Meg Mackey Band
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Meg Mackey Band

Anchorage, Alaska, United States

Anchorage, Alaska, United States
Rock Singer/Songwriter

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"The Call of the Wild: Alaska's Untamed Music Scene"

The Call of the Wild: Alaska's Untamed Music Scene
November 8, 2012 | 7:30am EST

"The Yukon is the place for us! That's where we want to live. Up there, we'll get to yell and cuss, and act real primitive" -- Calvin & Hobbes, "The Yukon Song"

"This is not flippin' easy." -- Sarah Palin

If you're in Alaska, there's a reason you're in Alaska. It's not a destination; it's a conclusion. Much of the state is only accessible via single-engine bush plane, geriatric cruise, or umiak. The Great Alaska Highway slashes north or south, offering two options: flee to Canada and the lower 48 or vanish to the end of the earth -- a Stone Age midnight of polar bears, Eskimos, and glaciers melting into the Arctic Ocean. This is Texas in the tundra, thickly mythologized and a permanent frontier. Alaska is four times the size of California with a population comparable to Fresno. Each of its 600,000 residents receive a yearly dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund, ranging from $500 to $4,000, depending on the price of petroleum and the population flux.

It's unclear if there's a good reason for me to be in Alaska in mid-autumn. But the red-eye has been wrangled, the rental car booked, and the instructions are crystalline: Explore the incipient Anchorage music scene and discover whether the Internet has made geographical isolation irrelevant for the city's bands. But the ontological question looms: Is there an Alaskan music scene? After all, this is the abridged list of replies given when I tell people about my mission:

"Does the Alaskan music scene consist of Sarah Palin beating a drum?"
"Christian Rock about glaciers is the original chillwave."
"Holler at Jewel."
"Say what up to Vladimir Putin if he rears his head."
"Bring a fucking jacket."

Alaska has produced three nationally recognized bands in its 53-year statehood: psych-pop jammers Portugal. The Man, folkies Builder and the Butchers, and 36 Crazyfists. Wikipedia describes the latter as "Groove/heavy metal with a bit of Rapcore." You do the math. All the aforementioned bands now live in Portland, this generation of Alaskans' answer to Seattle -- the place where bands go to "make it."

"When I was growing up, there was the sense that you could only get so big in Anchorage," Zachary Carothers, the bassist for Portugal. The Man, tells me via phone, prior to my departure from Los Angeles. "You can open up for the few big shows that come through and that's about it. You can't really tour from Alaska."

That's another thing to understand. The Alaskan notion of space and time is skewed. Eight-hour drives are veritable Sunday pleasure cruises. Bands from Anchorage (pop. 296,000) don't flinch at gigging 360 miles north in Fairbanks and shakily gunning the van home that night. Fairbanks (pop: 31,000) is the state's next largest city, home of its main university, and a numinous vantage for seeing the Northern Lights. It's also cold as a gulag -- people don't really start to bundle up until it hits 50 below.

"We call it Square Banks," scoffs my seatmate on the flight up from L.A. Kyle, a 24-year-old urban hick, is chugging Bud Light at seven in the morning. Bootleg snapback Dodgers cap. A jarhead, he's chortling at a Tucker Max broman a queef entitled Sloppy Seconds. "No hos in Square Banks," he says. "Nothing to do except freeze. It's all about Anchorage, bro. I've lived here since I was six. But don't get too stoked: an Anchorage 10 is an L.A. 6.5."

Kyle gives an elbow nudge. "We didn't feel the recession in Alaska," he continues. "Tons of money fishing on the Kenai peninsula. Halibut's like white gold. The North Slope pumps out 600,000 barrels a day, too. You graduate from high school, take a job working for an oil company or construction and start out making 80 grand a year. You barely have to know shit."

Kyle tells me that he barely knows shit about Anchorage indie rock or rap or dubstep. (The city remains a trap-free zone). He mainly listens to "classic rock shit" like Sublime, Metallica, Zeppelin, and "Rage." We talk for a while about what I should see while I'm in Anchorage, but everything he suggests involves a subarctic road to nowhere and assumes a desire to learn how to field-dress a moose. He does impart one crucial command: "Make sure you go to the Great Alaskan Bush Company," he says drawing out each syllable. "It's a strip club, but there's no bush."

