“I’ve realized that writing about a fictional character is my way to create enough space to tell the story that I want to tell.” ~Meg Kirsch
Meg Kirsch had a unique start to her songwriting when she was little. Although her dad was a drummer, there weren’t very many instruments in the house. Meg wanted to tell stories with music and didn’t have any clue where to start. “When you’re a kid and you want to do something, you see the destination but have no direction on how to get there. You make it up,” Meg shares.
Cut to this giant collection of cassettes that were handed down to her. All of them had words except for Kenny G. Meg jokes,
“So no one left me any space to really create except for old Ken.”
She would write lyrics and oftentimes draw a line as a note to herself to how the melody would go. Since she couldn’t read music and didn’t know any music theory, the line would look like an EKG diagram. It gave her a visible map to the song that could be used in a variety of ways.
She learned how to fit syllables into a phrase, listening to where the builds happened and created an awareness of space and timing. She learned where things sounded nice and where she should just let the music breath, and found one is bound to evolve and refine their proficiency doing this over and over.
Listening to her first release, Street Cat, I definitely feel like those childhood writing sessions developed some strong skills. “Hometown” has a prime example. In the bridge, Meg sings, “And though you hate me and I don’t blame you. The truth is sometimes I hate me too.”
There is then a long pause and hold. It’s a brilliant decision to allow the listener to let that line sink it. It becomes a powerful moment because of that intuitive spacing and delay. Kenny G would be proud.
Meg shares that all the songs were written in various bedrooms. They all start out as acoustic guitar-based before evolving from there. As someone who learned to write music by telling a story and setting it to song, it makes a lot of sense for her to write on the guitar. Song ideas typically happen in stages for her. If she’s written half a song, she probably won’t go back to it for a long time.
This only leads to her trying to finish it and immediately play it for people. This then becomes a double-edged sword as she’ll either commit to it ‘as-is’ because “people have heard it and of course I can’t change it” or she’ll totally scrap it and rearrange the entire song.
When asked who gets to listen to the half-songs, Meg cringes and laughingly shares that she’s never sharing those. She likes to hold onto it until it’s complete. Receiving feedback from others is crucial to her process, but only when she’s ready.
I was surprised to learn that “Hometown” is not about a particular partner, but more about herself. The song is a reflection about dealing with relationships when you don’t feel equipped to end them. When she was younger Meg struggled with this.
“When the breaking up needed to happen, I would panic and shut off. I don’t like to hurt people.” Meg discloses, “Turns out hurting happens in tenfold when you just go away.” Because of this, the song is a little bit of an apology.
“Still learning back in college what it felt like to be honest
You fought me fair and I was slamming doors”
Away from home in college, forming new relationships, learning who she was and how to function in society as an almost-adult, Meg had a lot of trouble learning how to be honest with other people, and even herself. She would shove things down for the sake of other people. If it’s what’s best for someone else, she’d go along with it. This song expresses that guilt in stating ‘I should have known how to do this.’ Meg confesses she tends to assume responsibility in all forms.
“You said my heart was a wilderness
So I shut down like I always did
I never learned to hear the things I need”
Written as the last verse to complete the song, using the imagery of the wilderness as a reference to her heart is complex and beautiful at the same time. Megs reveals “I’m a very emotional, very loving person. For me, it was really tough for someone else to experience anything different. That line was a summation of how I think other people have experienced relationships with me, which is a bummer.”
“Lookin’ back, lookin’ so blue
Lookin’ back, lookin’ at you”
It’s a hard lesson to learn that your actions affect other people. “Hometown” acknowledges responsibility and sharing how to be compassionate to your past-self. You didn’t have to have everything figured out. You did your best. This song is closest to Meg’s heart because it feels like the most honest song she’s written. She adds that it was very easy and yet emotionally layered to write, but it felt necessary. Those were the things she needed to get out and process.
Starting out with a dreamy shaker loop and a tangle of guitar tones, “Street Cat” primes us for a mix of emotions. The opening lines strike heavy and the entire first verse paints a beautiful picture we want to know more about. Meg maintains that she resonates very freely with nature and is always in awe of creation. It makes it easy to pull from, which we also hear in the verse.
“My life has been a song of running away
If I try to deviate, my heart keeps pace
Don’t know how but it still goes on
I think I heard you from the wood so deep
You were calling after me
Couldn’t stop to turn around”
The instrumentation is pretty minor and has a fairly sad vibe to it. Meg thought, ‘what if I wrote something lighthearted over it?’ The song became a story about a being that thought they didn’t need anybody. As the lyrics progress, they figure out that they can’t exist alone. Like a street cat who wanders around, runs away, and doesn’t always take help from others, it’s a clever comparison that plays throughout. We all have moments where we wonder if we’re good enough and are we worth it.
“I’m just a street cat, not too much to look at
I think by now you should know that
All I am is trying to love you back”
Verse two reveals a character already having been accepted, but not quite realizing it. There’s a reconciling of your own perceived shortcomings or flaws.The chorus then keeps pulling us back to this feeling of not being worthy, tying everything together.
“I’m a little weak, I’m a little weak
I’m a little weak and I don’t think you mind”
The ending of the song is strung out. It takes us on this elongated journey of sounds where Meg plays the same riff over and over. They messed with the guitar pedals to create the textures and keep the mood going. Meg describes the ending of the song as “sonically, a feeling of figuring stuff out.” They cut and moved parts around with abandon. It makes perfect sense when the story is about discovering the freedom you already have and deciding you’re worthy of it.
The recording of Meg Kirsch’s album was a hesitant choice. She wanted her first release to be a full length, but when all of her talented friends wanted to play on her songs, so she finally dove in. “I didn’t know what I was waiting for,” claims Meg.
The 5 tracks were initially handed over to her bandmates with very little direction. She didn’t want to be dictating everything. After looking up synonyms for vibes, she shared a list of atmospheric verbs with a goal in mind. There was trust in her band due to their talent and ability to shape the sounds.
The empowerment she gave them translated to an immediate impact in the recording of the music. The bass player, Cooper Doten, jumped on Wurlitzer, electric guitar, picked things up, and ran with ideas. Matthew Decker added drums and recorded shaker throughout the songs so they wouldn’t have to play to a stagnant metronome. Due to the feeling and groove of the shaker parts, many of the performers stayed in the songs. Andrew Schibilla plays keys and guitar, layering tones to sculpt that mood. Even their engineer Danny O’Brien challenged Meg to write a song about her once street cat, solidifying the title of the album.
Meg Kirsch’s next show is August 7th outdoors at Silverwood Park. Come enjoy live music in the park. This event is free of charge, open to all ages, and will commence rain or shine.
On August 13th she’ll join Beth Bombara and Sway Wild at the 7th Street Entry. Information and tickets can be found here.