On her new album, The Well, to be released next month, Memphis native Megan Reilly presents nine new tracks full of intimacy and raw emotion. With a core band consisting of James Mastro (Ian Hunter, Garland Jeffries, The Bongos) on guitar, Steve Goulding (The Mekons, The Rumour) on drums and Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) on bass, and Reilly on guitars and vocals, the band’s natural chemistry is very “homegrown”-sounding and infectious. Recorded at Hoboken, NJ’s The Pigeon Club and mixed at Studio G in Brooklyn, The Well also features guest appearances by John Wesley Harding and Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith).
For Reilly, who lives in New Jersey but originally hails from Memphis, it has been six years since her last album, Let Your Ghost Go—a record that Guitar Player magazine called a “work of mysterious and unconventional beauty.” In recording her new album, Reilly, whose smooth soprano voice is utterly unique, took many unconventional risks, not the least of which was recording live vocals throughout. Speaking with Pro Sound News, she explains that being surrounded by studio veterans in the comfort of The Pigeon Club (a “great-sounding room” that looks like “a crazy, old antique shop”) helped create exactly the right backdrop for what ultimately became a tasteful, timeless collection of tracks.
On Taking Her Time:
I have been carrying a lot of songs from those first two records with me for a while now. To be candid, it takes me a long time to write. Also, I write from a really personal place, so I need not only time but I also have to wait for things to happen in life that inspire me. Just about every song on this record is about something specific that I set out to write about. A small handful of these songs we have been playing for a couple of years. I had about four songs already written. I booked the studio time a few months in advance, and hunkered down and decided to write the rest of the record. It was very surprising and liberating to me, because it made me realize that you don’t have to wait for inspiration all the time. In creating the title, I chose The Well because when I sat down to make the record, all of these things started coming out of me that were living deep down inside.
On Serendipitous Meetings:
We went to New York in 1999, and during a show, someone introduced me to Steve Goulding (drummer). After we started to play as a duo, Tommy Maimone (bass) found out that Steve played with me, he wanted to know how I got Steve Goulding in my band. So he wanted to play. As for James [Mastro] (guitar), he played on one track on the last record and now is with us all the time. In fact, the sound of this record has a lot to do with how James coming into the band has influenced the way all of us play. He has inspired me to write a little bit more confidently and to sing better. In terms of our sound, what is on the record is how we sound naturally sound together: It is very organic and just comes out this way.
On Recording at The Pigeon Club :
We knew the room at Pigeon Club studio was large enough to do the recording, and we decided to mix it at Tony’s Studio G in Brooklyn. The Pigeon Club is a great-sounding room that looks just like crazy, old antique shop. There is just stuff all over the place, so it immediately creates an impression when you go in there. Jim played through a 1967 Magnatone M-15 for a clean sound and then used a ‘61 Ampeg Jet, which had a really nice, overdriven sound. The Ampeg was then panned left and the Magnatone right to give the illusion of two guitars. Having those two amps in the room with drums and bass meant a lot of bleed, which worked pretty well. I isolated my own amp in another small room—I always play a Fender Bullet through a Fender Princeton Reverb. We set up a couple of room mics, and the guitar amps were miked with beyer M 160 and M 500 ribbon mics.
On Taking Risks in the Studio:
For vocals, I sang through two Bock condenser mics running into a couple of Neve mic pres. James had two mics set up—one closer than the other—in case one of them distorted. That was genius. I didn’t know how singing live was going to go and was a little nervous about that, having always overdubbed my vocals. Jim really urged me to do this and supported me. I was in the control room with the engineer, while the rest of the band was out there playing. I could see them through the glass, and we were able to maintain eye contact. We did all the vocals in about two days, and it would usually take about three or four takes to get each song. For the most part, the mixing went really smoothly. We did two songs a day, and the whole project was done in five days.
I’ve always had a little bit of self-doubt, and this has always kind of slowed the process for me. But I am overwhelmingly surprised and incredibly happy with how this record came out. I feel like I made a huge leap in making a decision to record in a way that I’ve never recorded before with songs that were new. It worked out so well, and it unfolded so cohesively.