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Sweet Megg is the Musical Gypsy you Didn’t Know you Needed, And She’s Performing This Thursday

Megg, like her band name suggests, is sweet (and feisty). She not only supports women, but goes above and beyond to help them through her music. Here’s what she has to say about being the lead woman in a male-dominated industry (the jazz scene).

HC: What was your first experience with music like? What song/band sticks out the most to you from your childhood?

Megg: “A lot of my first musical experiences were with my family. My father would sing Irish folk songs to me as a child, as would my mother actually like Molly Malone. My grandmother was a piano teacher, so I also played piano when I was younger with her.”

“I remember as a child too that the two albums that my parents would play on tape would be The Beatles, Let it Be and The Doors, Riders of the Storm. To this day those two albums have such a soothing quality for me because I used to fall asleep to them as a baby. When I was starting to get more into music on my own, I really dug blues. My favorite singers that influenced me in high school were Janis Joplin, Koko Taylor, and Etta James. I was a huge Steppenwolf fan as well at a very young age. I remember being in my dads pick-up truck and singing along to songs like, “The Pusherman” at the age of maybe eight years old.  My parents and I have laughed about that as an adult, a little girl singing the lyrics, ‘You know I smoked a lot of grass, oh lord I popped a lot of pills.'”  

HC: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?

Megg: “It took me a while to take it seriously, to be honest. I always did music, that was never a question. When I was in high school I began writing songs to get all my teenage angst out. Singing and vocalizing notes in my room late at night was just my way of self soothing.”

“Music has always been a constant in my life, it’s just something I do no matter what. Whenever I’m doing anything, there always needs to be music playing – driving, cleaning, cooking, eating, drawing, exercising, painting, music have music!  So, when I went to college and studied I didn’t really think of it as what I was eventually going to support myself with. I was pursuing history and research as well cause I thought I would someday be a history professor. After college, I worked in documentary film doing historical research. I was also always gigging on the side, writing music, performing, and practicing everyday.  But still wasn’t taking it seriously. Then about four years ago I realized where I was. I was gigging every night after work and made more money playing jazz than working on this PBS television program. I realized finally, ‘I guess I really can make a living doing this.’ So, I quit my job and went full-time.” 

“For a minute I thought I would quit again and applied to grad school. I got into the program in Paris with Columbia and realized that I was kidding myself. I’m a musician, that’s my job, and I need to stop running away from that. So, since then I’ve had all my eggs in one basket and it’s actually wonderful because I feel like I have more of a direction.”

HC: What can listeners expect to hear from the music you make? 

Megg: “I try to make people happy and please everyone. I also like to be true and real. Billie Holiday is my biggest role model because she said she always sang what she felt. That’s what I try to do. I like to sing what I’m feeling in my heart and they [my listeners] can expect truth. I didn’t end up working for an NGO, or teaching students the importance of history, or working in foreign relations saving the world… all I have is music. So, I’d like to at least spread a little joy, if I can. That’s all I have to offer this world in terms of a positive impact, and if you can’t be adding some positivity to this world, then whats the point of existing?”

On Thursday, September 14 Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers are throwing a release party for their first full-length album, Sweet Megg, at The Paperbox in Brooklyn.

HC: Describe your music in three or four words:  

Magg: “Jazz you can dance to.”

HC: Musically, who inspires you the most? 

Megg: “Well Billie Holiday, of course. Her tragic, but beautiful life inspires me so much. Everything she lives is out in the open in every word she sang. If I could get any inch of the truth she sang into my voice, I will be happy. More technically, Anita O’day is another big influence of mine because her time was crazy and she would really work with the melody. She played around and had the musical prowess to really sing her a** off. Patsy Cline is another big influence of mine. I love singing those country tunes!”

HC: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Megg: “Being a bandleader and frontman, really. The job part. Singing has always been where I am happiest and most myself. I can be in front of two people or hundreds, and once I can be singing it’s like being in a trance. Everyone doesn’t matter, but once I’m not singing, then I lose that and the challenge comes in. I don’t actually like people looking at me and thinking they know who I am cause they are watching me sing. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. It’s like singing is a security blanket and once it stops I’m naked on stage. I’ve gotten much, much better at it over the years, but a few years ago it definitely was a big challenge for me. It was when people started remembering my name and just having to be in front of an audience every night when some days I felt tired or fat and disgusting and the last thing I wanted was a bunch of strangers staring at me. It definitely messed my head up for a while, but it was a challenge I had to confront and get over in order to move on with my career. Now, I’m getting much better at that and it doesn’t affect me nearly as much as it used to.” 

