Any artist who opens her album with the breezy declaration “Now I’m going to hang myself/ Hang myself from my family tree” and then two tracks later drops a spoken-word interlude about imagined incest (ending with the punchline that if she were a boy she’d be “one of those sons that turns into a fascist dictator…instead of just another woman with no self-esteem”) isn’t exactly on the hunt for easy answers. But discomfort is a place where Meg Remy (better known as U.S. Girls) thrives.
Riding high on tension culled from a kitchen sink’s worth of influences, including guitar rock, synth waves, a light reggae beat, U.S. Girls’ fifth album, Half Free lives in the dark places. Remy teases her twilight musings out through girl group-worthy coos, aggressive growls and sinuous bellows, each coming from a place just north of Twin Peaks. Like Lynch, U.S. Girls seems to know an important truth—comforts too quickly go cold, and things that go bump in the night often hide in plain sight.
But today, lounging in an Australian backyard, trying to soak up both the sun and sound of foreign birdcalls, the American artist turned Canadian resident insists it’s all good. Dark times and self-discovery—they’re all just building blocks. And she’s rather pleased to be along for the ride.
: Has living in Canada for the last five years helped you figure out what’s a universal experience verses what’s simply an American experience?
Meg Remy: It’s just made me realize that there’s a difference. Before I didn’t think in those terms. It’s weird to see that there is a difference and yet the way culture is exported in all of it, there are these weird similarities in experience, especially now that everyone is connected with the same kind of social media platforms. The same filters on their photos and those things. It confuses the lines in all of that. But it made me see the American experience from the outside. Being removed from it was big for me personally. It made me realize how I was raised and the particularities of that. But also the PTSD I had from being American. It opened my eyes. It was hard but also extremely therapeutic.
: Do you see yourself as a solo artist?
Remy: I definitely see myself as an individual artist working in many different mediums. The U.S. Girls moniker is just kind of an umbrella for a lot of stuff I do. I think it’s foolish to act like I did all this on my own. I see myself as an artist in general. Solo? I’m just an artist, and the things that I want to achieve I can’t do them on my own. I have to ask for help because I don’t have the skill sets to make all the things that are in my mind. I wish there was a way to give more credit to the people who help me. They help me so much and then I get all the fun.
: When you say that U.S. Girls is an umbrella for a lot of different things you want to do—do you find that music the best way to express yourself?
Remy: Yeah, I think it’s just the one that people know about right now. But I am interested in one day making films. I’ve done some short things and a lot of video work. I’m interested in film and theater. I’d like to work on some plays and things like that. So yeah, music is the thing that lets me travel and make some money. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the medium I enjoy the most. I do like visual mediums maybe more. I think about them more.
: When you are living the life of a full-time artist/musician, how do you protect these things so that you’re not suffering from burnout?
Remy: When I’m traveling or at home, I’m always reading. I do a lot of reading and a lot of watching of movies. A lot of talking. My husband and I are always talking about politics or childhood. No topic is off-limits. A lot of dialogue. I try not to burn myself out. I try to keep myself happy and challenged. I switch up my sets and have an improvisational element to every set—what I do in between songs, transitioning with collages that I’ve made on tapes, which will be different every night. That keeps it more interesting. You have to keep it exciting for you; otherwise you do get burned out and bored. It’s hard to do the same songs every night.
: Do things like the improvisational element of your set, or writing this album that has multiple characters, help you feel more comfortable on stage?
Remy: The thing that’s really helped me overcoming stage fright is accepting that what I have to say is unique and no one else is going to say it. And being excited by that and being excited about presenting my take on things. Not saying what I have to say is important at all—but uniqueness is important in life and especially in art. And I have something unique to offer. So I can get a little bravado worked up behind that. It’s like having your chance to stand up and talk in class, which was always scary but could also be very exhilarating.
: When did you realize that your uniqueness was your gift?
Remy: I think it was pretty recent. I think it was just moving to Canada and getting really serious about wanting to live my life as an artist. My husband really helped with that. Opening my eyes to what I was actually doing. He really acts as a mirror for me, a really positive mirror. So I really think it’s a new thing. I’ve been doing U.S. Girls for a while now. But it wasn’t until hooking up with Max and collaborating with him and seeing myself through his eyes that I realized that I’m valid. Anyone is valid. Just wanting to present something is valid. There’s enough content that’s created just to get us to buy something. Or to believe a lie. There should be more content that’s just expression. I just started taking myself more seriously. Holy shit, I was going to therapy for years and years and never had that realization! But things happen when they’re supposed to.
: When you’re channeling these characters and writing through so many personae, is there something in each song that mirrors a bit of your own internal monologue?
Remy: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know about every song, but it mirrors thoughts I’ve had or the way I operate, or women who are close to me. I’ve had a front row seat for the way that they’ve lived their lives. It’s all very personal and very close.
: What do you think it is that makes these characters struggling with grief or pain that makes them so interesting?
Remy: In my life, struggling with grief and trauma and pain, struggling with it and dealing with it always led to a step up in my consciousness. I think it’s a really interesting moment. It can be an interesting moment, that little period of “what are you going to do with the trauma and the pain?” Are you going to overcome it? Or are you going to let it win over you? It’s a weird purgatory time that I find very interesting.
: Are the wheels in your head always moving?
Remy: Constantly! It’s something I’ve accepted about myself. My brain is always going. Constantly going. I battle with stress. I’m at a point in my life where I really need to figure out how to deal with stress. That’s not stress like touring, but the stress of my mind constantly turning—I need to figure out how I want to deal with it. Lots of waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about a scene from a movie I want to make some day. The gears are always going. But it works for me so far. It just does. I don’t see it as a bad sign. I just have to lean how to cope with it. I need to learn how to find times when I can turn it off. I’d love to learn how to meditate with something like that.