Then Kyle returns to Sloppy Seconds.

When the plane hits the tarmac, the fresh white of fallen kaniktshaq (the Eskimo word for snow) already fringes Anchorage. Mid-October. At the rental car counter, a Sasquatch-sized clerk with caterpillar eyebrows scrutinizes my driver's license.

"California, huh. Been to Alaska before?"

"No. But I read White Fang and watched at least half of the first season of Northern Exposure."

A half-truth. I've seen neither Northern Exposure, nor Insomniac -- the other dramatic suggestion by people feigning help before I left. C'mon. The former w - SPIN Magazine


"Meg Mackey Band: Spenard’s New Indie Darlings"

You don’t hear the glockenspiel much in modern music. But Alaska singer-song writer Meg Mackey weaves it, along with acoustic and electric guitar, accordion, banjo and foot stomps onto her new Album ‘Eat Your Heart Out’. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton reports that, although she’ll soon be playing at the ‘World Cafe Live’ in Philadelphia, you can still hear Mackey at small venues around Anchorage.

Anchorage-based singer-song writer Meg Mackey has been making her way around the city’s music venues to showcase her debut album, ‘Eat Your Heart Out’.

Born on the island of Guam, 27-year-old Mackey grew up as a self-described ‘military brat’, spending her early years in San Antonio, Texas, attending African-American and Hispanic church services. And you can hear that influence in songs like ‘Rendered Useless’ a collaboration with the Spenard Street Choir.

In 1991, 7-year-old Mackey moved with her family to Palmer, where she did home school and got into dog mushing. She credits yelling at the dogs with helping build her strong alto vocal chords. And no, as far as she knows, she is not related to Lance Mackey. When she was 14 she picked up a guitar that was laying around the house, but it took her a while to get comfortable with her own voice.

“Didn’t start singing actually until I was 17 or 18. In fact, I actually hated my voice. I was one of those kids who if I’d left a message on an answering machine, I’d be like, ‘turn that crap off’, I don’t want to hear myself you know and it took me a minute to, you know what I mean, to accept my own voice.”

She began writing music and playing around campfires in her early 20's while she was working in tourism on the Juneau Ice Fields and at a lodge in Wrangell Saint Elias National Park, putting together the songs for what would become her first full-length album. When she was 21, she settled in Juneau. But she says there’s only so many places you can play in a city that size … And Anchorage kept calling her name.

“I had a lot of friends just telling me what was going on here in Anchorage just kinda telling me that the music scene’s kinda building its way up the west coast.”

So, a year ago, she quit her barista job and moved to Anchorage’s Spenard Neighborhood, arguably the epicenter of the city’s growing indie music scene. Now she’s playing music full time. She says she was met with open arms and she hasn’t looked back.

“I mean it’s an amazing place. The venues here treat you so well, I mean, the people here have been just so supportive. Musicians, producers, the people that own the recording studio – Ken Sease’s recording studio at Twisted Penguin.”

That Spenard studio is where two well-known Anchorage musicians, Even Phillips, the front man for the Whipsaws and James Dommeck Junior, a drummer for the same band,produced Mackey’s Album. Dommek Junior, Martin Severen who is also in Jack River Kings and James Glaves who also plays with Ghost Hands make up the Meg Mackey Band. Mackey’s imaginative, intimate song-writing and raw vocals reach out and grab your heart. And listening, you feel as if you’ve been invited to hang out with her around a campfire to waste some time …

“… drumming, strumming, Why don’t you waste your time with me … by the sea …”

Meg Mackey is set to take her uniquely Alaskan sound to Philadelphia where she’ll play at the ‘World Cafe Live’, in on Wednesday May 9th. Oh, and the song with the glockenspiel, it’s called ‘Tiny’ Toes and she says all her friend’s kids love it.

“Mama’s calling, it’s time to go home. Say goodnight, I’ll miss you so Mr. Ocean. Send me something really cool in the morning. And I’ll be happy that I got to be going but I’ll be seeing you first thing in the morning …” - KSKA - Anchorage


"Music, mushing come together for Meg Mackey"

FAIRBANKS - Mushing, not music, was Meg Mackey’s first career path. The two jobs might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but for Mackey, the two are inherently connected.