“I remember the other big challenge was leading. When I was starting off, I always felt questioned by musicians who would second guess me. Jazz is a man’s world and they all assume singers don’t know anything about music and they treat you like that until you prove you do. It’s pretty shi**y that that’s the case, but it just is.” 

“In the past year alone I feel like I’ve really bloomed into being comfortable in my skin and confident on the bandstand, so I’m glad I had that challenge. It sculpted me into the performer I am today.” 

HC: What does your 5-year plan entail? What are your goals, and where do you hope to be?

Megg: “I hope to be happy. I’m not good at seeing further than two or three months ahead. I don’t care where I am, as long as I can be loving the man I’m loving now and supporting myself in some way. If it’s still music, then that would be awesome. If it’s teaching yoga or something completely different, that’s cool too.”

“I hope to be happy.” 

HC: Tell us about the collaborations you’ve been working on:

Megg: “Well Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers is a constant collaboration because we have a huge rotating cast of musicians that play with the band. That’s what the album release show will be. I have some of my favorite musicians we featured on the album joining us for the gig.” 

“Caitlin (Cait & The Critters) and I have also been working on stuff. She is a good friend of mine. We met a few years ago and became close – we would have sessions where I would teach her singing and she would teach me swing dancing. I’ve been really in to Western Swing stuff and so I invited her to join the band for a full-western swing gig, so that she could do harmonies and some back up vocals. We did it on Saturday and it was a frickin’ blast. I love dancing and singing with her because we are both independent, tall, and powerful women, at least I hope so!  Whenever I’m with her I feel empowered and confident and she’s told me she feels the same.” 

HC: Have you been involved in any type of benefit performances or fundraiser performances/events? If so, what was it and how did you become involved?

Megg: “When I was in high school, I worked with Amnesty International. I organized these concerts that benefited abused women shelters. Now, as a jazz singer, I often do different benefits. I’ve performed for Arts in the Armed Forces, The Lonely Whale, No Kid Hungry, and the Poetry Foundation.”

“I recently started working with an event space, so I’m starting to plan my own events. I’d like them to always have a cause collecting for something. I really want to start making my music life more proactive in the community. Spreading a message of love and community if I can. My last event, “Ladies Night,”  was a party of female artists and the theme was male objectification (we had an all-male wet t-shirt contest) we made a collection for a family who had a tragic car accident and lost their mother who was very young. So, we collected for them the last show. I’d like to do something like that at all my events in the future.” 

HC: What is next? Are you currently working on something?

Megg: “Always! Right now I’m working on promoting our tour that is coming up. I’m also working on my own band, which is original music. I started a second album, and I need to finish it. I’m also starting my new Western-swing version of Sweet Megg.  After this release party is full, planned, and prepped I’m going to start working on the next ‘Ladies Night’ event. I think the theme will be the ’70s.” 

HC: What would you say is your favorite part of being in the music industry?

Megg: “Collaboration. Every night of the week, whether it’s a gig or I’m sitting in with another band, or going to a jam session, or having a few people over to sit in my living room, I’m constantly collaborating with other amazing musicians. It’s a family, a really big family. Once you reach a certain level of musicianship with jazz, it becomes a new language that only you and other musicians get to speak to each other in. And it’s the most beautiful conversation you’ve ever had in your life that you can’t stop.  It’s addictive.” 

See Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers on Thursday, September 14 at The Paperbox in Brooklyn. 

Tabitha Britt

New School '18

Tabitha Britt (formerly Tabitha Shiflett) was the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Correspondent of Her Campus at The New School between August 2016 - January 2018. Tabitha graduated from The New School of Social Research on January 31, 2018. She's also a graduate of the Dub (The University of North Carolina Wilmington, UNCW) where she held the position of Managing Editor for the UNCW HC team. You can find her byline in a variety of publications including CBS Local, Taste of Home, Luna Luna, Thought Catalog, and Elite Daily. See more at www.tabithashiflett.com.
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