Song + Video Premiere: Jerrika Mighelle, “The Fuel”
By Edd Hurt
Americana Highways presents the premiere of Jerrika Mighelle’s video for “The Fuel,” the first single track drawn from her forthcoming album Be Brave. Set for release this summer on all streaming platforms, Be Brave is the third album by the singer, songwriter and guitarist from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Directed by Erik and Sarah Elstran, the video for “The Fuel” takes Mighelle’s story and places it in the context of that of a young girl who determines to conquer her fears. In the video, the steps the young girl climbs are like her Mount Everest. The young girl, portrayed by Mighelle’s niece, struggles to reach the top of the stairs, and she flies the paper airplane that’s featured in the video, breaking into dance in celebration of her freedom. Combined with the powerful, uplifting music that Mighelle & Co. crafted in the Eau Claire studio Pine Hollow with co-producer and guitarist Evan Middlesworth, it’s a deep statement about the role of self-determination for all people in a highly politicized and polarized society. As Mighelle says about “The Fuel”: “It has to do with the fear we face every day, and having the courage to continue and face it every day, in order to live the beautiful life we all dream about.”
Along with Middlesworth, who contributes understated but cutting electric guitar to the track he produced with Mighelle, “The Fuel” includes the bass playing of Lauren Anderson, drums and percussion by Matt Haapala and, on background vocals, Serena Wagner and Elizabeth Steans, the latter who is Mighelle’s sister. The track builds from understated acoustic guitar, courtesy of Mighelle, to a rocking finish that builds upon the strengths of Mighelle’s previous work on Like the Sea and Brightest Star in a similar, forward-looking rock-folk vein.
“The Fuel” comes as a result of a major change in Mighelle’s life. Growing up in Eau Claire as a closeted queer middle child in a family of eight siblings, she moved to Utah with her close-knit family. After a stint in California, the family returned to Wisconsin. Along the way, Mighelle played drums and sang in the QuinnElizabeth trio, played semi-pro baseball for the South Bend, Indiana, team the Blue Sox, and released her first two albums. After the death of her mother in 2016—the two were very close, and her mother’s taste in classic rock helped form Mighelle’s, though she also draws inspiration from the likes of Patty Griffin, Tracy Chapman and Peter Gabriel—she began writing songs in earnest.
As she says about the inspiration for the songwriting that produced “The Fuel” and Be Brave:
“On my 39th birthday, July 30, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic storm that would never end and the rising of a new powerful racial justice movement. I decided to take a break from a habit that had gripped me for years—alcohol. Within a month of sobriety, as the fog was lifting, a creative floodgate opened and I began the journey of feeling all the feelings I had spent years drinking away. This new journey of self-discovery manifested itself into song after song. Each song helped me move forward to the next discovery until I had uncovered and created a new confident being who is slowly but surely learning to love themself. Nearly immediately into my sobriety songs started coming. And they didn’t stop until—well, they still haven’t stopped. So this album is almost entirely composed of songs I wrote with a clear mind.”
You can hear the clarity, and the focus, on “The Fuel,” and it’s clear Mighelle’s newfound, hard-won confidence has informed her latest work. As one of modern country-folk-rock’s most engaging, and engaged, queer artists, she is forging new paths for a community that seeks to find the kind of happiness all human beings aspire to.
Mighelle, again, on the genesis of her art:
“In a world where queer folks have to fight for our right to love, we have become valiant love warriors.”
Look for Be Brave’s release this summer, and watch the video for “The Fuel” here –