Long, slow mushing trips in the Alaska wilderness allowed the now Anchorage-based musician to think about life and, in turn, her songs. She composed many while riding the sled runners.

Mackey is in Fairbanks this weekend to promote her first album, the soulful, folk-rock “Eat Your Heart Out,” a collection of songs written over the past decade but only produced in the last six months or so.

After years of mushing, wilderness work and employment as a barista in Juneau, Mackey, 27, decided to take a risk and focus on music full-time, moving from Juneau to Anchorage.

It all started when her boss and friend at Heritage Coffee asked her, point-blank one January morning last year, “what the hell are you still doing here?”

After playing gigs as a solo artist around Juneau, Mackey took her colleague’s words seriously.

“For her to say that, it meant a lot,” Mackey said. “That was the turning point.”

So she packed up her Jeep, took a ferry out of Juneau and drove up the Alaska Highway in May. Before leaving, she connected with a producer in Anchorage and was hoping to put an album together when she got to Anchorage. But when she arrived in Tok, Mackey had an email saying the producer was moving out of state. Mackey almost turned around but on a whim decided she would continue to Anchorage and hope for the best.

With a little luck and perseverance, things have worked out better than she expected. Mackey connected with Whipsaws front-man Evan Phillips, who agreed to produce her album and connected Mackey with other Anchorage musicians, including fellow Whipsaws bandmate, James Dommek Jr., James Glaves of Ghost Hands and Martin Severin of The Jack River Kings.

Now not only does Mackey have an album, she has an entire band.

“You’ve got to let it roll,” she said. “I got that from being in dog mushing, you just learn to roll with things.”

Mackey is a self-described military brat who was born in Guam and moved to Alaska in 1991. (She’s not related to Alaska’s famous Mackey mushing family.) She picked up mushing as a 9-year old living in Palmer, and she spent a lot of time listening to predominantly black church choirs because her mother is a Pentecostal pastor. While she didn’t sing in choir, she was heavily influenced by the passion behind it.

That passion can be heard throughout the album. Mackey, who has never had any formal training, has a smoky, soulful voice that leaps with power on tracks like “Heaven Explodes” and “Angelina.” The songs have a visceral quality, something Mackey attributes to years of peace and solitude in the Alaska wilderness. Honest friendship, love and loss all have a place on the aptly named “Eat Your Heart Out.”

“When you listen to the songs, (the name) makes sense,” she said. “The album, in a loving way, it breaks your heart at the end of it.”

Contact features editor Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.


- Fairbanks Daily News Miner


"Mackey goes big, but also goes home"

It’s endearing to hear humble words spoken in a voice that has made an impact in the music scene in Juneau, Anchorage and beyond. Meg Mackey is a singer songwriter who has some love songs that have been known to leave an audience member or two breathless, but even in conversation she’s all about love.

Mackey has been in Anchorage since June of 2011, after living in Juneau off and on since 2002, during which time she gained a lot of her confidence in her musicianship while playing acoustic shows in dimly lit bars. She moved to Anchorage to make music professionally in the big city’s burgeoning music scene, though she still considers Juneau to be home.

“That’s the place I fell in love with on my own,” she said of Juneau. “I chose it.”

Having grown up in a military family, born in Guam and moving much of her life, that means something.

Juneau has been a source of support and inspiration for Mackey, and she’s looking forward to returning for a few days of shows, friends and interviews.

“I’m really glad to come back home to Juneau, It’s always been home for me. Most of these songs were written in that space,” said Mackey, “I just want Juneau to know that that’s how I feel about it.”

Music is Mackey’s life, now more than ever, though it may seem sort of inevitable.

“Growing up, my parents were pastors — I was always surrounded by gospel music. Strong women and strong voices.” shared Mackey, “I was a shy kid, but music was always an outlet.”

Mackey recorded a five-song EP last year and production is nearly complete on her first full-length album, both containing songs she had written mostly while living in Juneau.

She recorded the EP with the help of Anchorage musician Evan Phillips of The Whipsaws, who she sought out to help with recording and production.

“I kind of found a random person,” Mackey said of working with Phillips, “but it turned out to be the right person.”

The EP is a collection of intimate acoustic tracks and is titled “Rendered Useless” after one of her earlier songs included on the EP.

