Way Back Home: An Interview with Tyler Meacham

by | Jul 15, 2022 | ROCK & INDIE

Tyler Meacham should be celebrating — or at least relieved. The Richmond-based singer-songwriter just self-released her first full-length project, Into The Frayon vinyl, no less. But just after completing all of the independent work it took to make that release happen, she started to look to another crossroads further along her path. Tyler’s journey has already taken quite a few turns, even before she dedicated her life fully towards music. Recently, I spoke to her about the new record, all the ups and downs along the way, finding her voice in the studio, and what’s next.

Kelli Strawbridge:  So let’s see, where do we start? Where are you from?

Tyler Meacham: Originally? Just outside of Richmond. I grew up in the West End, went to college in North Carolina, bounced around a little bit, lived in Florida, LA, and then ended up back here for music. 

Kelli: Wait, so you’ve already lived in LA?

Tyler: Mm-Hmm. Well, I have a film degree. I went to school for film. And so I was out there for summer pursuing that, just getting my feet wet — and didn’t love it, which is fine. [Laughs] And I guess the story is kind of out there in places. I worked for Disney, had a full-time job there for a year, and quit so that I could go back and consider the idea of becoming a musician. That was five years ago. So here we are.

Kelli: Interesting, a lot of different little pivots and stuff. All right. I have a lot of questions written down, I’m gonna stay the course, but let’s veer off just a little bit. So, was film or music your first real inspiration?

Tyler: It was definitely music, but I kind of followed this path in my mind, and maybe in the environment that I was in, in high school and college. I just felt like I had to get a degree in something that equaled an explainable job. Like, a secure path where I could get hired out of college and then… I don’t know, climb the ladder for the rest of my life. [That] was the idea that I thought I was supposed to follow. And then, through many different twists and turns and conversations with people that I really admire and love, I kind of learned that I should really be following what makes me happy. And I enjoy making video content, I still do it for my own stuff, and I do it for other people, and it’s great. It’s something that I feel like I’m very skilled at. But it’s not what I love. It’s not what makes me the absolute happiest. And in that time that I was working in that industry, I pretty much cut music out entirely. Without it, there was just this very real deficit. I went through a lot of mental health issues, and I just looked at the common denominator, and it was just like, “I need to be playing. I need to be writing.” I made a U-turn really early, and I haven’t regretted it since. So hopefully that was the right decision.

Kelli: Okay. So your first project proper, it was the EP. Was that DIY? Had you already started working with Chip [Hale] by that time?

Tyler: Yeah. So Chip was kind of the kickstarter for that whole process. We met and started working on music together, and he encouraged me to get the songs recorded and make an EP. I hadn’t even moved outta my parents’ house yet. And we were, like, in my childhood bedroom, playing these songs out and figuring out new ways to arrange them. Because I was coming at ’em from just… you know, an acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter background. I hadn’t picked up an electric guitar. I hadn’t even thought about the idea of making this thing into a larger sonic experience. So we demoed all of the songs out together [at 6807 Studios], took them to Elephant Ear studios and did a couple weeks there, and then finished the record at Montrose. And it was crazy. It was my first experience working on my own music in a studio, and not really knowing [if] anything I was doing was right. But I had Chip and Nate [Hubbard], of course, who we record a lot of stuff with as well, and several other bandmates at the time. Everyone had really good ideas.

Kelli: So what did you learn from that first EP that you wanted to put into your debut album?

Tyler: One of the things that I felt after that EP was out — just listening through it and trying to pitch it to people, whether it was for press or getting the band booked for a show — is that it wasn’t incredibly cohesive in terms of genre. And I don’t really like to align myself with a genre. Like, if I’m writing a song and it lends itself towards one instrumentation versus another, I’ll lean towards what’s right, more than just what fits in a box, if that makes sense. But I did want to tell more of my story in a vulnerable way, that you could look at the record and listen to the songs in order and get a story out of it. And I learned very little things, like: doing vocal takes, I need to have, like, 10 hours by myself. No one can be with me. I can’t be recording vocals with another person in the room. It was an aggressive learning experience, because I was just so frustrated with myself, in a studio trying to lay vocals down in an hour, and it just wasn’t happening. I’m a perfectionist about it.

