Dawn Mitschele looks as though she is at peace. Sitting outside a bustling coffee shop on the west side of Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas during a late spring afternoon. She sips her tea and looks incredibly relaxed for an artist who’s a month away from releasing her new record, a crowd-funded EP titled Silence the Noise. Ready to restart the promotion cycle she invested into her last release, 2012’s Love Remains EP – whose songs saw television placement in “Justified,” “666 Park Blvd.,” and Elementary – Mitschele’s outlook is recharged and reinvigorated by her new material; a solid yet eclectic group of songs that already sound like your favorite song from your favorite soundtrack of the year.
Originally from Mendham, a small town in Morris County, New Jersey, Dawn Mitschele moved to San Diego from New York City in 2003. During her time there, she studied at Pace University and spent an extended semester abroad studying and then working in Spain. Mitschele returned to the U.S. a few weeks prior to 9/11, where she sat home alone and watched the billowing cloud of ash and debris from her apartment in Brooklyn.
San Diego Troubadour: How did you pick San Diego as your new home?
Dawn Mitschele: I was part of a duo with another girl in New York and during our first of two shows together, someone approached us and said, “You’re act is not really ‘New York,’ but you’d be great somewhere out West….” Of the cities he mentioned, San Diego just stuck out. I’d been in New York for a while and I really wanted a change of pace. California seemed exciting, new and different – it seemed like there was some cool music happening out here and all of a sudden I got my heart set on it. My mom and I drove cross country together. She dropped me off at a friend of a friend’s house; I found an apartment and started my new life out West. I lived here for about a year before my boyfriend at the time was accepted into culinary school in France, so I moved again and we lived in Paris together for nine months. When we moved back to San Diego in 2005, I experienced a massive culture shock. All of my friends were partying and I just wasn’t connecting with anyone. During my time in Paris I had taken an acoustic guitar so that I could write and play songs there; back in the U.S. all I wanted to do was play music. That’s when I went to my first open mic at Twiggs and met you.”
SDT: You looked terrified.
DM: I was! To this day I remember that so vividly. I ended up enrolling myself in some acting classes at the community college because I realized I needed to feel more comfortable on a stage. For one of the projects I had to complete five auditions throughout the semester. One of those was a musical audition and I ended up with the lead role of Sandy in Grease. I couldn’t believe it! I’d only attempted this concept to confront stage fright, not because I had any grandiose acting aspirations, but I accepted the challenge and it was amazing. The song “Dominoes” from my first record was inspired by that experience. I was older than the other cast members and spent a lot of time watching all these college-age kids crushing on each other without any of them actually getting together – it was all drama and heartbreak! I went home one day and started writing that song and it turned out to be one of the songs people loved the most. That was eye-opening to me because I realized that my audience was responding well to my observations rather than the traditional perception that an artist had to translate intimate emotional experiences in order to be authentic.
SDT: It does seem as though your relationships and your music are quite intertwined emotionally.
DM: Well, I’d say that In the Moonlight had songs about being in and getting out of my first San Diego-based relationship, which ended in 2008. I recorded the album immediately after that and released it in 2009 so the experience was definitely part of the process. Some of those songs were my first attempts at sitting down and just letting things come out. “In the Moonlight” is about finding that inspiration and “Float Like a Feather” is not about anyone in particular; it speaks of being good to each other and knowing that this too shall pass.
SDT: One of the most beautiful performance pieces from a local artist I’ve had the opportunity to witness in recent years is a documentary short titled All of Your Days, which centers around your music and the life of your friend Matt Wadleigh.
DM: Matt was my best friend from when we were 13. We remained very close from high school through the college years before we both moved west to California. He was someone I really connected with through music; we loved the Dave Matthews Band and every summer we would go and see them perform live any chance we could get. One year he made a “LoVE” sign for a DMB show in Chula Vista and that visual became a theme that spread among the DMB fan community and ended up catching the attention of the band members themselves. In 2009, Matt passed away quite suddenly. It was really shocking. The last time I saw Matt was two weeks prior to his passing at the album release show for my debut recording In the Moonlight. That event took place in L.A.; he came up to the show and talked for a little bit afterwards and then he left. That was the beginning of a very dark time for me.
