“I don’t think people always understand my music, where it’s coming from,” Meg Myers says. “A lot of people think I’m angsty. Not at all. I don’t think I’m ever really angry. The music that I write comes from a sad place.”
Seated in a Pasadena coffee shop within walking distance of her home, the 28-year-old alternative-rock singer/songwriter is soft-spoken and contemplative during this interview, periodically flashing a shy smile or breaking into laughter when sharing an embarrassing detail. In these moments, it’s easy to believe Myers when she says that she’s never angry, but anyone who’s seen her play live can be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Two days earlier, Myers was the first of six acts to perform at the Santa Monica Pier for a concert held by Los Angeles radio station ALT 98.7. She shared the bill with artists such as Wolf Alice, James Bay and Matt & Kim. As has been customary, Myers concluded her set with “Heart Heart Head,” a brooding, cello-accented slow-burner that climaxes with the singer unleashing a series of frightening roars, as if she were expelling years of pent-up rage. For some, including Myers’ steadily growing fanbase, the rawness of her self-expression is empowering. To others, such as one attendee who was overheard after Myers’ performance at the pier, it might be a WTF moment.
On her feverish single, “Desire,” a Top 20 hit on alternative radio last fall, Myers sings, “Honey, I wanna break you/ I wanna throw you to the hounds,” and then, “I’m gonna kill you/ I’m gonna lay you in the ground.”
“I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Myers clarifies innocently. “I’m not like that. I never would want to do anything like that. I don’t want to hurt people. I just want to get away from them.” She laughs. “It was an imaginary thing, something that I created from feelings that I have.”
Myers has difficulty recollecting her frame of mind when she wrote “Desire,” saying that she was being playful and feeling a certain way about men, before retracting both of those explanations.
“I was definitely in a sexual place, a passionate place and needing to express something,” she says. “It [came from] more of a positive place than a lot of my other songs.”
This month, Atlantic Records will release Myers’ debut LP, Sorry, an unflinching 10-song collection that, although colored with modern sonic textures, recalls the candid and assertive songwriting that artists such as Sinéad O’Connor, Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple ushered into the mainstream during the ’90s. Album track “A Bolt From the Blue” edges Myers into synthpop territory, while “I Really Want You to Hate Me” evokes the provocative self-deprecation of Kurt Cobain, one of Myers’ musical heroes. The success of “Desire” on radio last year brought touring opportunities to Myers that consequently delayed the completion of Sorry. Over the course of those months, she saw a change in her songwriting.
“I started writing less about relationships and more about life and struggles,” she says. “This album shows a little more of my hopeful side. It’s more of a search for hope than it would have been if I’d written it two years ago, when it just would have been sex and death and this and that. It definitely shows a more mature side than I would have shown had I not gone on tour.”
The album’s opening track, “Motel,” includes a snippet of an interview Townes Van Zandt did for Dutch television in the ’90s, where he explains that recognizing the sadness in life goes with enjoying its happy side. The quote struck a chord with Myers.
“I connect to him because he had a hard life, and he was a really tortured artist,” she says of Van Zandt. “There are a few of those, but I loved the simplicity of his music too. There’s so much depth. Musically, it’s beautiful and simple, and I like that. I like the good ol’ tunes that really hit you.”
Myers was born in Nashville in 1987 and spent her early childhood in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Her father was a truck driver, and both parents played music. They divorced, and at six years old, Myers moved with her mom, stepdad and siblings to Toledo, Ohio. When she was 12, they relocated to South Florida, and she and her siblings were taken out of public school. She was sheltered through much of her childhood, being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness until the beginning of her teens.
“I think the people in that religion are lovely,” she says. “Everybody takes their religion to different levels, and my family took it to a really high level, a really strict level, which was hard on me as a kid. But I see so many good things about it too when I look back. I think it was when I stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness, at 13, that everything went haywire. So, when I really look back on it, I think it kept things in line.”
Myers’ maternal grandfather, Fred Boyd, was both a police officer and touring country-folk musician. He died of a heart attack not long after her birth, but she has a picture of him holding her as an infant. Her mother tells her that sometimes her eyes and facial expressions remind her of Boyd. Myers’ dad bought her a guitar when she was nine, but the family pawned it for money shortly thereafter. At age 11, she returned to the instrument and became more serious about music, needing an outlet to express herself.
