Magali Meagher: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: interesting, introspective tunes, delivered with a soft touch
File next to: Julie Doiron, Cat Power

Magali Meagher has been a longtime Wavelength favourite, both through her early stint in the Hidden Cameras and her dearly-missed project, The Phonemes. Now performing under her own name, including a slot opening for Picastro this Wednesday, Magali is also enjoying another gig, bringing music to future generations both as a new-ish mother (Magali is married to local legend Bob Wiseman) and co-founder of Girls Rock Camp Toronto, dedicated to offering girls and young women aged 8-16 of all musical abilities and economic backgrounds a safe space to learn an instrument of their choice.

Magali took a few minutes to chat about the evolution of her stage show and how she’s looking to help bring music to the generational masses.

As somebody who has passed through a few bands in your career, what would you say are the best and worst aspects of being alone on-stage?

Being alone on stage has pros and cons. You have more control of your sound. You also have less colours to paint with, musically. On the whole, I find I can be dynamic when I’m solo and that’s often what I rely on. I enjoy playing live and I don’t always think so hard about how I present myself. Sometimes I just go up there and then I find myself in this weird situation where the audience is a certain way and then I don’t know how to deal, but I remain up there, enthusiastic or devastated.

I’m curious about the status of the Phonemes. Seems like you’re focused on performing under your own name currently but think you’ll dust off the Phonemes name again in future?

For now, the Phonemes is no longer a name I’m using. Who knows about the future. I played for the last 4 or 5 years as the Phonemes solo, touring across Canada a few times and Europe too but with this new record, I’m onto a new presentation.

Presentation-wise, how have you adapted your songwriting/performing?

It’s a tricky thing. This new record called The Vanishing Point is not a stripped down record by any means. James Bunton and Dan Fortin add drums and bass and others play on it too, like Lief Mosbaugh and Bob Wiseman so… I’m challenged with playing the songs live.

Do you tend to write more with the stage or the studio in mind?

I just write the songs but maybe I should keep one or the other in mind. I mean, ultimately, these songs I wrote on guitar (and a couple on piano) at home, so guitar and voice is where they were born. When I’ve got a nugget, I ask myself whether the song structure is interesting. I might imagine the song live or recorded but not until much later.

Aside from the new record, you been busy with Girls Rock Camp in recent years. For those aren’t aware, tell us about the camp and where the idea came from?

In 2010, my then-bandmate Lysh Haugen and I were talking about how there wasn’t a Girls Rock Camp in Toronto and how that could be. So we decided to start one! There are camps throughout the States and Canada and Europe who all have different types of programming: summer camps, after school programs, workshops etc. Ours is aimed at building self-esteem in girls and female-identified youth through music creation. We are now in our fourth year in Toronto. It is a very inspiring project for me.

I’m curious what young aspiring musicians are into these days. Anything that would surprise the average reader? 

There’s definitely a range. We get campers listing anybody from Black Sabbath to Taylor Swift in what they want to play. I remember one year, I had to look up Marianas Trench because almost every girl put them down as music they liked. I did not know who they were. There’s sort of a punk/pop divide. We do our best to expose the campers to lots of music they may not know. Although there isn’t necessarily a transformation in taste that happens, campers who come back might add Patti Smith to their list, along with Adele. I think that’s pretty cool.

Do you get a sense from your campers what kind of focus music is getting in schools these days? As a parent, assume that’s a issue that you’d be keen on.

Mike Harris (Ontario Premier, 1995-2002) did a number on arts education in the schools and the effects are there. I don’t know the ins and outs of music education in our schools per se, but I think that a lot of community organizations are picking up where schools have had resources decimated. The way I see it, music is a vehicle for building confidence in girls during a time in their lives where their self-esteem tends to plummet and where social pressures are intense. Music is the vehicle. In theory, the vehicle could be something totally non art-related like karate, but in this case it happens to be music and DIY culture. Also, I don’t know anything about karate, so that wouldn’t make any sense.

Have any of your campers come to see you perform? Seems like that might be massively nerve-wracking.

Ha! I did play a lunch-time show with a band I was in during the camp week and that was nerve wracking. None of my own material at least, which made it slightly easier. We’re actually having a fundraiser on April 25th where volunteers and organizers will be covering camper-written songs. The concept is sort of blowing my mind!

Has your tot shown any musical leanings yet? I guess everything is a percussion instrument up until age five or so.

She’s actually really into playing piano. She sits down with her Dad a lot and they play together. When she was really little, the three of us would sing intervals — each pick a note and drone out. I think most kids like music. I’d even venture to say all!

Magali Meagher plays this Wednesday, opening for Picastro at their record release for “You” (Static Clang). Photo of Magali by Lee Towndrow.

– Interview by Cam Gordon (Completely Ignored)