During Mackey’s time in Juneau, she mostly performed solo acoustic sets, though she occasionally collaborated with other Juneau musicians. The excitement in her voice at having a band to support her was tangible.

The band is made up of musicians from the aforementioned burgeoning music scene in Anchorage. The soon-to-be-released full-length album was produced by Phillips and James Dommek, Jr., also of Anchorage’s indie sensation The Whipsaws. Dommek also is part of the Meg Mackey Band, playing drums, keys, synth and contributing vocals. James Glaves took on the role of lead guitar, also contributing keys, drums and vocals, in addition to fronting his own band, Ghost Hands. Marty Severin is the bass player, who also contributes guitar and vocals and plays in the band Jack River Kings. Phillips and Mackey have collaborated musically in the past, but he is currently focusing on his solo career.

Mackey describes the music scene in Anchorage not only as being impressive, but also a great community.

“You can go to a live, homegrown show here anywhere and just be blown away.”

She also describes a nurturing support system.

“Shows like ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice’ have made it a competition, but here bands help other bands.”

The collaboration suits Mackey well and she’s excited to share her growth with her friends and fan base in Juneau come April. Mackey and her band will be performing at Folk Fest and also plan to have an album release party.

Making music one’s life, even with support from friends, family and fans, can be difficult at the start.

“I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I’m calling myself an artist.” Mackey said.

As Mackey works on her development as a professional musician — recording, hiring a manager and putting out records and merchandise — she’s found herself both inspired and in debt, but the affirmation she receives from friends and musicians she admires keeps her positive.

During Mackey’s visit to Juneau, she will be on public radio and holding a couple performances downtown. Mackey appeared on Tideline with Angelina Ahrens on Wednesday on KRNN 102.7. She’ll also perform two live shows, tonight, March 1, at the Hangar on the Wharf, starting at 8 p.m. and Friday, March 2, at the Rookery Cafe at 7 p.m., coinciding with the First Friday gallery walk. During her shows, she will have for sale her EP, as well as merchandise. The money raised on this trip will hopefully help Mackey and her band fund the April trip for Folk Fest and the album release party. - Juneau Empire


"Interrogation: Meg Mackey"

