Singer and songwriter Mica has finally found her voice, which probably comes as a shock to the many A-list recording artists and producers who have come to rely on her well-regarded vocal ability. The issue, however, has nothing to do with being able to carry a tune, with her range, power or remarkable skill and timbre. For it is that golden instrument that has shaped her entire life, from childhood in her own private recording studio to international touring in her teens and performances with huge stars on the world’s biggest stages.
Instead, Mica’s discovery is metaphoric in nature. Her almost lifelong aspiration to be a recording artist has been realized primarily because she has rejected every external definition of what that goal looks like. Her journey is a grand adventure and at times a cautionary tale, but it is, ultimately, a journey of hope. Mica honed her craft behind music’s most familiar names and traveled around the globe and back, only to find that she carried the answer to her biggest question inside her all along.
Raised from a young age, and eventually adopted, by her maternal grandparents, Mica grew up in Locust Grove in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma. Piano lessons started at five, and she participated in the school band, choir and related activities. But high school is where her story departs from the well-worn path of would-be professional singers.
“I wrote my first song at 13,” Mica says, “and by 14 decided to quit all my extracurricular commitments to focus on studio work and writing. My uncle built a studio in an old cabin on our property and I spent almost every night there–splicing tape with razor blades, the whole bit. There was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do.”
At 15 she was singing and playing piano in the stage show of an Arkansas amusement park. By her junior year, Mica was taking classes at the junior college so she could sing in the Tulsa Opera choir. As graduation drew near, she found herself with five full music scholarship offers at prominent universities. She had a decision to make.
“I left home, bought a 27-foot Holiday Rambler trailer and gypsied for three years,” she smiles. “I played restaurants, clubs, campgrounds—just passing the hat a lot of times. Maybe I should have gotten the education, but I didn’t want to learn more English and math. I wanted to sing and see the world.”
And see the world she did when a tip from a fellow musician landed her a cruise ship gig. “At 19 I flew to Los Angeles, stood in line all day for a passport and flew to Hong Kong the next day,” she says. China, Japan, Indonesia and other cruise stops had their allure, but her father’s failing health found Mica looking for a venue closer to home.
Still driven to pursue music, Mica relocated to Nashville over New York or L.A. for purely geographic reasons. She worked as a waitress and demo singer, building a reputation as a phenomenal vocalist and working odd jobs in between. In 1997 she got a call from Faith Hill’s band leader to audition as a background vocalist.
“This was at the end of the Spontaneous Combustion tour and she was still doing really country material,” Mica explains. “I told the band leader, I don’t sing very country so I don’t think I’m who you’re looking for.” What she didn’t know was that Hill was in the process of cutting her hit “This Kiss” and looking for a more expansive sound. Mica got the gig.
“I ended up loving it,” she says. “I toured with her for four years until she came off the road, and Faith has remained one of my dearest friends.” That association led to work and performances with artists across the gamut from Billy Bob Thornton to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar and Willie Nelson. “I’ve been on every TV show you can imagine,” she adds. “The Grammy’s, Letterman, Leno, even the Super Bowl.”She even performed at Super Bowl XXXVIII behind Toby Keith and Willie Nelson.
With her credentials as a world-class vocalist certified, success as a recording artist would seem a logical next step. But in many ways, her skill and versatility became a hindrance.
“I was singing ‘Misty’ in south Texas retirement homes at 18,” she says. “For the cruise ship gig I had to sing all the Fifties stuff, show tunes, the theme from Cats. So when I did my first solo project in 1993, it was country because I was in Nashville and that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.”
Other setbacks included getting entwined in bad production and management contracts with characters of questionable integrity. “There’s not an avenue I’ve been down where I didn’t have a head-on collision with a stop sign,” she says. “And I’ve done everything imaginable to stay in this town and keep the dream alive–waited tables, worked in publishing, a flower shop, a file clerk, cleaned planes, cleaned leather, cleaned cars. You name it, I’ve done it.”
The turning point came during recording sessions for Journey pianist Jonathan Cain’s solo album. “I told him how I’d been writing for years without a significant cut,” Mica says. “He asked, ‘Are you picking people to write for and trying to write songs you think they’d cut?’ Well, that’s what everybody–at least everybody I wrote with–did. He was like, ‘That’s your first mistake. You’ve got to stop that. Write and sing what you want. If you get cuts, fine. But if not your soul is gratified knowing you’re doing what you love.’ That’s the best advice anyone ever gave me.”
Mica applied that lesson to every facet of her career, erasing her previous propensity for trying to meet others expectations for her music and instead looking inward to record the music she’s always loved. Music with an edge and energy all her own. “I just want my music to be honest,” she says. “I draw inspiration from the people I’m around and from my life. I believe in the music I’m making, and I know people will connect with it, too, if given the opportunity.”