A few years ago a song by Tim McGraw was released that summed up the feeling that we should live our lives for today. We are never sure what the future holds or where life might take us. The song’s chorus said “I went skydiving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing, I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named FuManChu”; it’s a song about doing the things we have been putting off. Megan O’Neill is releasing a new EP and it’s the result of a realization that we are never sure what will happen and so it is important to start doing the things we love; the things we may have been putting off. In short, it’s about doing some of the things for ourselves that we’ve not done for fear of breaking new ground. This brilliant new EP is a musical statement that Megan has changed as a person, as an artist; it’s a musical manifestation of how she is feeling.
Megan O’Neill has been around for a while now writing good songs, singing them and touring them to critical acclaim but lockdown and the pandemic and life’s tribulations in general took her back home to Ireland at a time when we were suddenly robbed of the ability to do what we wanted. Life was put on hold and nobody knew what the future may hold. Megan was suddenly surrounded by the things that have shaped her as an artist and as a woman. Her love of her home country and the things and people that are there were documented in her love song to her country called ‘Ireland’ in which she says,
“I miss sitting by an open fire, just talking, telling tales and singing trad all night, with an open bottle and warm hearts all around me”.
Over the last few years she returned to Ireland and in so doing rediscovered what makes her tick, she reconnected with family and with the natural world all around her. She never lost touch with her fan base and continually played live music and made it available online, she filled her socials with evidence that she was enjoying all the stunning beauty and solitude Ireland has to offer and slowly, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, something new was born. Something that was organically formed from the old but something which needed to unfurl beautiful new wings and fly.
Anyone that knows Megan O’Neill will know that she is very much a force of nature and so it is no surprise that this has happened. She is always developing, always becoming something more and this EP is evidence that her musical journey is continuing to develop. This EP will take her old fans to new places and hopefully will bring new fans to the party. It’s different in style but it’s still the Megan we know, just a Megan who is starting to fly. I had the chance to chat with Megan about what’s been happening and I hope you enjoy getting to know this artist by reading her answers to my questions.
The new EP can be pre saved here and it won’t cost you a penny but it might be the start of a journey together with Megan O’Neill.
EP: It’s been ages since we chatted and so much seems to have changed musically, it’s been so difficult for artists to navigate the last few years. I loved your last album but never got to see it live and now your musical direction seems to have shifted slightly.
M: Oh Yes. Releasing anything throughout the pandemic has been difficult. I know so many artists, and some large scale artists in Ireland as well, who just never played those albums live because the window is missed. I will play that album, or part of that album for sure, live now, even when I’m still playing gigs but the window to tour the album is gone. It’s so weird.
EP: It’s been very weird. I recently saw the duo Ferris & Sylvester play at The Crypt in Hastings and they were playing tracks from their new album which has just released and when I first saw them play back in 2018 they would have probably been labelled as Americana or Folk and during the pandemic and with the album being on the back burner for two years they seemed to have changed quite dramatically into much more of a Blues Rock pairing. The lockdown period has changed them as artists, it changed their entire direction.
M: I think it’s happened to a lot of people, myself included. The majority of people I know changed direction and I think that’s a lot to do with having the time to explore. Usually you don’t have that time; you’re touring and you’re doing things. Having the time to think and explore sounds makes you wonder what you want to make. Usually, I have this six-week window to make a record and I don’t have time to explore that much. So, I think that’s a big part of it but also, it’s a few years; we’ve all changed as people, we’ve all changed what we want, we’ve all changed how we want to create and where we want to go and if we want to tour and so many other things.
EP: So, with that in mind, do you think that the journey from the album to the new EP, because obviously a lot of work went into the album at the time and the EP has a different sound, has been a musical one or a personal one and how has that affected the direction your taking as an artist? Do you think it’s been that chance to revaluate?
M: I think that’s a part of it. I think there’s probably multiple elements to it and I think a part of it is definitely having had time to explore without pressure. A lot of life at the moment feels like you have to do everything under pressure and having had that time over the course of the last two years to actually just explore sounds, work with new people has made me see how I wanted to grow and develop as an artist because, project to project, you always want to do something slightly different and work with different people. I certainly do. And so a part of it is the time. I know that part of it is, I suppose, growing and developing as a person. You start to listen to different music and explore different styles; we’re all growing all the time so staying within the one lane, I don’t think is really an option when there is so much to explore musically.
EP: There are so many lanes…
M: Exactly. So, I think the two of those were probably the biggest elements; time and growing and developing as an individual. But, I worked with a lot of different people throughout the pandemic and I was writing for a lot of other artists and other projects and TV shows and stuff where I was kind of forced down these different styles because I was doing it for other projects and then you take elements of that you’re loving and you’re like, oh my god I actually am really into that at the moment and so I just left that sector without any pressure, I just developed naturally and this is what came out.
