There is a video of Mieka Pauley playing an acoustic version of her song, “Never Fuck a Women That You Don’t Love,” on her PledgeMusic site. In it, she sits silhouetted against a purple-blue sky, looming over the webcam with an oversized guitar while the wind ruffles her hair and buffets the microphone with intermittent gusts.
Pauley, 31, says the song is about something that happened to her in college, but in the video she delivers it with such sneering vehemence, you’d think it was a still-fresh wound.
“I can’t be unhappy when I’m writing, ‘cause I’m just in this, like, self-pitying fog,” says Pauley, who got her start in Boston but now calls New York home. “It’s always when I come out on the other side that I’m able to write.” Her latest album, The Science of Making Choices, comes five years after her last. Its songs are sharp-tongued and personal, veering from livid anger to black humor to sardonic self-reflection through a series of frank titles: “I Haven’t Even Started With You;” “Marked Man;” “We’re All Gonna Die.”
It’s worth mentioning that “Never Fuck a Woman That You Don’t Love” is not the self-righteous admonishment its title would have you believe.
The titular lyric is delivered with deadpan irony at a cruel lover in the wake of rejection: “You never fuck a woman that you don’t love/Oh your god, what have you done.” It’s typical fare for Pauley, who eschews flowery imagery in favor of forthrightness and clever turns-of-phrase. She sings with husky, blue-noted gravity, naming Ella Fitzgerald and Janis Joplin as influences, although there is probably more Joplin in her gravelly delivery than anyone else.
“I know I can sing, I know I can write—and I also know I cannot produce and arrange songs,” says Pauley, who gave producer Geoff Stanfield free reign to flesh out the album after she recorded a stripped-down version in his Seattle studio. It was an unusual process for her, Pauley explains, because there was so little agonizing; she even finished writing some of the material during the session. Luckily, Stanfield shared her vision. “He just fuckin’ nailed it—like this is exactly the album I wanted to put out,” she says of the finished product.
Despite having had a fair amount of exposure over the years—her song “Devil’s Got My Secret” is in Jane Fonda’s new movie Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding—Pauley is no stranger to the travails of independent musicianship. The Science of Making Choices was self-released and funded by a PledgeMusic campaign, and Pauley is touring behind it alone.
The prospect does not seem to daunt her. Things were worse when she was starting out, she says. Even in her mid-twenties, she felt pressure to lie about her age. But much like her songs, these days Pauley doesn’t put up a front.
“I’m done with that. I’m 31,” she says. “This is where I’m at now.”