Your impression of Megan King might depend on where you’ve seen or heard her. If you’ve seen her play solo, you might consider her to be a folk music singer/songwriter. If you’ve seen her with her three-piece backing band – Ted Carter (lead guitar), Aaron Winey (bass) and Dan Willig (drums) – you might think of her as the frontwoman for a rock band. And if you’ve heard one of her recordings, you might think of her as an ethereal pop singer along the lines of Sarah McLachlan. Regardless of how you have (or haven’t) heard her, a sense of spirituality and religion pervades her work. When prodded, she will say that she’s a “Christian musician,” but her music and her persona are more understated in terms of religion, meaning that someone might hear her work without ever knowing that it has a Christian base.
“ I didn’t want to be pigeonholed in the CCR [Christian contemporary rock] genre. I guess I would describe [my music] as Americana,” she says. “If you hear me solo, you’re gonna say it’s folk music, but if you see me with a band you’ll think I sound different.”
In effect she is all three, having honed her craft over the years since learning to sing and play guitar as a young child. Her most recent recorded album, 2012’s Lion Heart is her most ambitious and accomplished yet. For it she traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to work with seasoned music producer/recording engineer Mark Hornsby along with session musicians. The result is her fullest recording to date; it’s lush atmosphere, tasteful instrumentation and dreamy vocals that would sound right at home on Top 40 radio.
While the music on Lion Heart can be wispy and calming, the subject matter can be anything but. The themes on the album center around some of life’s more painful elements and overcoming them – divorce and domestic abuse to name just two. When the album first came out, whatzup reviewer John Hubner wrote Lion Heart “is the album for after the storm, when the sun is beginning to shine through the clouds.”
“Lion Heart is all about overcoming difficulty,” is how King puts it. “Some of [the songs] are from my own experience and some are from other people’s experiences … a lot of things that not only women go through but men go through too.”
While the album may center thematically on life’s difficulties, and King will reference specific examples of hardships such as divorce and spousal abuse when interviewed, her song lyrics themselves leave some ambiguity in that they don’t explicitly state what they’re about. In other words, there’s no “divorce song” on the album. The songs themselves, then, take the listener on a journey of experiencing hardship and moving past them but leave their meanings open to interpretation, like a sonic painting or Rorschach test.
“None of the songs are specifically about divorce, but they’re about what other people think, especially in the Midwest,” she says. “[How] some people might judge you for certain things and finding who you are in the midst of that in spite of what other people might think of you and being comfortable with that.”
That approach to songwriting – leaving the meanings open to interpretation and evoking themes – is something that King has developed as she’s grown into a more mature songwriter. She says that when she writes a song now, she wants it to stand the test of time and not lose its meaning shortly after it’s written.
“I think it’s important to write for longevity. When I was first writing, I wrote songs that I don’t play anymore because I’m past that now,” King says. “I think the ultimate goal in writing the song is to show that there’s hope within the hardship, that there’s some kind of mechanism for moving on and getting stronger.”
Prior to the release of her recent CD, King released two albums: Pretty Songs (2008) and Confidential Reality (2005). The recording of Lion Heart gave her her first experience working with producers and session musicians. While her previous recordings were more spare and haunting, the Nashville studio experience brought a fullness and lushness to her work that was a breakthrough in her sound as a recording artist.
For an artist such as King, working in Nashville wasn’t quite what one might expect. While that city is obviously famous for being the home to country music, it actually has a diverse music scene, and the producers and session players there are accustomed to switching genres at the drop of a hat.
The making of the album was something of a surprise as well, since its origins were somewhat impromptu, even though it resulted in her breakthrough. Friend and fellow musician Sunny Taylor was traveling down to Nashville to record her EP, and King decided to go along for fun and to see what the experience was like. When she arrived in the studio, she began talking to Hornsby, the recording engineer, about possibly recording with him, and she decided to write and record the album on the spot.
“I saw it was an opportunity, so while I was down there I talked to them about it,” she says. “I asked if [he] would be interested in recording me, and he said, ‘Would you be interested in laying down a demo?’ I said, ‘No, I want to lay down a whole CD.’ He said, ‘Are you ready?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready!”
While that might sound like an onerous task to begin right on the spot, King, who describes herself as a prolific songwriter, had a stockpile of songs written that she was prepared to record. While that experience may have enhanced her sound and taken her recording career onward and upward, she insists that she has stayed true to her own unique vision as a musician.
“One thing I’m pretty proud of is that I have not sold out,” she says. “I’m doing this for me and I’m doing this for others and if that were to change it would not be worth it.”