And I know that, so the bigger things: what kind of environment do I enjoy working in? Can I allow my creative process, in terms of producing a track, or working with someone else to produce a track? Can that go a little longer than that concentrated week, or two-week, period in a studio? So that, coupled with the pandemic… Chip and I were basically forced to figure it out, because we didn’t see ourselves going into a studio and taking these songs anywhere in March of 2020, when we were first thinking about making another record. So when we were able to move out of our apartment and invest in this — this studio, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, because I know Chip did his chat here as well. [6807 Studios, Chip and Tyler’s home studio — see Kelli’s interview with Chip Hale for more details. -ed.]

Kelli:  I feel like the new record really blends together very well, sonically. Did you go back to the same studios? Or what did you do with this record?

Tyler: So this time we did all of our rhythm tracking at Go West Recording with Mitch Clem. As far as I know, he is actually getting a huge upgrade right now. So we were one of the last projects to record in the old Go West space, and it was attached to his house: this really beautiful, big open room in Richmond. And we had worked with him on some singles, some smaller projects, and just really liked his home studio space. Especially as we were building ours, we were really inspired by his work, and his space that he has there, so we did all of the rhythm tracking there. Mitch has worked with all sorts of great singer-songwriters. He recorded River City Songwriters‘ project. That’s been kind of floating around. He’s done a lot of work with Jonathan Facka. It’s a lovely space. He’s really great to work with. He gets incredible sounds. And then, we finished a couple songs on the record with Lance at Minimum Wage Studios, and we had him play drums on a couple of tracks as well.

Kelli: Okay. That’s filling in some blanks from me. The production feels very full. Are you two [Tyler and Chip] co-producing together? You obviously take a lot of ownership over the production, especially at this point. I mean, it’s your stuff.

Tyler: Yeah.

Kelli: How does that work with you guys? You both play multiple instruments.

Tyler: For this record, we kind of split the duties. So there are some tracks that are credited exclusively to me, some exclusively to him. It kind of depends on the track. The ones that are the most pop-centered, I would say, are probably of me. The ones that have that crossover [sound], probably both of us. And then the back half of the record — songs like “Unknowing”, “Praying in the Rain”, “Waiting Place” — that’s all Chip. His strengths are in that kind of singer-songwriter, Americana, fringe realm. And so I kind of let him have at it with those. I came into my own as a producer on this [album], and learned how to find the songs that I wanted. I did a lot of watching my favorite producers’ work, finding videos on YouTube of them explaining their songs and their production style. I felt really inspired by, like, Jack Antonoff and Ryan Tedder. I’m always trying to learn more from them, because I’ve grown up listening to the things that they’ve both produced. And a lot of that reflects in the pop side of this album.

Kelli: So are there any other vocal inspirations that you have? I’ll give you another credit here: the vocals on your record are very clean-sounding and precise, if that’s the word I was looking for. But I think there’s something about where the placement — there’s a placement thing, “this is how I want it (my vocal) to sound” kind of vibe, and I can hear it on the record. So who are your other vocal inspirations, writing inspirations, even production vocal arrangement, any of those things. Who are those people for you?

Tyler: Thank you for noticing that, because it was all very intentional, and placement is a word that I use every day, in terms of, like, choices in a song. So yes, that’s very validating to hear. My number one fangirl celebrity crush is Sara Bareilles. I listen to every single record of hers and just feel very connected to her in a way that, like, I really think one day I’ll get to sing a song with her. And I know that’s crazy, but I’m going to manifest it. Other than that, Maggie Rogers. I love the stuff she’s done over the last few years. 

Kelli: Oh, Maggie Rogers. Oh yeah, I like her a lot. Absolutely.

Tyler: Oh gosh. Who else? Madison Cunningham. I got really into her stuff while working on this. Yeah, those are probably the main ones.

Kelli: Those are really good ones. Okay. The artwork: what was your inspiration behind that?

Tyler: So there’s a lyric in the song “Better Than I Used To Be” that basically says there’s a voice… like, it’s talking about an inner critic, and that kind of harsh voice that I have inside my head. And it says, “It comes on strongly, threading lies with pushpins in my brain.” The visual of that when I was writing, it was like a conspiracy wall. Like, the idea that sometimes our inner critics or low self-esteem or demons, whatever you wanna call it, can thread conspiracy theories about ourselves [through our brains] that just aren’t true. So that’s where that idea came from.

