When the pandemic hit, local folk-rocker
Megan Slankard noticed many San Franciscans following their survival instincts and leaving town. Her gut, however, told her not only to stay put in her Castro District apartment, but to burrow in deeper to her music-making career, even though it had been put on perpetual hold.
“And I feel sorry for my neighbors, because I just love making noise,” says the singer, whose latest lockdown-compiled “California & Other Stories” album will be released Friday.
She managed to record it in Nashville with crafty Vienna Teng producer Alex Wong while staying busy writing and recording one new song a month for her Patreon-page subscribers. And with every passing week, she recalls, she found more innovative new ways to make a racket.
“While those who could were fleeing The City, I was checking online sites like NextDoor and Craigslist, because people were giving away all of their hobby instruments, like, ‘Hey — we’re moving to the country and just trying to get rid of stuff!’” says Slankard, 39, not wanting to sound opportunistic.
It simply made good business sense for her to buy as many varied noisemakers as she could — a flute, banjo, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, lap steel, French horn — and to learn how to play and incorporate them into her recordings. At a time when many of her peers were creatively adrift, Slankard had a concrete plan of action, one that wound up sustaining her in more ways than she could imagine.
Ex // Top Stories
S.F. officials made an exception to City rules on Tuesday that will allow them to solicit donations for a supervised injection site
Dharmesh Patel, 41, remains in San Mateo County Jail without bail while awaiting a trio of attempted murder charges
2023 was poised to be a pivotal year but the upheaval in the banking sector will have near- and long-term impacts
For eight years, the musician had been part of Patreon — a support page where artists offer exclusive tiered-level content to diehard fans — and she upped the new-material ante during lockdown with a monthly “Tea Time” live-streamed show, wherein she drank tea, rambled at length about songwriting and dug into her early material, dating as far back as her awkward “Lady is a Pirate” debut, which she cut at 17.
“And I occasionally forget how to play them, so sometimes my ‘Tea Time’ is a complete disaster,” she says. But now her Patreon community has grown so warm and comfortable that they all regularly hang out together in pre-show Zoom meetings, where she can ask for their friendly advice on current works in progress, like songs or their attendant videos. “So I look at my subscribers more as friends now,” she says. “And it’s like the indie record label of the future, where all the members come up with these amazing ideas and input. It’s awesome.”
It also helped that one of Slankard’s best San Francisco buds was concert promoter K.C. Turner — who took a mask-mandate- respectful concert concept and ran with it, launching a successful series of driveway and backyard shows while most venues remained shuttered. She swears she still has the urgent mid-2020 email she sent her friend, saying “K.C., you’d better start now, because you’re going to save the entire Bay Area — somebody’s gotta be a superhero, and it’s gonna be you!” Naturally, she figured prominently in the K.C Turner Presents lineup.
Slankard didn’t lyrically dwell on grim pandemic isolation for her “California” treaties, however. She already had some dark emotional source material to mine — a recent romantic breakup that threw her for a loop, which was only reconciled when said beau finally left California. Initially, she had divided the eye-opening experience into two EPs: a hard-rocking angry one, featuring anthems like “California,” “Magical Thinking” and the self-explanatory “I Want to Be Loved”; and a second softer, more thoughtful one boasting the quieter reflections “Carl Sagan,” “I Can Love” and an album-closing “Oil In the Ocean.”
The inventive studio whiz Wong urged her to think more cinematically and add ingredients like vocal samples and French horn in the process. One track, “Something More,” even finds her playing a fiery electric-guitar lead over robotic synthesized percussion. “I love making acoustic music, and I love playing acoustic guitars,” she says. “But I secretly love to rock!”
Slankard doesn’t want to sound like she’s been celebrating lockdown. But on her own well before it, she says, “I was already talking to my plants and having full-on conversations with my cat, Oliver, So I just dove into that new introverted mindset.” And while she does apologize to anyone within earshot who was privy to her ensuing instrumental home experiments, she offers one caveat. “Because also, there’s a little girl in my neighborhood who’s learning recorder, and I can hear her quite clearly through the walls,” she says. “So if she can play the recorder? Hey — I can play the trumpet!”