“It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog” goes the routine blare of a dilapidated hi-fi in a Highbury bar and ahead of three shows in four nights, Meredith Meyer is here to toil away as such during this, her inaugural trip to London. “I like it a lot. I mean I haven’t seen a lot of it other than Kingston but, you know, I was supposed to get here a day earlier so instead I pretty much just got off the plane ready to play” she composedly contends, the deep bluish flare of the emergency services sprayed across her striking features.
Meyer is, to all extensive purposes, Young Unknowns – a Brooklyn-based endeavour inspired by the driving Americana of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Her songs tell of infatuations gone awry, and deep-seated insecurities almost uncomfortably plainly expressed. It’s lyrical catharsis (for which give Target Practice a shot) though a plaintive impression is that which is left. And this time flying solo, she’s in a position to quite literally disembark and divert: we meet outside Highbury & Islington station on one of the colder nights committed to recent memory. Eyes do eventually converge, though the first thing I notice is a guitar case strapped to her back. She’ll later disembowel its contents: an acoustic, an array of cables, and a projector the size of most American sandwiches. On her very first European tour, she’s over here masquerading as the very definition of the one (wo)man band: “I could only afford to come over by myself – we didn’t have enough money for the whole band to make it, as we’re completely independent and self-funded” she reticently confesses early on in our exchange, once we’ve thankfully relocated indoors.
Meyer designs assorted and, by her own admission, “pretty random” album covers for various compilations when not penning the introspective, if exoteric music she’s here to tout. I don’t quite get what sort of releases these are that she’s telling me about, nor can I comprehend her having the need to moonlight as such in broad daylight as it were. Though to hijack a title from that grim stadium-rollicking old curmudgeon known only as Meat Loaf, the future ain’t what it used to be and it’s a telltale sign of these being somewhat precarious times for musicians everywhere, that these day jobs are having to be maintained for lonesome whiles longer than they perhaps would have been previously.
And the Young Unknowns nom de plume itself seems to insinuate the reality that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for emerging artists to cultivate a name for themselves in ever more congested environs. The fields the listener ploughs for intrigue are sowed with seeds of diminishing originality for the most part, and the soils are grossly oversaturated as a result of the internet effect. All the impetus has consequently been shifted from quality, right over to quantity and it’s pretty problematic for all involved. So was the christening of the band as such really coincidental?
“It wasn’t totally my intention, but it definitely wasn’t an accident either. And I think that in the media, there’s always this catch-22 for painters, or musicians, or actors, or whatever in that everybody’s fascinated by people who have already made it, but then again people can pop out of nowhere and, without any rhyme nor reason, we’re all suddenly fascinated by this somebody else altogether. And so I find it odd that someone can so immediately become quite so fascinating to everyone else around them. But when I made this band, I sought out people who were coming straight outta nowhere. And we may get nowhere, but we’re making music because we love it, and I guess that’s all that really matters…”
Though when they released a distinctly intimate track entitled Far Enough later on just last year, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The seed was then fertilised, and it’s since begun to sprout but, like the unprecedented blooming of a resurgent orchid, its success was a most welcome surprise to its cultivator: “It was not at all what I was expecting – I had no idea! And the reaction over in the UK was probably the best – better even than back in New York.”
Another notch in the pros column validating the existence of the internet, then. Though I’ve always found Meyer’s now native New York to be more or less the closest tangible reflection of the world wide web, in that a thought to have often wormed its way through my mind is that the Big Apple is about the most cogent example of the internet made incarnate. So when another deluge of artists emerge from Brooklyn and cross the Hudson River into that more mainstream culture, it seems to make perfect sense. But Manhattan’s musical outpour, as Meyer corroborates, comes only in fits and starts; blurts and spurts: “It all comes in waves, and I feel that there are so many bands there… That’s one of the unfortunate things of being out there. It’s good on the one hand, ’cause there’s so much opportunity but then the flipside of that is that not everybody can be kinda notorious all the time. Often it’s just a case of chance – if there happens to be somebody watching you…”
She may have now made it over, though there are certainly more present than there are correctly appreciating at her second of two Shoreditch showings a few nights after our brief encounter of a somewhat absurd kind. At this point in time, Chic’s Everybody Dance flares up in the background. What with it being a Wednesday, nobody does as indeed they don’t come Friday. Instead, a spindly chicken sandwich arrives, its nutritional values discussed at length as she informs me of her need to eat “a little, but not a lot” whenever she’s readying herself to sing. “I ate good meals” she’ll swoon to a distracted Old Blue Last 48 hours later though it here sits lifeless, its temperature declining all the while. She barely touches it, instead picking despondently at a can of chips. Clichéd as it may have been, she ordered “crisps” and wound up with the twiggy french fries sat miserably before her. It’s a meagre helping by all accounts, and significantly more so when compared with the Brobdingnagian portions of her transatlantic home.
