“On Friday I was in Halifax with Bowfire, and yesterday I was in, um – wait, what day is it today?” Forgive Miranda Mulholland, the Toronto-based fiddler and singer whose dance card is almost always full. We’ve met in Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel, where the cheerful, industrious musician often has a coffee and does her business on a laptop at a corner table. It’s hard to know exactly where to begin our conversation: Her new album? Her fledgling record label? Her whimsical salons? Her stealthy ubiquity? Turns out there is time to chat about it all, as it is a slow Monday morning. (She checks her calendar.)
She is woman, hear her roar
Mulholland is a visible artist on the Canadian roots music scene – “I think most people who listen to the CBC, whether they know or it not, have heard me play or sing” – thanks to her associations with folk-rockers Great Lake Swimmers, roots trio Belle Star, string-music spectacle Bowfire and scattered singing and fiddling assignments with artists such as Jim Cuddy, Cowboy Junkies and Sarah Slean. Next month she finally releases her debut solo album, Whipping Boy, a graceful, woodsy and occasional old-timey collection that christens a label (Roaring Girl Records) she co-runs with her manager. “It’s boutique,” says Mulholland, “for artists with high musical skill and who have put in their 10,000 hours, and who also want to cross genres.” Mulholland identifies her inspirations as Alison Krauss, Chris Thile and Yo-Yo Ma. “These people have such a high level of proficiency on their instruments, which I think leads to a restlessness to create different things and to collaborate with other artists.”
It’s not over until the red-haired lady fiddles
Classically trained, Mulholland studied opera performance at the University of Western Ontario and McGill University. Ultimately, however, Viking horns weren’t a good fit upon her trademark head of extroverted red hair. “I would watch my best friend, who was also studying opera, and I would be so mesmerized by watching her excel at this Olympic sport that is opera singing, which was something I couldn’t really do.” Mulholland’s voice was smaller – fine for Baroque, but not for power roles. Figaro’s loss was roots music’s gain, though. “I’d be in an opera, then I’d run down to the pub and play the fiddle to pay the rent,” says Mulholland, whose résumé lists stints with the Calgary-based Celtic cacophony Barrage and the Irish-pub rockers the Mahones. Financially, it pays to be flexible and versatile, but the variety in Mulholland’s game was always in the cards. “I’ve never wanted to pick a lane,” she says. “Maybe that held me back, or maybe that helped me. But I live for the diversity.”
Her life is a cabaret
Coming shows for Mulholland include participation in the new weekly cabaret series, hosted by Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto’s Distillery District. She’ll take part in a songbook salute to Don McLean’s American Pie (April 19) and headline her own cabaret a week later. One of her more unique projects is something she calls La Belle Éparkdale, which is a salon series held in offbeat venues in the Parkdale neighbourhood where she lives.
Mulholland pairs wine with musical performers, for unexpected evenings. Last year, she held a “secret” East Coast kitchen party at a location that was undisclosed in advance. “Everybody had a great time, because nobody knew how to act,” she explains, about an idiosyncratic event held on different floors in an empty house. “There’s no precedent, so people are more present and pay more attention.” The sentiment applies to Mulholland herself, an artist with no book to go by and whose future is blue sky. “No day,” she says, “is ever the same.”