My first introduction to Cheyenne Marie Mize came several years ago when the Louisville-based songwriter appeared on Among the Gold, a six-song EP of 19th century American parlor music with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Still, I knew little of her solo work until last fall, when I caught Mize’s set at Hopscotch music festival in Raleigh. Her sprawling performance at the crowded bar was all I needed to see: Cheyenne Marie Mize is far better suited to be a bandleader than a bandmember.
We had originally planned to shoot on the back porch of a house on Riverside Drive. In the cooler months, the location offers a clear and breathtaking overlook of the River District and downtown. But I hadn’t considered the extent of new growth that comes with spring, and the vibrant foliage has all but erased the once stunning views. I called Cheyenne, somewhat embarrassed, to break the news. She was undeterred, and her casual, up-for-anything attitude instantly set me at ease.
We met at One Stop downtown, where Mize would perform a full set later that evening. She showed up alone and empty handed, having given her band the afternoon off to have drinks and dinner at The LAB. I arrived toting my acoustic guitar. Mize’s newest offering is a loud, rock-centric affair, and the multi-instrumentalist had only brought her electric guitar for these dates.
We walked into town aimlessly, hoping to stumble on a quiet, comfortable spot to film. We passed Pritchard Park, and it seemed as good a spot as any. Cheyenne set up on a bench, I asked a nice older gentleman to turn down his radio and we started rolling. Strangely, although my office is less than a block away, I rarely venture into the park, and it felt as unfamiliar and new to me as it must have to Cheyenne.
We shot several takes of “It Lingers,” battling the roar of city buses and the echo of passing sirens with little success. Each ruined take fed my anxiety, but Cheyenne was friendly and talkative. As before, her patience set me at ease, and eventually we made it through the entire song without interruption.
As we left the park, I asked Cheyenne if she’d like to film a song on the piano in World Coffee Cafe, fully expecting the singer to opt for dinner with her band instead. To my surprise, she seemed excited about the prospect, and we headed around the corner to scope out the room.
This performance was about as casual and impromptu as they come. Several customers were chatting in the back, and when they asked if we’d like them to move, I signaled to Cheyenne that it was her call. “No,” she said, “you’re all right.” The piano was old and out of tune, but she seemed charmed by its worn quality. Cheyenne wailed on the old upright, belting out a bouncy melody that sent shivers up my spine and bellowed through the entire shop. Strangely, the customers took little notice: you can hear the ring of a cell phone near the end of the performance, and the dreadlocked Grateful Dead fan in the background is so focused on his sewing that he is oblivious to the performance taking place a few feet away.
“Going Under” was filmed on a lark. Neither of us had anticipated recording on a piano, and the surroundings were … well, a little weird. But Cheyenne’s raw talent, willingness to experiment and performing experience shone through. Despite the less than stellar audio quality, I think its rough-around-the-edges quality actually makes for a more compelling video. And with a voice as powerful as Cheyenne’s, you really can’t go wrong.