INTERVIEW: Meadowlark

There are so many male-female electronic- and alt-pop duos out there that it’s easy to get lost in the midst of all that kerfuffle. But how many choose to make their latest single – arguably one of the most moving tracks of the year – about the story of Pakistani people trafficking, the way Meadowlark do with Quicksand? That sort of intelligent and emotional approach is just one reason the duo of (former YouTube star) Kate McGill and Dan Broadley have stood out for us from day one, so we managed to get Kate on the blower to find out more…

Meadowlark, then. Lovely name. How did it all start?

I was a solo artist. I was doing YouTube covers when I was 17. Dan is a music video director on the side. He directed my second music video as a solo artist, so that’s how we became friends. I was done with the solo thing now, I was looking to work with other people and he was the same, and we both love stuff like Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, that kind of thing. He came to Bristol to see The Tallest Man On Earth – I sent him a message saying “would you be up for jamming some time?” and he text back saying “you read our minds!”

I went down to Plymouth, which is where we’re all originally from, and that’s where we wrote Sail Away which is on the first EP. We never looked back really. Back then we were a folky kind of sound and I was massively into Fleet Foxes, which is where the name Meadowlark came from. I wish I could play it!

Aha! One of their great early songs. You should totally do a cover in tribute. It’s interesting with your YouTube stuff, because a lot of young people look to it now as a platform. You’ve been on both sides of it – what advice would you give to young people doing it now?

To be honest, I think my YouTube stuff was back when it wasn’t saturated with loads of people doing the same thing. I was back at the beginning of the whole thing. So it was a right place, right time for me. If I tried to do that now I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d say if you’re trying to be an original musician then focus on writing your original songs and make that your priority. Use it as a tool, upload covers that you can do well and put your own stamp on, but maybe not make that the priority. There’s nothing special or raw about the videos now – it’s so over-produced. The only really original thing about you specifically is your personality – it’s you that people are going to be drawn into.

It doesn’t always work out though does it? Look at Sandi Thom – she had that one hit and then it just fizzled. But hey ho, she’ll be glad for someone mentioning her in this day and age. Moving on, let’s talk about the Meadowlark sound. How has it evolved and what discussions do you and Dan have about future work?

Me and Dan were really big on pop music, so it’s been such a natural progression. I stopped listening to so much folky music, and I naturally write pop songs anyway. We love electronic music, but we have that underlying layer of atmospheric chill music so we thought why not amalgamate it. To be honest it wasn’t even a conscious decision either, this is just how the songs deserves to sound now.

What sort of pop do you enjoy?

I’m a sucker for pop. I fucking love Justin Bieber! And right now I can’t stop listening to Ariana Grande…

You know, in most of our interviews she’s a popular choice among the industry. She has made one of the best pop songs of the decade with Into You. As a songwriter though, would you consider writing for names like her or not?

I’ve never really thought about it to be honest. When I was a solo artist I was heavily encouraged to go and co-write. But I didn’t enjoy that process at all. However, we have a quiet summer focusing on the live show so whilst there’s that I’d very much enjoy writing for other people. It takes the pressure off. So yeah, I think I would.

“The beauty of songwriting is that I get to combine my passion with compassion… We have a duty to write about the stuff that not many people would write about”

We see a lot of male-female duos – do you look at what other people are doing? Like Oh Wonder, who perhaps occupy a similar space? 

I don’t know about Dan, but I make a conscious effort to not look at that stuff or think about it because there is just no point. You have to carry on with what you’re doing, be positive and confident and hope that people see your unique thing. In terms of Oh Wonder, it’s quite funny really – we did our Dual EP and we were recording when they released Body Gold. They’ve come leaps and bounds and though we were a duo before them we’re probably known as a second-rate Oh Wonder!

Not at all. The thing is – and we’re very open about this – we’re sure they’re lovely people but they kinda shot themselves in the foot by releasing an album full of tracks people had already heard over the year. And then after about month four, all the songs sounded the same so it’s more a case of “Oh Wonder why they’re famous” these days to be honest.

