There’s no shortage of great new artists from West Lothian, but Megan Black is one of the most bewitching. SNACK caught up with Megan to find out more about an act hailed as one of the finest young singer-songwriters working in Britain today.
How was your summer?
It’s been quite a shift! It’s been great going from doing nothing to doing a lot all at once, which has been quite a shock to the system. Meeting new people and getting to play gigs in places I’ve never played before is just unreal. So, yeah, it’s been really good. Busy, but good.
I do get nervous for gigs but performing live is possibly my favourite part of being a musician. It’s such an adrenaline rush, to come back to doing it, and as big of a shift as it was, for me, feeling excitement about seeing people and playing live again was enough for me to power through.
Your debut album, Deadly Is The Woman, came out in April – how do you feel about it now?
A lot of it now feels quite subconscious to me. Looking back on the album I think ‘oh young Megan, what was she like?’ It’s quite hard to listen to some of the songs, but equally it’s rewarding to put it out there and have people relate to the stuff I’ve spoken about.
There are things I’d change. It got to the point where I was recording the album, and I said ‘I can’t change any more. I can’t afford to record any more guitar parts’ and whatever else, but I’m glad it’s out there. And I like my fanbase. I’m not saying it’s massive, but I feel I’m attracting the right people for my music.
I didn’t think I had that solid foundation before, people might not like every song on the album, but I feel as though people like it, and it’s been rewarding.
You write about some big topics that connect on a personal level. Have fans come to you with their story in relation to the songs?
Yeah, it’s been really interesting. I had one person who reached out to me about ‘Sweet Bisexual’. I feel like coming out is a big enough deal for people. Depending on your circumstances, you’re maybe losing friends or family members. When I came out as bisexual, I had all these other things to deal with. Almost like it’s unacceptable. I heard ‘we can handle you being gay’, so I wanted to push back at that. I had some negative experiences, and that’s not right. I still love people; I still want connections. There’s been a few others, but that’s the one that kind of resonates with me the most.
Does this sort of reaction encourage you to be more honest in your songwriting?
Yeah, totally. For me, it’s nice to help someone or when someone appreciates what you’re doing. It’s hard to not let your ego enjoy people saying they enjoy your music, but as an artist, especially after lockdown, a lot of what I express is for my younger self.
I’m doing it for my younger self and if someone else benefits, that’s cool, it’s a great feeling.
What artists inspired you when you were younger?
Musically, Bob Dylan was a massive one, his lyrics are fantastic and his storytelling resonated with me. That inspired me to want to do that, and to be open about things, but to also leave some of it out. I need to get better at doing that and letting others decide what songs are about. Whereas, I’ve got something like ‘Sweet Bisexual’, its kind-of hard for people to take anything else from it! And I really loved David Bowie as well, but I love David Bowie even now.
You were described as, and I’ll quote this to get it right, ‘One of the finest young singer songwriters working in Britain today’. Is that an easy thing to get your head around?
No. I read that and I was like, ‘shut up, no’. It was a very big compliment. I think it’s obviously very subjective as well, but it goes a long way for me. I think the fact that my songs are very personal, it means a lot as well that other people appreciate it.
Do you have a typical song writing process?
I’m one of these annoying people who gets a song stuck in their head, and I just keep humming it or singing it around the moment. Even if I’ve just written one line, I’ll do that but I need to work out if it’s actually mine, or if it’s someone else’s that I’m ripping off. After that, I come up with chords or what I want to put out there.
It normally starts with me annoying everyone around me with a song stuck in my head, and then the words and chords come from there.
Do you often think you’ve written something new but it’s an old one?
So many times, it’s so annoying. They always tend to be the ones that are my best ideas, or that are really catchy. And then I’m like wait, that’s a Beatles song, and I’m back to square one!
Your visual imagery as a performer and in your artwork is striking – how important is the overall package of what you do?
The way I dress is a form of self-expression. If any of my neighbours ever read this interview, they’ll say, ‘She does not look like that half the time.’ I’ll go to Tesco in my pyjamas. Honestly, I couldn’t care less, but when performing, there’s a way of stepping into a different being. Presenting myself visually helps me, and I feel it’s the best representation of myself as a performer. I do change my look a lot, though. I get bored doing the same thing.
