Class Act: Q&A with Eva Mikhailovna
Tell us more about your musical beginnings.
My mom taught me how to read music notes and play the piano before I even learned how to read or write, so music became very important to me at a very young age. I remember writing my first song at age 10, and I played clarinet in the school band. I always loved jazz and ragtime music, so I started learning these styles from a private piano teacher. In my teen years, I found a guitar in our old apartment in Russia, when we went back for a while. I starting learning a little bit of it, and soon it became a part of me. I kept writing music and eventually started my own band while in college.
How did the Vagabond Tales come to fruition?
For my theater class in college, I had to either do a powerpoint or some other form of presentation to the class to tell them about myself. I had no idea how to make a powerpoint, so I decided to just sing a song that I wrote. One of my classmates loved it and invited me to record it at his studio. Another classmate invited me to perform the song at an Earth Day event on campus. I quickly put together a small band of friends that learned my songs. At the time, the songs were all stories about travelers, so that’s how the name “Eva and the Vagabond Tales” came to be. From there, we started performing at local music venues, and even busked for a couple of years at city festivals and on the streets.
What is your favorite Kala instrument, and why?
My favorite Kala instrument is the Archtop Sunburst Tenor Ukulele. I’ve always played a tenor ukulele, and in 2022, right before a performance at NAMM, the pickup on the ukulele I had broke. I went looking at different ukulele companies to borrow one, but couldn’t find any that had a pickup. Just as I was ready to give up, I saw a wall of archtop ukuleles from Kala. The look and style of them fit my band and genre so much, that I just wanted to try one out. The staff at Kala let me borrow the ukulele for our NAMM performance. I bonded with the instrument instantly. It was so easy to play, and the notes just melted out into the world with every strum. After receiving my own Archtop Sunburst Tenor Ukulele, I got to take it across the country while performing with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox.
You're a talented multi-instrumentalist, but ukulele has been a major element in your sound. What led you to choose the ukulele as such a prominent feature in your music?
Thank you!! It all started with borrowing a ukulele from one of my band members. I like traveling, camping, and the outdoors, so the ukulele was a perfectly sized instrument to take with me everywhere. I never thought I could fit ukulele into my original music because the instrument has such a happy sound, and my music tends to be more on the sad side. I decided to try it though, and it gave my music such a nostalgic and distant world overtone. Now, I feel like I need to put it in every song that I write. It fills out the sound so much and adds brightness to my songs.
Your most recent release, My Huckleberry Friend, is a gorgeous collection of timeless covers. We really love how you made them your own! What made you want to release a cover album, and why did you choose these particular songs?
During the pandemic, I had to find a way to still connect with my listeners, so I did Instagram and Facebook live shows very often, where I played a lot of cover requests for fun. I also made it a goal to post at least one cover in my own style per week. I got a lot of requests from people to record full versions of some of these songs. So I took some of my favorites and worked with producer Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, Bones of JR Jones) to create an entire album of them.
Who are your top 3 or 4 musical influences?
I’m really influenced by the melodies of The Beach Boys, Abba, and The Beatles, and the feel of folk and jazz songs in old movies.
What is your favorite element of music: Writing, recording or performing, and why?
I love writing and performing equally. When I write, every confusing feeling in the back of my mind starts to make sense. My brain stops being so loud once I take my thoughts out and turn them into lyrics and melodies. Then performing the songs helps me connect with others. Performing also makes me feel like I’m growing, because I always try to push myself to do something scary and out of my comfort zone.
Any advice for someone interested/just getting started with playing ukulele or songwriting?
– Playing an instrument is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It’s something anybody can do, so don’t give up on learning, especially on the days when you feel stuck. If you push through it and work through that particular difficult spot, you’re stepping into a whole new world of possibilities with your craft. If you’re just starting to write songs, be honest with yourself and your feelings. There will always be someone out there that relates to you and needs your honesty and your unique creativity.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
Releasing more original music, including a new synth pop project that will incorporate ukulele! I’m also looking forward to orchestrating a few of my own live shows with my band, and going on another North American tour with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox in the summer.
Eva's albums are available on all major platforms. Check out Eva's website for news, media and performance info.