Pandemic pause leads to new skills, new songs for Mukiss
Caeleigh Featherstone used the unexpected downtime to get better at recording and releasing music on her own, emerging with a handful of new singles
In the spring of 2021, Caeleigh Featherstone, who records and performs as Mukiss, attended the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe, Ohio. She slept in a cabin while attending the program, and one morning she woke up with a tick embedded in her neck.
“I had to burn it out with incense,” Featherstone said. “I grew up in the country, so I was used to that as a kid. I knew what to do.”
While the unwanted intrusion didn’t freak her out, it did get her thinking. “There was someone [at the program] who took a very special interest in me for some reason, and they wouldn't leave me alone,” she said. “I started messing around on guitar and started writing a song about that tick, and then my psyche kind of combined the two things. So it was half about this guy that wouldn't leave me alone, but also just the actual story about this tick.”
“I took a shower, found that you were still into me/I lit some incense and touched it to your body/You didn't like that, but you didn't leave/Why are you so into me?” Featherstone sings on “Tick Into Me,” one of a handful of Mukiss singles she wrote and recorded last year.
Initially, Featherstone began 2021 with the idea of recording and releasing a song each month. “I wanted to give myself a project to get comfortable with doing things myself,” she said. “I wanted to push myself to write more, produce and engineer stuff on my own and just get more comfortable with the process of putting stuff out.”
Pandemic themes naturally worked their way into the songs, especially on “Fernweh,” which Featherstone wrote in 2020 soon after the shutdowns. “I'm doing my part, staying in my shell,” she sings on the folk-rock tune.
“I was given this gift of being able to focus on getting better at this thing that I love, so I was just sitting on my porch every day writing songs, and [‘Fernweh’] was one of them,” said Featherstone, who created a daily structure for her life after her calendar suddenly cleared. “I would wake up, spend the entire morning writing, and then me and my partner would walk down to Franklin Park and watch the ducks for a little while, and then we would come back and do P90X with my roommate in the evenings, and then we would cook dinner. I had this really militant routine that I just created out of thin air. … It totally held me together.”
The downtime also gave Featherstone the time and space to experiment with synthesizers and other electronic textures, which feature prominently on singles “Great Rides” and “Coffee and....” “That's the stuff that first drew me to music, but it's the stuff that I have always been most intimidated by,” she said. "I've always had a lot of synthesizers, and I like using them and playing with them, but the leap between playing with sounds and then making them work in a song and in an arrangement has always been really complicated to me. … But I'm braver now.”
By the spring, other life commitments got in the way of the song-a-month goal, particularly the Recording Workshop program and periodic writing sessions with her Saintseneca bandmates. But Featherstone more than accomplished her initial goal of getting comfortable with producing and engineering; she’s now teaching at the Recording Workshop.
Despite the challenges of the past two years, Featherstone found plenty of artistic silver linings. “I've made up so many excuses my entire life of why I just don't have time to be creative, why I don't have time to sit down and do this or get better at this. And all of those excuses just didn't exist anymore,” she said. “I finally had that time, and it felt really good. It's been a really meaningful experience.”