The mellifluous voice of Megan McInerney is intoxicating, we spoke to the Sydney born singer about her upcoming album Low Blows and the process behind its making.
There is a gentle uncertainty to Meg’s voice: She speaks with a shyness that feels at odds with the power of her music and the anthemic vocals that have propelled her to neo-soul fame. For someone who opts out of afterparties because there are too many people, Meg’s quietness becomes a still resolve when she takes the stage. Born into a family where someone was always singing; the Irish ballads, Detroit soul-pop and Memphis blues of her childhood have shaped the soulful, largely minimal arrangements that she is known for today. The mixtape Meg has made for us exemplifies this musical upbringing and the kind of clever simplicity that she plays with her in her own music. Opening with Bob Dylan’s masterful tale ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ending with the gospel tones of Leon Bridges, the mix flits from Parisian bossa nova to the Irish folk magic of Van Morrison—as Meg put it: the tracks aren’t all soul, but they’re all soulful.
You’ve just got back to Australia after recording your new album Low Blows in the States, where did that happen?
I made the album in Forth Worth, Texas, and then I went to New York to mix the album and add a few bits at Electric Lady. I’d spent a lot of time in America touring—and in between touring, I’d be rehearsing and writing. So while I’ve never lived there, I’ve spent a lot of time there.
Why the States?
I met the people from Niles City Sound in Australia when they were touring with Leon Bridges. I really love Leon’s album, and they made it. So basically that’s how I ended up in Fort Worth in Texas! Niles City Sound is almost like a studio from the ’70s, everything is original: they have tape machines, all the microphones are old, the stands, the speakers, the pianos, the synths. I fell in love with the atmosphere, and I really liked the guys that I worked with. It wasn’t a planned thing to record in America, but once I visited the studio and tried out a song, I knew it was where I was going to make my album.
I really wanted Low Blows to have that live feeling: so we didn’t really edit the vocals, and there are songs that are just entire takes. If there was a mistake in there, I just had to let it go and leave it on there. I wanted it to feel real, so—I don’t know, so that people would know me, and how I feel, and how I am, I guess.
As you were writing this album were you considering the songs as a part of a larger whole, or did they just evolve and fit together?
I kind of always write without a plan. If I sit down and try to do it that way, it just doesn’t really work for me. I just sing, and then slowly, as you keep working, it kind of all starts to make sense. I guess I had an idea of what I wanted the album to be, and how I would imagine it—but it’s lots of little things that lead you there, and you just have to let it happen naturally.
So the process is just doing what feels good?
Yeah, I really wish that I had discipline—but usually it will be midnight, and I’ll be like ‘Oh I feel like singing,’ so I’ll sit down at the piano then. I never want to put too much pressure on what it is that I am working on. Because my music is… I don’t know, I feel like each song is definitely different, how I feel at the beginning and the end is different. Each song is written over a period of time—I don’t write songs in one day or anything like that. Right now, I’m working on about ten tracks, and I haven’t worked out what the chorus is in any of them because I don’t know what I’m trying to say yet. But in a month I’ll probably be like, ‘Ah, now I know!’—I didn’t realize that not everyone writes like that. It’s weird, because you always think your way of working is normal, and then you start meeting other people then you realize that everyone does it differently.
Living in Melbourne you must meet a lot of other musicians…
Yeah, I’ve gotten to know a lot of good people from doing music here. Playing at festivals and stuff, you start meeting people, and then you work out that they live around the corner in Melbourne! I mean, I’m not the best networker, I often skip afterparties because there are too many people around, but it’s nice to meet people in the industry, and I’ve slowly found friends and people who are more like me. Everyone says that Melbourne is the music hub, so I guess it must be true. There is a lot more happening here than in other places, but you’re certainly not special if you’re a musician here.
“I’m not the best networker, I often skip afterparties because there are too many people around. But it’s nice to meet people in the industry, and I’ve slowly found friends and people who are more like me.”
Does that shyness impact on your ability to take the stage?
I definitely feel more comfortable singing than I do in real life. Interviews and things I find really difficult, but then—I could be on stage in front of a lot of people and feel really comfortable. I kind of use music to work through things, Low Blows is about not standing up for yourself and not being able find the confidence to say what you feel. The beginning of a song and its end are always quite different. It’s almost as if I use them to work through things, sometimes they’re kind of pep talks to myself [laughs].
Do you have any go-to ‘pep talk’ tracks?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan lately, and I feel like all of his songs are really detailed and complex in the stories they tell, but the messages behind them are always really simple, universal almost. They’re the sort of songs that make you realize that everyone feels what you feel. Songs like that kind of make me feel better. Most of the music I love is like this.
Obviously musicians like Dylan are a huge influence, are there any other places you draw inspiration from?
Sometimes I think it comes from anything and everything. You’ll be watching a movie or a TV show, and someone will say something, or, you’ll hear someone say something outside and you’ll realize that it really means something. But a lot of what I write about is stuff that has happened to me, or things that I am experiencing or noticing. Naturally you take things in from your surroundings, so I feel like often I do find inspiration in the most random places.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us?
Most of the songs on my playlist are older songs, I like a lot of older music. Music that’s simple and soulful. I mean there’s music on there that’s not soul, but it’s still soulful. It’s a playlist of music that has really inspired me to write. The reason that I ‘do’ music is the way that these songs make me feel, they’re songs that make me feel something that I wouldn’t quite know how to put into words otherwise.
Thanks Meg, for taking time out to chat with us before ducking off to Smith Street for your noodles. We’re looking forward to hearing the full album when it comes out!
If you like what you’ve seen (and what you’ve heard) you can check out more from Meg Mac here.