Mia Borders checked in with us while in New York for the Backbeat Foundation’s showcase at the APAP Music Conference. The local singer-songwriter gave us some insight into the creative process behind the recording of her most recent album, Quarter-Life Crisis, as well as her excitement to share the stage with B.B. King this Thursday at the Civic Theatre.
NolaVie: Who are some of your main influences as a songwriter?
Mia Borders: I would say, as a songwriter, mainly Simon and Garfunkel and Bill Withers. In terms of contemporary artists, I really enjoy Marc Broussard. Marc and I sang a Bill Withers tune at Anders Osborne’s Christmas show last year at Tipitina’s, and I definitely geeked out quite a bit.
NolaVie: Who were the guitarists that you found yourself going back to and studying as you honed your style?
Mia Borders: Definitely Bill Withers since he’s such a steady rhythm guitarist. I’m not the type of guitarist that shreds solos, so it’s nice to see people like Bill Withers who can really hold it down with the rhythm stuff. It makes me feel better about not shredding and lighting my guitar on fire. At the same time, I still enjoy people like Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B. King who can play like that. I wish I could play like them; I try by myself, but nobody hears that.
NolaVie: New Orleans is filled with great musicians, and one of the joys of living here is the chance to collaborate with them. Who are some of your favorite local musicians you have had the chance to play with?
Mia Borders: Anders Osborne is really fantastic. He produced my last record, and working with him was really great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and an amazing guitar player. Also, Trombone Shorty is doing a lot of really great things musically and for the city. There’s so many awesome, talented people, and it’s cool to have a lot of them up here in New York with me right now [for the APAP Conference]. Big Sam’s Funky Nation is up here too, and I love those dudes.
NolaVie: You can definitely hear a harder edge to this album that seems to be different from your earlier albums. Did having Anders Osborne in the studio influence the songs in more of a rock-oriented direction?
Mia Borders: Anders definitely added a lot to the record. He was very hands on, and I loved working with him. He was in charge of all of the guitar sounds, so between tracks he would go in and tweak stuff on our amps and make it sound amazing. In terms of the songs, I was in a place in my life that made the sound kind of dark and aggressive, which lended very easily to that rock sound sound that he’s so good at [producing]. He definitely helped bring out that rougher edge and rock and roll vibe. So the fact that we came together at that time was part coincidence and part fate.
NolaVie: How did you first meet up with Anders?
Mia Borders: We run in the same circle, and we’ve played a bunch of shows together over the years. Anders was looking to produce a new record and my name came up when he spoke to his manager; it sort of came together like that.
NolaVie: Do you generally play with the same band on the record and on the road?
Mia Borders: I usually bring the same musicians into the studio with me because we get so comfortable with each other on the road and onstage. I try to keep it all in the family. For my last record, Quarter-Life Crisis, we recorded out of town, so we kept it pretty bare bones with just my bassist, drummer, and guitarist.
NolaVie: Are the guys in your band all local?
Mia Borders: Actually, no. My guitarist is from Japan, my drummer is from Canada (Winnipeg in the house!), and my bassist is from New Orleans.
NolaVie: Are there any upcoming shows that you’re especially excited for?
Mia Borders: The Civic show with BB King is pretty exciting; it’s a really good way to start the year. I’ve heard such good things about the venue, so I’ve been looking forward to playing there. And opening up for BB King is pretty awesome. I’m definitely gonna try to play it cool, but I might geek out, which I’ve been known to do.
NolaVie: You seem to wear a lot of hats between writing songs, playing guitar, singing, and leading your band. Of those different roles, would you say one of them is your primary focus, or do you focus on each of them equally?
Mia Borders: I think they all sort of go hand in hand now. When I first started playing live, I was not a good bandleader. I didn’t like the responsibility and I had other guys who had been in the business before, so I sort of let them do everything. Slowly but surely they handed over the responsibility to me, but I’m still getting used to it. Telling people what to play and what not to play is very weird for me, even though I wrote the songs. It helps that I have really awesome people around me and that they’re very encouraging of me. I know that it’s what I need to be doing; that’s how you progress and evolve and get more people out to hear your music — because you have that presence as a bandleader. That’s my biggest focus right now.
NolaVie: How have your studies in English literature influenced your career as a musician?
Mia Borders: Well, I had such a great time at Loyola, it’s such a nurturing environment, and I had so many people there who supported me as a musician. The English department there is phenomenal; all the professors were very supportive of me as a musician. Writing in any way and honing in on that skill is gonna make you a better writer in all areas. Whether it’s music, short fiction, novels, or screenplays — it’s all connected. Probably the most important thing I learned from that time was understanding how authors get emotions across and translating that into my music.
NolaVie: Do you have any plans to go back to school?
Mia Borders: I’m actually studying music business and technology at Berklee online right now, so that keeps my weekdays occupied. That and working on the whole bandleader thing!