ABOVE: MEG MYERS. IMAGE COURTESY OF MATTHEW BURDITT
Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Meg Myers confesses that she’s not very good at expressing herself in speech. As a performer, however, she’s prone to unleashing intense flurries of emotion. In June, at a sold-out headlining show at L.A.’s Troubadour, her set climaxed with “Heart Heart Head” [below], a haunting, slow-building rock ballad that brought the singer to her knees and had her thrashing about after letting out a cathartic roar. She expended so much energy that she had to halt the next song to catch her breath.
The lovelorn facets of Myers’ dark, intimate music might evoke Sinéad O’Connor or Fiona Apple, but there are also moments of tumult and menace that trace back to her teenage fascination with grunge bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Myers, 26, was born in Nashville and spent her early childhood in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee; she was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness until the start of her teenage years. Her family later moved to Ohio and then Florida, where she bypassed high school and played alongside her brother in the grunge/punk-rock band, Feeling Numb.
Myers first gained Internet attention with her late 2011 video for “Monster,” a song that includes the lyrics: “I gotta kill you, my love.” A subsequent video for “Curbstomp” depicted her being beaten by stuffed animals at a playful tea party turned nightmarish. “Curbstomp” and “Monster” bookend Myers’ 2012 self-released debut EP, Daughter in the Choir. She signed with Atlantic Records in early 2013 and is working on a debut LP slated for 2014. At tonight’s Mercury Lounge show, her first ever in New York, she’ll be backed by three musicians. In September, she will support the Pixies for select shows in Los Angeles and New York.
CHRIS TINKHAM: What was December 31st, 2012 like for you?
MEG MYERS: I think that was a pretty great day, because that might have been my last day waitressing. I worked really hard to get to that point, where I was able to quit. I’m really grateful. But also, I’m not a huge celebrating type of person. We did, we celebrated, but it’s like the work has just begun. It’s always work, but it’s like another beginning.
TINKHAM: What do you feel when you perform “Heart Heart Head”?
MYERS: It always changes depending on what I’m going through. But, at the same time, there always is some sort of similar feeling that comes. I just feel really emotional when I play it. I feel like this in all of the songs, but especially “Heart Heart Head,” I’m able to lose myself completely. Whatever I’m going through, I feel it, and I just connect to it in that song. It’s more of a raw song, so I don’t have to focus as much on my singing, and I can let go, and that feels so good. That’s the one song I can let my insanity out on.
TINKHAM: In the “Curbstomp” video, you’re made up to look bruised and bloodied. It’s unsettling to see. What’s it like for you to see yourself like that?
MYERS: It’s funny to me. It’s complete humor to me, the video. When you go to make a video, there are all these different people working together, so there’s no way it can be exactly what’s in your head. But yeah, I have a sick sense of humor. [laughs]
TINKHAM: Are you morbid?
MYERS: Yeah. [laughs] But I’m silly too.
TINKHAM: Do you feel that there’s a connection between love and violence?
MYERS: I think that I do sometimes. I think it has to do with my astrology chart.
TINKHAM: How so?
MYERS: I’m a Libra, but I have a lot of Scorpio. My mom is really into it, and my best friend is. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I had a reading done, and it taught me a lot about myself. I get into that stuff on deeper levels, not like into horoscopes or anything. My whole life, until just a year ago, love and violence were similar things. Not as much for me anymore. I guess maybe I’m growing up.
TINKHAM: You left the Smoky Mountains for Ohio when you were six?
MYERS: Yeah, Toledo.
TINKHAM: What was that period like? What was school like?
MYERS: We moved around a lot, and we went to a lot of different schools. It was my mom and my stepdad that I moved with. My dad stayed back in Tennessee, my dad’s whole side of the family.
TINKHAM: Your parents divorced?
MYERS: Yeah, they divorced, and me and my stepdad and my mom moved to Toledo. It was really tough. There was always a lot of love between us, even though we didn’t have a lot of money. I have a lot of feelings from all of that, from my upbringing, that definitely are part of my music. Whether lyrically or emotionally, it plays a part in the way I write.
