I am typically against the idea of a video interview, but the world we have found ourselves in for the last two and a half years has made many in-person averse, so we adapt accordingly. And so, for this interview, I sat at my desk with Hourglass Sessions co-founder and audio engineer Dillon Douglasson by my side while we phoned Tyler Meacham on that one video software. You know the one. Meacham popped up on my screen in her personal studio. Behind her sat an electric piano and an acoustic guitar, leaning picturesquely against a wall. With speech only occasionally garbled from the inconsistent internet connection, she began telling me of her background.
An unwilling vagabond, Meacham has migrated from coast-to-coast chasing various opportunities to find that elusive “dream” that we are promised as Americans. Growing up just outside Richmond, she began playing piano at a very young age when she received a keyboard as a Christmas gift from an uncle. Although her father was a musician, the young and rebellious Meacham rejected the traditional structure of lessons and instead chose to teach herself. Later, at the beginning of her teenage years, she picked up the guitar, learning it the same way. Today, she spends most of her songwriting time on her guitar, as she finds it more physically accessible than piano.
Attending Elon University in North Carolina, Meacham joined up with the a cappella scene to indulge her musical passions. Through that scene, she met a collaborator with whom she began performing in an indie folk duo at coffee shops in the area. This first collaboration ignited her passion for writing and performing original music. After graduating with a degree in film, she moved to Los Angeles to break into the film industry. However, after a summer of playing the game and attempting to find ways to climb the ladder, she quickly became disenchanted. When another opportunity presented itself, she took it and found herself working for Disney in Orlando, Florida. What should have been a dream turned sour, and she grew fed up with the entire industry. Still, throughout it all, the urge to play music kept rearing its head. With eyes towards home, Meacham returned to Richmond, soon finding a place in this city’s intimate but passionate music scene.
A child of the 2000’s, Meacham draws inspiration from the pop bands of her youth. She listis The Fray, All-American Rejects, and One Republic among her chief influences. That influence is clear in the verse-chorus-bridge structure of her songs, as well as the heavy reliance on straight drum beats, thumping bass guitar, and pure, straightforward vocals. There is, however, an undeniable southern twinge to her music that comes through in the twang of her bandmates’ guitar tones. Meacham admits that it’s a common comparison, but any homage to southern rock or country music is unintentional.
That said, her bandmate and creative partner, Chip Hale, currently plays in the band Moosetrap, and it’s inevitable that some of that band’s Americana sound would seep into her music as well. This example shows that it can be difficult, perhaps impossible, for an artist to totally isolate themselves from environmental influences they may not even consciously notice. Meacham’s lyrics are a whole other world, though. She uses them as an opportunity to work out her problems through song, keeping true to the ancient artistic drive: the need to express, to communicate.
Meacham collaborated with Hourglass Sessions to create a one shot music video for her song “No Running Away” which you can watch above, or on RVA MAG TV. Read on for our interview, in which we discussed the state of the Richmond music scene, releasing music digitally as an independent artist, and her album organization process.
What are your thoughts on the Richmond music scene?
For the longest time, I felt that it flew kind of under the radar in terms of major music cities. I think of cities like Athens, Georgia — it’s not a major, highly populated city, but it is a recognizable music hub, and they have a really thriving scene there. I feel like Richmond is close to that.
One of my feelings about the scene currently is that there is a need for diversity in our productions, and the folks who are putting on shows. It feels like a city that is largely controlled by a very few major players, and I feel like something that would help this city grow even more is an expansion on who is putting shows together, where those shows are happening, and the kinds of people who are in those shows and at those shows. Recognizing that we do tend to gravitate towards a very similar generic lineup of cis, white cover bands. And that’s great if you like that music, but there is so much talent here that ranges in genre diversity, sexual orientation, gender, race, and I would love to see more of that.
Just before the pandemic I started a residency at The Camel where we were putting together bills called Offset RVA. It was the idea of offsetting the balance of what we traditionally see on a stage. And so I love Richmond’s scene, but I do recognize that there is a lot of room for growth and improvement in how we are putting artists forward, and the kind of shows that are being put together. I think for Richmond to break that barrier of being that major hub, we need to see more artists given the opportunity to break forward and find their audience here.
You release your music on all the streaming platforms that would be expected of a young independent artist, but I also noticed that you release your music on CD and vinyl. Any artist can get their music out there very easily these days without the weight of a record company behind them distributing physical copies of their music, but do you feel that music streaming services have made the barrier for entry too low and oversaturated the market? Does good music always shine through? Does it need a physical copy?
