Scattergories: If you’ve never seen a white girl with a mohawk grooving a funk solo on electric guitar, you should get to the next Fear Mia show early enough for sound check. As we grabbed beers from the bar at Bernadette’s, I watched Abby Posner’s mouth contort along with the notes she coaxed out of her guitar, and I couldn’t help but think, “I thought these guys were supposed to be a folk band.”
In fact, that initial impression got to the heart of the quintet: you can’t quite wrap your head around their music. They may look like your standard rock outfit — bass, acoustic and electric guitar, drum set — but then Jesse Olema picks up his fiddle and it becomes clear that the word “eclectic” is going to be popping up in conversation for the rest of the night.
Electric bluegrass, acoustic funk: As the set went on, my mind wandered, as all music reviewers’ minds must, to potential comparisons, but none seemed to fit just right. The moment I thought of Tegan and Sara, or of the Duhks, a solid bass solo would leap forward, or drummer Ira Miller’s rolling, insistent percussion would kick in, erasing any memory of barn-dance folk-rock. The fiddle, although at times sending bluegrass shivers down my spine, was dark and haunting, more suited to a Canadian winter cabin than a Tennessee hootenanny. The impression of a darkness just beneath the surface was only highlighted by the stunning introduction of lead singer and guitarist Abby Posner’s vocals. The easy sultriness in her rough-edged voice completed the baffling package, and I was lost; Fear Mia are simply too much acoustic to be funk, and too much electric to be folk.
Wonderful confusion: Much to my relief, when I interviewed Posner later, even she had a tough time categorizing Fear Mia’s sound, and that’s what she loves most about the music she and the band make. “I know that each member brings something different,” Posner says, “and all of that adds emotion and flavor to the mix.”
What began as a jam session among fellow CalArts students has grown over the years, expanding and contracting with a slightly shifting lineup and refining their sound. Fear Mia — with the return of cellist Emily Corwin to further complicate the sound — will be touring the Northwest later this summer and promoting their new album, to be released this fall. They’ve come a long way since playing on the Third Street Promenade to fund their first recording session, but Fear Mia hope to continue growing and stretching their musical muscles.
The only way to describe Fear Mia’s sound is with a blend of words as varied as their inspiration. Despite their youth, the band has successfully merged folk music instrumentation and soulful, moody intensity with a touch of jam. Keep your eyes open. In a year or two, Ani DiFranco or Dave Matthews will ask Fear Mia along as an opening act on their national tour, and Fear Mia’s diverse compositions will confuse critics all over the country.