For the majority of our interview, I could barely hear Meg Mac. Over the pulsing rhythm of Depeche Mode’s classic “Personal Jesus” from the Mercury Lounge’s loud bar speakers, the Australian singer’s surprisingly soft-spoken voice was strangely drowned out. Three hours later, you could hear a pin drop as she held the sold out crowd at the famed music venue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the palm of her hand.
Once Meg Mac-whose full name is Megan McInerney—hit the stage, everything about her changes, and suddenly the shy girl from across the globe with jarring Cara Delevingne-esque eyebrows transforms into a star, belting out uplifting and transcendental pop ballads with all of the confidence in the world. As she told me before her show, “I guess it’s way easier to believe in yourself when you’re on the radio.”
Although she may seem shy in an interview setting, it’s clear her aforementioned confidence is more than bubbling just below the surface. That night’s show was a milestone moment for the rising musician as she sold out her first-ever headlining show in the United States. With the Mercury Lounge more packed than I’d ever seen it, Meg Mac ran through each of the tracks from her debut self-titled EP, packed with songs that are sneaking their way into the US Billboard Charts.
Although Meg Mac’s rise has seemed relatively seamless thus far, there have definitely been some unexpected bumps in the road along the way. Mac’s dream 2015 has featured increased radio airplay both stateside and abroad, a successful South by Southwest, a record deal with 300 Entertainment, and a coveted opening slot for R&B legend D’Angelo, but cut off sets and broken bones have added a couple of nightmares into the mix.
“I was about to play my single,” Mac reminisces of her time at SXSW, “and a person started talking in my foldback speaker, being like, ‘you don’t have time for another song.’ We only got 12 minutes!”
When I asked how her foot injury compared to Florence Welch’s Coachella fracture or Dave Grohl’s broken leg from falling off the stage in Sweden, Mac lamented, “I wish I had some cool story, but I don’t.” Elaborating more in a recent NPR World Cafe interview, it turns out that she fractured her foot “being an idiot in her hotel room after a show in Atlanta” when she jumped off her bed. The singer sported a black cast prior to show time, but it was nowhere to be seen once she hit the stage.
Meg Mac didn’t need a chair like Florence or a Game of Thrones inspired guitar throne a la Dave Grohl; if it weren’t for our prior interactions, I would have had no idea that Mac’s left foot was broken. The show went completely unhindered and although the stage movements were generally held to a minimum, the lack of a cast added to her allure, portraying the aforementioned quiet confidence and swagger, adding a level of-dare I say it-baddassery.
From the life-affirming “everything is gonna be alright” refrain from “Roll Up Your Sleeves” to the brooding, James Blake-influenced Bill Withers cover, “Grandma’s Hands,” it’s clear that Mac is here to stay, warranting every Adele comparison and then some. However, Adele and other contemporary pop stars don’t register as influences for Mac-rather, she frequently mentions Sam Cooke, James Blake and Bon Iver as her favorite artists. “I don’t ever think about what I’m writing when I’m writing because I feel that you can’t write a song if you do,” she mentions. “I didn’t really analyze what genre I was or anything until I released music and the press was writing about it.”
Well, the press has been writing about her for quite a while now. The winner of Triple J 2014 Unearthed Artist of the Year, an Australian radio competition devoted to finding new artists, Meg Mac’s star has risen exponentially back home. “When I recorded my EP, there wasn’t a plan to record an EP,” Mac explained. “I recorded one song and I put it online on Triple J Unearthed and once that started getting played, I was getting emails from record labels and I thought, ‘uh oh, I better record more songs!’”
But each song she recorded was better than the last and it wasn’t long until she made a splash in the United States. She became one of the most talked about artists at SXSW, with publications ranging from Buzzfeed to the New York Times raving about her performances. “I really didn’t know people would be at my shows, but there were people! You just don’t expect it.”
Through all of the press and recent fame, Meg Mac’s managed to stay grounded. “I don’t feel very famous! I’ve been stopped on the street a couple of times in Australia, but it’s nothing big,” she explains. More keen to returning to her hotel early to preserve her voice rather than go out drinking on a nightly basis, Mac’s almost entirely avoided the lifestyle of the Next Big Thing thus far: “I like hanging out with myself and I’m a bit of a loser.”
That attitude is ultimately helpful in avoiding the pressures of the music industry, which have felled many a musician. Meg Mac, however, manages to stay focused on the ultimate prize-her debut album. “The only reason I’m in America is for music, so all I’m thinking about is music.”
“I’ve done all of the songwriting and now I’m just locking in a producer and a schedule,” she explains. “I’m hoping it’s more of a whole body of work and I feel more confident now. I know what I want to say and I’m going into it recording an album. With the EP, I didn’t go into it recording an EP. Hopefully, we’ll be done with the recording by the end of the year. I don’t know how long it takes to do all of the mixing and everything, but I’m optimistic for the first quarter of 2016.”
The new songs promise to feature a more raw sound. Describing a new song she premiered at the Mercury Lounge show, Mac said, “In the production process, it’s easy to lose something along the way. Sometimes when I record a song, I’ll listen back to my iPhone memo from the exact moment of when I lost it and I feel like I’ve lost it and maybe missed the most important part of the demo. The new song captures more of that rawness.”
That new song, an a capella track sung in French with heavy use of a looping pedal, proved to be the highlight of the 45 or so minute set, sounding like “Woods” by Bon Iver with a hell of a lot more bite. If the track is anything to go by, Meg Mac’s debut next year could be one for the books.
Mac has since returned to Australia to finish her new album and play a run of sold out homecoming dates in Melbourne. She probably won’t return to the United States this year, but it’s clear that she left a mark here. When discussing her opening sets on D’Angelo’s recent nationwide tour, she explained, “I know that everyone who would go to see a D’Angelo concert is going because they love his music and he has so much respect. I feel like if you’re the opening act, there’s this expectation. I could feel it when I walked onstage, this mutual understanding that I better be good. In Australia, when I do a show, people have bought tickets to see me. Every other show, it’s not my audience and I have to introduce myself to people.”
Well, she won’t have to introduce herself for much longer. Meg Mac, while still outwardly shy, is anything but onstage. She is a singer who is just coming around to realizing how powerful her voice can be, while the rest of the world is already on board.
Several times during our interview, Mac kept saying, “Hopefully you can hear me.” Once she’s onstage, however, you can’t hear anyone else.