Photo: Jason Creps
Memphis-born singer-songwriter Megan Reilly moved to New York City to jump start her music career, which lead to two critically acclaimed albums. Her third, The Well, is her first release in six years, and features a duet with John Wesley Harding. Reilly talked to us about music and motherhood, the most important song on The Well, her Thin Lizzy obsession and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
I heard “Dublin” and other early demos I became obsessed with Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. He loved Ireland, a country I am not sure completely embraced him. And he loved his mother. And he never really knew his father. And he chose to write about all of those things, not just motorcycles, fast women and breaking out of jail.
I love Rickie Lee Jones but I only listen to her when I need to cry. Alex Chilton. Everly Brothers. And any of the Fleetwood Mac writers. I love all three voices in that band. Cat Stevens probably influenced me the most when I first began writing. And as far as more contemporary stuff, I like Keren Ann, Neko Case and Laura Gibson.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
I was fifteen. Singing was my first love but I didn’t want to stand on stage without an instrument or have to wait on a bunch of guys to assemble a band so I taught myself guitar.
I’m sure I may be embarrassed by some of those songs today but they got me here.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
I was sixteen when I wrote the song “Girl,” about a girl who cried so much her eyes fell out. I may have been a little obsessed with Flannery O’Connor. And Tim Burton. I recorded it as a single at Easley in Memphis for Loverly Records.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
To just write and try not to censor, which is really hard for me to do. The pages of my books probably have more drawings than words.
What percentage of the songs you write are keepers?
I usually can’t get a melody out of my head for days if it’s a keeper. Most of them I keep. Not all, but most.
Do you have any standards for your songs you try to adhere by when choosing them for an album?
I want them to be dynamic. But I take it one song at a time and let it work itself out. I’m not interested in micro managing my music. I bring them to the band and we fine tune them and I let them become what they are.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Anything that makes me pause gets written about. Long lasting love, being resilient, being strong, being weak, bearing a child, family history, loss, Ireland. I envision being eighty-five years old in a moomoo and then it will all make sense. I try not to think about it too much.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
“The Rise and Fall of Sleep.” It took me longest to pen a love song to my daughter. I wanted to express so much. I wanted it to be perfect. When the house is quiet and I peek in on her and see her breathing and looking so beautiful I feel incredibly lucky. I almost called it “The Lucky One.”
What’s a song on The Well you’re particularly proud of?
I don’t think I would have made the record without writing “Sew The Threads Into Your Heart.” I was telling myself to get back on the horse. It opened the flood gates. I was really angry. I had a gigantic loss in my life and could have easily turned on the world and instead moved ahead and felt humbled. And it became a record more about love than anything else.
What’s a lyric from the new album you’re proud of?
It’s hard to think of pulling one piece out of a puzzle and saying why I love it best when I like every piece of this album. But I will say I’m really proud of writing my first successful love song about a brilliant person and the family I was able to design after a slightly rocky start in life. An entirely new life for me. There’s more inspiration in these new songs than I ever felt in the past.
He’s never a stranger/Even when the bloom falls from the mountain/I only know where he lies/I am forever wrapped around him
from To “Seal My Love”
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
“Throw It Out.” We performed it recently and a dear friend told me it made her cry. She knows the emotional story of this song but with all of the songs on this record, something dynamic happens between me and this band (Steve Goulding, Tony Maimone and James Mastro). It would be unfair to not mention them because their input is invaluable when bringing these songs to life.
Something happens in the sound of the music that discloses much more than my lyrics do.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I’ve gotten quite good at spinning tales for the little one. We sometimes make books and illustrate them. I’ve always wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book. That may be my next project.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I was going to say Lindsay Buckingham but I think I would have a lot of fun with Phil Lynott!