Meiko sings of ‘The Bright Side,’ and other sides, of relationships
ASPEN – How does a young female musician who focuses on writing songs about relationships distinguish herself from the rest of the young female musicians who write songs about relationships?
For Meiko, the answer seems to be to dive right in, unabashed. Her latest album, “The Bright Side,” released in May, is romance-oriented pop songs, front to end. What it adds up to is something more than the 3 1/2-minute pop ditty; instead it becomes something close to a song cycle that examines relationships in various stages, from multiple angles and moods.
Meiko – pronounced “MEE-ko,” a name adopted to connect with her part-Japanese heritage – began writing “The Bright Side” during the early days of a romance. The optimism of fresh love is evident in songs like the album-opening “Stuck on You” and the album-opening lyrics, “I must confess when I wear this dress/I feel like dancing the whole night with you.” That sunniness continues into “I’m in Love” (“He’s got me reeling from a meeting of our souls/La la la la”).
“I wanted to start off on a happy note,” Meiko said from a tour stop in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Meiko is happy to report that the relationship, with a journalist she met at the South by Southwest festival, still has that new-romance smell.
“It’s a long-distance relationship. It’s perfect; it helps me focus on my music and keep on track,” she said. “You meet in the middle now and then, get happy, part and go back to work. And it works perfectly because he has nothing to do with the music industry. It’s a nice yin and yang. I found myself being very optimistic, very much in love and happy.”
But while a healthy, well-balanced relationship might yield a few good songs, it probably doesn’t make an entire album. And a happy relationship doesn’t provide the conditions to write much music.
“A lot of those happy songs? I’d just be bored,” Meiko said. “It’s hard to write happy songs. You don’t think, ‘I’m so happy. I want to sit down and write a song.’ You want to be out living. Sad songs are easier. You have more free time to write them. When you’re depressed, you spend a lot of time by yourself, sitting in a room. And writing is cathartic.”
For the sad songs, Meiko uses imagination and perhaps the memories of relationships gone south. On “The Bright Side,” worry starts to creep in on “When the Doors Close”: Her friends warn her, but she’s confident that she knows best. “They don’t know you like I do,” she sings. Doubts surface on “Thinking Too Much” (“Is it so wrong to be this easy?”), and by “Lie to Me,” it’s evident there’s a measure of self-delusion happening (“I don’t wanna know your history/I don’t wanna know a single thing”). Infidelity and jealousy are introduced in “Real Real Sweet,” things get truly ugly in “Good Looking Loser,” and by the album-closing “I Wonder,” the singer seems to have given up on love altogether, as Meiko closes “The Bright Side” repeating the refrain, “Said I’m on my way/Gonna call it a day.”
Meiko says that using relationships as subject matter is a way to work out other issues.
“Insecurities, things I’m not super-confident about. Because the songs are all about me, all about firsthand experiences,” she said. “I dig into my self-conscious.”
Adding another layer of depth is the sound of “The Bright Side.” Meiko grew up listening to Sade, Carole King and the Cranberries, who were led by a female singer, Dolores O’Riordan. But she was raised in the South, in tiny Roberta, Ga., and counts as a major influence the dirty South style of hip-hop. In making “The Bright Side,” Meiko wanted more than acoustic guitars and a voice. In Sweden, she met Styrofoam, a Belgian producer who helped chop up the songs and add a slight electronic element to the sound.
“I know it’s pop music,” she said of the album. “But I grew up in the South, with a lot of soul and dirty South. I wanted to play electronic beats. I wanted to find a happy medium between organic acoustic and electronic stuff.”
Meiko performs with her four-piece band Tuesday at Belly Up Aspen, and at some points in the show, it might be hard to find the woman in a good relationship. “Real Real Sweet,” she says, is a song about a girlfriend of hers who accused Meiko of having an affair with her boyfriend.
“I’m a girly singer. But there’s also a trash-talking edge,” she said. “This song was to maybe mess with this girl’s head. I really like singing it. It’s fun to play live.”
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