I’ve been excited to see indie harpist Mikaela Davis play live ever since I watched her enchanting and entrancing video for “Dreaming” on YouTube earlier in the year. (Did I mention I’m a sucker for a girl who plays the harp.) Anyway, after raising over $2,000 on Kickstarter, Mikaela just released her debut self-titled album and it’s available now on Spotify, MOG, Amazon and iTunes (just to name a few). It’s a well produced and really enjoyable record and while the comparisons to Joanna Newsom are inevitable (her voice even sounds a little like Joanna’s, but I’d say it’s more conventional), I think Mikaela stands on her own as an artist. Aside from Ms. Newsom, you might also recognize the influence of Sufjan Stevens, in songs like “I’m Just Tryin’ To Be Your Friend” and the not so subtly tipped “Michigan and the BQE.”
Mikaela Davis and her band are playing upstairs at Pianos tonight (Thursday, July 19) at 7:45pm. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about her career thus far and the making of her new album before tonight’s big show.
Bumpershine: First off, can you tell me a little about yourself: Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
Mikaela Davis: I grew up in Rochester, New York and I still live there. I live in Potsdam, NY when I’m at school (I go to the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam).
Bumpershine: How long have been playing been the harp?
MD: 12 years
Bumpershine: When did you decide you were interested in making pop music with a harp?
MD: Late high school – I used to write pop music on the piano starting in 6th grade though.
Bumpershine: I noticed you play a concert harp, I imagine it’s not too easy to travel with, have you ever thought about using something smaller on the road?
MD: I can’t, because I need to use the entire span of the harp and change keys for different songs, or even during songs. I wouldn’t be able to play the songs I write on a troubadour.
Bumpershine: I know it’s a little bit trite to ask, but how much of an influence has Joanna Newsom been on you?
MD: She hasn’t really influenced my song writing, but my friend’s dad gave me a radio interview of hers when I was in high school. This is when I was nervous/spectacle about writing for harp. After hearing her I thought to myself “if she can do it… I can too!”
Bumpershine: Your self titled debut album “Mikaela Davis” is available now, can you tell who were some of the other players were on that album?
MD: Alex Cote plays drums and percussion, Alex Patrick plays guitar and keyboard, and Danny Ziemann plays bass.
Bumpershine: Will any of them be with you on stage at Pianos?
MD: Yes, Alex Cote will be on drums tonight! We also have a new member – Cian McCarthy, who is playing guitar and sitar with us. It’s just the three of us.
Bumpershine: You raised close to $3,000 on kickstarter to make your album, did you ever think about talking to a label?
MD: We haven’t looked into labels yet – we are looking to get signed in the future.
Bumpershine: How long did it take to actually write and record it?
MD: The collection of songs has been written over the course of the last 3 years. We recorded it last summer but it took a while to finish mixing and adding little things because of school.
Bumpershine: Are any of your fellow students making albums?
MD: Alex Cote is working on a solo album and Cian McCarthy also writes solo. They are also in other bands (The Absolutes, Southern Star, The Modells)
Bumpershine: If so, what type?
MD: The Absolutes is 60s rock (Alex). The Modells is like The Beatles (Cian). Southern Star is like Neil Young/Grateful Dead/improvisational (Alex and Cian).
Bumpershine: You mentioned to me that you’ve been working with Philip Night (the director of “Dreaming”) on music videos coming for “Garden” and “I’m Just Tryin’ To Be Your Friend,” how are those coming?
MD: “Garden” will be out in August, we decided to hold off on, “I’m Just Tryin To Be Your Friend.”
Bumpershine: I know you’re currently enrolled as a harp performance major at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, are you waiting to become a full time performer until after you are finished school?
MD: Yes! I want to tour the world! Until then – I still am a classical harpist as well. I won the Crane Concerto Competition [ed. Congrats!] and will be performing Concertstuck by Gabriel Pierne with the Symphony Orchestra in April.
Bumpershine: In any case, do you see yourself pursuing as a “pop harpist” (for lack of a better term) or a classical one?
MD: My dream is to be a pop harpist and perform classical on the side.
Bumpershine: I’ve seen you play Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day” on YouTube and I’ve also read that he’s a been big musical influence on you. What can you tell me about the song, “Michigan & The BQE”?
MD: This song is like an ode to Sufjan. He has been my biggest influence since high school. It’s about listening through his discography and how at the time listening to his album Greetings From Michigan was my favorite, as well as The BQE. I even quote one of his lines in my song “fall in love and fall apart, things will end before they start”. I wanted to orchestrate that song, add flute and violin, viola, cello, etc… I could have used people from Crane, but it would have been hard to get folks into Red Booth. Also the time factor, I didn’t have enough of that to go around!
Bumpershine: Thanks Mikaela!
Video for “Dreaming” (the Director’s Cut) and Mikaela’s Kickstarter campaign after the jump.
Mikaela Davis – “Dreaming”
Mikaela Davis Kickstarter Video