Meet Mighloe, a rising singer who channels all her fiery emotions through an R&B alter ego
The Pickering, Ont., singer opens up about her ongoing journey of musical self-discovery
Mighloe is in tourist mode right now. The Pickering, Ont., R&B musician is currently calling from London, England, where she just landed mere hours ago, and while she is groggy from the jet lag she seems to be beaming with excitement to explore the culture of a brand new city. But Mighloe (real name Mariah Wheeler) isn't here just to visit landmarks — this marks one of her official business trips, one as an artist looking to find inspiration, and collaborators, for new music.
Growing up, Wheeler didn't realize singing could translate into a real career. In her mind, you had to be "one of the chosen ones," like her idols Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin or Otis Redding, to become a professional artist. But roughly five years ago, a light bulb went off: Wheeler entered a recording studio for the first time and completed a song. That experience, plus the words of encouragement from those who heard her track, pushed her to realize that pursuing a career in music was very much a possibility.
As a result of that epiphany, Wheeler decided to drop out of post-secondary school, where she was studying criminal justice, and seek out people and programs that could help her develop her craft. She enrolled in the Remix Project, a Toronto organization that helps young people from marginalized and under-served communities who are trying to enter into creative industries, and whose alumni include Wondagurl, FrancisGotHeat and Jessie Reyez.
"That's what really shaped Mighloe," Wheeler explains, often noting her artist name as a bold and daring alter ego in contrast to the more introspective side she retreats to in her day-to-day life. "[The Remix Project] really taught me everything that comes with being an artist because there's more than just writing music and putting it out. They taught me a level of competence that I didn't have before and taught me how to enter a room and make myself known in those spaces."
She also took part in SOCAN's incubator program, which provided even more mentorship and opportunities. While she may have dropped out of school, these learning experiences were a whole new kind of education for Wheeler, and it gave her a formidable foundation to build off of.
For someone who is self-described as shy and more low-key when she's not performing or in studio, Wheeler says music and writing are "like therapy for me." Songwriting allows her to unleash big, sometimes very raw emotions, which naturally found a place in R&B even though Wheeler says growing up in a mixed-race family meant her musical intake varied from soul to reggae, from rock to country. Guitars factor heavily into the sound of Mighloe, creating woozy, almost psychedelic soundscapes combined with live drums, perfect for Wheeler to spill her heartbreak atop. (A big part of Wheeler's progress as a musician so far is unlocking a level of honesty in her songs that lets her feel both open and comfortable with who she is, including her identity as a queer Black woman.)
On Desperate Times, her most recent EP (her third-ever release), Wheeler channels doo-wop ("Cruel"), soul ("Don't Call Me") and jazz ("Into the Tide") through her expressive voice, a timbre that feels untethered to a time or era. It leaves the sound of Mighloe feeling both classic and contemporary, a result of starting off working with more rappers and perhaps bound to the trap trends in Toronto, but now moving toward what works best for her and her interests, which is distinctly outside of the sonic world of her hometown. "I think I naturally fell into the scene [in Toronto] because those were the people that were providing me with opportunities," she reflects. "I didn't have friends in Pickering yet who were doing music; you very much had to go into the city to become an artist."
Which leads us back to England, and Mighloe's continued evolution. Five years into her career, Wheeler has yet to land on a sound and identity that she can call her own yet, but she's inching closer everyday. Trips like the one she's on now are an indication of her efforts to expand and experiment, to "always be different than the last thing I put out," as she says. All in pursuit of becoming the ultimate version of Mighloe that, as fans who have been on this journey with her, we can't wait to meet.