IMAGE COURTESY OF JASON CREPS
Megan Reilly’s voice and spirit are immediately captivating. She brings warmth to even the darkest of topics—a few of which are covered on her new album, The Well. From breakups to death, the material can be maudlin, but Reilly is a skilled songstress: she beautifies what she touches.
We caught up with Reilly over the phone during her recent break from touring. Although she was feeling under the weather, she graciously offered her time to talk about balancing touring with raising a young kid, being influenced by the Memphis music scene, and her plans for the rest of the year.
MEGAN REILLY: I have a little laryngitis, so I sound a little croaky, but I can do this.
JARED LEVY: Good to hear. Have you had to keep going through with the performances?
REILLY: I just had a little tour and it happened the last day. I think it’s because I keep getting colds from my kid, who is in preschool. When you have a kid that’s with a bunch of kids every day, they just bring home diseases and give them to you.
LEVY: That’s a bummer.
REILLY: I know, but I’m a trooper. I’m going to make it through.
LEVY: How do you navigate splitting attention between taking care of your kid and doing these tours? Is your tour set up around events that you have to be home for?
REILLY: I do long weekends, and I have family that helps. I have one daughter, so I don’t have a house full of children, which would make it harder. Definitely doing a little bit here and a little bit there as opposed to being gone for two months. I couldn’t do that unless it was something that was such great money that I could bring a team of people with me. It’s totally doable and I’m actually more inspired to do it now then before I had her. I guess I was kind of afraid of really putting myself out there. And then once I had her I felt like, well, I’m definitely mortal [laughs] and I need to make my music and I need to get it out there and not be so lazy. Growing up and starting music in Memphis, I kind of was a little lazy because it’s a lazy town. There were a lot of people I was surrounded by that did great things, like The Grifters, The Oblivions, and Jay Reatard who was really young and just starting when I moved away. A lot of great musicians are there, but the town is slow and that definitely had an impact on the way that I worked before I had her.
LEVY: How did you come into music? Was it just something that was always around? When did you start playing music?
REILLY: I definitely think that I inherited it from my grandmother from Ireland who stopped playing music when her sister died tragically, which is really sad and not something that I ever knew about or she ever talked to me about. I found out after she died. So I feel like, oh well, that kind of makes sense, because music isn’t an important part of my parents’ lives and they don’t have any sort of artistic talents. So I feel like well maybe that’s just something hidden in my DNA.
When I got into high school I started to teach myself how to play guitar after I knew I wanted to sing. I started playing with bands there, when I was about 18. So going out to The Antenna and seeing all those bands that I already mentioned, that had a huge impact on me, even though I don’t play anything like what The Oblivions or Reigning Sound sounds like. Even though I was a stupid kid, I liked just going and I liked to drink and have fun, it definitely left an impact on me.
LEVY: You didn’t have any formal musical training?
REILLY: No, I didn’t.
LEVY: And the guitar was the instrument you took to?
REILLY: Well, first it was singing; singing is always first. I felt like, I don’t want to wait to be able to play, wait to find people to play with, so I guess I’ll write my own songs. I kind of just stumbled into doing it and quickly realized that I could maybe be good at it.
LEVY: Was there a band or a song that spoke to you in such a way that you felt like you wanted to be part of the larger music tradition?
REILLY: All I listened to in high school was the ’60s psychedelic, folk, rock-and-roll. I loved Cat Stevens and I loved Jefferson Airplane. I loved all of that really heartfelt, musically diverse music. That’s what really got to me.
LEVY: It seems that you take a very personal approach to songwriting. Is that informed by the music you listened to, or does that just feel like a natural outgrowth of the way you express yourself artistically?
REILLY: Well, I think it’s definitely influenced by that music. I connect it so much to it, especially stuff like Cat Stevens, because I felt like it was my saving grace. When I was that age, I kind of locked myself in my room and that was an escape from a home life that wasn’t ideal. I think that that was the root of it and it’s just—as I go—I guess I formed a habit of that. It’s personal, but I think that I write in a way where you can hear that it’s personal but you might not know exactly what I’m singing about. That’s a way that I guard myself, because I don’t really want to give it all away.
LEVY: Of your songs, what song do you think is the closest to that approach?
REILLY: I was going to say of everything on the record, “Little Angel” was the hardest one to bring to the band. I felt like, well, this is good, but it was a hard thing for me to write. As soon as I brought it to Steve [Goulding] and Jim [Mastro] in the rehearsal, Steve said, “Oh, this reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s song ‘Albatross.'” I love Fleetwood Mac, but I wasn’t familiar with Peter Green. I didn’t know about pre-Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac. So, I went back and I heard that song and I listened to it all summer. It really influenced the way that song came out. It’s good and people say it’s really inspiring that you can take that really hard moment and make art out of it and I guess that’s true. I just never thought that that’s what I was setting out to do. It’s kind of like I might go nuts if I don’t do it. Sometimes you just can’t articulate with words the way something painful feels and music is what makes it better.
LEVY: When you present your songs to the band, especially on this album, are you bringing them a demo or more of the skeleton of something, or is it pretty complete?
REILLY: In order to make a record—being busy with my kid—I felt like, okay, I can’t censor myself as much as I’ve been in the habit of doing in the past. I really felt like the way that I’m going to be most confident in playing this song to these guys, who have been playing for 500 years [laughs] and are amazing, is if I can have it as finished as possible so that it seems like it’s ready to work on. Normally, I fiddle around at home on my guitar and I’ll come up with something. If we’re incredibly busy and we’re only going to get one practice before a gig, I’ll send them an mp3 of something I’ve been working on, but usually we really try to get together with new songs and I’ll play it for them and they’re about 75% done when I bring them in. They write all their own parts and they’re so good that they just get written pretty quickly when I bring it to them.
LEVY: What does the rest of 2012 have in store for you?
REILLY: Lots of playing and traveling, hopefully. I’ve got a bunch of dates coming up. Now, I’m focused on getting stuff going for the fall. I would love to start writing for a new record. Maybe have another kid, too. It’s hard to imagine doing both, but I people do it and I just have to say, “I’m going to do it.” It’s hard, but I’m just going to try.