Mikal Shapiro is a vital part of the Kansas City music scene. Calling her highly-acclaimed recent album, The Musical, "the best I've ever made," Shapiro is involved in so much of what makes Kansas City "a great lab for creative life." Shapiro is not only a much sought-after songwriter, performer, video producer and collaborator, she co-hosts with Kasey Rausch KKFI's weekly "River Trade Radio" program and is involved with developing the Greater Kansas City Music Directory. We are grateful to welcome Mikal Shapiro to Listen Local.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I live in midtown Kansas City and I work as a freelance video producer, songwriter and musician. My days are far from typical: some days I work up to 12 hours on a set for a local production. Some days, I garden and write and drink too much coffee. Other days, I'm on the road sharing my songs with complete strangers. I also like to fashion shadow puppets out of trash and perform short plays.
Can you point to one time in your life where you knew you wanted to be a songwriter? Who or what inspired you early on to create music?
I've been making up songs since I was a kid. I came from a musical family so there was always a piano in the house and cheesy movie scores to inspire me. My father had a collection of musical soundtracks as well. For my 5th grade talent show, I lip-synced and danced to Macavity from the Broadway production of Cats--I think that was a breakout moment for me. I also listened to Les Miserables thousands of times during an era of pre-teen angst. Though I've been slow to admit it, musicals have had a big impact of my songwriting. My most recent album, The Musical, is a nod to those early influences. When I was 18, my bff and fellow songwriter Kasey Rausch lent me a guitar and I began writing and composing songs. At the time, I was into grunge and psychedelic rock, some skater punk stuff, funk and metal. These days, I'm a big folky. You could say my musical tastes have run the gamut.
You are an outspoken advocate for Kansas City music, whether it’s hosting River Trade Radio (with Kasey Rausch), developing the Greater Kansas City Music Directory, or performing solo or in any number of collaborations with fellow musicians. What most excites you about music and creativity in Kansas City?
Kansas City is a great lab for a creative life. There is strong support for experimentation and a growing number of listening rooms which are ideal for singer-songwriters. I've lived in Chicago and New York and though the big cities have helped me hone my crafts, I am continually amazed by the incredible quality, talent and imaginations of my peers right here in my home town. As an artist, I thrive on collaboration and Kansas City is home to a bunch of wild crazies willing to create with me, musically or otherwise.
Please share a story about moving through a period of creative struggle. What got you through?
I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up so I initially went to art school from 2000-2002. That's where I hit rock bottom artistically. What I thought would be fertile ground for exploration was in truth a stifling and expensive downer. But it was also a blessing in disguise. I learned how to navigate my fears of failure and need for acceptance. I dropped out and began an incredibly fruitful creative journey of music, art, writing and filmmaking. Although I experience an artistic slump from time to time, I have the wisdom (now in my old age, ha!) to recognize it as the calm before the storm. In short, I learned that frustration is an incredible motivator to slip out of the stagnant known and into the impossible where the juicy stuff resides.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I am looking forward to making more music and art with my friends and loved ones this coming year. What else can I ask for?
Mikal's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
This book changed the way I write by helping shape my paradigm on language, oral cultures, songwriting, memory and nature.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
I'm obviously a big fan of rabbits but I also enjoy alternative mythologies, especially those including animals
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
A masterful example of writing from a character perspective while incorporating autobiographical experiences. I've been doing this more and more in my songwriting. It's liberating.
Chris Marker's film Again, a beautiful testament to uncovering deep and personal truths through character.
Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison
One of the first graphic novels I read (alongside Elektra Assassin, which is not offered by the library). A look at super heroes and psychosis. An imaginative thriller and perspective on the "bad guys" of the comic book world. Strange and empathetic.