You probably know Michelle Bradshaw as the door girl at club Soda. Unless, that is, you’re a fan of alternative music. In which case, you also know her as Mikki, a local musician with a unique sound. And 14 years of playing behind her.
With a musical career that includes stints in bands such as Uncertain Soul and Sonic Aria, Bradshaw is now going it alone as a solo artist. Bradshaw, who identifies as bisexually queer, brings her eclectic sound to Soda’s open mike night every second Sunday.
“I’ve been performing professionally since I was four years old,” Bradshaw says. “Everything leads back to music. I’ve been acting, dancing and singing since I was a kid.”
Bradshaw has taken all of her knowledge and forged songs that meld genres of music that seem to be completely opposite.
“I definitely have influences. When you’re a songwriter you have to have influences. Anyone who is a songwriter and tells you differently is a liar.”
She cites Motown and Blues as the predominant styles that guide her writing, as she was constantly exposed to them during childhood.
“I grew up in a household where music was played, especially on Sundays,” Bradshaw reminisces. Her father would tune the radio to funky stations and play Motown records from early morning to late at night.
“It was drilled into me,” Bradshaw laughs, adding that she developed a taste for all forms of music.
In contrast to Bradshaw’s now finely tuned sound, she first learned to sing opera of all things.
“The first instrument I learned to play was my voice. I was trained vocally for 14 years in a classical form,” Bradshaw said.
Her days as an operatic prodigy gave Bradshaw the skills to ensure her voice stays tuned.
“I know how to breathe properly when I sing, when I do it,” Bradshaw laughs. “I know to warm up and cool down. I learned how to control my voice, which is a three octave range. Not a lot of people have a three octave range; most people have a one to two octave range, with one and a half being the average.”
Bradshaw’s voice definitely qualifies as above average. In complete control of her vocal talents, she effortlessly shifts her voice from a velvety spread of sound to a piercing raspy yell.
“She has a really powerful voice that goes along well with her bass,” says 23-year-old lesbian and Soda patron Emily Boucher. “She’s very rhythmically inclined; anyone will love her music.”
Hardcore alternative music fans may compare Mikki’s individualistic performance style to recently disbanded Sleater-Kinney. Just as Sleater-Kinney demonstrated a bass wasn’t needed to rock, Mikki armed with only her bass and pre-recorded drum tracks, proves a guitar isn’t a rock prerequisite.
Bradshaw opened her Jul 9 set at Soda with an a cappella version of Madonna’s La Vista Bonita, fusing grunge and power pop in a way most queer music fans would have previously considered blasphemous.
While performing her jumpy song “Tenderness,” Bradshaw meanders away from the stage armed with a microphone and her pre-recorded beats. She performs like a female Beastie Boy, with animated motions and street-wise vocals.
“She can make something beautiful from nothing. I’ve never heard her sing without feeling the soul from the music,” says Soda bartender Tamara Smith.
The crowd at Ottawa Pride 2004 may recall Bradshaw’s performance with Uncertain Soul, her most recent, but now defunct, band.
Without animosity, Bradshaw recounts how Uncertain Soul met its certain demise and opened the door to her solo career.
“The drummer, Faith, left for Toronto to pursue other endeavours. She wanted to become a session musician, which means she wants to be able to play for a lot of different people all over the place,” Bradshaw says. “It’s more conducive for her to do that in Toronto than it is for her to do that in Ottawa. I wish her all the best of luck — she’s an amazing artist.”
In addition to Uncertain Soul, Bradshaw performed with Sonic Aria at various Prides, including Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
“We got around,” she chuckles.
They also performed at the Michigan Women’s Festival.
Although Bradshaw would step up as the principal songwriter while a member of a band, she says a solo career was never a priority.
“I never wanted to be a solo artist. People have told me all my life that I had to be a solo artist.
“I tend to write most of the music when I’m in a band. Not because I’m controlling — I would ask other people to, but no one ever seemed to want to. I never wanted my name to be out there, I never wanted it to be all about me. I always wanted to share with other people, but it’s gotten to a point in my life where it’s a matter of…” Bradshaw pauses, keeping her ego in check.
“So many people have their own agendas, and their own things to do, that if I don’t want to hit a brick wall and have to start all over again, it makes sense to be a solo artist and have my own space.”
She’s certainly finding a fan base in Ottawa.
“I don’t think Mikki needs a band, but I could think of a lot of bands that could use Mikki,” Soda employee and hard rock music fan Ian Smith says.
While navigating the confines of her own musical space, Bradshaw is putting together her first solo album. Self-produced and self-released, she’s aiming for a November release.
Even with all her experience in the industry, Bradshaw says challenges still exist.
“It is a challenge, except that as an independent artist, which I always have been, I know a lot of the pitfalls and what needs to get done in order for it to be a success. Knowing all that now, it’s probably best that I become a solo artist now with all the experience behind me.”
When Bradshaw returned here from her native city of Toronto last summer, she discovered all the experience in the world can’t side step the necessity of exposure. Bradshaw’s used Soda as a jumping off point to re-establish herself in Ottawa’s music scene.
“It’s definitely given me some exposure. I had a lot of inroads in Toronto already, but when you’re away from something a lot of times, you can’t rest on your laurels and unless it’s, like, phenomenal and then everyone expects you to be phenomenal again….
“When I got back here I needed to create a lot of networking again. Soda definitely helped and gave me some exposure that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
As she continues to garner acclaim for her live performances, Bradshaw says that fame isn’t what she’s yearning for.
“It’s not a matter of fame. It’s about the music. You’re lucky if you get money to do it. I’d rather be just a really good musician who loves what they do.”
And while music is what Bradshaw loves to do, like everyone else she has had to work in other areas to fund her recording career.
“I’ve done everything from a phone-sex operator to a manager of Blockbuster. I’ve been a nanny; I’ve done too many jobs to speak of. When you’re a struggling artist you do what you can to get the funds so you have the time to create your art.”
Aside from her upcoming solo album, Bradshaw would like to start a collaborative project of sorts.
“I certainly am a solo artist but what I’d like to have is various people to jam with, come on the set and do one or two songs with me wherever I am. That’s why I call it a project; it’s always a work in progress,” said Bradshaw.