Friday, April 6th 2011 – Music Business professionals of all types visit IPR. Today, Megonia, Appalachian folk group, brought their own brand of old time Tennessee Mountain music to IPR’s DIY 360.
Megonia’s sisters Carolyn Gleason (accordion, vox) and Maureen Koenig (vox, banjo), are both part of the IPR family, and they’re doing something musically unique with band mates Kellie Nitz (stand-up bass, background vox), and Sam Rhode (guitar, vox). Both Carolyn and Maureen are accomplished musicians and music teachers in their professional lives outside IPR, and we wanted a chance to hear of what they’ve been up to.
Together since 2009, Megonia draws from a musical style that Maureen studied in college. She spent a semester in the hills of TN in 2004, and the people there taught her how to play banjo. She was drawn to the old time style because of the rich heritage attached to it; historical context was important to those she learned from, and, having grown up in a small town surrounded by farmland and family tradition, this resonated with both she and Carolyn.
Maureen explained the band’s name, Megonia, was a nickname sister Carolyn gave her as a child. Since then it has evolved into a fictional South Dakota town. And this fictional town has the potential to offer up plenty of character sketches that fit nicely into an old time songwriting schema.
While writing for Megonia, guitarist Sam Rhode finds himself focusing on character development and story rather than on themes or “ideas”. As it turns out, this was a common choice for old time lyricists as well. Although this is a departure from a typical heavy metal lyric, something Sam is more familiar with, he has enjoyed the challenge of writing material in a new style and feels it comes to him quite naturally.
For original pieces, collaboration often works like this: Maureen and Sam throw musical ideas at each other. Maureen typically offers Sam a riff, and maybe a lyric; Sam will build on it and pull the rest of a piece together. Both Sam and Maureen often write on their own as well, but they usually come together as a group, Carolyn and Kellie in more of a supportive role, to meld the musical pieces into a unified whole.
Despite their popular music and heavy metal backgrounds, Megonia have found it easier to bring in income performing an old time style of music. All four Megonia band mates have a history playing in bands around the Twin Cities so they already understood the high level of competition there is associate with these styles. It’s tough to differentiate your brand with so many artists fighting for the same musical territory, so it made sense for them to try something that sets them apart. Choosing to play an old time style has the added benefit of opening up the types of venues that will hire them.
Megonia have played clubs like The 331 Club, The Kitty Cat Klub, and the Acadia Cafe, but they’ve found their style has offered them opportunities to play weddings, churches and other private engagements that pop and metal acts typically aren’t invited to do.
Along with new performance outlets the band uncovered a tight knit group of likeminded Twin Cities musicians that have carved out a musical place for themselves here, and they’ve discovered a way to fund both their gigging and their latest recording project through live performance.
Megonia are currently working on a new recording that will follow them on a tour through South Dakota into the Black Hills this summer. The new material has begun to reveal their own unique musical identity that’s changing up their old time style a bit. But they’re staying true to their traditional instrumentation and their South Dakota sensibilities (all four members are SD natives).
At IPR we really like Megonia; with solid acoustic instrument chops, and spot on vocal harmonies, Megonia have got something special to offer the Midwestern musical landscape, and we’re lucky to have had them guest a DIY appearance. Stay linked to their Facebook page to learn more about where you can catch a local or South Dakota tour date and how to pick up a copy of their new CD upon release.