As much as the Seattle sound is about notions of counterculture and nonconformity, the ever-present majesty of the area’s natural surroundings is embedded within it as well, offering a sense of cohesion among what is otherwise a city of musical eclecticism. The melancholy gray skies, majestic evergreen forests, and churning waters of the Puget Sound all have their way with the music made in this area. Lemolo—vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Megan Grandall—is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Lemolo’s forthcoming release, Swansea, out Oct. 11, is a little pop/rock, a little ambient electronic, a little folk singer-songwriter. Grandall draws many different musical influences that, on their own, are seemingly disconnected from place. But, when knitted together organically by the demands of her lyrical inspirations—her turbulent inner-world and the lush environment of Grandall’s hometown of Poulsbo, WA—there’s a through-line that wasn’t there before. Swansea’s eleven original roiling soundscapes—echo-y, ambient canvases kissed with Grandall’s gentle vocals—are magnificent, pensive and intoxicating. It’s an album that can only be from the Pacific Northwest.
Lemolo gave Audiofemme an exclusive premiere of the single “South of Sound,” below, discussed her collaboration with legendary Seattle-area producer Nathan Yaccino (who’s worked with Seattle music royalty like Soundgarden), and explained the difficult and miraculous experiences that birthed her third tender and triumphant full-length, Swansea.
AF: Is this single “South of Sound” a tribute to your South Seattle home? Or, does it have another meaning? How was the song born?
MG: The song is about the ending of an unhealthy relationship, and knowing it was unhealthy before it was over. When I’m singing that “we’re headed south of sound”, it’s a play on words to mean that my partner and I were heading in a bad direction where things are no longer “sound” or safe. But I also like how the song incorporates water imagery which is a slight homage to the Puget Sound where I live.
AF: Tell me about your childhood, and how you were first exposed to music. How many instruments do you play? Are you self-taught?
MG: I grew up loving music, and started playing the piano when I was 3 years old. I took piano lessons throughout my childhood, and then taught myself how to play guitar and write songs in high school. Music and songwriting has always been an important outlet for me and I’m so grateful I found it at a young age.
AF: What are some staples of your songwriting style, in your eyes?
MG: A common theme in my music is that all of my songs are very personal accounts of my own life and experiences. I’ve used songwriting as a tool to help me find healing in my own life and process my emotions. I’ve also heard people tell me that they can tell that I’m from the Pacific Northwest when they listen to my music. The landscape where I live is filled with natural beauty – I named my band after Lemolo Shore Drive in the small town where I’m from and where I live now – Poulsbo. It is sandwiched between the Puget Sound and the Olympic National Forest. And I think the natural world around me definitely inspires the mood of my music.
AF: When you formed Lemolo in 2009, what would you say your artistic mission was? Has it morphed over the years?
MG: My mission has always been to make music for as long as it brings me joy and healing. Lucky for me it is still the case, which is what motivates me each day as an independent artist.
AF: How does Seattle—specifically its landscape, music history, even its tech-y present—inform your music?
MG: Being a part of the Seattle music community has been a really positive experience, and I’ve found that musicians here are very supportive and encouraging rather than competitive. There is also a wonderful community of people who support local and independent art, which I am grateful for every day. I am a huge supporter of KEXP 90.3 FM as well, and they have played a big role in me being able to share my music with people around the world and have a larger platform. And as I mentioned, the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest is a continual source of inspiration for me.
AF: Your forthcoming album, Swansea, is due to drop Oct. 11. Why did you decide to call it that?
MG: I learned of the word Swansea when I received an online order for one of my records from a fan living in Swansea, Wales about five years ago. (I serve as my own record label, so I handle my own shipping and order processing which has been a wonderful way to meet my fans!) When I read the word it immediately struck me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It conjured up a lot of imagery for me, and I kept it in the back of my mind while I was writing the songs for this record. As a songwriter, I’m always keeping track of words that intrigue and inspire me. I created a whole concept of what Swansea means to me in relation to this record.
AF: Tell me about that concept. I see the definition of “Swansea” quoted in your press release: “The vast place we find ourselves in when we lose someone. We are alone for the first time in what feels like forever, almost as if we are out to sea in our own solitude. But it is not necessarily a sad place. It is where we find strength in remembering how to stand on our own two feet.” Is this feeling coming from an autobiographical place, post-loss?
MG: Yes. This whole album is themed around loss of various forms that I have experienced in the recent past. The songs are about a combination of different types of loss, from the loss of love, the ending of relationships and friendships, and the loss of a friend due to suicide. Writing this album was very therapeutic for me, and was a good reminder that I can be okay on my own.
AF: Tell me about the personnel on the album, especially the string players who give it a really special, ethereal sound. You worked with Nathan Yaccino to track this record. What sort of insights did he give you?
MG: I worked in close collaboration with producer Nathan to create the sound of this record. I brought the finished songs to him, but we then spent a lot of time working together on just pre-production, tweaking the songs and experimenting with layers and structures before we even started recording. And once it came time to record I was honored to work with him on drums, percussion, vibraphone, and various other layers throughout the record. He’s a very talented multi-instrumentalist. We also worked with Alex Guy (of Led to Sea) who arranged and performed the strings on four of the songs (“Seventeen,” “South of Sound,” “Swansea,” and “Running Mate”), Maria Scherer Wilson on cello, and Jon Karschney on french horn. And I had the pleasure of performing vocals, keys, guitar, and synth bass, and various other additional layers as well.
AF: What does the future hold for Lemolo?
MG: I love to write songs and make melodies, and I have so many more new songs than I’m able to keep up with. So it is my dream that I am able to continue to record and share them, for as long as it continues to bring me joy. And I’m hoping that my new album is able to connect with people and move them in some way as well.
AF: Will you tour with Swansea?
MG: Yes! We leave for tour today (Thursday)! And I’m dreaming about touring the east coast with this new record too. Hopefully in 2020!
Follow Lemolo on Facebook for more updates, and check her out on one of the tour dates below.
9/19 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo* | Tickets
9/20 – Mission, B.C. @ Copper Hall^ | Tickets
9/22 – Spokane, WA @ Lucky You Lounge* | Tickets
9/24 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux* | Tickets
9/26 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room* | Tickets
9/27 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater* | Tickets
9/28 – Fort Collins, CO @ Washington’s* | Tickets
9/30 – Kansas City, MO @ recordBar* | Tickets
10/1 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe* | Tickets
10/2 – Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo Coffee* | Tickets
10/4 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall* | Tickets
10/5 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Hi-Fi* | Tickets
10/6 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar* | Tickets
10/12 – Seattle, WA @ St. Mark’s Cathedral with Special String Ensemble | Tickets
10/18 – San Francisco, CA @ Neck of the Woods | Tickets
10/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hotel Cafe (9-10 PM) | Tickets
11/2 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo+ | Tickets
11/16 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios+ | Tickets
*with Noah Gundersen
^with Andrew Judah