Mesonjixx on Outlandia, Growth and Expansive Nebraskan Soul Music
The Nebraska native talks musical origins, new live album and upcoming festival performance.
Mary Elizabeth Jo Dixen Pelenaise Kapi’olani Lawson, in short Mesonjixx, started singing during her high school days at Lincoln North Star, but it wasn’t until 2015 when the Nebraskan neo soul artist performed original music live for the first time. While initially a solo act, Lawson has played with various full bands, duos, trios and quartets of percussion, guitars, basses and keyboards. Seven years after her debut, Mesonjixx has played all over the Midwest, including opening for Kamasi Washington in 2020 and appearing at the True/False Independent Film Festival in Columbia, MO two years in a row. Still, something feels comfortable about playing Nebraska, Lawson said.
Mesonjixx will perform this summer at the Outlandia Music Festival August 12-13 as well as a mini tour across Missouri. The performances come on the heels of a live album — a rerecording of her debut EP from 2017. Dissatisfied with the studio version, she brought her and her new band to Culxr House in Nov. 2021 for a new rendition. The recording was released on Bandcamp in March.
The Reader sat down with Lawson to discuss her new album, how she found music and what the Outlandia audience can expect from her performance this Saturday, August 13.
TR: For those not familiar with its origins, how did you come up with the stage name Mesonjixx?
ML: Mesonjixx is an amalgamation of all of my names, minus my Hawaiian middle name. So Mesonjixx is little moments of each name.
TR: Why did you start writing music?
ML: I do it because I really love it, it’s a lot of fun. My life has always brought me back to music. No matter where I am or what I’m doing. I always find myself in communities where music is being made.
TR: Have you always been interested in music? Or was it something that became more important in your life as you matured and were in the right space to pursue it?
ML: I’ve always had an inkling that music would be in my life in some significant way. I don’t think it was until my junior or senior year in high school, I had a really incredible choir teacher, and she really encouraged me to pursue music in any capacity. I audition[ed] for a lot of different musical theater scholarships and vocal performance scholarships, and that’s when I got a little bit more serious about it. When I moved to Chicago, I studied vocal performance and theater while at Columbia College. That’s when I was like, “Oh my gosh, I really want to do this.” I was about 22 at that time, so I was a little bit mature but still really naive about a lot of things in life. I hadn’t really found my voice at that time either. I am still continuing to learn about my voice now.
TR: Since you studied musical theater, I have to ask, what’s your favorite musical?
ML: There are so many great musicals out there. “Carousel” comes to mind. It’s a really old musical but the reason why I chose it is because when I was in high school, I was studying Audra McDonald. She was in “Carousel” and a lot of the music in that show is great.
TR: You made the decision to pull your first EP from streaming platforms. Could you explain how you made that decision and why?
ML: My first EP was recorded and released in 2017. And at that time, I was playing pretty consistently with a group of musicians who I no longer play with. I had been going back and forth about that project for a while after I released it. The actual process of recording didn’t have the best energy behind it. When I speak about that I’m talking about the people involved in recording. Really specifically, one person was like the rotten apple. When it was released, I felt like I did it because of a lot of pressure that I had put on myself to release it. I think it needed a lot more time. I felt rushed. I felt a lot of different things. I wasn’t really listening to myself. I had a lot of different voices in my ear at the time. This was five years ago, so I’ve definitely grown from that experience. Two years later is when I decided to pull it because I knew I wanted to rerecord it live with [guitarist] Myles [Janowski] and [drummer] Keli [Dawes] and with my current bassist Jacob [Sorensen] and my current keyboard player Nate [Asad] and just really honor it in that way.
TR: What was the process like recording that live album that was released earlier this year?
ML: Because a lot of those songs were on the EP, it wasn’t really a lot of extra work on my part or the band’s part. We just went in and performed them as we do live. It was really incredible because the show sold out within hours. People were really excited about it because a lot of people know that there’s been a contentious relationship between me and my project, specifically the EP. The evening was really beautiful. A lot of loved ones were in the space. I think we did the songs justice, of course, there are imperfections. It was a live recording, but I love that about the album. It’s a really great gem to have in my discography, and I feel proud about this one.
TR: Is the album going to remain solely on Bandcamp? Will it be released to other streaming platforms?
ML: It’ll remain on Bandcamp for now. There is a live music video that is from that event on my YouTube channel, so you can get a peek into what the energy was like. As far as other streaming platforms, I plan to release some new work this year on Spotify and Apple Music and all that stuff.
TR: If you could describe your music in three words, what would those three words be?
ML: Femme, expansive, soul.
TR: Do you have a special connection to performing in Nebraska? Does Outlandia feel sort of different because it’s taking place in your home state?
ML: I do have a special relationship with performing in Nebraska. I’ve been doing it [performing in state] for six years pretty consistently. More in Lincoln over the last four years and kind of catching a gig here in Omaha and in Missouri, like Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis. But yeah, it is significant in Nebraska because there is such loyal support from the audience that Mesonjixx has cultivated. People are interested in seeing where this work takes me, where I can go with it and how it evolves. I hold that as a responsibility. I don’t ever want to overlook Nebraska for all that it’s done for me as a musician, so I always make it a point to like to play locally before or after a tour.
TR: What are you most looking forward to about Outlandia? What can audience members expect from your performance?
ML: I’m actually meeting with someone this week who has experience with light design. I’m thinking about the whole experience for the Outlandia show since it’s such a big festival. I’m going to be playing some older material. I’ll be opening up the set with newer material, maybe ending the set with some newer material, but in between will be some familiar tunes that are on the live album. There will be some really cool visuals happening. I’ve really been interested in film and cinematography as an active medium, so I’m planning to play with that a bit too. There’ll be a lot going on and really great music being shared.
Photograph by Bridget McQuillan
This story was originally published in The Reader.