SDT: Would you mind discussing that a little?
DM: In 2009 I thought the release of my album was going to be the beginning of a great period in my life. Instead, everything fell apart. I really got off track. I stopped performing for a while; I didn’t promote the album well; I ended up going on tour with the guy I was dating at the time and that was an awful experience. It was a bad relationship and a bad break-up – that’s why I didn’t release anything until 2012. I was just lost for a while. I moved back to San Diego to try to get my bearings and find the inspiration to write again.
SDT: Was there a moment when you realized that the clouds were parting and you were on the road to recovery?
DM: Definitely. I’ve learned I can be a loner and sometimes forget to get out there and engage with people. In 2011, I was approached by some fans in the Netherlands who asked if they could pay the travel expenses for me to fly over and play a show for them. Of course I accepted. What shocked me the most was the outpouring of support I discovered when I took to Facebook to ask my friends and followers if they had any other ideas of places I could play if I were to make the journey an extended trip. I found I had fans from all over in Poland, Hungary, France, Spain, Italy… With their help I ended up booking a three-week tour that was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It reconnected me with why I do and what I do and introduced me to whole new group of people I never would have had the pleasure of knowing otherwise. Everywhere I went I stayed with families who welcomed me into their homes. They fed me and showed me around their town and cities. They took so much time and effort to find me local shows, to get me in to festivals; they each flew me to their city from wherever I was… it was crazy. I travelled alone and the whole experience completely reinvigorated me and brought new life to my creativity and craft. I ended up returning to do a similar tour last summer. I’ve gotten really, really close to my European fans – we just bonded, even after just two days together, you know?
SDT: We’re not as cranky as the American media makes us out to be.
DM: [laughs[ I know, I forget who I’m talking to right here! I also enjoyed London and Brighton very much.
SDT: You have an amazing knack for being approachable as an artist. You don’t have the typical bravado and you always come from a place of great energy. One area this really shines is in the way you communicate with fans online. Is that something you work at or do you find it comes naturally?
DM: I think it probably comes from the fact that I really love connecting with people; that exercise brings me a lot of fulfillment and I truly believe fans should feel as important as they make me feel. I guess there are two models of presenting yourself as an artist: one where you’re untouchable and mysterious, then another where the veil comes off and you engender a sense of community among your fans. I’m of the latter school of thought; I like to connect with people, hear their stories, and share mine with them in return. I guess I just like to keep it real.
SDT: So when you put yourself out there in this way, it allows listeners to feel open enough to connect with you themselves. You’re message is somewhat of a musical ice breaker.
DM: I think that’s why I’ve had so much fun touring, because you get to meet people. Sharing, blogging, being open – whatever it is – it’s an important skill for an independent artist, especially considering how the music industry is these days. People need more. House shows are becoming more popular because that veil is going down between listener and musician. I love it.
SDT: Moving forward, where are you heading to?
DM: I feel like things are really shifting for me because I’m getting a little bit older. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’m in a steady relationship – a good healthy relationship – and I want to be home in San Diego more.
SDT: Your new EP, Silence the Noise, is a really great record and you rightfully appear pretty excited about it.
DM: As an artist, with each new record, I want to go somewhere different and reach something further. I definitely feel like I’ve done that with Silence the Noise.
SDT: What aspects really stand out about this release for you?
DM: As with all of my EPs, it’s eclectic – it’s got a bluesy song, a folky song, a fun whimsical song, an intense ballad kind of a song – and, vocally, I’m experimenting more. We produced it using a full accompaniment of musicians and overall it’s a lot of fun.
SDT: Does the title track hold special meaning for you?
DM: “Silence the Noise” is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s about finding peace among all that we deal with in our day-to-day. Taking time out for yourself to walk or meditate or jut be still is so important and so often overlooked. That song reflects how important it is for us to literally “silence the noise.”
SDT: And the record was crowd-funded?
DM: That’s right. I chose to fund the recording using Pledge Music. It’s different from other crowd-funding platforms because once you reach your goal, donors can still pledge after the fact. A percentage of the extra funding goes to the Matt Wadleigh LoVE foundation and then, sometime in the fall, the rest will go toward the acoustic full-length album. I’ve got so many songs that haven’t made it anywhere that I just want to record them and get them out there. Hopefully, that recording will satisfy the fans who prefer to hear my music really stripped down.