But in terms of second-rate, not at all. Especially given what you guys talk about in songs like Eyes Wide – about drug abuse – Satellite, Fire, and Quicksand we’re obsessed with. Our heritage is Pakistani so when we read that you’d done it based on that story, it added a new dimension. Our first impression was that it was quite relatable as a tale of twentysomething disillusionment in a big city trying to make ends meet, so when we read what it was actually about we were quite floored. It’s pretty heavy stuff for a new band…

I think if you met me and Dan as people, we have so many car journeys and we’re such deep thinkers and chat constantly about life and space and humans and politics. It’s a big part of our lives. Obviously we have our relationships and that comes into our songs too, but I feel like there’s so much more that we talk about. Our friendship is deep and we agree on so many things. It comes naturally to write about the stuff that’s heavy and really bothering us.

We just feel really lucky to be able to write that and people listen to it. A lot of it is gross and needs sorting out. The beauty  of songwriting is that I get to combine my passion with compassion, and if people can relate to songs and take something from it that’s the best thing in the world. We have a duty to write about the stuff that not many people would write about.

That definitely what separates Meadowlark, and certainly why we wanted to talk to a band who clearly have a lot of important things to say. Quicksand is a tremendously affecting song, intense in a good way. But obviously the political landscape is pretty terrifying – both here and other places – do you think the band will become more political?

I’m not sure really, I think it’s just gonna happen – next time we write, whatever’s happening around us will come into it. If politics keeps getting shitter then it probably will come into it!

Do you think there’s room for political songs in our musical landscape at the moment? 

I’d love to say yes, but when I switch on Radio1 at the moment I hear about love and stuff. But you look back at music and you see so many huge statements were made about that specific time, and I don’t feel like that is around any more. I’d love for it to be a bigger thing – you do get the odd song, but it’s not a common thing these days. It’s sad.

True, but I suppose given we’ve already talked about Ariana Grande in this conversation we’re perhaps part of the problem. Moving on a little, when it comes to songwriting do you ever surprise each other with the personal revelations and think ‘holy shit, what’s going on’?

Kind of, but we are pretty much in the know of each other’s lives. So rarely that will come up. We’ll have spoken about it in the car beforehand! A lot of the songs though are about my personal stuff rather than Dan’s, just because he’s let on that he’s not as comfortable writing about his own life as I am. I’m very very used to it. Then he’s also said he’d love to have his life displayed a bit more in future, so it can be quite collaborative. We will have experienced something similar – there’s a song on the album called Postcards and it’s basically an ode to an ex-lover. So some things connect us.

Who gets final say after a disagreement?

Very rarely do we have disagreements. Naturally we won’t always agree when it comes to songwriting but we’ll keep going till we find something we both agree on. I’m really stubborn, so when it comes to something I really like I have to come to terms with it myself for 10 minutes and then say fine. But if we do disagree it’s because we’re so passionate because we want the same thing – a really good song.

You’ve mentioned the album. What should we expect from it?

Hopefully the album will be released early next year. We’re obsessed with it and so proud of it. I’m itching for it to be released – there are so many songs on there that I love, an amalgamation of all the stories and experiences we’ve had together as a band and individually. I just really really like it and I hope other people do! We made an effort to make songs that are fun and also meaningful, and songs that we both love, then try and have all those three things in one place. We’ve shot the video for our next single, which Dan directed and it was so much fun. This particular one was a one-shot video and all in slow-mo so we had to do the song doubly as fast. It felt very different and fun.

And then a tour?

We’ve got a tour – this is a good thing to say because we keep forgetting to talk about it! We’re touring at the end of September and beginning of October. We’re creating a whole new live show for it, just me and Dan and no drummer. We’re gonna strip it back and hope people really like it.

Slight sidetrack – are you thinking of taking things Stateside or just focusing on home turf at the moment? Because this sound would totally sell on a US drama.

I think we’re gonna focus on the UK, but what band doesn’t want to go to America? I do think a lot of the songs on the album would do well sync-wise, they’re raw and emotional so it’s cool for you to say that.

What do you want people to know about and take from Meadowlark?

I don’t know what Dan would say, but I want people to know that it’s real and genuine – it’s just me and Dan, there’s no other people involved, no co-writes and trying to write hits. Just two friends writing songs together about their lives and views.

Finally, the revealing question we ask everyone. What’s your favourite Beyonce song?

Oh crap I think I need a list – I need to go on iTunes! That’s such a good question. OK, I think it’s Lose My Breath. That’s the one.

Meadowlark are on tour this autumn; dates and tickets can be found here
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