Sharaya Mikael quit her day job less than a year ago, but the talented singer/songwriter and guitarist has already created a buzz with her freewheeling approach to her career. Her first five song EP, Far Field, was independently released in 2010. It sold over 2,000 copies, most of them at gigs on a marathon 50-state promotional tour. Jessy Ribordy, leader of Portland’s eclectic folk/bluegrass powerhouse The River Empires, produced the EP, giving it a warm folk pop feel to compliment Mikael’s burnished alto. The title track was featured on Portland’s KINK.FM Spotlight series and earned a “Best of 2010” mention in the popular Welcome Hohmes music blog.
Ribordy was also behind the boards and played most of the instruments, on Rush, Mikael’s new EP. “This time, I recorded songs that I’d been performing for a few months,” Mikael explains. “I had time to get comfortable with them and knew exactly how I wanted them to sound. Jessy helped me be more expressive and capture the emotion of each song. I’d say most of them are a result of spending too many nights staring out the window at the rain and having too much time to contemplate relationships and life.”
Mikael’s lyrics may explore love’s more problematic aspects, but her buoyant melodies and the honeyed tones of her vocals lend the songs a vibrant touch. A playful percussion track gives “Canada” an irrepressible bounce. The chorus is catchy and uplifting, with Mikael’s vocal adding a hint of melancholy to the song’s insouciant air. Chiming keyboards and a propulsive rhythm track make the title track another winner. It’s a song of seduction with a vocal that creates a delicious tension. “It’s about being impatient with love,” Mikael explains. “It’s also true to everything I’ve been doing in my life lately. I’m always on the fast track.” Expansive waves of mellow synthesizer and multi-layered vocals make “Million Miles” the album’s most romantic track, a sensuous lullaby for new lovers discovering each other for the first time. “Over” uses banjo and minimal percussion to describe a summer romance slowly dying in winter. Mikael’s vocal here is full of longing for what might have been. The record’s subtle, almost ambient, production is a perfect compliment to Mikael’s ardent vocals. Their inspired song craft will make fans eager to hear what Mikael has in store on her debut album.
Sharaya Mikael never set out to be a musician and songwriter, although she’s loved music ever since she can remember. “I was raised on 80’s Billboard hits,” she confesses. “Belinda Carlisle was a childhood favorite, along with Whitney, Mariah, and Madonna. I’m sure that influences my melodies and hooks. In my teens, I went through a Fiona Apple / Erykah Badu phase. Not sure how that translates, but I remember feeling connected to the depth of the poetic lyrics.
“I dated boys in high school that taught me how to play guitar. I started writing songs, but never thought about performing them. About three years ago, I began singing background vocals for a folk/bluegrass band in Portland called The River Empires. I recorded and toured with them for two years as a part time gig. Last year, Jessy Ribordy, the lead singer, offered to produce an EP of my original songs. We went into the studio for about a month and made the Far Field EP.” Mikael started opening for local bands and selling her CD from the edge of the stage. When she realized there was a possibility of actually making a living doing what she loved, she quit her day job.
“My friend Ally Spotts wanted to pursue writing full time and mentioned her dream of traveling the US and writing about it. We quit our day jobs and hit the road for a six-month, 50-state road trip, an experiment in chasing our dreams. It was a self-booked and promoted tour. We played about 70 shows in six months. Ally wrote a blog of our adventures (http://allyspotts.com/) and my shows and CD sales supported us on our journey. I realized I’d rather live as a starving artist, making just enough to get by, than to go back to my desk job in Portland. I moved to Nashville in January of 2011 and have been living the dream ever since. I just finished my second EP and I’m planning an album for November. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s been a fun ride.”