Local musician clears a path through the thorns

Features 07 Feb 2014

Meghan Rose colorLocal musician clears a path through the thorns

Meghan Rose amplifies her journey, connects with Grammy nominated producer

Compiled, written, and edited by Teri Barr


It can be brutal. Barbs and spikes along the way, and all meant to stop you in your creative tracks. Despite some early uncertainty, Meghan Rose is now blazing her own trail in the industry, and taking her craft to the next level.

The Madison-based musician is trained on piano, but she’s turned every type of instrument into her playground. She’s part of three or four bands at any given time, and along with collaborating this young woman writes, sings, plays, edits, records, teaches– and just keeps falling back in love with music everyday, or in her own words experiences “music is my boyfriend kind of love.”

See her on stage and you want this relationship to work. No matter the style of music there is something blossoming within her, and it’s why her recent recording project with internationally known, Grammy nominated producer and engineer Darryl Neudorf ended up being supported by more than 60 backers via a quick Kickstarter campaign. Rose worked with Neudorf at his Ontario studio where he also produced all of singer Neko Case’s solo projects, including her latest album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. It received a 2014 Grammy nomination for best alternative music album.

Rose cites Case as one of her influences, which also vacillates somewhere between Regina Spektor and Courtney Love. But it’s just a hint at what’s being created for her first solo, full-length album of personal songs. The release is expected by fall and Rose can’t wait to share it.

You can keep updated here: https://www.facebook.com/roguemink

Meantime, read on for more about her bands, where to catch a show, and how music helped her cope as a kid.


Teri:  Do you remember when you began your musical journey?

Meghan Rose:  My mom started teaching me piano when I was 4 and I started classical lessons when I was 5. First thing I remember learning to play was “Beauty and the Beast,” of all things. My dad bought me a nylon string classical guitar from an antique shop when I was 14 and I taught myself some chords then learned the church songs for bible day camp, which was one of my summer jobs. I played piano for the early church service for years. I still love hymns and I use some of the ideas to write about God in my lyrics, though I certainly don’t write what anyone would call Christian music. But once that typeof music is in you, you can’t shake it. My mom also had tapes of musicals and Broadway is still an obsession for me. I was 8 when my parents divorced, and one of the coping methods I developed was to steal my dad’s CDs. He collected the newest “alternative” music– a lot of female-fronted 90’s stuff. Bjork, Elastica, Sheryl Crow, Sleater-Kinney, Beth Orton, Mazzy Star, Liz Phair, Fiona Apple. Fiona and Liz changed everything and were really powerful to me.


Teri:  You mention music helped you cope as a kid, did you get involved in any school programs?

Meghan:  I competed in classical piano competitions throughout high school but earned an honorable mention all four years. The winners were fellow students from my studio in La Crosse. Despite sharing the same teacher, I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride! But, if I’d done better in classical, I probably wouldn’t be writing my own stuff, so I’d say it worked out. I was usually more interested in figuring out the chords to the newest song on the radio than practicing my scales.

I also played clarinet in band, but that wasn’t what inspired me. It was actually art class where we’d play “guess the band” while we worked on our drawings and listened to the classic rock station. I was bad at it, but it’s how I learned about rock. I’m still bad at it and I probably know more about popular music after 1990 and before 1960 than what’s in between, but it’s getting better. I was also a long-distance runner and couldn’t run without music so I consumed it like crazy. Plus, I was an only child and my mom worked a lot so it would be just me and the disc-man mowing the lawn or biking to work or blasting the speakers in the house; singing (or more like yelling) while vacuuming the stairs!

I loved ska toward the end of high school for some reason. I think because these were the only shows that allowed kids who were under the age of 18 into the venue. I was attracted to that punk/rebel aesthetic; I just got into it backwards. Third-wave ska led to pop-punk, led to real punk, and then some thrash stuff. I am still attracted to it (hence my band Damsel Trash); not so much ska anymore. But if I hadn’t loved ska, I never would’ve joined my first band. I answered a flyer hanging in the Humanities building at U.W. Madison when Skaput! was looking for a guitarist. I ended up being their singer instead. Through that I made friends in the local music community and got to be in some other projects. Low, Rilo Kiley, Death Cab, Regina Spektor, The New Pornographers, Neko Case. My mom got re-married (after 9 years of just raising me) and my step-dad loved Fleetwood Mac so I developed a mad obsession with them, too.

In college, I started music directing during the summers in Fountain City. It happened because my step-sister invited me to audition for a musical they were doing and they discovered I could play better than their director. It became my first paying job playing music! I owe a lot of music connections to theater.

