Full steam ahead

Megan O’Neill told David Hennessy about her forthcoming tour, why musicians in Ireland are deflated and how she gets frustrated with the ‘bullsh*t in the music industry’.

Megan O’Neill has opened for the legendary Sir Tom Jones and performed at private Oscars’ parties in LA alongside Gavin James (on invite from JJ Abrams).

Now the Kildare Americana singer-songwriter, who has had her music featured on hit shows like Nashville and Firefly Lane, is looking forward to getting back on the road when tours the UK and Ireland from October.

Megan told The Irish World: “I think it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve really properly started to get excited, because I feel like they’re actually going to happen.

“These shows were originally scheduled for October 2020, and then they got rescheduled to April 2021. And then they rescheduled again.

“So they’ve been in the diary for a long time.

“We haven’t been able to get excited about any of them because we’ve never been sure whether or not they’re actually gonna happen.

“With these ones, I feel like now we’re full steam ahead. Shows are happening and things are open and it’s like, ‘Oh, great. We can all actually start looking forward to it now’.”

Megan recently got to play her first gig in front a live audience since March 2020.

“It was great.

“It was certainly a shock to the system in some ways after so long.

“It’s the whole thing that so many musicians live for, they love and live for the live performance.

“And when that’s taken away, you find other things about the career to focus on for the time but really what you want to do the whole time is get back to that.

“It was strange. I was really nervous and I’m sure that that will take some time to get over.

“It was so nice to actually be in front of real people again, and get their actual real time feedback on new songs and material and in a way feel like things have changed since the beginning of a pandemic and people are just so grateful to have that back. Me included.”

Megan released her second album in March. Entitled Getting Comfortable with Uncertainty, it followed her 2018 debut Ghost of You which hit #1 on the iTunes singer/songwriter charts in the UK and Ireland.

Megan told us it is a very personal album.

The Kildare singer has been working on the new album since 2018 when she was based in London before circumstances saw her move unexpectedly back to Ballymore Eustace.

“There’s songs on that album about my frustrations with the music industry and my frustrations trying to navigate my way through it.

“There’s songs about leaving London, there’s songs about missing Ireland when I’ve been away for so long.

“It’s a very autobiographical album.

“I tend to be quite an autobiographical songwriter, because I write what I feel, and I write what I know.

“But at the same time, I think by the time you get around to those songs being released, they’re not as precious anymore, they’re not as poignant as they were at one point in my life.

“They don’t make me feel quite the same emotions. I could perform them live without feeling like they cut me to the core.

“At the time of writing, they would have.

“Yeah, it was a very kind of timeline of my life record, for sure.”

Megan spent five years in London when she would be working part-time jobs in admin and psychology to supplement her music.

While she grew to love it, she confesses that she hated the city to begin with.

“London is a very fast paced city. And in order to keep up, you have to live a very fast paced life.

“I hated London the first six months to a year I lived there.

“I just found it so lonely, and the whole thing very overwhelming.

“I think it takes some time to break the back of a place, and it just took me some time.

“By the time I got into my second year in London, I had a great group of friends and great, great people around me when it came to music and stuff like that.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have that since.

“But I think, like everybody, I have a love/hate relationship with London.

“And I do absolutely love it now but I go back now and I realize that I’ve gotten used to the pace of life in Ireland.

“When I go back to London now, it kind of hits me in the face a little bit.

“I go, ‘Oh, gosh, I have to rush around and get used to it all again’.

“I just got back from London last night and I’m exhausted today because I haven’t had to be at that pace for the last year and a half.

“It’s gonna take some getting used to it again.”

Juggling earning a living and making progress on the music scene was not easy.

“There were plenty of moments of massive frustration with having to work jobs that for me were very dead end jobs.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

“It wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time, but I needed the money.

“And I needed the money to go and make the next record and to actually invest in my career. And pay rent and buy food and get by.

“And I’m really fortunate that I’ve reached the point where I can do music full-time, and I’m so grateful for that because I’ve been through the juggling act.

“I think where I am now tastes so much sweeter because I’ve done that and I’ve had to do that.”

Megan thought leaving London to return to Kildare may have had a negative impact on her career.

She has been surprised and delighted to find that has not been the case at all.

“I did think leaving London would be bad.

“London is such a hub of everything creative and I did panic.

“When I was leaving I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, my career is just gonna fall apart’.

“But actually, it’s gone the opposite direction and I feel really creative in Ireland.

“I feel really connected to nature around me, really creative in the space that I have and surrounded by such incredible creative people here that for me, it’s been a really, really positive move.

“But I also am an hour flight from London so getting over and back is not an issue. That’s been very beneficial for me too.”

Megan says the album contains songs about her frustrations with the music world.

She says she still has these in spite of how pleased she is with how things are going.

“I still have massive frustrations with the industry. I still do. I probably always will, because there’s a lot of bullsh*t in the music industry.

“There’s a lot of corruptness, there’s a lot of having to jump through hoops to please people.

“Unfortunately, a lot of what can hold you back in the industry is not actually your doing, is somebody else saying yes or no, is money, is budget, is marketing.

“All of these things that have nothing to do with the actual creative act of writing songs or performing. It’s everything else around it.

“There’s a lot of layers to the music industry. You can try and be savvy in all of them but it’s an impossible task.

