Interview: Meg Duffy
If the name Meg Duffy doesn’t sound familiar, chances are nonetheless good you’ve heard their work.
The in-demand indie rocker has crafted memorable slide guitar solos for The War on Drugs’ “Holding On” and Weyes Blood’s “Seven Words,” is a member of Kevin Morby’s touring band, and recently played on William Tyler’s new album, Goes West. Now they’ve released placeholder, the second album under the name Hand Habits and easily one of the best records of 2019’s first quarter.
Back at The Mothlight for a Saturday, April 13 show, in the city where they enjoy walking to Harvest Records and where their van once broke down and they “got it towed from some nice guy,” Duffy spoke with Asheville Stages about playing well with others, getting their vocals just right, and a Song of the Year candidate of theirs that they don’t really love.
…on bringing in a good amount of other musicians as well as producers and engineers for placeholder
Having more people in my life who I knew that I could call was a big part of it. Just meeting more people like [producer/multi-instrumentalist] Brad [Cook] and [engineer] Chris Messina, and [producer/multi-instrumentalist/assistant engineer] Andrew [Sarlo]. So, just in general, having more of a community really helped. And also, I made the first one [2017’s Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)] on my own, kind of out of necessity because I really didn’t know I was making a record when I started that one. I sort of just started and then it became a record. But I thought it would be fun to go into a studio and not have to worry about finding out what’s buzzing all the time and wasting time on that and finding out that it’s just the microphone wasn’t plugged in. [Laughs] So, I was just looking forward to a different work flow.
I really just go off of my gut about people and if I feel comfortable around them and can be myself — in all areas of life, really. Especially something like making my own songs. Brad was really, really…I don’t know. We hit it off immediately. We felt like family, and his studio was really nice, too.
…on meeting Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith while making William Tyler’s Goes West
I met him right off the plane. When he first got in the car…I saw him walking towards the car and I was like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” [Laughs] I was like, “Oh no. I’m going to have to spend a week with this guy? What?” I couldn’t believe it. He was wearing sunglasses in the car. But he’s such a good presence. I was scared. I was like, “This is going to be hard.” And then watching him play drums blew my mind. I don’t really listen to Dawes, so I had never really dove in, but he’s a really dear friend of mine now. He knows that he’s got that kind of presence and he’s just so wildly himself, which I really respect. Watching him play — he just plays on one song [on placeholder] — but it was amazing to watch him work. And seeing him add all the stuff to William’s session really blew my mind. I’d love to make another record with him some day, in a bigger sense.
…on “what’s the use,” this writer’s favorite song of 2019 thus far
That’s funny. That’s actually my least favorite song on the record. [Laughs] I don’t know why. I just sort of, to be…not to… Well, I don’t want to shatter your perception. I’m not going to tell you why. [Laughs] But I do like the vibe. The song, I never really…I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t convince myself. I didn’t fully believe myself on that song. But I really like the way the recording sounds, a lot. Zach [Hanson]’s drumming feels really good on that song, too. It’s got a good groove on it.
But that’s so cool! Maybe I’ll start to like it now more because you like it. It’s like the one song we’re not playing on this tour cycle, actually, from the record. Well, and a couple more. We’re not playing [the electronic outlier] “heat.” [For that] I was playing around with Logic. It’s all Logic instruments in the box and, I don’t know — I thought it was cool. It’s fun to mix it up. It doesn’t have to be all one thing. It’s like the joke to myself on the record, you know? That one’s for me.
…on the process of crafting the beautiful vocal melodies that are present throughout placeholder
I just play a song over and over again and try to make it feel in my body as good as it can. I feel like with songwriting, that’s the big test for me — if it feels good in my body to sing. It’s funny, like, “yr heart,” that song on the record, always felt hard for me to sing in my body and I never really played it live until this tour. But I started singing it and that sort of revealed it to me. Just singing something over and over and over again and making it feel comfortable and practicing it.
And then in studio, it really made difference having really nice microphones and being able to hear my voice in a way that made me feel confident. I mean, it all comes back to confidence, I think, and if you’re struggling with the equipment, I think sometimes cool things can come of that, but also…and that really informed my first record, was the gear that I was using. But for this one, it was so easy to hear my voice and to sing and it made me feel really confident.
…on things they’ve learned from making music with their famous collaborators that have stuck with them and improved their own art
I think one of the main things I always take away is seeing how other people treat their bandmates and the people that they’re working with and how that affects the music. I’ve really found that if you put a lot of trust into the people that you’re working with, you’re going to get the best possible performance and ideas because when people feel confident and comfortable and wanted in that situation and valuable, I think it allows them to explore themself a little bit more.
Especially with Kevin, I’ve always been able to write my own parts in the studio and then live. It made me feel like I was there for my voice, and the same with William, too. I actually experienced some doubt where I was like, “All these guys are players and they’ve been playing for so long. Why am I here? William’s such a good guitar player himself.” And I was talking to William about it and he was like, “Dude, I want you here because I want your voice. I want to hear what you have to say musically.” And that was really amazing to feel and I think that that’s always the best takeaway. You choose the people who are around you because you want them to be around you and you want them to be themselves.
A friend of mine who was just playing with us on this tour, but she went home, she was saying that she feels really grateful to be a part of the community and family feeling that comes about when we’re on tour. She got home and she was like, “I’m having some post-tour blues. I really wish I was still there. You all make me feel so comfortable and wanted.” So that’s good feedback, I think.
…on current collaborations and other projects
Most of it’s music. I would really like to make a short film at some point, but that’s just a pipe dream as of right now. I worked with this director Vanessa Haddad, who directed my music video for “can’t calm down,” and that was so fun. I really liked acting. [Laughs] It was funny. I think they were just probably making me feel good, but it was a cool feeling. I was like, “Oh, I think maybe I could be an actor.” [Laughs] But, yeah, I can’t think of any other projects. I feel like I always have so many. I’m working on a lot of random musical collaborative projects that are, like, so…like, collaboration as the basis of — the foundation of the record itself. But I’m on tour for a long time right now, so I can’t really execute those ideas.
IF YOU GO
Who: Hand Habits with Tasha
When: Saturday, April 13, 9 p.m.
Where: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
Tickets: $10 advance/$12 day of show
(Photo by Aubrey Trinnamen)