The market is 100% oversaturated, and with the rise of TikTok and short-form music discovery, we’re getting 30 to 60 seconds of a song and that is the hook. You’re looking at songs that are popular because of a moment, that people hear for a split second while scrolling through their feed. There’s been a trend towards just releasing singles, and I think that’s been happening for the last five or six years — even before this TikTok craze — this big push for all artists to be putting their content out there. I love the idea of having a collection of songs you can hold in your hand. I think there’s a lot of people that feel that way, and not just artists.
My vinyl just got here — I got it in the mail today — and I can hold it. And I know what these songs say, I know what they’re about, I know the story behind them, and I know that they all belong together. There has to be balance. There’s got to be a way to create a product, because we know that money isn’t in streaming. Money is in merchandise, and selling that at live shows, and creating one-on-one personal connections with people. That’s where the money is. Those are the people that will come back again and again and again, and buy your product. Because ultimately, while we are artists, we have to be businesspeople. We have to do it all, and wear every hat: marketing, social media, graphic design, video production.
We can do the single thing, I can release eight singles over the next year, as long as the end of it I can patch them all together and say, “This is what we made.” I don’t subscribe to the idea that we have to play the TikTok lottery, because it’s just gambling with your art, your future, your goals — and it’s not sustainable. We know how fast something like that can come along, we know how quickly it can go away. I don’t think there is any one way; whatever you happen to find, if it works for you, that’s great. If it works for one person extravagantly, then everyone is going to race to copy that until something new comes along.
I did notice that for the first few years your streaming profiles consisted of multiple singles that did not make it onto an album. However, then you released a few singles that were made for the album, to promote it. Do you find singles to be more digestible than an album?
It’s more digestible in that people are looking for a quick window into who you are as an artist. Music discovery is based on one song, not a whole album. That’s definitely the way the algorithm works, and has been working for a long time. It’s oriented towards singles. But honestly, at the time, I was just trying to figure it out. My first few years of writing music, I was just creating songs and putting them up on Youtube, putting them up on Patreon, doing it once a month, and having people tell me they were good. Eventually I went, “Okay, so something’s good. Let’s put these out as singles.” It wasn’t until later that I actually went into a studio and sat down to record them for real, to put them on an EP or an album.
How have you found that your album has performed on streaming platforms, in comparison to your singles?
Really well, honestly. I was very surprised to see that there are certain songs that are being listened to that I didn’t market as singles. I’ve had people come up to me — either at shows that I’m on that I’ve been at — and they said, “The song really means a lot to me.” Or they tell me they understand the message that I’m saying in this album. And people are listening to it; they’re listening to it front to back. Based on all the evidence and knowledge out there about streaming, you wouldn’t think that would have been true. Everyone is so about the single right now, and so about the click hook, and so about winning that game of streaming numbers. While the songs that I’ve wanted to be big have gotten those numbers, and have gotten the multiple thousands of streams, there’s still evidence that people are listening to those smaller songs, and that’s really exciting. Because when you put just a full album out, it could be that people only listen to one or two songs on it, but it seems to me that people are sitting down and listening to the whole thing. And that’s all I could have asked for.
There seems to also be an urge to return to a kind of simplicity in music listening, where you just put on an album. Yes, you can seek out a single song on the record if that’s what you want, but it is a lot easier to just put on the album and let it play. Although you do have to have a good record for people to want to do that.
That’s 100% how I feel. I listen to music in albums, and maybe the general public doesn’t, but there’s still a market for those that do. I just don’t really subscribe to the idea that we all have to fit into that one box that the industry may say is the right one — because, as artists, we are creating a larger body of work. It’s not just dropping a song one at a time and moving on. Something about my record right now, it’s that it’s ten songs of me processing a major change in my life. It’s processing grief, and a sense of being lost in the world, and having to deal with myself, and realizing that I have a lot of problems inside that are causing the outside to be difficult to navigate. That chapter in my life is printed on vinyl. Here you go, this is me, on a real thing you can hold. You can’t do that with one song at a time. It’s hard to keep the thread.
What is your process for songwriting, and how did you go about constructing your album?
My writing process is very weird; I don’t really choose when it happens. And I’ve heard some other artists say that: all of the sudden the idea is just happening, and it’s maybe not necessarily in your control. I find songwriting to be a very spiritual thing for me. I’m not an overly traditionally religious person, but I definitely feel a connection to something higher or greater when I’m writing music. And sometimes what I need to hear the most just comes out on the page — I don’t know where it comes from.
So with a lot of these songs… a handful of them were written years ago, in a time where I was trying to find my way, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And a lot of them were written during the early days of the pandemic, when I was stuck at home. My process of putting these songs in order just came down to this idea of, “What is the thread in all of these songs? What is it I’m talking about in all of them that you can go from one to the other?” “You Mean Self” is about religious hypocrisy, and “Someone Who Loves Me” is about… love is love, essentially. And the thing I kept coming back to is that there is a through line, and it’s love. That’s cheesy, what do I mean by that? Well, this journey through these songs — every single one of them has some thematic element of learning to love yourself, learning to address the issues you have with yourself in order to love people well, and how do we follow that path? Where does it start?
