Making Her Own Way. Meet Musician and Songwriter Mikaela Davis


Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I’m Mikaela Davis, born & raised Rochester musician and songwriter.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’ve been performing since I was very young. I used to dance to Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights, and could be found reciting every song from Snow White to The Sound of Music at any given moment. I wanted to BE Snow White. My mom says I wore her dress every day and never broke character... Fashion has also inspired me since I was four, which is about when I discovered my grandmother’s scarf collection and naturally stripped down to cover my entire body in them, ha!

Getting to the point... I’ve always known that I wanted to be a performer, but was never quite sure which direction to take. I decided on many careers as a kid - from ballet to Broadway - but became most serious about my career as a harpist in the long run. For a while I wanted to be in an orchestra or become a professor of harp at a college. Although I don’t have to show my degree to be in my field of work, I am very happy I have an undergraduate degree in Harp Performance. Now I tour all over the world as a songwriter! It’s maybe the hardest but possibly the most rewarding career ever!

How did you get started? What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
Singing came first. Then I started taking harp and piano lessons at age 8. I used to love figuring out my favorite songs by ear on piano, I think that’s around the time I started writing songs. My dad moved out to California when I was 11 - I was heartbroken, and going through puberty... not a good combination. I used writing as a way to clear my head; and live inside of it for a few hours every day.

One of the most difficult parts of building your fan base is playing lots and LOTS of shows for no pay. Luckily for me, I was a young, hungry artist and money was the last thing on my mind. Being a harpist has been a good niche because it differentiates me from a guitarist, but it makes it hard to categorize me and my music. “Oh! You’re just like Joanna Newsom!” Actually, we are nothing alike. I love her, but the only similarity between us is we both play harp.

In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
Honestly, you can’t fail if you don’t give up. Every “failure” is only a step towards your goal. Brush it off, sista!

MD_quote-01.jpg

Lettering by Sky Armstrong, portfolio HERE

What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
It’s okay to take your time.

Everyone thinks there’s a certain window to become successful, or after a certain age it’s over. Nooooo! Look at Sharon Jones (RIP) - one of the MOST badass women out there. She still had her day job as a correction officer until she was discovered in her 40’s! Charles Bradley worked odd jobs and was a James Brown impersonator until his record Changes got big in 2016. He’s 68. Being any sort of artist means living an unconventional life. But you knew that when you signed up, right?!!

I used to write a song and immediately need to record and release it on Purevolume, lol. Now I know that mastering your craft and taking your time is important. I haven’t released music in four years but something big is coming in 2018! I can’t wait to tell you all more about it.

How do you find balance? What inspires you?
Still working on this one... Being your own boss makes it hard to clock out. I obsessively check my email, and I always answer calls from my manager, even if I’m out to dinner. I tell myself I need a smartphone to keep up on social media. It’s for my great jooooorrrb. How can you separate your personal life from your work life? Well, it’s kinda intertwined, because people want to see what you’re up to day to day. SO - I spend time with people I love, people who make me love myself!

What inspires me? My friends, my mom, relationships, human nature, my cats, Neil Young, Carole King, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Cass McCombs, Melody Prochet, Alice Coltrane... etc...

What is your favorite part of what you do?
Meeting people all over the world when I’m traveling on tour! Hey I have friends in California & Winnipeg & London & Limerick! Makes the world feel small and cozy.

What do you find most challenging?
It’s a blessing and a curse to be a female artist. The media wants women in music to fulfill society’s expectations of attractiveness. I’m learning that a big part of being a musician is branding yourself. How can I be beautiful and edgy but also look like I don’t care all in one? We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Last year I was shopping a record around and one label decided not to work with me because they claimed to have “too many female artists.” Would they have said that to a male? I don’t think so.

You may have “the look” and “the voice” that sets you apart, but when you are confident and strong-willed, you are easily mistaken for being a bitch. You’re hard to work with. When men are confident and strong-willed, they are a leader. How can you expect one person to be sweet and positive 100% of the time? Assertiveness is an important trait when you want to progress as an artist. And hey - I’m not going on stage to rock my tits, I’m going on stage to rock n roll!

Name some local creatives that you really admire.
My writing partner, bandmate and one of my best friends, Alex Coté, has been there for me through everything, and is one of the best songwriters around.

My boyfriend Cameron Dean works full-time at Record Archive, runs a re-issue label Strange Disc Records & Filmworks and tour manages me. He’s the hardest working person I know.

Ben Morey is another Rochester staple who made his last record with pretty much every local musician in town. He helped me get out of a songwriting rut, and introduced me to:

Cammy Enaharo & Katie Preston... I admire them so much!! Both as individual artists and together in Pleistocene, they are amazing musicians. We have created a special band coming soon.

Jacalyn Meyvis, the photographer for this interview, has an incredible eye for photos with a 70s feel.

Will Cornfield is another photographer I work with who is always down to shoot and always down to try new things.

Rachael Gootnick, owner of Just Terrific, creates amazing book necklaces and earrings, book restorations, graphic design... you name it.

Daniel Armbruster of Joywave is also one of the hardest working people I know. He keeps Rochester relevant and loves the local scene; always connecting people, always looking out.

And of course, Sarah Knight, for supporting the amazing women of Rochester by creating Roc Girl Gang. Thank you!

* Be sure to catch Mikaela perform this Friday at ROC Women's Music Fest! Don't miss it!