really excited to release the EP, I have an EP release show on March 3rd here in Houston at White Oak Music Hall and I'm just excited to put the music out there and continue creating. I already have, like, five new songs pretty far along, production-wise; I feel like I'm already creating EP #2 and EP #1 hasn't even been released yet! Hopefully I've got even more music coming sooner, rather than later.