The same thing happened at Atlas Improv. I started out wanting to be a player and even though I paid my dues and got on stage, I was always better behind the keyboard. After I graduated from college I got a job at Epic, so naturally I spent my paycheck on instruments and recording equipment. I remember the first thing I bought was my red Epiphone semi-hollow body electric I still play. Then came a mandolin, a dulcimer, accordions, a real piano, a Gibson acoustic, a trombone (not that I can play it), a cello (not that I can play it either; I just use it to make scary noises for film scores), a DVD on how to play bones, and even a tambourine signed by Kenny Rogers!


Teri:  You mentioned growing up in the La Crosse area, and its music scene seems to be on the upswing. Do you think you’ll stay in Madison?

Meghan:  I grew up in LaCrescent, Minnesota which is a small’ish town of 5,000 next to La Crosse. I came to Madison for college at U.W. and I got a job at Epic right after I graduated. My degree is in Communication Arts – so I mostly studied film and art history.

The music scene in Madison is very diverse. I think the folk scene is the most vibrant. Whitney Mann, Count This Penny, Corey Hart, Anna Vogelzang – they’re all so inspiring. There are more I know I’m forgetting. Sexy Ester has been a favorite of mine for a long time, especially since my band Little Red Wolf started at the same time. We were even featured in a favorites article on “best new bands” in 2009, along with Venus in Furs, who are also terrific. Shane Shane of Screamin’ Cyn Cyn and the Pons is my FAVORITE band to come out of Madison, next to Garbage.

Little Red Wolf

Little Red Wolf

I find the scene here is also welcoming to new acts and a great training ground. But, I think it’s a difficult city to grow your career to the next level, because of that reason; still it’s one of the best communities to get started. Most of the musicians are supportive of one another and end up knowing each other. It’s never an exclusive privilege to play music here.


Teri:  And you’ve got a lot going here! You still have your regular job, but you’re also in several bands, and an instructor at ladies and girls rock camps. How do you balance it all?

Meghan:  I’m really good, but also really terrible at balancing my life. I stay up too late, and I can never get up in the morning, but somehow a lot still gets done. The saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person” rings true for me. I find when I’m not booked, I’m not productive. I can be lazy, and at the same time I’m afraid of laziness, so I think that must be a big part of it.

I’m currently in three projects: Little Red Wolf (which is alt-country; lots of harmonies), I Saw the Creature (classic rock edge, soaring vox), and Damsel Trash (thrash/punk).  I’m obsessed with all of them. I’ve convinced myself each one fulfills a different personality.

I do travel a lot for work so it can be difficult to schedule rehearsals, but my band-mates are awesome, busy people themselves and we always find a way to do it. It’s my primary way to have fun, relax, and be social. It really does mean everything to me.


Teri:  Feeling that way about music probably helps keep your spirit up for writing and playing new material, along scheduling shows. And there’s this amazing recording project you just wrapped up in Canada?

Meghan:  The spirit for writing never goes away. I love writing new things and trying to articulate new ideas. Rehearsal is also a favorite time for me.

The project in Canada is a result of several things, including finally having some money saved. It’s also having too many songs, and a studio of my own. I spent a lot of time recording and working out the new stuff by myself before going to Canada.

I think it’s also constantly having all this stuff in my brain. Music is the kind of thing you can “study” and enjoy at the same time. When I listen to music on the plane, in the car, or on a run, I’m also studying it and it usually inspires me. So I write it down. And then it turns into something. I have to try and capture it while doing other things. I never get ideas if I schedule time to write. I schedule time to edit, but that’s different.

I do make a lot of lists. That helps.


Teri:  So at this point in your life, what are you most proud of accomplishing?

Meghan:  I’d have to say my growth as a musician. If I look at where I was when I was younger – reluctant to sing, embarrassed by being good at something, ashamed for loving it, afraid to write anything of my own – then compare it to today and all the projects I’ve been a part of and the confidence I now have in my abilities, it is what I am proud of right now.


Teri:  What would you tell someone else who wants to write or play music?

Meghan:  Oh, I want anyone who loves music and has the slightest inkling to give it a try, to make it happen, because it is a gift that keeps on giving. It really doesn’t matter how “good” you are. Find your own voice and follow it. Don’t be ashamed to love your voice or your own music. As soon as I gave up this notion that modesty is king and somehow connected to “goodness” as a person (or more accurately, as a WOMAN), I started to truly enjoy the things I was writing and how my voice was sounding. It took time to FIND it, and admittedly I will always struggle with it, but even if you write songs that nobody ever hears, you will learn and surprise yourself in your abilities and your wisdom.

