Megan Keely’s new album, Companion, is a solo effort she created in her Richmond District apartment during the COVID pandemic. “The virus slowed me down,” she said. “The warp in the space time continuum was disorienting, but it also opened up some space in my brain to create in a way I don’t believe I have ever been able to create before.
“I’m an independent artist, and my last album, Bloom, came out four years ago. It left me feeling a bit exposed and drained, emotionally and financially. I only wrote one song in the three years following its release. I was afraid I’d never write again, but life happens in cycles, and it’s pretty clear to me now that I just needed time to recharge.
“One day, I was sitting in a garden, following the sun as it moved across the sky, noodling around on a guitar. I felt myself reconnecting with this tried-and-true companion, my music. I began to focus on music in a way that was like a complete relief and release. I’ve always liked demo recordings. There’s a Crosby, Stills and Nash album called Demos that I’ve listened to the past few years. It reminded me that there’s something intimate about the sparse moments a demo presents.
“Companion was an experiment. I dove inward, when the music was coming together, without any other influences in the room. In the past, I’ve been in the studio, recording with my brother, Brandon, and other immensely talented musicians that I look up to and respect. I would find myself trying to impress them, or play something I think they’d like, so it was fun for me to do it all alone and take some of the pressure off.”
Keely set up her laptop on her desk and used a good mic and her guitar, ukulele and voice to create an inviting sound. “The percussion is me drumming my fingers on the guitar, turning the pages of a book or tapping my hands on my robe with the mic close to my chest. While I was out walking, I also sampled the sounds of the natural world.”
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between my day job as a landscape designer and my work as a singer and songwriter. Focusing on nature, and the way things grow and change, ended up being inspirational in creating this new batch of songs.”
Keely said she grew up in a musical family. “There were so many guitars in our living room, you had to be careful not to step on one. My dad played in a psychedelic band called The Flying Other Brothers. Our vacations were often going on tour with them to Alaska, London and the festival circuit.
“As a kid, I was secretly picking up a guitar, singing in the shower and taking bass lessons. I never played in public. My brother, Brandon, has played guitar since he was a kid. I was aware of my desire to play and create and express myself musically, but too intimidated to try. I learned through osmosis, overhearing my dad and brother talking about music theory in the front of the car, while I was falling asleep in the back seat.”
When she got back to California, Keely started an ecologically conscious landscape design business and got serious about her songwriting. She played in a few bands, started booking her own gigs and, with the collaborative contributions of her brother, Brandon, made four albums—Acorn Collection (2010), Deciduous (2013), Ready or Not (2015) and Bloom (2018).
“[Brandon] always brought the music to a new level of tastiness and richness and taught me how to approach a recording. He’s busy raising a family now, so I surprised myself by making an album without leaning on him. There’s something about a solo record that leaves the songwriter in an added state of vulnerability. A band can be musically supportive, directing the focus away from the specific emotions being expressed.
“Without other players, I felt both freer and more vulnerable. There’s a compass inside of us that we follow when we know something feels right. The process of making this album was a time of strengthening that compass and honing my ability to listen to what feels authentic and true.”