Besides its elephantine burgers and skyscraper sandwiches, New York has of course had its fair share of so-called scenes, though do the Young Unknowns feel integrated to any extent? “Yes, and no. I’ve always felt that little bit like an outsider, but I’ve always also felt that I can hang in certain circles even if it means doing so without ever feeling fully integrated, you know? I think that the reason as to why I can tap into it a little bit is maybe because I’m an observer”, she intones appositely inquisitively. It’s certainly a quality to emerge from her music… “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people in the two years I’ve been in New York, and I’ve made friends with a lot of people as well. I wouldn’t say that I have some strong political hold on the city and its scenes or anything, but I do go out a lot. And I talk to people, and I enjoy seeing other bands. If all you do is self-promote, then nobody’s gonna want to hang out with you.”
It’s an issue endemic so too of London – the shameless namedropping and endless talking, or perhaps more applicably writing, about music, and shows, and so forth alloyed to a dreary lack of these natterers and keyboard scrabblers actually getting out and experiencing it all live. The impact of the internet evens itself out in this respect I suppose, what with impetus placed so dishearteningly firmly upon hits, and impressions etcetera.
“That said, I’m kinda relieved whenever there is a night I don’t have to go out, and I can just sit in in my pyjamas, and run a bubble bath, and really live! That’s my real decadence.”
It’s one of umpteen opinions we share. Though getting out there every once in a while and becoming involved – or at least actually concentrating on what’s going on around you – is paramount to an all-encompassing musical enjoyment, I’d reckon. And we again concur on the relevance of the live aspect: “Live shows, to me, are really important. Especially with these songs, and especially ’cause I couldn’t bring my band over! It’s tricky to recreate an album live and there are some bands that don’t wanna play unless they sound exactly like they do on record but to me, it’s kinda the opposite: when you play live, you bring a wholly different element to the songs – that spontaneity you lose otherwise. You can get all those subtle nuances on a recording – all those tiny little things you slave over for months. But you can’t get that live energy, and so I really like to play live. I call music a mystical art, ’cause there’s this kind of alchemy that goes on” – one which is best illustrated in the context of these sorts of shows.
Though as with the industry itself, it’s an alchemy with a somewhat uncertain future: we meet during a week in which The Stool Pigeon has unanticipatedly flown the coop for good, HMV has lost the most part of its voice, and the red mist has finally descended over The Bull And Gate as owners Margaret and Pat Lynskey have bolted from NW5. “It’s definitely not easy”, Meyer admits somewhat defeatedly. “And from the time that I started out, it’s definitely gotten worse. I grew up in Oklahoma, and moved to Los Angeles without even really having the intention of becoming a singer. But when I did start writing songs, my thought process was that you’d write ‘em, and then you’d start a band, and then you’d get signed. But that’s never happened. So for me, it’s definitely a labour of love, and one I’ve given up other things for [in order to be] able to maintain. And I think everybody these days will have to do that, unless you come from a situation in which you’re fully supported. Or you win the lottery – whether that be literally, or putting out a record which everybody just so happens to love! Which is rare, you know? But personally, the more time and effort I dedicate to it, the more I enjoy it. So I guess I’d definitely say it’s hard, but I feel like if you’re really inspired to do something, then it needs to be done – whether you become rich or not!”
Though as with many artists you’ll speak to who slave away only to scrape by, she’s only too open to the insecurities of the artistic predicament: “Every day is different and one you can be on top of the world, only for a series of unfortunate events to bring you right back down the next.” It’s not merely a New York state of mind, but evocative so too of life in London I attest. But this so-called labour of love – to what degree does she view it as actual work, whether laborious or otherwise? “Honestly? I feel like it’s all work from the moment the songs leave my bedroom. For me, writing music isn’t strenuous in any way. It is work, but it never feels that way and I could stay up at it all night, every night and not feel tired. But for me, the work comes with the process of getting it out there to people. The work comes when I have to sit on the computer and spend hours endlessly emailing people!”
A horribly familiar plight.
“But I do think that things tend to come full circle, and I got emails from a couple labels regarding this release whose rejection letters I’d saved from a while back! And I was like, ‘Ah! I remember you! I’ll never forget you!’ But it’s encouragement, especially as most of my friends are now beginning to really settle into their lives. I’m still a bit of a dreamer, so it’s rewarding to know that what you’re putting out into the world is being appreciated by some people somewhere!”
As for how much longer Meyer may be deemed a Young Unknown, well, in keeping with the above we’re unsure. Though her output can, and indeed most certainly should, be appreciated here.