Also, practice hard, but don’t take yourself too seriously. You will write (and perform) bad songs. Then you will write (and perform) better ones.


meghan rose black and whiteTeri:  You just seem really happy about your musical path. Am I right?

Meghan:  Yes, definitely! I’m thrilled and anxious. I want my passion to be my life, just like anyone else who’s sure they’ve found their passion, whatever it is. There’s always people questioning that line of thought though, and issuing warnings like “If you follow your passion, you’ll probably find things you don’t like about it, too.”

Maybe. But that’s really all I have to say to that.

 Everything’s a give and take and mostly, I’m following my curiosity. What will happen if I completely change my life and tour the country to play in shitty bars, sleeping on my friends couches? It might be terrible. It might be the most freeing experience ever. It might be both. Either way, I’ll have stories to tell. I’ve crossed a line mentally, and I’m excited to follow where it takes me. It feels like I’m close to taking a big risk and that excites me rather than scares me. It’s also a huge departure from where I was even a year ago.        


Teri:  What’s next? Can you tell us about the goals you have for your music and all your other projects?                                                                                                                                    

Meghan:  Well, Little Red Wolf is very close to releasing our second album, which I’m very proud of as it’s being entirely produced by us. We’re in the mixing phase and has taken almost a year of recording.  I Saw the Creature is writing more, and we are starting to get gigs outside of Madison, which is very exciting for us.  And as for Damsel Trash, I want to play The Vault *ahem* I mean, pack The Vault and play with The Hussy there! 

The Canada recording project is ten of my own songs and mixing should be done shortly, then comes shopping around for some publicity. Since it’s my own investment, I’m free to go a little nuts, which I’m looking forward to doing for it. I’m learning more professional methods of recording and am working out of Clutch Sound (the old Smart Studios) for my band projects. I’d like to branch out and record acts other than my own. I’m learning more about the business side of things all the time and it’s pretty complex, especially considering the music industry and how much it’s changed because of the way people consume music now.                                                                                                                          


Teri:  And you mentioned a risk you’re feeling close to taking; are you ready to reveal more about it?                                                                                                                

Meghan:  I’m very set on making a bigger tour happen with one of my projects – any one of them. I don’t really care if I play to 3 people. Or just the sound guy. It’s happened before. I see it as a rite of passage. But I want to give a tour a try. Otherwise, my main goal is to keep writing and improving in both producing and performing; solo and with my band-mates. And a tour!                                                                                                   


Teri:  Finally, do you have any funny, shocking, or crazy stories from any of your shows?                                                                                                                          

Meghan:  Hmm. I screamed the “c” word in front of an audience and my father was there. That shocked him for sure, but I was playing Courtney Love for a Halloween show. I have to say it was pretty liberating!

Another story about playing Courtney for the Halloween show we did as Hole, my friend Ellie put together an electric guitar to play one song, and then break it really easily on stage. It worked like a charm. We were asked to play a follow up show and I bought a really cheap guitar from a pawn shop so I could do another smash. Well, this one wasn’t built to smash, or even to play for that matter. So after *pretending* to play it for the last song, I was so mad I just kept whacking it against the floor but it wouldn’t even crack. I eventually gave up and despite the guitar, I still think the show was a success.                                                                                                                           

Oh, and after reading all of this about me, I guess people may be surprised to know I love dubstep and club dancing?!


Check out Meghan or one of her projects on video, or at these upcoming shows: 

  • February 12, 2014, solo at The Brink Lounge for “Chick Singer Night,” 8 p.m.               
  • February 14, 2014, I Saw the Creature (acoustic) at Broom Street production of original play “Chat,” 7 p.m. (Video of I Saw the Creaturehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mId3mTqwKbA )
  • February 18, 2014, Damsel Trash (w/Red Tape Diaries) at The Frequency, 9:30 p.m.(Video of Damsel Trash:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjYBuQHMamU )
  • February 20, 2014, I Saw the Creature (w/The Volcanics) at the High Noon Saloon,      9 p.m.                                                                                                                       –
  • February 21, 2014, solo at Broom Street production of original play “Chat,” 7 p.m. -February 28, 2014, Little Red Wolf (w/Werewolverine) at Crescendo Cafe, 7 p.m. (Video of Little Red Wolf:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-pPIbspwiM )


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About the author

Teri Barr

20+ years of experience as a communicator, writer, producer, editor, innovator, collaborator, instructor, trainer, leader, motivator, freelancer, speaker, interviewer, promoter and volunteer.

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