Earth & Sky
Megan McLaughlin grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pa. After hearing a Bruce Cockburn song on the radio she traded horseback riding lessons for guitar lessons from a friend. She started writing songs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and honed her skills as a street performer in Paris. After moving to California, she studied guitar with Nina Gerber and developed the refined guitar technique that propels her songs. In 1996, Megan released her first CD, Noisy World, featuring some of the best talent in the Bay area acoustic scene. (Also available on CDBaby.com) At home, Megan is part of a vibrant folk scene,playing solo and with other artists in the community. In June of 2001 she released this, her second CD, 'Earth and Sky'. Girl With Guitar Interview by Bob Dorran of The Herald Times, Arcata, 4/98 With just a hint of irony, Megan McLaughlin describes her musical genre as 'girl with guitar'. The Berkeley based songwriter returns to Arcata Monday night, April 13, with guitar in hand for a performance at Cafe Tomo. McLaughlin says she decided to take up guitar after hearing Bruce Cockburn on the radio. 'Among all the banal horrible stuff on FM radio I heard this song, 'Wonder Where the Lions Are?'. I thought, 'What it that?', and went out and got the record. That was when I decided to try this myself. I got a guitar from a friend and worked at learning to play.' She started writing songs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and honed her skills busking in Paris. Moving to California, she studied guitar with Nina Gerber and developed the refined guitar technique that propels her songs. After playing in clubs and coffeehouses in the Bay Area she began recording. The album, 'Already Home' was followed by her self-produced CD, 'Noisy World'. 'The title track, 'Noisy World' was written in my living room,' said McLaughlin calling from her home in Berkeley. 'I was sitting singing and this guy was parked on the corner waiting for someone. The woofers in his car were so loud that my house was shaking in time with the music. I just started playing along with the drum beat. 'The song is about swimming. I usually go to the YMCA. I like the quiet underwater where you can just get into the meditative movement of swimming. It makes me shut up and get out of my head for a while.' 'Mostly I write character sketches and songs about things that happen to me or observations on personal dynamics between people. I think the job of a songwriter is to take the everyday experience people have and process it so that people can find something of themselves in the song. The paradox is that the more specific you are, the more details you put in, the more universal it becomes. 'Yet at the same time you're not writing a short story. You don't have the luxury of having a paragraph to expose a character, it's more like a quick drawing where you work fast and have to capture the image in just a few words. So I try to be impressionistic in my writing and not too literal but not abstract. One of her new songs is called 'In the Evening'. She says, 'It's about a little girl writing with chalk on the sidewalk. Watching her set me to thinking about childhood, and how when you're a kid, time doesn't really have any meaning. I remember thinking the summer was half of the year, and I tried to think what I used to do in the summer. I couldn't think of what I would do all summer, just go outside and play. Now I have to force myself to slow down and just enjoy things. The song is about learning from watching kids, how they can be your teacher.' She has a lot of opportunities to learn from children since her day job is as a school teacher. Her schedule allows her time on vacations and summers to devote to her music. 'I've been getting out on theroad when I'm not teaching kindergarten,' said McLaughlin. 'I played at a lot of festivals, last year, I went back to Kerrville and another in New York called Falcon Ridge. In January I played my first show at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley and there are a few other places for songwriters in the area. 'There's a small acoustic venue here in Oakland called Strings Music Showcase. Joey Lent took a gutted-out laundromat and turned it into a beautiful concert hall. It's kind of like a big house concert. It's by word of mouth only, there's no advertisement and it's not public venue. He puts on a weekly series and I'll be doing that at the end of the month.' She works on her craft by networking with other Bay Area troubadours in a couple of different settings. 'I've been getting together with a group of songwriters to compare songs we've written, to have a support group and keep each other writing. I've finished a lot of songs because of it. 'I'm also active in an organization called Northern California Songwriters Association. We have open mikes and get-togethers. We have showcases with judges who listen to everyone's songs and choose the best song of the evening. You meet A&R people and producers there. They come looking for songs for movies or television or to place a song with a particular artist.' In addition to developing her writing craft of McLaughlin is still working on her guitar playing. 'I've changed my guitar style a bit,' she said. 'I'm mostly playing in open tunings exploring the color palettes that aren't in the normal tunings. I'm also playing with acrylic nails and using my fingers a lot more.' She says the nails work like permanent finger picks, 'And they're awfully handy for peeling oranges too.'