We first encountered Megan Bonnell during her time touring with Great Lake Swimmers back in 2016, and quickly sourced “Magnolia” (her brand new album at the time) and her debut album “Hunt and Chase.” Learning that Megan had so much more to offer than harmonies for GLS, we thoroughly enjoyed the material from “Magnolia,” and spent time reviewing the album for this blog. The folk music style that we expected was interlaced with some indie and jazz sounds that demonstrated both an interesting and diverse musical experience from Megan; one that we continue to enjoy.
Fast forward to Spring, 2018, and Megan has released her third studio album, “Separate Rooms.” Teaming up once again with both Joshua Van Tassel and Chris Stringer, “Separate Rooms is a collection of 10 new songs that explore not only timely themes, but is also a bold statement of a self-assured woman navigating an increasingly dark and perplexing world.” Listening to this for the first time, Megan definitely continues from where “Magnolia” left off, pushing her seemingly unrestricted boundaries further beyond my expectations once more. The folk-roots base is still her musical anchor, but her willingness to explore and embrace multiple genres are much more evident across “Separate Rooms.”
Whether intentional or not, Megan has successfully found a fine balance with these new songs, offering a select number with her ‘signature’ sound, whilst also re-defining any stereotype with her edgier material and inclusion of multi-genre influences. For those craving the more traditional, tracks such as “Radio Silence” (great piano and strings) and “Where Is The Love” (slight country flavor) both allow Megan’s powerful vocals to dominate. For those seeking something a little more progressive, “Someday I’m Gonna Kill You” is a great place to start; a crossover track that has the ingredients to be radio-friendly, yet offers a little edginess to make you sit up and take notice. Want something completely different? Go ahead and revel in the synth intro to “Your Voice,” which not only embraces the indie-pop sounds of both Emily Haines and Amy Millan, but offers a throwback to a ‘popular’ sound before the ‘indie’ tag became an attachment to that genre.
The title track (and first single) has a very up-tempo beat that prompts some foot-tapping from the opening notes, before offering an ‘indie’ inspired sound that could easily transport you back to the heyday of this genre. “The song … is a realization that relationships are as much about being alone as they are about being together,” says Bonnell. “The song … really tries to celebrate the fact that a healthy, supportive relationship requires the occasional “time-out” in order to rediscover who we are as individuals.” Currently on tour to promote this new material, we are incredibly grateful that Megan was able to take “time-out” to chat with us about “Separate Rooms.”
With this being your third full length album, I went ahead and listened to your previous two “Hunt and Chase” and “Magnolia” albums. The progression from the initial ‘light folk’ on the first, to the expansive indie and jazz influences on the second – both are evident across the new album. Was this continued development planned or just something that happened naturally as you continue to write, perform, and mature as a solo artist?
The progression through each album has felt very natural to me. I can attribute the outcome of “Separate Rooms” to knowing myself better than I ever have before. As we get older, we gain a clearer sense of who we are and what we want to say. My emotional understanding and awareness has deepened, and with that comes a more honest and articulate voice. As a musician, I’ve gained confidence in who I am as an artist. I think in the past I’ve wrestled with trying to know what category I fall under. We are encouraged to place ourselves in one or two of them. A lot of my stuff, on this album in particular is very genre bending. Part of the reason it’s called Separate Rooms, is because when thinking of this album, I asked myself, am I a singer songwriter? A folk musician? Some new age indie artist? And I realized that I am all of those things, and that’s what makes me who I am as an artist.
We reviewed your Magnolia album previously on our blog, and noted the shift from traditional folk tunes to the darker pieces, and compared some of your work to notable artists such as Feist, Regina Spektor, and even Norah Jones. Now we are hearing influences of early Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple on Separate Rooms. How have such a mixture of artists influenced your writing and interpretation of the messages you seek to convey?
I continue to feel most powerful as a woman when I’m being honest and vulnerable about my emotional experiences. I have no doubt that I have been encouraged by the women I have grown up listening to. I’ve always been inspired by edgy female artists. The ones who refuse to sand down the edges of their message to make it more soft and romantic. Alanis is an artist who celebrates that life is going to be hard a lot of the time, even in the moments that are supposed to be the most beautiful. I think as young girls we are exposed to the “fairytale” narrative a lot. As romantic as it is, the story can be largely misleading to girls as they grow into young women and feel like they’re somehow falling short when life isn’t as easy as they were told it would be. Alanis was one of the first female artists to flip this on its head and breathe power and ownership into the messiness of life. Her voice is strong, and she celebrates the strength she feels in being exactly where she is. As a young girl listening to this, it both comforted and empowered me. It is very important as an artist to be conscious of what message we are sending out. I have found strength and inspiration through all of these women you referenced, and I hope I can do the same in my own way for the younger generations that are listening to my music.
You have teamed up once again with both Joshua Van Tassel and Chris Stringer, who also produced your previous albums. What dimension do these gentleman add to your music, and how have they helped you continue to nurture your creativity as a unique individual artist in your own right?
Chris and Josh play an incredibly large role in the sound of music. The three of us became a team at the beginning of Hunt and Chase, and I’ve never looked back. I am a solo artist, so when I bring my songs to the studio, they are stripped down versions of themselves. Josh and Chris are such visionaries and they know how to bring my music into its fully realized state. Each album has become more stylized in its production. Josh and Chris are meticulous to detail, and passionate about being explorative and boundary pushing. To me that’s the best combination.
You released the title track “Separate Rooms” as the first single from the album. When tasked with having to select that first impression for your audience, how do you make such a decision?
It always feels a bit daunting at first! But by the end we had it narrowed down to 2 potential singles. I wanted the first taste of this album to be representative my new stuff, while also being inviting to the listener. Separate Rooms comes out swinging with lots of energy and a sing-able chorus. It felt like an easy choice in the end.
You co-wrote “Separate Rooms” with Donovan Woods, who is a highly regarded lyricist in his own right. Who initiated the idea of a writing collaboration, how did it happen, and most importantly, how challenging and rewarding was it to start with an idea that ultimately became an incredibly dominant tune on the album?
I’ve been a fan of Donovan’s music for many years now. We share a drummer, Joshua Van Tassel. I think it was initially Josh that put the idea in my head to reach out to Donovan about writing together. I had an idea in mind that I wanted to bring to him. It can be intimidating sitting down with someone you don’t know very well to write a song. It comes with a slight sense of pressure. But Donovan is an easy man to get along with and he’s such a pro when it comes to collaborative writing. We had a lot of fun spending the day working on Separate Rooms. It felt very natural and conversational. It was also informative to me, watching him push us through little road blocks along the way. When I might usually think to call it, and come back to it when inspiration struck again, he stuck with it and led us to breakthrough moments with the song. I’m so happy to have worked with him on this.
You have a pretty extensive upcoming tour to promote the new album. What should those who attend the shows, both fans new and old, expect to encounter during this tour?
Yes! I am very excited to be on the road touring the new album. Separate Rooms has so many more up-tempo tracks than any of my previous work, so it’s gonna be a groovy show! I am beyond excited to have the band with me for most of these shows. It’s going to be intimate and fun! I read on a coffee board, “Today’s Special- crushing dystopian sadness.” It really made me want to answer this question with that response.. What can people expect who attend my live show?… “Crushing dystopian sadness” haha.
And once the tour is wrapped up, and the promotional work complete, what is next for Megan Bonnell in 2018?
It’s going to be a busy year! After this spring tour will come some summer festivals, and then I’m planning to do another big tour in the fall through North America. There is also a potential European tour in the works as well! In-between all of that will be a lot of walks with my dog Dave, and writing!
Photo credit: Jen Squires