Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band have whipped their act from coast to coast, acquiring masses of fans along the way. Described as "hard-touring, foot-stompin', guitar beatin', upright lickin', washboard scratchin,' banjo pickin' madness with a voice like the devil herself," Megan Jean and her husband Byrne bring a candor of wickedness and passion unrivaled and unmistakable.
BANG! There is an undeniable current of dark gypsy revelry in your music. Does that come from an organic place or do you think that experiences throughout your life have geared you towards that tone?
Megan Jean People often remark on the gypsy undertones in our music, though gypsy in and of itself isn't a musical genre, but rather an ethnic group. We often use it to describe us, gypsy-Americana, because we know that it will be the most effective in terms of a quick transfer of an idea of our music. We aren't Romani, nor do we think we can actually do Romani music justice. Have you heard that stuff? It's so fast! We can't play that fast. We were heavily influenced by Romani folk music sure, but also klezmer music, latin music, and Americana music as well. I take inspiration, but I hate calling us a gypsy band. It does a disservice to a whole culture. It's like saying all of Jamaica can be encapsulated by only reggae music.
BANG! You have openly disclosed that you were quite a mess in your early twenties, but you’ve seemed to blossom into quite the power house. Where do you derive most of your inspiration from? Are there certain points in your life that just keep on giving you things to write and sing about, or are you always processing your experiences into your music?
Megan Jean I love the beauty in decrepit things. I love a fallen mansion more than a functional one...It shows both the intention, and the eventuality, all at once. I'm a person who wasn't ever really recognized for my talents until I was over 25, and by then, I had been kicked around a lot. Being a "powerhouse" now is the result of decades of derision, coupled with an unyielding belief in myself. I grew up in pretty humble circumstances, and had to fight for everything. I had to constantly prove that I deserved to be there. I'm a bit Dickensian when it all comes down to it, and I love to back the underdog. I can't even count how many times people told me that I wasn't anything special, that I wouldn't amount to anything. I was a mess when I was young. I always knew I was supposed to make music, and that honesty was the only way. I have a real problem with lies, and liars. That's a recurrent theme. All of my songs are about my life, or observations I've made in others. I really strive with my lyrics to make them adaptable to other people's interpretations. I want people to twist my words. I want them to make them theirs. Too-specific lyrics are the mark of an arrogant songwriter. That's why Nashville is so horrible. They tell you exactly what to think, and how to feel by the end of the song. There's no room for the listener to make it applicable to their own lives. That's where the magic is. I make music for all the glorious weirdos that ever got kicked around. I feel lucky that people even listen, honestly I can't imagine telling them how to feel about it on top of it all.
This is one of BANG'S favorite tracks -->
BANG! Another standard Megan Jean eccentricity is the faces and commentary you share on stage. Is that just a quirk or did you grab ahold of your stage presence at Tisch?
Megan Jean Well, I did develop quite a lot as a performer at Tisch. They taught us how to command a room, and to portray our emotions effectively without becoming hysterical and damaging our instrument, which is what I see a lot of singers doing in clubs. Thankfully, they also trained my voice quite well. Before then, I was just another good singer. A fellow named Scott Flaherty made me what I am today. I honestly started making the faces, because I could see people making fun of me in the back of the club. I used to weigh about 300 pounds, and I guess people thought it was funny that I still thought folks should pay attention to me. So, I started making faces at them. I started singling them out, and making fun of them right back, from the stage. It was my way of saying "I see you, and I don't give a damn." Somewhere along the line, I stopped paying attention to the back of the club, and started focusing on the front. Turns out they loved the faces, and they make me happy too. I've lost a lot of "opportunities" in the music industry because of how I look. I love taking the power back. If you say I have to be pretty, and sweet as a woman in this industry...I will make demon faces and call myself the devil. I'm just a pisser like that.
BANG! So, you guys are on tour 24/7. There must be a certain type of resilience in the lifestyle of living out of your car and going from gig to gig that you’ve developed. How on earth do you do that? Most people need a home base.