EP: For me the development from your debut album towards the last one ‘Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty’ seemed like you were moving in that Americana Country direction and then there seems to be the catalyst of recording ‘Time in a Bottle’, the classic Jim Croce song, which I felt completely changed your view of how you could sound. With so much critical acclaim and a healthy Americana fan base, did it feel scary, a leap of faith to jump out of what could have been considered a comfort zone?
M: One hundred percent yes. I think I have had a lot of personal stuff and upheaval over the last three years, which if you put it all on paper for me three years ago and said this is what you’re about to face in your life for the next three years, even outside of the pandemic, I would have been like, oh my god, shoot me now. But, I think all of that and, you know, there’s a way that you want to separate career from personal; it’s a healthy thing to do if you’re able to do that, but it’s a really difficult thing to do because I am as a person what I also put into my art. So, I feel like I am, obviously not a completely different person than I was three years ago but in a lot of ways, a different person and so, it felt like the right time for a shift. It felt like I was just growing exponentially in a lot of different ways. I wanted to try new things, I wanted to take risks. I kind of felt that around the time I was making ‘Getting Comfortable with Uncertainty’, a lot of that was pushing the boundary a little bit for me, that I was bringing different styles into that album. I found that through working on that album, the parts I love the most were the parts that were new and challenging to me. And then, ‘Time in a Bottle’ was a step again in that direction; it was new and challenging to me, it was taking a beloved classic song, and making it my own and, you know, kind of writing to script in a way because it was for a show. So again, this was another step in a slightly scary direction but I feel like staying stagnant wasn’t an option for me. Not saying that staying in Country and Americana was staying stagnant, that’s the wrong word to use, but that just staying in that lane didn’t feel like the right step forward to me. I think that a lot of things about making music is that you just have to go with your gut, you just have to go with what feels really right for you because if it doesn’t excite you, it’s not going to excite anybody else.
EP: There was a real hint of that bravery with your brilliant version of The Pogues classic Christmas song, ‘Fairytale of New York’ which took real guts, I think, taking an iconic song and really bringing something fresh to it. And then, you did the same kind of thing with ‘Time in a Bottle’; almost as if these two projects had started some sort of new growth as an artist. I feel a little bit like you’ve stepped out from behind the keyboard, if that makes sense. Not really, but in a sort of metaphorical way.
M: Yeah, I feel like I’ve stopped giving a f*** to be honest. I think an awful lot of my 20s, which I think is an awful lot of peoples’ twenties in general, can be a little bit of doing what’s expected of you or what you think is going to sit well. Does that make sense? I’m in this lane so I should stay in this lane because it makes sense and so much of my 20s was still feeling out who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be, what kind of music I wanted to make and where I felt like I could be creative.
EP: Did you think Meg that you, at that point, were becoming the artist that other people wanted you to become?
M: In a way, yeah, and I was also lacking a bit of confidence in what I was able to do particularly as a songwriter because I wasn’t really, until the last three years, I wasn’t really writing outside of the Country, Folk, Americana lanes. I wanted to but I just didn’t know how to go that way and a lot of it was just needing to be a little bit brave. I feel like the last few years, which is probably tied pretty closely into the chaos that has been part of my personal life, has made me braver because it made me realize how short life is. Nobody has any idea what’s gonna happen next so make the music you want to make and take risks, try new things and work with new people and push the boundaries a little bit. There was an element of my twenties that I probably was lacking a bit of that confidence, I was probably a little bit unsure of what I wanted to sound like and where I wanted to go and I think, in the last few years, we’ve all gotten a little bit of that from all of the lockdowns. That element of you never know what’s going to happen next so take the risks and try these things and explore the new boundaries
EP: The pandemic has been such a strange period and so many artists, friends that I’ve chatted with have felt that the pandemic forced them into a situation where they were not able to do anything but for you the silver lining is that it’s given you that opportunity to spend time at home; you’ve been able to go back to Ireland and spend time with your parents and re-examine your musicality. And so in a way, although it’s been a horrible time for artists from a point of view that it is impossible to make money, I guess from your point of view, musically, it’s given you a chance of a kind of rebirth.
M: Well, this is gonna be the weirdest thing to say, but the pandemic was the best thing that ever happened for my career.
EP: I never thought you looked happier than when you were at home, doing your live streaming stuff over the pandemic. Growing, evolving….
M: Yes, really happy and really happy to be, like you said, with family and surrounded by nature and back home. I think that another element, now that you say that, to my opening up as an artist and opening up creatively has been being back in Ireland. I find being back here to be such a creative space for me and I have physical space; I’m surrounded by fields and sheep and I live in a beautiful log cabin and I have a gorgeous home studio. I have space here that I never had in London. And so, I think that’s allowed this kind of reopening because I feel really creative in Ireland. I feel really at home here.
EP: It’s been really organic for you, hasn’t it? All of that much more natural stuff, more organic stuff that has been positive for you as a human being and therefore as an artist which has then created this new direction, this new confidence, this new EP.