SDT: Talking of your philanthropic nature, starting last December with the Hurricane Sandy Relief benefit concert you organized, it appears that you’re beginning to develop a reputation locally for bringing some great local artists together for good causes. Is that something you’d want to focus on more now you’re staying closer to home?
DM: Absolutely. I enjoy putting the songwriter’s rounds together, I’m doing that a few times this year at Mueller College, and then the bigger benefit concerts will be more effective if they’re planned twice a year as needed.
SDT: Other than the Matt Wadleigh LoVE Foundation and Hurricane Sandy Relief, are there any other causes close to your heart?
DM: Recently I’ve been involved with Tehyathon, which was started by a 17-year-old girl called Tehya who was born with spinal bifida. She’s someone I’ve just fallen in love with. Her spirit is amazing. She was expected not to have any kind of life at all but through various surgeries she’s now able to walk. She started her own foundation called Tenderness Totes because she wanted to give back to her community for all of the things people have done for her. Tenderness Totes helps homeless people and those who don’t have a lot to receive assistance with little bags of necessities, products, and the like.
SDT: Wow, that’s a great story in itself. Anything else you’re planning?
DM: We’ll see what reveals itself. I’m finally staying in one place – that’s been my big M.O. I’ve lived in so many houses, so many parts of this town and other towns, I’ve lived abroad… I’m actually looking to have more of a grounded life.
A U T H O R ‘ S N O T E:
DAWN MITSCHELE: SOMETHING UNUSUAL
Sometimes you just know when something, or someone, is intrinsically good. You’re standing in the middle of a usual conversation, exchanging the usual pleasantries, the usual knowledge, sharing the usual similarities or recognizing the usual differences, then in the rare instances you witness a spark. That’s when the light goes on. That’s when you realize you’re going to remember this moment for a long time and you enjoy that moment as it walks into your memory to simmer and rest. During my decade-and-a-half involvement in the San Diego music community, I still remember the first time I saw Dawn Mitschele sit alone on stage and play her guitar.
It was a usual Wednesday night on the corner of Madison Ave. and Park Blvd. in University Heights where I hosted the weekly open mic in the gone, but not forgotten, Twiggs Tea & Coffee “Green Room” 2003–2006. As usual, at 6 p.m., I had driven down from Encinitas – where I was then living – having spent the day trying to work at my day job as I fielded all of the usual calls and emails from the usual rabble of local music itinerants asking the usual questions such as, “Do I have to be at the 7:30 p.m. raffle to secure a time slot?” As usual the answer was a simple, “Yes.” Upon arrival, as usual, I set about neatly ripping up a couple of old show flyers to prep the raffle next to the cash register, exchanging the usual courtesies with the usual employees and patrons, before turning my attention to the Green Room itself: the chairs, the mic stands, the microphones, the cables, and the usual issues with the soundboard, which to this day I’ve never quite been able to grasp.
Having been dropped off by his Mum, “The Wolf,” rest his soul, came bounding over in all of his Brylcreem bouffant, black denim glory, waving a ghetto blaster in one hand and a new Misfits mix tape in the other. As usual, I ushered him on stage as quickly as I could, hoping that his piercing “Hello San Diego” and inaudible treble-bent DIY karaoke would not scare off the acoustic wallflowers (who had inevitably started shuffling over,) nor bother the earnest students or angering the conversing patrons next door in the coffee shop. While my outward reaction was usually based in amused exasperation, to this day those performances were truly the greatest displays of punk I’ve ever seen. I miss that guy and think of him often, but that’s probably a story best left for another time.
As The Wolf’s trail of imagined destruction – and very credible ear-drum destruction – left the building, he took with him everything that was usual about that Wednesday evening. Unusually, there was no one else chomping at the bit to take the stage. It was at moments like these I would usually drag John Ciccolella away from whatever game of chess he was embroiled in and take the stage expecting him to perfectly accompany me on piano to a song that usually he’d never heard before. Usually he’d nail it. But on this particular evening a naturally beautiful young lady wandered through the door and asked if she could play a song or two. With nothing to appease other than my own ego, I quickly complied and began setting her up on stage. I honestly can’t remember if I performed one of my rote artist introductions to an empty room (but I wouldn’t put it past me that I had), but I do remember what happened next very clearly.