I knew every song on this record was a process of me discovering something about myself, and I thought that visual would kind of reflect that sense of searching, that sense of longing for an essential truth and getting back to who I am. I’ve kind of said before — it’s floating around in a bio out there — that Into The Fray is a record that I’ve experienced a lot of grief during the process of writing and recording. The first song on the album is “Way Back Home,” and it’s just this question of: won’t you show me the way back home? All of that kind of came together in this visual. And I’ve literally built a five-foot by seven-foot bulletin board in my house that we got off of Craigslist, with all of that stuff on it. And it sat here for months, until we were able to get it photographed with Joey Wharton. That visual had been there for a long time. And it’s one of those things that I just knew I wanted to be the symbol of this record.

Kelli: What you guys are doing on YouTube, what are your thoughts on that? Cause you’re kind of poppin’ out here on your YouTube channel. I was checking it out — you have almost 2,000 subscribers and a lot of good quality videos. Do you have a TikTok?

Tyler: Yeah. I have a TikTok. I I’ve been posting more on that than YouTube because that’s what all the VAs out there say you’re supposed to do. I joined YouTube in 2007, so I’ve been making content on there since the very beginning, and for a long time, wanted to be, like, a YouTuber, and had some vlogs and shared my music here and there. And a lot of that stuff is gone now, because nobody needs to see that. 

Kelli: Oh, wow. I see. 

Tyler: But I will say, yeah, it was my outlet when I was first exploring the idea of pursuing a career in music. I was posting a new song every month on YouTube as part of this song of the month club and what people could do was join and get a new demo every month. Then a lot of those demos ended up on either the EP or this new record. So yeah, it’s definitely a creative outlet for me. I feel like it’s fallen off a little bit, just because of the rise of TikTok and short form video content. But like I said before, I do love making video content, and I feel like I’m pretty good at it. I’ll definitely take the time to make my own stuff. All of the videos on there, for this record, I either DIY’ed them here in the house or have one or two people help me with them. Just trying to keep a pretty well-balanced budget without going too crazy on the video stuff. And It was fun to make all that stuff.

Kelli: So now you’ve got the album out, you put it out on vinyl, the album release show looked like it was off the chain, from what I saw. So that’s exciting. What is next for your band? By the way, your band is disgusting, too. I like all of them. So what do you think is gonna be next for you guys and what you’re trying to do?

Tyler: Well, it’s been a really crazy year. A really crazy two years, honestly. Released the record in February, and kind of had this second bump now that the vinyl’s out, which is great. My bandmates are all incredible people and very talented, and they also all have their own projects that they’re really invested in. So I’m actually about to take a break for a little bit from performing, kind of reassessing, because several members are moving on to some other things that are really, really exciting. We’re gonna have to reassess a little bit and find ourselves again. So it’s a really weird spot to be in, and this is the first time I really talked about it publicly — to feel like we are at this place where everything is really tight and our show is feeling really, really good, but having to step away and hit the hard reset button. So I’m a little scared. I’m very uncertain as to what that’s gonna look like, because we’ve been working on this music together, most of us, for almost five years. It’s definitely tough, and I also am feeling a little burnt out. When you put out your first record, it’s just nonstop, and I’ve been trying so hard to capture the attention of press, or create content constantly, because that’s what you have to do. And I’m very ready for a break. So Chip and I are going to the mountains this week, and we’re gonna vacation. I’ve got a lot of new songs that I’ve been working on, which I’m really excited about. And when it’s time to dive back into that, we’ll know. Just kind of take the summer to breathe a little bit, and let this music catch on where it will… hope for the best.

Kelli: Wow. That’s really a very mature answer. You’re absolutely right. You’ve been very active. You definitely deserve a well-earned break, for sure. You hit it hard on the internets [laughs]. This was an awesome interview. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Tyler: Oh, thank you. Yeah, of course.

Kelli: See you after the mountains.

Tyler: Sounds good.

Catch Tyler Meacham after she gets back from the mountains, playing solo at Brambly Park Happy Hour on Thursday, July 28 at 4:30 pm. Into The Fray is available on LP and CD from tylermeacham.com/shop, on mp3 at tylermeacham.bandcamp.com, and streaming on all major services.

Kelli Strawbridge

Kelli Strawbridge

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