Meschiya Lake has called New Orleans home for more than 13 years now, but her music career started at the Elk Creek Lounge in South Dakota when she was only 9 years old. Armed with the only song she knew by heart, Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight,” Lake’s mother entered her in an adults-only singing contest, and she took home the $500 prize and the beginnings of an exciting career.
“They weren’t expecting such a big sound to come out of such a little girl,” Lake said. “They gave me a job singing there every Saturday night.”
Growing up in a town very different from New Orleans, Lake admitted that she never really felt like she fit in. The day after high school graduation, 17-year-old Lake hit the road in search of a place in which to belong. She spent time traveling with the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and End of the World Circus, where she performed such acts as glass and insect eating and fire dancing.
“The circus was a beautiful and wild time in my life,” Lake said. “It’s not something I would do now that I’m in my early 30s and require more amenities, but in my early 20s, it was great! I got to travel, and put on shows with my best friends for a living. I guess that part of it hasn’t changed.”
Traveling with the End of the World Circus brought Lake to the Crescent City. Immediately, she knew she had found her home.
“I ended up in New Orleans at the age of 20,” Lake said. “I fell in love as soon as I hit the ground. It was more of a home base for the first five years, as I travelled as often as I was home.”
Throughout her career, Lake and her band, The Little Big Horns, have been lucky to travel the world and experience many unique opportunities that some artists may never have a chance to experience.
“We’ve played everywhere from Canada to South America, the U.K. and The Netherlands. I’d really like to add Africa and Australia to that list. In two weeks, we’ll be in Moscow,” Lake said.
Last September those travels allowed Lake to perform in her dream venue, The Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
“The same stage where The Rolling Stones, Joy Division, Willie Nelson, Nick Cave, Amy Winehouse and countless others of my musical heroes have performed and made live recordings,” Lake said. “You can literally feel the energy that the greats have left behind.”
While she has traveled the globe playing her bold style of jazz and blues, Lake honors and respects all genres of music. Any music that is genuine and creative strikes a chord in her, but it is old music that truly has her heart.
“I love the honesty of the old music,” Lake said. “I love how it is melody-based, how it can be danceable with simple or complicated chord progressions and how it spoke of the new-found freedoms and sadness of oppressed people. If it has some kind of force or grace to it, I love it. You can find that in nearly every genre. I even love some pop music.”
Lake acknowledges there are more challenging sides to what she does, like taking on the roles of both manager and businessperson while maintaining the integrity of the music.
“I handle all of our bookings, except Europe, and all the accounting and band management, and at times, it can be overwhelming, as I’m balancing that with being the artist, too,” Lake said. “I’d really like to do less of the business, so I could produce more. If I didn’t spend my days answering emails, writing checks and negotiating contracts, I could write more songs, learn more material and practice my instruments.”
Practicing is what Lake does when she is not playing music, but even if music was not her career, she would perform on stage in other avenues.
“I could imagine stage acting,” Lake said. “I need the high of the performance and the connection with an audience, though, to exercise my demons and share my joy.”
Lake’s career has spanned two decades, garnering critical acclaim worldwide, and she is not planning to slow down any time in the future.
“I’ve done everything from eating glass in a punk house in Detroit to singing acoustically over a 13-piece orchestra in Seattle’s largest concert hall,” Lake said. “Of course it’s hard to be ‘on’ all the time, but once the performance starts, it’s my responsibility to give the audience all that I can.”
Lake and band members Jason Jurzak (bass and sousaphone), Russell Welch (guitar), Charlie Halloran (trombone), Ben Polcer (piano and trumpet) and Mike Voelker (drums) completed their first album, “Lucky Devil,” in 2009 and received international acclaim. They are currently working on their new album, which includes two of Lake’s performance favorites, “Midnight on the Bayou” and “The Fragrance of Your Charms.”
As for the future, Lake wants to continue growing as an artist.
“I see myself maturing,” Lake said, “learning. I feel that once you stop learning or start closing yourself up to new ideas, you might as well give up. That’s the death of an artist.”
Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns perform at The Spotted Cat on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Lake also performs a duet with Tom McDermott at Chickie Wah Wah every Wednesday night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information on Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, check out their website at www.meschiyalake.com.