On Her Own
Jerrika Mighelle of sister trio QuinnElizabeth forges ahead with solo album
Katy Macek, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
After years of being involved in a trio with her sisters, Jerrika Mighelle wanted to take a step in a new direction.
The Eau Claire group known as QuinnElizabeth began to fade as her sisters, Jerissa and Elizabeth, followed different career paths.
But Jerrika wasn’t ready to move on.
“I started to realize this was something I could do on my own,” she said.
“The music is so raw – emotionally raw – and it moves me." – musician Elizabeth Steans on the new album by her sister, Jerrika Mighelle
Jerrika’s new album – and first “solo” effort – Like the Sea, will be released Jan. 25. And like the sea, Jerrika has learned that life ebbs and flows, pulling you in directions you were scared to go and teaching you lessons along the way.
She describes the first song on the album, “Up and Over,” as the breakup song. It was written at the end of a relationship. But the rest of the album is about finding her place in the world.
Whereas QuinnElizabeth was a fun, lighthearted trio of sisters, Like the Sea explores questions that are more difficult to answer.
“This album is me, directly down into my bones, into my core,” Jerrika said. “It’s somebody trying to figure out who they are in this world and what that all means.”
She wrote the songs over the course of nearly six years, some before she had even realized she was going to pursue a career of her own.
While she wrote several songs for QuinnElizabeth, they began as poems that Elizabeth would take apart and turn into music.
It wasn’t until Jerrika picked up a guitar – something she never even planned to learn – that she started writing music with a different meaning.
“Years of QuinnElizabeth helped me develop my stage presence and my voice to a point, but once I started pairing my voice with my guitar, it evolved so much,” she said. “It just went flying in a brand new direction.”
Her sister, Elizabeth Steans, noticed this as Jerrika played her new songs for them.
Steans describes her sister’s music as “folk-country in a strange, awesome way.” Forever her hardest critic, Elizabeth was impressed with how Jerrika’s writing style changed over the years.
The early poems Jerrika wrote for QuinnElizabeth turned into lyrics that focused on specific emotions.
“She’s become a lot more compact, and a lot of depth has evolved in her music,” Steans said. “The music is so raw – emotionally raw – and it moves me. She chose which songs would fit, and there’s a certain mood she’s trying to convey.”
Jerrika is still working on performing without her sisters, who are often too busy with their daytime jobs to be the trio they used to be. But she’s getting used to performing on her own, and knows this is the path she has to take to pursue her passion.
“I know this is the right path for me, but every time I do a show without Jerissa or Elizabeth I’m super nervous,” she said. But when she gets on the stage and feels the audience connecting to her music, it’s worth it.
And it isn’t hard for them to connect. Steans said the beauty of this album is its authenticity.
“It’s a summary of her experiences, and she’s very honest with everything she shares,” Steans said. “It’s an important, therapeutic way to process life. It’s just her voice and her guitar. It’s captivating.”
She also has the support of her family, especially her two sisters, who are both featured in all but one of the tracks on the album.
“I just don’t know how to sing without them,” Jerrika said.
The only song on the track where she sings alone, “The Train Song,” is one about forgiveness, and Jerrika said it didn’t fit the message to have a voice other than her own.
Another big influence is her mother, who has shaped Jerrika in more ways than she can count.
It was her mother’s passing this past summer that lit a fire in her to finish the album and take it to the next level. “When you lose a loved one, right away I was thinking, I need to live my life in a way she would be proud of,” she said.
Her mother’s favorite track on the album, “Don’t Know,” is the most precious for her. She’s only played it live two or three times, and only when her sisters are with her.
The first verse of the track was written a year before the second, in which time Jerrika came closer to answering life’s biggest questions.
“Jerissa helped add harmonies that really fit, and Elizabeth joined in, just the way it piece together is precious,” she said. “A lot of my album is about trying to find myself, and in this song, the year later was like, ‘OK, now you know.’”
Not everything, though. Jerrika doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she hopes to keep writing music in order to find them. She’s already written several songs she’s excited about, and hopes to have them on another album in the future.
Learn more online at jerrikamighelle.com.