Megan Henwood is an award winning Oxford based singer songwriter and we met in her local, The Rusty Bicycle, to have a chat about her life and music.
Are you Oxfordshire born & bred? Where else have you lived?
I am Oxfordshire born and bred. I went to college in Guilford (trying to become a sound engineer), which didn’t work out, so I travelled for a while living out of a suitcase doing my music. Other than that I lived in a caravan in Reading for a time, but since those days I’m pretty much rooted in Oxford.
Are you from a musical family?
Yes, on my Mum’s side, she’s half Welsh so music comes with the territory, she sings and plays piano and guitar. Her Dad was a pub landlord so he used to run music nights in the pub and sing a lot, as did my Mum. My brother Joe and I were always encouraged to play in the house and although we were “forced” to learn the piano in a quite a strict way we were allowed to find our own way musically.
What are the best and worst things about being an independent musician?
I’m lucky in that I’m half independent as Dharma Records who put out all my albums and EPs allow me freedom in what I create, which is a really great position to be in.
The best things are making music without any outside influence and tailoring the way I’m marketed. The worst thing is having to do all the “digital stuff” as I have an irrational fear of the internet. If you’re on a big label you have a team do that for you, but I’m not the best at self-promotion. I do have a great team behind me, but it doesn’t extend to doing promotion.
This year it will be 10 years since you won the Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year award (with your brother Joe) – looking back, what influence has it had on your career and success?
It undoubtedly helped a lot, it was a huge part of helping me gain confidence in what I was doing, it has been pivotal. It may have limited me initially having a “folk label”, and I may have done some earlier things differently if I hadn’t won it, but on balance it was a good thing to have happened.
You write wonderfully clever lyrics about a whole range of topics, how do you get inspiration?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Words are always the most important bit for me. It’s really nice of you to say that because sometimes I feel a bit vulnerable in that I’m being a bit self indulgent and too personal. Much of the time songs are about experiences I’ve discussed with other people and haven’t necessarily been through myself. I’m trying to write more about stories I’ve heard and putting myself inside somebody else’s head and seeing it from that point of view.
I write a bit every day, even if it’s just a couple of lines so the amount of notebooks I have is ridiculous!
You’ve recently been collaborating with Findlay Napier – is there an album coming out of that or will you just be saving the material for live shows?
We have recorded a 6 track EP, based on stories we’ve heard, some of them based on science and history, which is whey we have named ourselves the Story Song Scientists. It’s quite different from what I’ve done before and it’s been really intriguing working with Findlay because we write really well together and have done for sometime. Getting into the studio and having discussions on how we are going to do it live has been a really interesting kind of new venture for me, so it’s been cool.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
Lots of people! Although as much as I love collaborating I also really enjoy co-writing for other people. I’ve just done some work with an amazing soul / kind of R&B singer called Mike Mayfield. He’s releasing a 5 song EP in March and I was involved in 4 of them. I met him when I was writing some stuff for Brother Strut when he featured on one of their songs. To write something and see someone else take it on and connect with it is great.
How do you see the Oxfordshire music scene, are there any artists we should be looking out for?
My favourite is a four-piece band called Be Good whose songs are really lyrically and musically really interesting, but you can’t really put a genre on them. They are incredible and fantastic musicians. I love Duotone’s work, Matt Sage who runs Catweazle heads up another great band Art Theefe. The Deadbeat Apostles are good, I really love their posters – I feel I want to put one on a T shirt, then there are Loud Mountains and The Epstein.
Talking of the Oxfordshire Music scene I would really like to mention The Cellar, who have managed to get the funds to make the necessary changes to stay open, but are still facing challenges, I think it is so important that there is a venue in the centre of Oxford that all bands can play at.
Your songs “The Dolly” and “These Walls” speaks of your love/hate relationship with living in Oxford, do you have any plans to move away?
I love living in Oxford so much, though it’s very difficult to rent or buy here. It’s somewhere that inspires me as well as making me feeling anchored, safe and happy, so I have no immediate plans to move away.
Is there a new album on the way, and will it be recorded in Joe’s Wallingford studio again?
I will definitely record it at Joe’s place again (Henwood Studios), although I’m trying to write without pressure at the moment so there won’t be another album this year. I’ve got a few other projects I’m mulling over and trying to get some momentum with. If I’m really honest I think the future is more EP based in terms of releasing music, but I’d like to do that without it being just a random collection of songs.
Away from music what do you do to relax?
I love reading, walking, running and being in the countryside by a river or by the sea. I like lino cutting and macramé and just doing crafty things, I even help my Dad at the Sylva Foundation with his boat building. I also like to go to gigs, listen to music and traveling when I can. So nothing very exciting!
And lastly if there was a fire in your house, what one album would you rush in and save?
That’s really funny you ask that as I’ve just written a song about talking to a house fire for an album Fylde Guitars are doing. There is a line in it “you can burn my books and records, but please don’t take the Fylde guitar!”
Can I have two? One would be Anais Mitchell, “Hymns For The Exiled”, as it’s beautiful song writing. The other would be “Based On A True Story” by Fat Freddy’s Drop as it is just the best album ever and it’s a great album for listening to with other people or alone and for singing along to.
Megan will be doing a solo gig at Harwell Village Hall on Friday 12th April for Big Ginger Tom Music and will be supported by Lucy May Walker.
For more information about Megan you can go to www.meganhenwood.com, for Henwood Studios, www.henwoodstudios.com, for the Sylva Foundation go to www.sylva.org.uk and for Big Ginger Tom Music got to www.biggingertommusic.co.uk or contact Duncan on 07999 052720.