If you asked me today, I couldn’t tell you the songs Dawn performed as she perched upon a regular chair on that remarkable stage, which looked anything but, but I remember how I felt. That is a feeling I will always recall to be truly good. From the first note she created as she gently swayed, eyes closed softly, I didn’t move an inch. I breathed as she breathed and fell in and out of love with every word. I remembered every love conquered and every love lost; every stunning victory and crushing defeat. In all of the life we hide ourselves behind, I remembered how good it felt to be alive and able to appreciate music. Dawn’s first short performance in the Green Room that night actually took my breath away. A similar feeling only ever struck me once more during those years, and that artist was Kellis David. But again, another story for another time.
As I gathered all my faculties, which Dawn had just very quietly blown to pieces during her first song, I ran next door and indeed dragged John away from his chess game. “Dude,” (that will never stop sounding weird coming from an Englishman) “you have GOT to come and see this!” John stood with his usual lumber sauntered out with me and all of his New Jersey swagger. We both listened for a moment and when she had finished I introduced them. John asked, “Would you like to play a show this weekend?” Suddenly we were back to the land of the usual.
Ten years later, give or take (or rather, nine months ago), I met an old work acquaintance for lunch to catch up and likely scope each other out for potential future professional opportunities. As soon as we sat down he told me that he’d recently attended a show by a friend of his at the Belly Up tavern in Solana Beach and he was reminded of me by one of the stories his friend told from the stage between songs. That friend was Dawn Mitschele and the story was her perspective of what I just wrote. Not only did I display the usual shock of this genuine “small world” scenario, but I was truly flattered that Dawn even remembered that night and my involvement to the point of making it part of her set. I was even more excited that this shared acquaintance was curating an event to showcase Dawn’s new video documenting the work on her LoVE project and asked if I’d like to open the event with my (ironic) Americana collective For Strangers & Wardens.
A couple of months later, as I stood in the back room of Seven Grand in North Park watching Dawn’s video as part of our show, I was surprisingly revisited by some of those initial feelings I’d experienced during my first opportunity to hear her perform; the heart she puts into everything she touches and the emotion she is clearly rewarded with in return from everyone who sat around her in that candle-lit warehouse in Carlsbad. I was also visited by a great sadness that night, born of the loss of not keeping in touch with Dawn on a regular basis to be touched by her music whenever possible. Since then I was invited to perform with FSAW and Isaac Cheong at her December 14th, 2012 Hurricane Sandy benefit – which sadly became a joint-beneficiary that dark day with the residents and victims of a despicably senseless violent rampage through the community of Sandyhook, Connecticut – have joined her email list and read proudly every time she sends out an update.
The funny thing is that from all of this reminiscing about Dawn Mitshele and the genuine feeling her music creates for me, you’re probably thinking she and I have a pretty deep friendship, but in all honesty we’ve never really just hung out and talked. We’ve never truly got to know each other past those fleeting opportunities where artists take a few moments to come up for air and connect among the varied emotions present before, during, or after any performance. In writing this, I am once again excited to learn another aspect of Dawn Mitschele. Dawn Mitschele the person; where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going.
Dawn Mitschele’s new EP will be available July 9 to be christened with a release show on July 13 at Mueller College in University Heights at 8 p.m. To stay connected with Dawn and watch the All of Your Days video, go to www.dawnmitschele.com.
Hear Jason Mraz tell the history behind Dawn’s guitar here: http://youtu.be/A4ORtLCivAQ
To learn more about the Matt Wadleigh LoVE Foundation, please visit www.mylovesign.com
To learn more about Tehyathon and Tenderness Totes, please visit www.tehyathon.com .
Englishman Tim Mudd manages digital operations for CBS Radio San Diego while his music writing is syndicated throughout the CBS Local network nationally. An active member of the San Diego songwriter community for 14 years, he is the president of the San Diego Songwriter’s Guild as well as the guitar player, singer, and songwriter for the Americana group For Strangers & Wardens.