We had the good fortune of connecting with Megan Slankard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Megan, how do you think about risk?
I feel that to truly create, an artist must take an adventure: you must follow a path, dive in deep, cut away weeds, take a leap, and honestly, sometimes that means making a whole lot of wrong turns along the way. Much of the time, only by exploring what sounds or looks wrong, do we know what sounds or looks right. And sometimes that’s totally by mistake. It’s continuing to follow this path, regardless of outcome, that makes art (at least for me) feel the most authentic.
Sometimes I can spend countless hours, days, or months on a project that won’t make enough money to pay my rent. Sometimes I’ll spend the same amount of time on a project and totally dislike the final composition. From a business stand point, this process would probably be considered a complete waste of time, and sometimes my sensitive artist ego can even feel the pinch of defeat. But, even though it comes with these risks and many more, I know the only time I’m ever truly happy is when I am able to create for the sake of creating itself.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My mother has always had her own way of doing things. My family and I grew up in a tiny, but beautiful farming community in central California where the summers were hot and skies were endless. Mom was always suspect of the schools in our district, filled with old wealthy farmers and matching curriculum. Young, and rebellious, she put her Stanford degree up to a new challenge and decided she would home school her three children (all just 18 months apart) and focus on a fresher studies, filled with science, a diverse collection of literature, a terrifying amount of writing, and of course lots of art.
It was an interesting thing to build in a little conservative town, but mom proceeded. Fear be damned. I still remember the time a neighbor yelled at her over the fence, “There is something to conformity, you know.” I never really knew what that moment meant until now.
From a very early age, my siblings and I were always encouraged to use our imaginations. My parents kept our 10″ TV in their closet, only to be pulled out for family movie nights, where we’d all huddle around its glowing embers to watch Sam Spade or the Thin Man do their thing, talking fast in tall pants, in black and white. On the other hand, one of mom’s favorite achievements was gathering supplies for an “art table” so that we could make colorful things—whatever our little minds could dream up—with pencils, paper, glue, scissors, homemade play-dough. (Oh, I still remember the way it smelled!)
We also had a music room (formerly dad’s office, until the amount of instruments grew rampant and he had to retreat into the bedroom with phone and laptop.) At one point we had turned the whole family, plus several friends, into a band.
My parents were also always playing CDs or vinyl: Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, Simon & Garfunkel. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to just sit down in front of the stereo, read liner notes on a jacket while a record spun around and round. Mesmerizing.
It wasn’t until one of those family movie nights, I mentioned before, where I saw the Beatles in their motion picture adventure, “Help” that I REALLY fell in love with music. Dad had rented the VHS from the library one day and my ten-year-old brain exploded. It was from that moment on that I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life:
I was going to be Paul McCartney when I grew up.
As time went on, I fell in love with other aspects of music: melody, harmonies, writing, recording, producing. I began to play shows, tour, make my very own albums, and start a band. It all felt so very romantic: driving all night, sleeping on couches, selling CDs for gas money or dinner.
The more I learned, the better I got, and the more opportunities came my way: an appearance on a reality TV show, opening a tour for an artist I loved, getting music placed in commercials, selling out shows. It felt good, even if it was just small steps. Of course, it was also really hard to stay the course at times. It’s hard to separate the job part of music and living part of life. Music had a tendency of getting “in the way” of relationships, as I veered and wandered from a traditional path, a traditional job, and traditional home. I wasn’t making enough money to save for a future, but I was making enough to buy the repairs on my touring vehicle, or order new merch for an upcoming summer festival. I wasn’t home enough to start a family of my own, and honestly I wasn’t sure I wanted one. But, I was the CEO of my own company, an entrepreneur, my own PR team, web designer, and bookkeeper. Bandmates: contractors, CDs: inventory.
I felt successful, even if I wasn’t making a big ol’ monetary profit or investing in a 401k.
Many times in my career I had been told by industry folk (and sometimes even by partners, who were musicians themselves) that I wasn’t cool enough, young enough, sexy enough. I was either too shy or I was too bold. My songs were too long, or not “popular sounding” enough. I was told my stories were too “cute” or too “murder-y”, and that I was too much of nerd to ever truly “make it”. I was even told by a hair stylist on a TV show that if I didn’t dye my hair blond, that I would regret it by the time I was 40, because “no one will notice you”.
Apparently, I am a lot like my mother, because it just made me dig in deeper. I wanted to find my own motivation for music. I learned that any time I listened to these voices, the ones asking me to be someone else, eventually I would forget why I like music in the first place. In fact, sometimes I down-right hated it.
Learning, growing, adapting—these are all important things to be able to do when growing a business. And there were times I worked my butt off, making sure that my songs fit into the tight 2 min and 50 sec radio friendly gem, I hired the fancy producer with the “sounds of tomorrow”, I considered the phone book sized contracts with the artist teams ready to fashion me into a polished work of art.
And there’s nothing wrong with that path. But, the longer I was on it, and the harder I worked to be someone else, the more burned out I felt, and the more I realized I was no longer having fun. I wasn’t having fun, AND I couldn’t relate to the art I was creating, because I was creating strictly for the purpose of being successful.
Over the years, I’ve found my love for music again, but only because I let it take me, veering and wandering, on whatever path it needs to walk down that day. That may mean I never become cool or popular, or write enough love songs to buy a house or start a family, but it does mean my soul is happy, and that the people who do listen to my music, are actually listening to—me—to who I really am.
Though, in all honesty, some times, I’d still like to be Paul McCartney.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I feel lucky to have been able to visit so many beautiful places in the world while on tour, and yet still San Francisco is one of my favorites. I frequently have fellow musicians tour through, and when there is time to spare, I will take them on an urban hike up a hill to see the view, and visit with Karl (the fog). We’ll go to Lucinda’s and grab an Avo Smash sandwich and sit in Alamo Square Park in half shade, half sun. I may take them to one of my favorite music venues (Great American Music Hall, The Chapel, The Independent, August Hall, The Lost Church, HopMonk, Sweetwater) to see a friend’s band play. I might take them to Bob’s Donuts on Polk for a hot vegan apple fritter, or Tartine on Guerrero for an almond croissant, and then to walk through the Mission where all the best food is. We might grab burritos, drive over the Golden Gate bridge, up to the headlands, and sit on a cliff looking back down at our beautiful city. I will tell them to always bring a jacket.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to shout out from the rooftops! to my entire music community—fellow musicians, listeners, my band The Wreckage, my amazing management team KC & Ian, my patrons on Patreon, and my lovely family—these amazing people continue to support, encourage, and help me. This is truly is a team effort.
Melissa Alderton Photography (Flamingo Photo) Amy Slankard (recording photos) Steve Mongan (live photo) Megan Slankard (cat and studio photos)