Megan Jean Well, it's just a necessity. Our career would have never gone anywhere had we simply stayed put. I've never worked this hard in my life, and we still see rich kids skate right past us 3 months in with a fancy-pants PR firm and just buy the same notoriety we've worked 5 years to build. But, we know we are on a different path. We win over our fans one by one. I honestly don't know many bands who could make it two years straight on the road. They party too much, and burn out. Plus, if you're in it for the wrong reasons-money, fame...you're gonna quit. Those things are so fickle and few, that if THAT is your guiding light, you are fucked. I've honestly never wanted to quit. I will be doing this until my body is too old to move. We would have a home base if it was feasible. Right now, we know that we need to be doing 200 shows a years to not have day jobs. I will never work a damn day job again. I am just about the most stubborn person on the planet, and this will be my career, however humble it may be, for the rest of my life. Plus, I get to spend those 24/7's with my best friend and the love of my life, Byrne Klay, so it's not so bad. I just hope that one day, somehow, what we've done is acknowledged as extraordinary. Anyone that tells your they do 300 shows a year is a liar, by the way. 250 tops. Anyone tells me they do more than 250, and I know they're lying.
BANG! What have been your favorite towns to play in?
Megan Jean My favorite big city to play in is Atlanta, hands down. The local music scene there is just phenomenal. I've made some of the best friends of my life gigging in Atlanta. I also love to play in Macon, GA, Johnson City, TN, Greensboro, NC, and of course Charleston, SC.
BANG! So, the washboard. Expound on that.
Megan Jean Somebody just gave it to me, and I kinda knew how to play it. When I picked it up for the first time, it was as if I had been playing it my whole life. It sounded like latin percussion to me, so that's how I play it. Keep in mind I've been playing guitar since I was 11 and am pretty pathetic at it. The washboard is my spirit instrument. I play it with gloves with banjo finger tips sewn onto the fingers. It's the easiest on your wrists.
BANG! Is The Devil Herself a step in a different direction or is it more of an extension of your previous works?
Megan Jean It is the logical progression of a band that has played 450 shows in between albums. We found our sound on the first record. This album is us refining and owning that sound.
BANG! Your Kickstarter campaign must of seriously helped out, how does that feel knowing that your music inspires the masses to want to hear more from you?
Megan Jean It really can't be understated how important crowdfunding is to the future of music. We finally get to take the power back from the record industry. Don't like how I look record industry man? Go fuck yourself. Several hundred other people would like to disagree with you in the form of backing my project. It's just amazing, really. We've had one failed campaign, and two successful now. Simply put, our albums wouldn't get made without the help of our fans (which I like to call friend. and. neighbors). I think it'll make music more honest. People don't pledge to projects they don't give a shit about. There has to be a personal connection. Your music has to matter to them. We have toured enough now for our music to matter to people, even if it's just 211 (that's how many we had). Those 211 people are enough for me. Leave the millions to Gaga, I bet she'll never hang out with them. I hope we can always have a truly personal relationship with the folks that support us artistically. We don't need anymore arrogant assholes making music to get rich.
BANG! You’ve mentioned before that you’ve felt resistance from record companies, why do you think that is?
Megan Jean It's more like we're just existing in a bubble in Siberia. They've yet to even acknowledge us. I've been asked to do several reality singing competitions, but honestly I'd rather eat a plate of glass. I have no respect for anyone going on those things. I've tried to be nice, but I'm not doing it anymore. If you go on those shows, you are making music for the express purpose of getting famous, and I have zero respect for that, let alone the "music" that you'll make afterwards. You are singing karaoke and calling it artistic integrity. I know it's harder to go out and do what we've done, and that it comes with a lot less payoff in some peoples' view, but at least it's real. At least it's honest. I'd rather be an honest failure than an empty success. There's no guarantee of success anyway, no matter what route you take. We are the tortoise, you see. We see a whole lot of foolish hares, and do you know where they end up? Nowhere. We on the other hand know that if no one ever comes along with a magic golden ticket, that our audience grows steadily with every show, every interaction...and it means something to people. That can never be called a failure in my book. And, it can never be taken away.
BANG! Looking into 2013, what do you hope to accomplish?
Megan Jean I'd like to get my ass to a foreign country to play. I'd like to build our team and take the industry by the balls. I'd like to show people that it is always the empty that get ahead. Sometimes the glorious weirdos get a piece of the pie.
As you can tell, Megan Jean and the KFB is a hard workin' machine, so be sure to catch one of their performances as they haunt towns across the country. Catch all of the action at http://www.meganjean.net/, or on their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/meganjeanandthekfb?fref=ts. Luckily for those of you who would like to delve into the dark side, they are on tour currently and are playing at The Earl on February 22nd.