On The Cusp: MiearsMIEARS, Photo: Arturo Olmos
It doesn’t feel like four years, but four years ago I caught this synth pop band downstairs at Fitzgerald’s, and I was pretty impressed with how they seemed to understand what they were doing, especially after hearing it was one of the first shows. It wouldn’t be long before everyone knew who BLSHS was and after multiple festival sets, performances outside of Texas, and two albums, it seemed like the band was well on their way to something larger than the members themselves. However, what few people knew at the time, was that no matter what the band had in-store for the future, there was definitely going to be a solo release from the band’s lead singer, Michelle Miears. While the band worked on what would become last year’s Hold On, Miears had already started work on a solo album of her own while the group sorted out what would turn out to be the long process of mixing the album. The end result, Who Will Save You?, is a mix of dark and brooding undertones mixed with the subtle synthesized notes that BLSHS so catchy. On the verge of the album’s release, Free Press Houston sat down with MIEARS to talk about how these songs came to be while learning how much time and work went into them seeing the light of day.
Free Press Houston: You’re from Houston, right?
MIchelle Miears: I was actually born in Lubbock and raised in Dallas, but I moved here to Houston about eight years ago.
FPH: I know that the three of you in BLSHS all come from different places, how did you guys form BLSHS in the beginning?
MIEARS: Rick (Carruth) and Chris (Gore) worked together in graphic design, and they already had a band with Ian from Rose Quartz. Chris was looking for a female vocalist for his project Recovery Room, and through a music teacher, I actually first spoke to him via Facebook messenger. I invited him to come out and watch me at an open mic and he came out and we clicked. We started the band a week later, and they had the name Blushes already. But, because there was another band with the name, we took out the vowels and met at a Teel show at SXSW and I got the demo of “Just Wait.” In March of 2013 we played our first show together at Fitzgerald’s. I think the fact that everyone at Pegstar saw us early really helped us get going.
FPH: The two albums, the shows at CMJ and outside of town, all of the steam the band had built up; was it hard to place that aside?
MIEARS: Yeah, I was heartbroken when it happened. I love to be active and when it slowed down, it was difficult. I took that time as a hard period where I felt empty musically when we weren’t really playing live. The comradery of performing and working together. I think that because I had learned so much from Chris about how the industry works and operates, and how things go when a band slows things down, stopping was very hard.
FPH: You started working on the solo album while you were waiting for the BLSHS mixes to come back correct?
MIEARS: Yeah, around that time in the Summer of 2015. I had some of these songs set to be BLSHS demos, but we never used them. So I had some songs for BLSHS and some I kept for myself or whatever in the future. “Who Will Save You” had been around since 2014 under its original name, “Shelter.” The song “Clarity” was written after a show we played in Austin in the Fall of 2014. Even when we did that La Roux cover set, we had to not only learn those songs but we had to produce those songs for the show. That’s when I started learning how to navigate all of how to produce your own tracks. With Rick and Chris’ help, we learned the tracks together and it helped me move forward as an artist and made me learn how to quantize audio.
FPH: What were you influenced by when writing the songs? Were there newer artists or any legacy acts that you drew on while writing?
MIEARS: I don’t really know, honestly. I like trance and soundscaped songs, so there wasn’t a particular artist I was inspired as much as I was by a genre or just trance sounds and chord progressions.
FPH: The album title Who Will Save You? Is probably a little darker than people would expect from you. Can you explain where the title came from and what it means to you?
MIEARS: I’m pretty dark and I’ve never really written a “happy song.” I have a tendency to date or have people in my life who need my help. The whole theme of the album is me trying to help someone. The song “Directional” is based around me attempting to help someone who is depressed. I just seem to have this thing where I’m codependent where I find my value in helping people. I seem to bear all of the weight in helping someone, so the title is for me and for them in asking who will save me, and who will save them as well. It’s dark when you realize that you find your worth in doing good for others.
FPH: The solo work bears your name and has the subtle nuances of your voice, but sounds different from what you did in BLSHS. Can you explain where the songs came from and what moved them from an idea to a full fledged release?
MIEARS: The songs originally came about while trying to flush out demos. When I saw that they were ultimately songs that wouldn’t work with BLSHS, I didn’t want them to just end there. Sitting with them, forcing myself to work on them everyday and working on a song from start to finish while listening to a song over and over to hear what needed to be changed. Fixing the beats and synths until they were just right, getting the sound in my head to translate into the music, I have to do it and I don’t know why. It’ll drive me nuts until it’s correct.
FPH: You worked with John Griffin on mixing the record, and you did the rest on your own. Was it scary producing the tracks on your own, or had that become common through various projects before?
MIEARS: As the process progressed, by the last song “cycle,” I had the work flow down. So for me, it was really more about workflow. You don’t know what’s good and what isn’t when you’re producing the songs by yourself. I didn’t want people to hear it and come away thinking it was just a bad version of BLSHS, and with the three of us working on songs together, I always had other ears in the room. I wanted this album to be respectable work, so that’s what made me bring in John. It’s all home recorded with a Nord Electro 2, my Micro Korg, and a condenser microphone. I like limiting myself and pushing things to hone in on a sound.
FPH: At the private invite show with Vicki from Black Kite, you seemed to really be at ease with performing these songs out live. Did you practice them a lot to seem like second nature when you played them at that show?
MIEARS: I was nervous, I had been rehearsing these songs since may of 2016. When I started, I just had five songs, but I have an hour now. The live show has really evolved from using different instruments, deciding to keep the keytar, learning Ableton Live, using the mixed ins; just seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s been a long process, not only making the music but getting them live ready.
FPH: The album release show will be the first chance for many people to see you play these songs live, what do you have planned for the show at White Oak Music Hall?
MIEARS: I’m going to perform the EP in its entirety and a couple of newer songs including a cover song too. I’ll have a live drummer for this show as well. We’ll see, I can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction from the live drums in the set.
Anyone who spends more than five minutes with MIEARS will quickly feel like she’s one of the most sincere and honest artists they may have ever met. After hearing about what she went through to see these songs through, it should definitely make you appreciate her more as an artist, as well as the whole electronic music world in general. You can hear Who Will Save You? here, or pick up your own physical copy at the album release party at White Oak Music Hall upstairs. The all ages show on Friday March 3, will also feature opening performances from Pearl Crush and Tee Vee for the 100% FREE show with doors at 8 pm. MIEARS will also be performing at this year’s FPSF on June 3 and 4.