I don’t know what that says about me on a psychological level, but yeah, I think being able to address the way I want to, goes back to the David Bowie thing. Dressing the way I feel I need to as a performer is a big deal to me and obviously, it helps with branding and people remembering me as well. But for me it does go a bit deeper than that. It’s just, it is a big part of who I am.
Having the persona probably helps you switch off when you need to, allowing you to be Megan Black the person and not Megan Black, the performer.
Yeah, definitely. That was a mistake I made in the past, where I thought I had to be the performer all the time. I would say I’m quite introverted, honestly, I like my own company and I’m quite grumpy most of the time in public spaces. So, for me, it’s good having that, that differentiation between myself and then me performing. Having to step into the bigger role and personality helps me shift between the two stages.
You’re a massive champion of women, and under-represented groups in the industry. What does the Scottish music scene need to do to move forward and support minority groups?
Without criticising anyone in particular, the best way to represent people who aren’t represented is to let them have the spotlight. It still feels male dominated and the men who are running companies say ‘oh, we should include women and this is how women feel’, but that’s their viewpoint. I can’t speak for other minorities but it’s the same for people of colour, disabled artists, the only way we’ll know how these people feel is by letting them say it and giving them control and an actual place in the music scene.
In the past, I’ve felt like the token female, and you can tell when that’s going on. It feels like someone else saying we should do it, as opposed to it coming from female artists. We’re beginning to see some changes, which is great, but we need more.
There is a concern about box ticking, and whether it is the right thing to do to improve representation?
You can tell when you’re the artist out there for that reason. It’s not a nice feeling, it’s obvious, and obvious to other people. We need to have actual people representing minorities rather than ticking a box. I’d much rather hear from a disabled artist and their experience from someone who has a disability and is working in the industry, not from someone who has no experience of it. I want genuine representation, but I don’t know how to do it, but I think that’s the best way for it to be genuine and authentic.
We need more people doing things that they want to do and actually being represented and given opportunities in order for it to become normalised. That’s for every profession in the industry, be it an artist, a producer, working in PR, whatever it is that you’re doing, the more we see ourselves being represented in those kinds of fields, the more we’re going to normalise it, and people will think, I can do that too.
Why should people attend your Audio gig on 30th October?
I actually have some new music which should hopefully be arriving before that day. I can’t say too much else about it for now. I would say I want to connect with as many people as possible. And I think for anyone, regardless of what your background is, regardless of who you are, if you like any sort of blues, rock, rock and roll, any of that kind of stuff, and you also like female empowerment, it’s a show for you. I might also host a wee after party somewhere too, so come along to that too!
We’ll promote that with the tagline of ‘If you like female empowerment, you’ll love this.’
And ‘If you don’t that’s your problem, but if you do, come to the gig’.
If you do, come along and get your mind changed!
Yeah, that’s true, I’m happy to change some minds.
And with the amount of gigs you’ve played recently, the band must be tight?
The band I work with are great, I wouldn’t tell them that as they take the piss out of me for anything. But in all seriousness, they are some of the most talented people I’ve had the privilege of playing with, and we put on a good show.
Do you have any thoughts on why the West Lothian scene has been so fertile in recent years?
I think they put something in the water man, I don’t know. There’s a lot of inspiration in West Lothian. For me, growing up, I’ve watched other people around me do creative stuff, and I thought, I can do this too. It’s great to have a mindset that you can create cool things. As much as there’s so many great artists, we need artists that aren’t male in the scene, and again, representation matters to inspire people to make music.
I’m not 100% sure why there are so many of us doing cool things, it does make you kind of wonder what they’ve done?
What’s next for you?
I’ve been awarded [a grant from] the NextGen Fund, as a young musician in the UK. That’s going to go towards my record, and I’ll release an EP within however many months it takes. I’ve found what resonates for me as an artist, but I want to challenge myself. This new project will allow me to release something different, maybe a bit out there.
Deadly Is The Woman is out now.
Megan Black plays Audio in Glasgow on 30th October
Picture credit (in order of appearance): Brone Murray, Jodi Findlay