TINKHAM: How did being a Jehovah’s Witness affect your upbringing?
MYERS: We were pretty sheltered for the first 12 years of my life, at least until I stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness. It was kind of difficult. School was hard for me. I didn’t get terribly made fun of, but I did sometimes, and of course kids aren’t going to understand at that age. It’s hard to talk about, because it goes so much deeper than words can explain.
TINKHAM: Your dad played guitar, and your mom played piano and guitar?
MYERS: My dad bought me a guitar when I was nine, and at some point we ended up having to pawn it for money. So, I didn’t have it for too long. I didn’t really pick up guitar again until it was this need in me. I needed an outlet so bad. Between 11 and 13, I really started getting serious about it. It was never forced on me. It was just there, and I needed a way to express myself, ’cause I’m not very good at expressing myself through words or talking. So I just did it. And we had some pianos and crappy keyboards lying around too.
TINKHAM: Was your grandfather a singer?
MYERS: Yeah. Fred Boyd was his name. I think he traveled around and toured. He was a folk singer, and that was my mom’s dad. But he died right after I was born, so I didn’t know much of his stuff until I got older.
TINKHAM: What can you tell me about Feeling Numb?
MYERS: [laughs] Oh, my gosh. When I started playing bass, when I was 13, my brother wanted to start a band. He played guitar and sang. I started singing too, writing my own songs on the side. So he taught me how to play bass. We found a drummer. We just started writing songs. It was kind of a grunge/punk rock band. It was like Nirvana but a little more punk-influenced. He would sing on some songs, and I would sing on some. I wasn’t going to school anymore, so we just started playing at clubs and stuff. We were in Florida by this time, ’cause we had moved when I was 12 to South Florida. So we were playing a bunch of clubs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. And we just did that until I was 17. Then I wanted to get a little more into acoustic, bluesy sort of songwriting, maybe a little more poppy too. I wanted to sing more too, and so I left. After that, I moved to L.A.
TINKHAM: Have you tried acting since moving to L.A.?
MYERS: Yeah, I did when I was, like, 23. I took acting classes for three months or so, and I love it. There’s something similar to music, and I just love movies, and I love music in movies. I love acting. I think it’s so beautiful, and it was a really good way for me to express myself. I like having different outlets, like drawing and acting and dancing. It’s nice to have other things. I would definitely do it again. It would just have to be a part that I really connected to.
TINKHAM: How did you become friendly with rats?
MYERS: That was a few years ago. I knew that I couldn’t get a dog or cats. I was busy a lot, and I couldn’t get something that cost too much. I was like, “I need to give love to something,” so I went and picked out two baby rats. They were like five bucks, for two of them. It was a new thing to me. I had never taken care of them. I had no idea about them. I started reading about them, and I started getting really attached to them. And they just became the loves of my life. They’re so intelligent. They’re like little dogs. It’s kind of therapy for me to have an animal around.
TINKHAM: I saw on your YouTube channel a lovely song called “Home.” Is that something you’re still working on?
MYERS: I wrote that one day in my house. I was feeling really sad about being in L.A. I go in and out of those days, from spending a lot of time growing up in nature with not so many people. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming being here. It was such a release to write that song. So I just recorded it, and that’s it. We haven’t done anything with it. I don’t know if we’re going to.
TINKHAM: What’s guiding the newer material these days? Are you searching for the songs through trial and error with the instruments, maybe waiting for moments of lyrical inspiration? Or do you have a vision in mind that you’re chasing?
MYERS: Me and Andy Rosen, we collaborate on the songs. In general, I sit down, or we sit down together. Sometimes we write things separately, and then we’ll come together and finish them. A lot of times lately, we just start things from scratch. We’ll come up with something on guitar or on piano and then a melody, and then we write lyrics. I just have to connect to it. It has to be something that I’m going through, or something that I’m feeling or thinking about. Generally, the best things connect to our souls.