“I think the first song I ever wrote was on keyboard,” Myers says. “I don’t remember the name of it, but the song after that [written on guitar] was called ‘Fortunate Girl.’ I was 13, and in it I say, ‘She’s not the fortunate girl, she’s not the fortunate one.’ It was me singing about myself because life was so miserable. It was an expressive way of saying life sucks at 13.”
Around the same time, Myers became exposed to music that she hadn’t been allowed to hear as a Jehovah’s Witness. Her brother Johnathan taught her bass because he wanted to start a band. They formed the grunge/punk-rock trio Feeling Numb, recorded a four-song demo and performed in coffee houses and clubs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Myers and her brother composed their own songs and traded lead vocal duties. She describes Feeling Numb’s live shows as ridiculous, “what teenagers do in South Florida.”
“We were angsty then,” she says. “We were wanting to scream. I used to listen to Alice in Chains and Slipknot and Nirvana and bands like that, and I wanted to be like that. That’s what I thought was cool.”
In an October 2004 Rag Magazine profile on Feeling Numb, writer Joseph Vilane said of Myers: “I thought how remarkable for such an aggressive voice to come out of a 17-year-old girl, someone with such a small stature…. Offstage, Meg seems very shy, but onstage she releases her emotions in a raw form of musical expression.” Vilane’s impressions of Myers remain accurate to this day, though the singer/songwriter remembers having blue hair, wearing eyeliner and painting her nails black in those days. They were difficult times for her.
“I was a heavy boozer starting at a young age and getting high at least until I was 17 or 18, so it’s a little bit of a blur,” she says. “I had a really tough life in that time, ’cause I was raising my brother and sister. I never had a home; we were always getting evicted. So I was just trying to numb myself.”
During those years, Myers also struggled with the conventions of growing up female. She preferred the company of boys, but maintaining platonic relationships oftentimes became problematic.
“I think that a lot of young girls deal with that,” she says. “I didn’t like anything girls were doing. Guys had cooler music, and they were in bands. I think I was such a hardcore tomboy for so long because of that, just trying to not be attractive to guys, dress with really baggy pants and baggy clothes. I never got into makeup until my mid-20s.”
When Myers was 17, she decided that she no longer wanted to play with Feeling Numb. Her songwriting began to gravitate toward blues and pop, inspired by artists such as Tracy Chapman and Joan Osborne. Shortly before her 20th birthday, she and her musician boyfriend moved to Los Angeles. The relationship lasted only four more months. She dabbled in modeling and acting, and waitressed while continuing to write music. At 24, the manager of her current producer and songwriting collaborator, Andy Rosen, reached out to her via Myspace, where she had been posting mostly acoustic material online. Myers’ music steered back toward alternative rock as her ensuing musical partnership with Rosen began to find a groove.
“It took us a few months, because it’s difficult to collaborate,” Myers admits. “I’ve tried it with other people, and it fuckin’ sucks. You have to have something special with someone, and still it’s hard.”
Rosen funded the video for Myers’ track “Monster,” which went online in late 2011. It introduced Myers as a captivating presence, an edgy lyricist with a penchant for dark romanticism and the macabre. In the song, she sings, “You make me want to die/ I gotta kill you, my love.”
“After we put that out, then we started getting attention from a lot of labels,” Myers remembers. “But Atlantic was the first one. We met with a bunch of them and got offers. We ended up going with Atlantic though because of the people there.”
In 2012, Myers self-released her debut EP Daughter in the Choir, making it available as a free download on her website. That year, she became a more prominent performer on the L.A. live scene, sticking with bass as her instrument of choice onstage and accompanied by cellist Ken Oak, the lone mainstay in her band. In early 2013, she signed to Atlantic, and a year later the label released her Make a Shadow EP. Three Sorry tracks appear on the EP, including “Desire” and “The Morning After,” a quiet, haunting ballad that’s as potent as her most explosive rockers. After recounting the tribulations of her journey toward the completion of her debut album, Myers takes a long pause to consider whether she’s proud of herself. She is.
“I’m grateful,” she says, “but I have plenty of moments where I ask, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Because it’s difficult, and so little part of any of this is music…. I have moments onstage where I’m like, ‘Do I enjoy this?’ I’m a hermit, and it’s really hard to get up in front of people, too. I wouldn’t say that I just eat it up or anything. What I love is writing music.”