by Kayleigh Hughes
From the sounds of her latest work, it might not be surprising to learn that musician Eva Mueller, who has a new solo project called Hot Cotton, is a diehard Phil Spector fan, but her musical background hides some more unexpected elements as well: “I was trained in Italian and German opera,” she tells me during a break from mixing the new album at Bell Tree Studios in East Austin.
“I hated it,” she acknowledged. But her time practicing opera at Florida Southern College fifteen years ago also sparked her first songwriting attempts and allowed her learn music management through a dual major, both of which she’s now grateful for.
Mueller explains that for this new solo project, though she does sing and write songs, she’s wary of identifying as a singer-songwriter. “I feel like there’s this stigma of being a female solo artist that plays guitar, you get kind of lumped into that singer-songwriter vein, and, yeah, I am a ‘singer-songwriter,’ but I didn’t want this album to be a ‘singer-songwriter’ album.” She describes the album as “a full band album with lots of lush production,” and notes that it’s very “diverse in sound,” pulling from sixties pop, Phil-Spector, and seventies influences.
Mueller has become a familiar face around Austin over the past ten years, playing in a number of bands and working in music marketing and PR. Her stint as booking manager at Spiderhouse Ballroom resulted in several of the venue’s more popular events, and she’s been in Austin long enough to tell about the changes that she’s witnessed. “Ten years ago, she says, “it was smaller. There were still a lot of musicians obviously, but there were smaller communities and circles and you all knew each other.”
She also shared her perspective on the oft-discussed issue of Austin venues: “At the time, house shows were much more regularly attended events, and that was a lot of fun. If you’re going to play for free, you might as well play at someone’s house and make it a fun community event, as opposed to making Joe Money a bunch of money at his bar and you get shillings, enough to pay for your shitty Lone Star.” On the other hand, Mueller notes, “There’s a lot more opportunity now to be able to play.”
Remembering her previous musical projects, Mueller reflects that she’s always been working with other artists in collaborative capacities. She was in Austin band 100 Flowers for five years, along with Bell Tree Studios owner Gary James, with whom she recorded Hot Cotton’s new album, and also had a unique project called Lady Maybe & the Sometimes Friends. “I had just a revolving door of guest musicians every show, which was a lot of fun because the musicians that you were playing with for that show determined what your sound was for that show. Some of the shows might have been really folky and other shows would be really rock and roll.”
It was, however, a cowriting project called Polar Optimist, which Mueller started with good friend Justin Wiles, where, she says, “several of these [Hot Cotton] songs were birthed.” The songs sat for a few years, though, because because Justin moved away and Mueller started a new career as a music publicist. “I just needed a break. I had been hittin’ it really hard for like six years, and I was just burnt out. So I went the music industry route.” Mueller’s Missmatch Media marketing firm started in February 2013, and she was with Spider House from 2013 to 2015.
“Now,” she says of her re-commitment to music, “I’ve been able to actually make the time and space and have that breathing room to create again.”
She tells me, “I feel like each song, especially on this EP, is stronger than stuff I’ve written in the past. I think taking that time off and coming back to music really allowed me to be focused on natural progressions and structure.” It’s also allowed her to truly find her personal voice and tell stories that are uniquely hers. “When you’re in a band and trying to write music all the time and you’re around it all the time, you just kind of get pulled away from what is natural to you and you end up morphing into this other version of yourself that’s not necessarily very genuine. So that’s why I feel like these songs are really strong and well done, because I’ve been able to get back to who I am as an artist.”
One thing Mueller says of the album is that it’s given her the opportunity to push herself lyrically and vocally. “I’m not allowing myself to just take the easy road where I know I sound good, I’m taking risks on songs and I’ve really pushed myself out of my comfort zone in that regard. I feel like I’m growing and developing even more in this process.”
Mueller says that though the release date for the album isn’t solid yet, she’s happy with that and not pushing for it to be released before it’s ready. “I don’t want to do a half-assed release. I want to do it right. My background, being in the music industry, is very focused on marketing and publicity, and if I’m going to do it then I’m going to do it right.”
In the meantime, you can catch Hot Cotton on Sunday, October 2 at The Mohawk, where Mueller and her backing band will be playing several songs from the new album for the first time.
Kayleigh Hughes is an editor, freelance writer, and overthinker. In addition to contributing to Ovrld, Kayleigh is the film editor at Loser City and contributor to Pitchfork, Vox, The Establishment, Bustle, Austin-American Statesman and more. Talk to her about literally anything–she doesn’t have that many friends–on twitter or via email.