For me… “No Running Away” is the second song on the album. It’s the lead single on the album, and it came out about a year ago, actually. I wrote that song about falling in love with my partner. And at the time I was so anxious to go on a date, and be with another person, and be vulnerable, and it cracked me wide open. For the first time in my life I was seeing my scars for what they were, because another person was reflecting them back to me. And so I started to go to therapy, because I needed to. Because I couldn’t be with this person without addressing all of this stuff in my past. And so, from there, it just kind of unfolded.
If I’m starting with me, then how does the rest of this album unfold? “Hardly Feels Like Home” is my first time feeling distant from someone that truly feels like a part of me, and how do I reconcile that with someone that is an incredibly independent person who’s lived on their own their whole life? It’s the same with “Better Than I Used To Be.” All of those songs sort of follow that course, and you can either listen to it as a pop record, or you can listen to it for what that process was for me, which was trying to come back home.
We had nine songs, and the last song that was written for the record is actually the first song on the record, it’s called “The Way Back Home.” I wrote that around the time my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and that’s something I talk about very publicly. She’s had cancer for the last two years, and is doing really well. When I first found out it was like, “Are you kidding me? I just lost my job, we’re a year and a half into a pandemic, I don’t have any friends right now, we all feel so distant, I don’t like to play music anymore, and now this is happening. I feel abandoned by whatever the thing is that is keeping my life going.” So I wrote “Way Back Home” and it felt apparent to me: that is the question that the next nine songs will answer. And I believe that the record ends with the answer to that question. The last verse of track ten, which is “Unknowing,” was also written at the very end of the process, and if you sit down and listen to [the album] back to back, it definitely has that question and answer. And the last few lines of the record, to me, are the answer to that question. You can also just listen to it for what it is, I don’t expect everyone to go into it like that, but that’s what it is for me.
Well, coming back down from the higher plane: Do you keep a day job, and does it give you the freedom you need to pursue your career?
I freelance a little bit as a video editor, and I do a lot of corporate work in that realm. But I also write songs for other people, and I’ve recently found that to be something that I really love, and has opened up my creative process to a place where I haven’t been in a long time. I work for a company called Song Finch: they create custom songs for anniversaries, proposals, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc. My job is to just write someone’s story, and put it out there. And they get to listen to it, or put it on Spotify, or get it on a record, whatever the case may be. Those are the two main ways that I’m sustaining. But other than that, it’s gigging, and it’s just doing the hard work as a musician.
This is a related, but somewhat more abstract question: when will you have succeeded?
I picture it in my head a little bit: I would love to play a room of about 200 people, and have them there to see me, and be in the music together. I would like to know that that group of people, whoever they are, wherever they are, whenever this happens, have listened to the songs and felt seen, and felt like they’re not alone. Enough to want to come see a show and be together in it. To me it’s not really about growing to the point of being on a stadium tour, or fame, or fortune, or anything like that. I think, like any other person, I want to make the thing that I love be the thing that sustains me. Financially finding my way through the business so that it’s not soul crushing. And it’s not entirely based on numbers, but there are so many different avenues and revenue streams for musicians right now that I’m finding my way through, that are important to me. But the dream, I guess, in the sense of original music, is just to fill a room, and to have people know the words to the songs, to sing them back, and to just feel like they’re theirs as much as they are mine.
So, what’s next in terms of new music?
I honestly am taking a break for a little bit. The album process has taken over two years — actually over two and a half years at this point — and I am experiencing a little bit of a burnout right now. So the record is out, and there’s going to be a big show weekend, which I’m sure will be in the past by the time this interview comes out, but I’m taking a break. I’m gonna power down for a little bit. I’m gonna turn off my socials and try to get back to square one, and accept that that has to happen. It’s really hard for me, because I think everybody wants to be on this steady upward trajectory, but I have to take a break. There’s a lot of changes happening in my band, and my musical life right now, and I’m just taking a pause, letting those things happen, and then maybe come the fall we’ll start fresh and we’ll kick some shows up. I definitely have been writing a lot, and I’m interested in exploring whatever the next project is. I don’t know if it’s an album, or if it’s just a series of singles, but we’ll see.
You can watch Tyler Meacham’s Hourglass Session on RVA MAG TV on August 9th at 1 PM, and you can find her record “Into The Fray” anywhere you get her music, but you can get the vinyl on her website www.TylerMeacham.com
Top Photo by Roxplosion