Mikayla Braun is a dynamic, New Orleans-based, songwriter, performer, multi-instrumentalist, and community advocate. With years of captivating performances and recordings under her belt, Mikayla embodies music for the mind – she’s no stranger to using music to manage mental health, as well as offer such original music to others for catharsis and connection. Whether she’s making the audience swoon at a hotel bar, uplifting spirits on a festival stage, lending her vocals to her own records or others, or facilitating her own benefit concerts, Mikayla’s commitment to community and musical enthusiasm translate across all stages of life!
How would you describe your music in three words?
Warm, fierce, and comforting
What is the earliest memory you have that made you think, “I want to do that!” in regard to pursuing music and the creative arts?
Probably when my parents took me to see my first real concert. It was Etta James at BB King’s Club in New York, and I was thirteen. I don’t know if I’d even put together that I could pursue music as a career yet, but I remember something shifted in me that evening. I was just so taken by her personality and performance- she really moved me. It wasn't until I graduated from college (with a degree in something else) that I actually decided to try and pursue music. That being said, I do remember watching a bunch of VH1’s Behind the Music episodes when I was a kid and planning out who’d be a part of mine one day, so maybe pursuing a music career was in the back of my mind all along.
Your music career has dynamic, diverse, and full of growth - from solo shows to full-band work, leading the charge as vocalist on others' projects to major festivals, and then some. That's a lot of eclectic engagement in your creative work! With this trajectory in mind, how have your musical endeavors changed over time?
Thank you, I feel very lucky to live in a city like New Orleans where all of this collaboration is accessible and encouraged! As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to reflect on what actually brings me joy and fulfillment vs. what I feel like I’m “supposed” to be doing as a musician, and that's helped guide me in a really nice way. What’s never wavered in terms of my musical endeavors has been wanting to learn as much as I can, play and collaborate with as many musical minds as possible, and connect with people through music all over the world. These intentions have led me to where I am today, and hopefully will continue to facilitate the growth of my career in new and exciting directions.
Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to lift you up-not to be escapist but to take you out of misery.” Reflecting on this sentiment, how has music gotten you through hard times in your life?
I love Allen Toussaint so much. So many of his lyrics have led me to think in a different kind of way. Particularly pertaining to the previous question - “what is success”? Anyway, yes music has totally gotten me through some hard times in my life. Playing the piano is very cathartic for me, especially when it’s not for any purpose but to play and let go. No writing, singing, or keeping anything, just playing what I’m feeling and then letting those feelings float into the past with the notes. It also helps me to listen to sad music when I’m sad, angry music when I’m angry, etc. It’s not that it necessarily brings me joy, but I feel understood, and that feels comforting. Most of the time I prefer to process my deep feelings on my own, and I think music is a beautiful way to bridge the gap between feeling privately and feeling alone.
What does the phrase “Music for the Mind” mean to you?
I think of healing, or just anything beneficial. We take such precautions for the health of our bodies, getting yearly checkups, going to physical therapy, getting our teeth and eyes checked…but we’re still so far behind in caring equally for our mental health! I think we’re getting closer to destigmatizing mental health issues, but we have a long way to go. To me, Music for the Mind is Medicine for the Mind!
In addition to music as a cathartic measure, what other resources or coping tools do you use for your own mental well-being?
A good hang with a loved one is always a great resource. The people in my life are extremely important to me, so I very much enjoy nurturing my relationships. I also love to be in nature (preferably by a body of water). Something about listening to the sounds of nature and watching animals do their thing grounds me and sets me back on track. I also meditate, crochet, and take walks around my beautiful New Orleans neighborhood.
As we close our interview, what are some final thoughts that you’d like to leave our readers with?
Take time to yourself, for yourself, doing whatever brings you that solid guttural joy. Often! Your mind matters and mental health is so important. I’ve been struggling with mine since I was a teen and I am so thankful for music and therapy and the tools I’ve received from both. I wish therapy (music or otherwise) was more widely accessible to everyone. But the more we talk about mental health the more it will become normalized/less stigmatized, and hopefully more people will be able to offer and/or receive the help they need!
To learn more about Mikayla, check out:
Official Website: https://www.mikaylabraunmusic.com/
All photos by Dominique Richard for the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation.