Over The Counter Culture

Mieka Pauley

by Brianna Bigelow

It’s snowing when I step out of Grand Central Station and onto the streets of New York City. A little out of my element, I walk in circles for a bit, just trying to gather my thoughts and figure out where exactly I’m standing. To my left there’s a homeless man sleeping underneath a flattened cardboard box and to my right there’s a never-ending line of cars waiting for a small light to turn red above their rooftops. I begin walking to my right, figuring I’d take my chances with the stream of honking cars, rather than mingling with the homeless man. As I walk through the crowded city sidewalks I realize just how far away from home I am. I’m 344 miles away from Bath, Maine, the place that I’ve called my home for the past nineteen years, and the town where I first met Mieka Pauley three summers ago.

Pauley is a 32-year-old singer/songwriter from Boston, Massachusetts, who now finds herself living in the heart of Manhattan. Ever since her triumphs in both Cosmopolitan’s StarLaunch Competition and the New York Songwriters Circle Songwriting Competition, Pauley has been causing stirs in the underground music scene. Her newest album, “The Science of Making Choices” was released in June of 2012 and is helping Pauley make a name for herself.

I continue on down the sidewalk, carefully avoiding clumps of trash that seem to be piling up out of nowhere. The snow is beginning to fall more quickly, in large flakes, and my jacket is soaking through. I’m starting to get mad at myself for not being more prepared for this. I think back to some of the tips that my professors gave me in my first semester journalism classes, and how I’m not following them now. I’m not wearing a waterproof jacket, like they said you always should. I’m not wearing thick socks or rain boots, like they suggested. I’m wearing a thin black jacket and boots that I thought would make me look professional. Right now all they’re doing is making me look cold and soggy.

A few blocks down the street and I’m beginning to lose feeling in my toes. I keep kicking through slush puddles, figuring that avoiding them won’t help me at all now. Up on my right I see the sign for a small café, and I’m ready to drink a warm cup of coffee while I wait. I swerve to avoid a pile of something questionable sitting in the middle of the sidewalk and turn towards the doors. Just as I start to uncurl my frozen fingers from inside of my coat pockets I hear a car pull up behind me. I reach out to pull the ice cold handle when I hear my name being called. When I turn I’m relieved to see the one person in the entire city that I know––Mieka Pauley.

Originally in the city for a small open mic, my plans switched at the last second, so Mieka and I made other arrangements in order to sit down and talk. Mieka, fresh off of a show in Chicago the night before, has agreed to drive around with me for a bit in order to complete what proves to be a very interesting interview. With time for the interview running short, and space in the beat up Honda lacking, I quickly jump in the front seat.

Mieka greets me with a toothy smile and a hug that reminds me of the reunion between two long-lost friends. I slump back into the passenger seat and shimmy on my seatbelt, feeling nervous and awkward. Mieka turns her heads and slowly edges off of the curb, whispering profanities under her breath at the incompetent taxi drivers that rush past her. Finally she taps on the gas and we’re thrown into the thick of New York City traffic, ready to start our adventure.

I sink back into my seat, feeling very much like a fish out of water. In the past I had been so used to conducting interviews either over the phone or with other students who were just as nervous as I was. Here, I felt thrown into the heart of the battle without a helmet or a gun. I was sitting in the front seat of an old Accord trying to gather up all of the questions that were dancing around in my head. My hands were shaking enough to inhibit my ability to turn on my voice recorder. In all of my frantic hustle and bustle I almost didn’t notice Mieka at all. Acting much like the seasoned professional that she is, Mieka is sitting in the drivers seat, simultaneously weaving in and out of inner-city traffic, while hysterically laughing at me.

As I start talking to Pauley, I suddenly feel at ease. She creates a witty banter that knocks out all of my nerves. It’s clear to me that she’s accustomed to being in the spotlight, as she answers all of my questions with the quickness of a seasoned professional. However, I don’t get a sense of stardom coming from her. Mieka comes off as a quiet yet sound girl who has taken recognition in stride and not let it go to her head.

For Pauley, recent years have consisted of frequently moving about the country, settling down, then uprooting and starting anew. With little time of her own, it’s no wonder that her songs consist of no-time-for-BS lyrics. While startling–”Never fuck a woman that you don’t love,” “I promise this time I won’t be a psycho,” “I wanna wreck your home/I wanna get your husband alone”–they’re never vindictive. In fact, her confessions invite listeners to admit they share the same inner struggles and desires.

Deeply personal and unapologetically honest in all that she writes, Pauley is often praised by critics for these lyrics. Daytrotter.com states that “her words come at you like a blunt force… Her rock & roll doesn’t pander to any easy clichés.” And Boston Dig says that she has a certain “confidence and swagger.”

Often questioned why she writes such intimate accounts of past relationships, Pauley admits that it’s all that she knows. “When I’m writing personal songs lines will occur to me and I’ll know it’s exactly right. Like I’ll know that I’ll put it down and other people will have a sympathetic response to it. It’ll be a shot in the dark sometimes and I’ll be nervous about it, but when I get a lyric right I just know it, and I don’t have to re-adjust it. I don’t think that it was necessarily a choice. I don’t know what it was about my history that made that work, you know, but that’s what it is.”

As Pauley and I drive along the roads just outside of New York City the snow starts to pick up. Quickly our somewhat traditional interview changes tone when a truck flies by her on the left. “What a fucking idiot! Who’s going to fly by on the snow and ice when there are cars like already slid off?” At this point I can’t stop laughing, and Mieka begins apologizing for cursing in front of me. From this point on a meta conversation begins to form and I feel like I’m talking to an old friend.

The honesty that Pauley portrays through her lyrics rings true during our interview. It seems as if she has nothing to hide, because her fans already know all of her deepest secrets. Pauley is not a woman-turned-diva by her small spread fame; she is a charismatic, emotional, Boston-bred free spirit who is constantly being humbled by those around her. I find our interview very conversational––much like the witty banter you’d find over a home-cooked meal at the dinner table. In this moment Mieka is not a performer.

As I sit back and look over my list of questions, I begin to wonder where this meek girl hides the anger that drives her songs. In reality Mieka is not some hard-rock singer that gives off the vibe that if you scorn her you’ll live to rue the day, much as her music suggests. Instead, she seems shy and almost starstruck by the fact that someone wants to interview her. Throughout the conversation she asks “did that make sense” or “was that good?” These questions make me think that she’s not entirely comfortable with the idea of being broadcast. While always professional, she remains shy.

Mieka and I continue to drive and talk, slowly weaving in and out of the black ice patches on the road. I feel like I’ve been talking to an old friend. When we finally finish our loop back around to the city I know that it’s time for us to go our separate ways. Mieka is now on her way to Des Moines for the night to stay with an old friend, and I’m to start my journey back to Maine.

As I turn my recorder off she pulls up to a curb and smiles at me, thanking me for wanting to do a project on her. I step out of the car and shut the door. When I look back Mieka is waving to me as she pulls off of the curb. I smile and start walking down the street. Just as I begin to put some distance between myself and the Accord I hear a sharp car horn and look back to find Mieka rolling her window down, yelling some choice profanities at another driver. Maybe soon there will be a song about this man.

This entry was published on April 22, 2013 at 9:36 am. It’s filed under Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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