“Essentially, to be successful in today’s music industry, you have to be able to be 15 different people doing 15 different jobs, like a manager, an agent, an accountant, a social media expert, a songwriter, a performer, a multi-instrumentalist.

“It’s never ending, the amount that you need to be able to do.

“People have no idea of the extent of work that I would put into my career and such a small proportion of that work can be the actual creative side.

“So there always will be huge frustrations.

“It can be a really unfair industry.

“You can go to college to be a lawyer or a doctor and, you know if you take this path and you do that for a certain amount of years, if you work hard enough you will get where you want to be.

“You can work really hard in the music industry for 25 years and never get where you want to be.

“So I think there’s always going to be a lot of frustrations working in this industry no matter what level you’re at.

“But at the same time, we’re addicted to it and we all love it.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life so I guess that’s just the price to pay.”

And it’s important to not be concerned with pleasing other people.

“Maybe it’s realizing, ‘Look, I am who I am and the only person I need to please is myself’.

“Because you could spend your whole life trying to please other people and trying to be what other people want you to be.

“But at the end of the day, particularly in the arts, you have to be authentic to yourself and doing what you need to do as a musician to write the songs and create the material you think is the most true to you and the most authentically you.

“People won’t buy into your art if it’s not authentic. And I think spending time trying to brown nose or trying to follow the curve of what’s successful right now or trying to please people at labels or wherever you’re trying to please people can lead to chasing your own tail and a lot of unhappiness there.”

Last week saw Megan writing songs with Melina Malone and Tolu Makay for Irish Women in Harmony.

Has she felt the gender bias towards women that started RuthAnne’s collective?

“I have, it’s very apparent in the industry and it has been the entire way through.

“I think that’s just a thing in culture in general and in the world in general.

“Women have really only started to chase equality on a global scale and started to achieve that in very recent times so there’s an element of that that will still take a lot longer before it’s completely equal, before it’s completely accepted on every level, in every industry, not just in music.

“These things don’t change overnight and they don’t change in ten years, or 20 years or 30 years when they’ve been so ingrained over thousands of years.

“But I think it is changing. And it is amazing to see women really come to the front in the music industry and of course, there is still an issue. And there will be for a while.

“I work with and know so many incredible women in the music industry that are just powerhouses and that are carving the way and paving the way of the future for younger artists, for younger women.

“And it’s amazing to see, and it’s amazing to be a part of it in a small way.”

Megan hopes her shows in Ireland can go ahead as normal gigs and says it is important that the industry makes a comeback.

“I’m not entirely sure what way it will be by then but the industry has to get back on its feet.

“People are willing to work around what we need to work around to make the shows happen.

“The mood amongst musicians is very deflated.

“I mean there are GAA matches going ahead in Croke Park with tens of thousands of people.

“And we’re not allowed more than 50 people at an outdoor gig. So there is a huge, huge problem and it’s causing a lot of frustration.

“I trust that the government here are going to get themselves together and allow us all to put on shows very soon.

“There was a huge contrast for me being in London to what it is like in Ireland.

“I would hope by the time October comes around everyone’s kind of in full swing of shows that things will be over here like they are over in the UK now.”

Earlier this year, Megan had a hit with Time in a Bottle which featured on episode one of hit Netflix TV Show Firefly Lane starring Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke.

Megan would perform the song live on the Late Late Show and the single charted that same weekend in Ireland across all genres.

“Doing a cover like that which is so beloved for so many people, you have to be very careful with how you do it.

“People will kind of see you doing the cover and go, ‘Oh, no. This could be terrible’, you know?

“So we were very aware that we needed to take it in a different direction and do our own unique version of it, which is what I think we achieved.

“We recorded it live in my studio, all within a few hours. And then it was picked for the show and it featured on episode one of Firefly Lane, and then it kind of skyrocketed a little bit from there.

“You never know how things are going to be received. You never know. Even if it’s your favourite song and you think it’s the best work you’ve ever done, you never know how it’s going to be received by other people.

“So it’s always a bit scary to put something out particularly a cover like that that’s done so differently. It was amazing to see it receive such great attention.”

Getting Comfortable with Uncertainty  was due to be released in March last year. The delay between the album’s recording and release means Megan has already started on album number three despite her sophomore record not being out six months yet.

“I’m very excited about it. It’s a different direction than I’ve ever gone before and it’s a lot more pop elements and more electronic elements to the music, which is really exciting for me to bring in after years of being in the folky and Americana world.

“So definitely I’m extremely excited about this.

“And I think I think it’s gonna be a career changer for me.

“So I’m just really excited to get it out there.

“But at the moment, we’re still working on it so it won’t be until next year.”

Megan O’Neill tours the UK and Ireland from 21 October.

She plays Voodoo in Belfast on Thursday 21 October, Whelan’s in Dublin on Friday 22 October, The Moat Theatre in Naas on Saturday 23 October, The Glee Club in Birmingham on Tuesday 26 October and Wednesday 27 October, King Tuts in Glasgow on Thursday 28 October, The Castle Hotel in Manchester on Friday 29 October, The Courtyard in Sheffield on Sunday 31 October, The Louisiana in Bristol on Monday 1 November and The Lexington in London on Tuesday 2 November. 

For more information, click here.

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