THERE ARE MANY directions that local crooner Meg Mackey's musical career could have gone. Scariest, perhaps, for those of us who love her homespun lyrics and powerful vocal delivery, is the idea that it might not have happened at all. It's hard to imagine the Anchorage music scene without Miss Mackey and her dream team band of local musicians. In just a few months, they have proven themselves a veritable force of creativity and musical talent, playing gigs throughout Anchorage and the Valley. Over an extremely relaxed brunch at Bear Tooth, in between sips of Raspberry Wheat ale, the honey-voiced singer told me about what ultimately led her to Anchorage.
"I love Juneau, [but] there aren't the same resources there," Mackey says, noting that Anchorage is one of the only nearby places for Alaskan artists to produce quality albums. Mackey had been playing gigs around Juneau but was feeling an itch to create something more permanent. Longtime friend Anchorage musician Dave Velasquez encouraged Mackey to record an album, even though it would involve a shift from Juneau. Mackey soon got in touch with an Anchorage based producer and began saving money for the project. "I just kind of decided [to do it]," she says. A true barista at heart, it was difficult for Mackey to quit her beloved coffeehouse job of six years, even if only for a little while.
Mackey left for Anchorage in the middle of May, excited but nervous for what was ahead. After a ferry ride and a long drive to Tok, Mackey received ultimately disappointing news: "It was like clockwork. So I'm sitting down in the hotel room, I have an email from this guy who was going to produce, and he says ‘I'm leaving state, I won't have time to make your album.'" Although Mackey was tempted to turn back and forget the idea entirely, she decided to press onwards to Anchorage, although she was now entirely unsure of what to do next. "I got to town and asked Dave: ‘what do I do?' His suggestion was to email people and local bands."
While picking on the remnants of garlic fries, Mackey admits this was only one of many challenging steps she faced on her way to recording an album. Finances, the assembling of raw tracks, and a sense of displacement were all part of the stress as well. As recommended, though, Mackey soon began talking to other local producers and musicians, dipping her toes into the Anchorage music scene. She would eventually be led to Evan Phillips, who she remembered from seeing play years earlier. "He was solid... he was different because you could see him in town doing things professionally. He seemed like a really focused musician." Mackey began sending tracks to a number of local producers, Evan included. After several weeks without a response, everything started to fall into place: "I'm having a nap and I get a call on my Tracfone, it's Evan. He says, ‘Meg, you have to let me do this album.'"
The rest is history. Phillips and Mackey began meeting in coffee shops to discuss budgets and decided to record at Ken Sease's Twisted Penguin Studios. Before long, Alaskan talents James Dommek Jr. and James Glaves had been recruited as part of the project as well.
Upon receiving some mixes from Glaves, Mackey admits she was still dubious as to how the album would turn out. She says with a huge grin: "I remember being scared shitless that my songs would be wrecked, you know? I remember just sitting down and when I heard "Writing Rhythms," I was sitting up by myself. I never cry, man, but I definitely got a welling moment."
The album, set to release in March 2012 under the title Eat Your Heart Out, is a rich serving of what Mackey does best: create emotional music that is still accessible. She drew much of her songwriting inspiration from her travels as a military kid and from her time spent in the Alaskan wilderness. Mackey, although born on the island of Guam, calls Alaska her true home. Mackey moved to Palmer when she was seven and began partaking in all sorts of outdoor activities. "Working in the Alaska wilderness will really change a person's outlook on what matters in all of this," says Mackey. In fact, many of the songs on Eat Your Heart Out were written while working on the Juneau ice fields in Wrangell St. Elias. "The lyrics were written in places that overwhelmed past the point of speaking," says Mackey. "Music became the way I communicated the emotion I was feeling, I think a lot of artists would empathize with that."
Artist or not, Mackey's music communicates to an audience on a number of levels. Drums from James Dommek Jr., lead guitar from James Glaves, and bass from Marty Severin provide a rich soundscape for Mackey's powerful vocals. Live performances are sometimes followed by an overwhelming, awed silence-considering that the band's mutual goal is to bring listeners to an almost spiritual pinnacle, they seem to be doing well so far.
Pushing the remnant of fries aside and settling in for a last round, Mackey can't help but beam from across t - Anchorage Press


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

“I’ve been in Alaska since I was 7 years old, so it is and always will be home." That’s the reply you’ll be getting if you ask singer/songwriter Meg Mackey where her heart resides. The Anchorage transplant was born into a military home in Guam in 1984. She’s been on the move since, gathering inspiration that would later transform itself into brilliant songwriting.

Thanks to her military brat lifestyle as well as the early influence of a predominately Hispanic and African American dominated church congregation, she picked up on the essentials that have made her the powerful vocalist she is today. Says Mackey: “I never really sang in church, I was always the shy kid keeping to myself. But I still listened and learned a lot of singing and the passion behind it. The inspiration came from watching people come together that otherwise would not through the power of song."

After a move to Palmer, AK, in the fall of 1991, nine-year-old Mackey became involved in dog mushing. Needless to say, Mackey soon became enraptured with the outdoors and the untamed Alaskan wilderness. "Working in the Alaska wilderness will change a person’s outlook on what really matters in all of this,” Mackey says. The singer ventured forth to different environments during her youth and twenties, ice fields and glaciers included . While working on the Juneau Ice Fields in 2006 Mackey began to write the songs for what will be her first full-length album, Eat Your Heart Out. The album promises to have widespread appeal with plenty of thought-evoking material. "The lyrics were written in places that overwhelmed past the point of speaking, so music became the way I communicated the emotion I was feeling. I think a lot of artists would empathize with that,” Mackey explains.

After being in Juneau for 5 years, Mackey has made the move back to Anchorage to pursue music full-time. Following the studio time for her debut album Eat Your Heart Out, local musicians James Dommek Jr. (drummer/vocals/keys), Marty Severin (bass guitar/vocals) and James Glaves (vocals/lead guitar/drums/keys) became part of the Meg Mackey package. With the mutual goal of creating shows that move people and take them to a near spiritual level, the Meg Mackey Band is taking Anchorage by storm. Her songs, reminiscent of rainfall in Juneau, campfires in the Wrangell Mountains, the beaches of South Texas, and sunsets of Mexico, Mackey is clearly here to stay.