PICTURED: Laura Mihalka with her cello. Photo submitted

by Marina Dunbar

As Ventura County begins its journey to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, local musicians continue to prove that trying times can also be prolific times. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laura Mihalka has spent her time preparing her second studio album, Feels Electric, which was just released on Sept. 17.

Mihalka plays several different instruments, but she is primarily a cellist with a background in classical music. This foundation has allowed her to do a little bit of everything: orchestras, lead guitar in female-led band Liquid Sunshine, and working as a solo artist and composer.

“The number one thing that keeps me motivated is creating new music,” says Mihalka. “It’s a really fun, exciting experience to create something from nothing. Throughout my whole life, I have done this on and off. But this time, I made the point of making a complete album with a theme and a title. That’s what this project is all about . . . I’m giving this album a big push because I put a lot of work into it, I aggregated the 11 songs, I’m really proud of it.”

Musical origins

Though her parents are not musicians, it would not be inaccurate to suggest that a love for music runs in her family. 

“My grandmother was a really talented piano player and composer. She basically did exactly what I’m doing now. She had her heart really in it. She lived in Hollywood in the ’30s just composing music.”

Her parents must have recognized that musical potential right away. She had her first piano lesson at only 4 years old and began cello lessons at 9. This early exposure to music would continue to inspire the path she chose in life. 

“Having a background in classical has been very helpful,” Mihalka says. “Being able to understand chord progressions that go together, why they go together, knowing the theory behind it all has definitely been useful.”

Classical isn’t the only genre that influenced her from a young age. As a teenager, she fell in love with rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. A working knowledge of music theory helped her appreciate the remarkable musicianship of rock even more. She eventually joined a band of her own in college.

“I just felt it was my civic duty”

Mihalka describes the feeling of falling in love with music as a sort of epiphany, a moment where you understand why others devote their lives to music. 

“One of the songs on the album is called “Stumble Upon” and it’s all about what it’s like to fall in love with a song. That feeling of ‘Thank God I love another song!’ For me, music is more than just listening to and appreciating it. When you really fall in love with a song, it’s kind of magical.”

And it’s this exact epiphany that can make the difficulties of a musical life worth it. 

“I know that the life of a musician is really not easy,” she explains. “Having my expectations not be overly high is important. Rather than focusing on having a huge audience or making a ton of money, I think I kept all that stuff in check from an early age. Overall, the music scene has treated me well because I’ve made a point to be engaged in all of these different cool projects.”

“Springtime at Stanwood”

One of these projects in particular stands out among her accolades. Mihalka has been a cellist for the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra for 12 years in addition to serving on their board of directors. This October, the orchestra plans to play an original three-movement, 12-minute piece composed by Mihalka herself, titledSpringtime at Stanwood.”

“[During the pandemic], my mentality completely shifted where I felt justified to linger over my songwriting. I just felt it was my civic duty to make music and not force myself to feel like I needed to be productive in other ways . . . I really dug deep and came up with this piece that they’re going to play. This is really a dream come true for me, an orchestra playing my music.”

For more information on Laura Mihalka, including music and upcoming performances, visit lauramihalka.com. For the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra schedule, visit cichamberorchestra.org