M: Yeah, I think so. It’s been impossible to separate the artist from the person so anything that can bring out, you know, more creativity and more confidence and more feeling supported and feeling like you’re in the right place does that to you as a person and then, automatically, does that to your art.
EP: This EP is sonically very different. Do you see a direction or have the last two years made you a little more “let’s just see where this goes”?
M: I think I’m the type of person that loves a good plan so I’m always gonna be planning, you know, a year or two in advance and I love this music I’ve been making and there’s the select few people that I’m that I’m working with. It’s kind of growing and growing, but I’ve been doing a lot of writing not just for myself but for other artists too and I started producing and I’m working with a lot of different sounds and instruments and styles. I’m just loving this exploratory period. I definitely see my music staying in this vein, because as I said, it really excites me right now and I’m loving the challenge particularly when I’m trying to translate these songs into a live setting; I can’t do this anymore with just an acoustic guitar and a piano. That’s a real challenge for me too and I’m enjoying that and so, I do see myself staying in this lane of a singer songwriter with more pop production around it but I still love the organic elements of music; I still want to use real instruments and real players and, you know, as many organic elements as possible in the music. I think that’s really important to me. I’m back in the studio now. This EP comes out on the eighth of April and then I’m back in the studio, I think, the week after to work on the next bunch of songs. So, they’d all be coming out throughout the rest of the year and there will be a single coming out every eight weeks. It’ll follow kind of the same vein, but I suppose it will continue to grow from the sound of this EP.
EP: Meg. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sound so excited!
M: Ah, yes. That’s what I want and I am. I am really excited. It’s a really funny thing but I feel like I can be honest with you Steve which is the sign of a very good interview…
EP: Thank you…
M: Sometimes it’s really hard to formulate your thoughts in a lot of these interviews because they’re five minutes and I’m thinking “You know what? I don’t actually know what I said there” but I think there are elements of music and being an artist and a songwriter and a musician and whatever way you want to term yourself as in this career that you’re constantly questioning if you’re going the right direction. I think everybody is. I don’t know anybody personally that isn’t and there’s an element of imposter syndrome where you’re thinking you’re not good enough and there’s an element of who you’re working with and what you’re working on. You know, I definitely have my days where I’m like: “S**t. Am I doing anything right?” but I think in general, the overall feeling that I have at the moment when I listen back to the songs that I’m writing and the way that they’re being produced and the style that we’re going, I’m completely buzzed. I’m dancing around the kitchen. I think as long as I have that feeling, I’m gonna keep following this direction, this path that I’m on because If it’s making me feel like that, then it’s got to be a good thing.
EP: It really comes through. I’ve spoken to you many times before and it’s really evident that you’re really excited about this new phase. I feel quite moved by the fact that you’re this happy because I’ve seen you lots of times live and I’ve always come away thinking it’s crazy that everyone doesn’t know who you are. You’re so talented and so good live. The amazing thing is that you are able to shift gear and direction so well. I think there comes a time when you have to please yourself as an artist and stop worrying about fitting into what the music industry wants you to be. I have no doubt your existing fans will be behind you on your new journey and that you’ll make lots of new fans too.
M: That’s the plan. I think what you said there is so important because there is no amount of work that will ever be enough in the music industry. There’s no amount that you can do that will be enough and I really struggle with that, I really do. I really struggle with working myself into the ground, doing the longest amount of days and the longest hours in a day and then I’m still feeling like I’m getting nowhere. It can be immensely frustrating to put as much work as I put into this career and still feel like you’re not getting back what you feel like you should be. There is an element of luck involved, there is an element of being in the right place at the right time and all of that as well as having the songs and all that jazz, but it’s an immensely difficult career and I think you just have to get to a point where you think that if I’m happy and it doesn’t have me in the red every single month, if I’m happy and I can survive doing this and I collaborate and create with wonderful people that I love and I have releases coming out that I’m immensely proud of, that I could stand behind and say: “Yeah, that’s me”, If I have all that, then that’s enough and hopefully it will continue to grow and the songs will continue to do well and the shows will continue to get bigger. That’s all you can really hope for and also, not to go off on a complete tangent on this point, but the goals you can have in music are really fleeting. You can say okay I want to have a number one on my next single and then I want to headline The Olympia, which is in Ireland, but that’s fleeting; it’s gonna be amazing on the night but then what next. That’s one night of your entire life and then what’s the next thing because you’re always gonna want the next thing. So, I feel like a lot of my career, I’ve had those kinds of arbitrary goals and I’ve achieved a lot of them and then the moment is gone. So what’s next? It’s a hard thing to grasp but I think it’s having that overall feeling of being happy with what I’m doing and I’m just gonna keep doing that.
EP: Well the EP is fantastic. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to hear it and the EP is brilliant. I’m so excited by what you’re doing. Please don’t stop making your brilliant music, thank you for what you bring to our lives and good luck with this EP and all the new music I can’t wait to hear.