[Posted Friday, March 11, 2022]
Meet Mo Schulte, a prolific young songwriter who graduated from Wilson (now Ida B. Wells) High School in 2018. Her songs relate tales of relationship fails and successes and express inner struggles with confidence and self-esteem in pretty melodies accompanied by clever, not always sweet, wordplay.
So far she has released 29 songs, an album, two EPs and six singles, with plans to release a song on the last Friday of every month in 2022.
When she was six years old, after hearing Taylor Swift’s “I’m Only Me When I’m With You," Schulte wrote her first song. “I heard it and I was like, I want to do that.” The song was not very good, she says, “because I was six.”
At almost 22, she has a much better understanding of emotions, a larger vocabulary and a bit more life experience as well. Her songs now are about love, friendship, happiness and depression, and finding one’s way in love and life. As she says, they “beautifully express” the ugly emotions that can go along with mental health struggles and heartbreak.
In the song “Vicariously,” Schulte portrays two versions of the same woman, the one the world sees and the one she sees: I'm living vicariously / through the girl I am in my dreams / She's bold and she's cool, she's kind and she's cute / She's everything that I want to be.” “Fleeting” takes a step back for a bigger-picture view: “My therapist says I'm too stressed / My bank app thinks that I should spend less / If everyone my age is depressed / Can we really call that a coincidence?”
An Early Obsession
Once she started writing songs, she just never quit, forcing herself to sit in her room and write more. Understandably, the songs weren’t very good at first, but she kept at it, until eventually the writing started coming more naturally. “Writing songs became a part of the way I think,” she says now. “It’s become a part of my life and it’s what I’m passionate about. I love being able to express how I feel in sort of a fun, beautiful way.”
With a couple of years of bedroom-songwriting already under her belt, in 4th and 5th grade at Rieke Elementary Schulte performed in school talent shows. She played the title role in the school production of a musical version of Little Red Riding Hood that she and a group of friends proposed to principal Andrea Porter. Choir at Robert Gray Middle School, led by music teacher Jeanne Berg, kept her love of music growing. By senior year in high school, her teacher was Margaret Murer, and music was her favorite subject and her favorite activity. As a section leader, robe-keeper, at choir competitions, and as choir conductor at graduation (the highlight of her high school experience), she was all about choir: “Choir was my whole life. I was always thinking about choir. The whole choir was like a family, it was lovely and I made so many friends.”
Taylor Swift continued to be an important influence. Eight-year-old Schulte stayed up late (9 p.m.) to buy every new Taylor Swift album on release day. Middle school projects were dominated by Taylor Swift, and Schulte cemented her status as a hard-core fan by recording an entire cover album of Fearless on the family computer with karaoke tracks. But in high school, suddenly pop music and pop’s teen queen were no longer cool. “I’ve always been a huge fan of hers but I did go through a phase in high school where I pretended not to like pop music. I was insecure, but I’ve grown past that and would be a vocal Taylor Swift fan now even if she wasn’t cool and accepted!”
She says that a lot of the music she consumed up to and throughout high school was pop music, a genre in which not many artists write their own lyrics. Since then, her influences have evolved to include more songwriters and singer/songwriters. “I’ve always loved a variety of artists, but now I’m really into specific songwriters like Noah Kahan and Katelyn Tarver and Julia Michaels.” Kahan and Tarver, themselves only a few years older than Schulte, are not as well known as Michaels, who has frequently collaborated with Selena Gomez.
Schulte has long been a songwriter, but it’s only recently that she became a music producer as well. “I never thought that I was going to be doing the production myself, but I got impatient and I was like, let’s just see what I can do.” So she took the ten guitar chords she could play, learned music production software, got to know her midi keyboard really well, and figured out how to upload her songs to all the major platforms. “I’m definitely not a pro,” she says, “but I fool around and figure it out.” Her produced songs are simple, just a few instruments and unobtrusive self-backups, but they nevertheless feel complete, with a full sound.
Once she got the basics of music production down, she tackled the music video. As persistent as she was as a six-year-old working on song lyrics, she puts that same focus (she calls it stubbornness) to work now learning new skills to achieve her goals. She drew and animated “Tow Truck Man” and shot and edited video for “Love Shit” and “Don’t Leave a Trace.” “I was in a little over my head with the music video for ‘Tow Truck Man.’ It took me about 60 hours in about a week, so it was a very busy week.”
She hopes for more opportunities to perform, and is, of course, always writing. If she’s lucky, she says, she will get to make a career out of her love of creating music and writing songs.
You can hear her songs and watch her videos at https://www.moschulte.com/.
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