Thursday, January 26, 2012

Carmel Mikol: Creature of Habit

Carmel Mikol @ Central Square
SEASIDE — I met Carmel Mikol by happenstance. I had detoured into Seaside on the flimsiest of reasons, checking with Central Square Records about a Mountain Goats rumor, and then wandered into the recently renovated back room to look at posters and vinyl records.

A portable typewriter crouched low on the decoupage table by the old brown couch. There was paper in it, and words on the paper: “What Kind of Creature are You?”

I started to jot information from a sheet beside the typewriter; it told about the “Waywords” project singer/songwriter Carmel Mikols was conducting during her tours across North America this year. I looked up as a woman approached.

“Whattaya think?” she said.

“Pretty cool,” I said. Then I realized she was the same young woman pictured on the sheet beside the typewriter, and stated the obvious: “You’re the artist.”

Introductions exchanged, I gave her a business card and asked if she had time for an interview. I sat on the table beside the typewriter, and she settled on the couch.

“I spend a lot of time writing,” she said. “That’s really what I do; I’m a songwriter first. And I find that traveling around and touring and getting to play festivals like this in places I probably otherwise wouldn’t get to visit adds a lot to my writing portfolio.”

Originally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, Mikol recently released her second album, “Creature,” and a related booklet of poetry, lyrics and stories, “Creature of Habit.” Her song, “Twenty Something Girl,” (from the new album) took first place in the Folk category of the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

“I’m not in denial at all,” she said when asked her age (for the record, 29). “It’s a good thing my song ‘Twenty Something Girl’ did what it did this year. Otherwise I’d be a liar.”

Mikol was quick to smile and laughed easily, emotions as true and earnest as her lyrics, which explore themes as big as social conscience and as universal as personal loss. She claims to be a “creature of habit” and wonders what sort of being other humans might claim to be.

To that end, she employs one of the manual typewriters that she said she collects “obsessively” and uses when writing.

“Along with my tour, I’ve been taking my typewriter to all the towns that I play in and leaving it in public spaces for people to respond and participate in this public art project,” she said. “I type ‘What Kind of Creature are You?’ on the top and invite people to give me some kind of response. I’m collecting all these pages for the next couple of months … and will be turning it into something else, which is still a mystery at this point.”

This was not her first visit to Seaside. Mikol stayed a month in 2011 as an artist-in-residence with the “Escape to Create” program (which she called “lovely and supportive”), working on short film scripts and poems that resulted in her book. During that stay, she spent a lot of time at Central Square Records.

“I would come and sit on this couch and write,” she said. “They always play amazing music. … It’s a really good hangout, and they also supply you with caffeine. It’s like, a record store that gives you coffee? How could that be better?”


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 26.)
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