Singer-songwriter Megan Talay performed in New York City for the first time at age 20. Talay, like some of her influences (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Ingrid Michaelson), got her start at The Bitter End. Since then, she has played her self-penned folk, pop, and rock songs at venues like the Sampler, Cameo Gallery, Arlene’s Grocery, and Rockwood Music Hall. This Friday, April 10th at 10:00pm, she’s coming to Pete’s Candy Store to celebrate her 23rd birthday and you’re invited.
Twenty-three will be a big year for Talay, whose first EP, Piece by Piece, will be available this summer. The EP features five original songs exploring themes like relationships, fear, self-evaluation, and acceptance. “Spill your guts type [lyrics],” she says. “That’s always something that’s spoken to me. I’d listen to Fiona Apple and think about how no one says the stuff she’s saying. ‘I’m crappy and I don’t belong.’ It would be my hope that someone who is not into talking about their feelings would hear my music and think, ‘Well yeah. I guess I’m not the only person out there who thinks that way.’”
The EP, which took longer to complete than Talay expected, has been a significant growing experience for her both musically and personally. She began it over a year ago with producer Luis Gil while still at the University of Miami. A Westchester native, she moved back to New York after college and the process hit some walls.
“There’s such a fine line between being collaborative and being open to new ideas and interpretations of your work, and giving up too much control to a vision that isn’t yours. This [EP] project has taught me a lot about finding that line.” Talay has always been interested in improving the blend of different parts and arrangements in her recordings, not just the overall song and vocal quality. “It was really for me to realize that it’s not anyone else’s responsibility or business to get me to the point where I want to be in my music. I woke up and had a sense of what I wanted to do, what I wanted my songs to sound like.”
She reached out to friend, former teacher, and producer Greg Mayo (of the Brooklyn Sugar Company), with whom she shares common musical tastes. “Greg is in one of my favorite bands. They tear the house down and their music sounds great. It was a much better match.” Working with Mayo, Talay reclaimed the ideas she had in mind when she originally wrote the songs.
Developing and preparing to release Piece by Piece also taught Talay to look at her art like a business. Working without representation from a manager, she is responsible for budgeting, collaborating with people in the industry, and making plans for promotion: all things she has never done before. “I don’t know if I do it that well,” she admits. “I did study music business in school so I knew it was important to keep track of my costs and expenses.” To get her music out, she says, “It’s pretty basic stuff that every indie artist does. Get it on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify. I’m using TuneCore, a digital distribution company that anybody can use that gets you on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google, et cetera. Also, do-it-yourself CD making. The hard part is promoting, staying on it.”
Talay began writing songs in high school, but she refused to sing at the time. “I think it was out of shyness. I’d be insecure or embarrassed by someone complimenting me for wearing a pretty dress. I was a tomboy. I didn’t think I could do it. I was a guitar player and there were always friends who could sing. I just thought I couldn’t do it. I thought it was a magic ability that I didn’t have.” In college, though Mayo encouraged her to sing on her college demo record. Talay recounts, “It’s kind of tough to watch now. Singing can feel very revealing sometimes. I was nervous about that. It can feel like taking your shirt off in front of an audience or something.” It was tough learning how to sing from scratch, and she practices diligently to become an even better guitar player and singer.
About the current phase of her career, she says, “For the most part it’s exciting. I’m excited to finally have a record, get the music out there and especially to share it with the people who’ve been supporting me along the way. Then there’s the scary part, which is the fear that no one will like it and/or no one will care and I’ll live with my parents forever.”
Advice for her 23-year-old self? “I feel like at this point I need to be getting advice, not giving it!” she blurts. “The best things I could say so far are: keep yourself surrounded by friends and people you trust, be careful what you spend your money on, and look at things for the long term.” What about her goals for this year? “You can make a lot of plans and realize that things are going to turn out differently,” she demurs. “My aim right now is to go to folk festivals. I want to build an audience, but there are expenses involved with touring. In the future, I do see my music growing into more of a band feel. More electric, more rock-oriented. Maybe explore sonic territory. My goal is just to be playing forever, so I want to get out and play as much as I can.”
Talay’s birthday set at Pete’s will feature most of the songs that will appear on Piece by Piece, some newer unrecorded songs, and at least one cover: Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” during which she will invite friends to perform with her.