This U.S. Girls interview I did for Ad Hoc a while ago was my first ever artist interview! I was so excited, especially because it was Megan Remy who writes really smart songs about gender politics and feelings and rape and prostitution and… yeah. I called her up while she was at home in Toronto. I did my best to not sound like a fan girl and we talked about the sex industry, collage, and Rineke Dijkstra. Ad Hoc published an abridged version but here is the interview in (almost) full.
Emily Wheeler: Um, so, I read all the interviews I could find of yours, I’m not like a creepy stalker this was just preparation. Are there any questions you absolutely hate being asked or any subjects that like, you don’t want brought up?
Megan Remy: Um, I hate being asked what the band name means. In every interview, they ask that. And I don’t really think it matters. But no, I’m game for anything else.
E: Sweet. Well I was reading one interview where you talked about wanting to make a new genre of college-educated girl groups?
M: Yeah, not just strictly college educated, just educated
E: I’m in college now and I’m just curious what you studied
M: I studied art
E: Oh, me too
M: I studied paper arts and graphic design, and um
E: Did you like it?
M: Yeah, I really loved college and feel fortunate that I was able to go, and I feel like I became a more well-rounded person from it. Yeah, I think I’m better off than just going straight from high school into the real world. But college isn’t for everyone, you know?
E: Yeah. And I’ve seen some of your art on your website. But do you have a dedicated website for your collages?
M: Yeah, I don’t have a website, I just use the blog. One thing to update is about all I can handle. So the blog is, that’s just where I put up anything that I feel like it. I like the format of it, and I can just put up a different collage every day, or every week… and it’s free.
E: Free is good. So I was wondering, do you see a connection between your art and your music?
M: Oh yeah, to me they’re just the same thing. Just part of me wanting to live a creative life and to always be making something. I think that my music sounds like how my collages look and my collages look like how my music sounds. They go hand in hand and they’re both just me.
E: Yeah I know what you mean. I noticed that on the last record “Girls On Kraak” you had two main songs but a significant amount of songs written from the perspective of girls. There was the one about abortion and the one about suicide that seemed pretty female-centric, and on this record I’ve noticed more songs that are written from the perspective of men, like “Jack” and “Rosemary”. I was wondering if that was intentional.
M: Well, “Jack” I didn’t write, but it is from the perspective of a man, but I thought it was interesting for a woman to sing it. Just the juxtaposition of that. And “Rosemary” is yeah, kind of from either perspective in my mind. It’s of a man singing to his wife, or his woman and it’s also of a mother singing to a child. So the perspective flips a lot. It’s an abstract emotional song, emotionally abstract. But it wasn’t a conscious thing really, it just came out. And the “Jack” song I wanted to do it because I just really love that song. It was just a bonus that the perspective was flipped and created some interesting static, if you will.
E: Yeah I liked that you did that because I’ve noticed that a lot of the time when women sing songs that were originally written for men, that they kind of flip it to the female pro-noun.
M: Yeah I don’t like that, I just don’t believe in pro-nouns or language having to do that.
E: And also in the second song, about the prostitutes.
M: Oh, “Work From Home”.
E: There’s hints of violence towards women, sexual violence.
M: Well that’s interesting that you picked up on that. I mean, when we’re thinking in our minds about prostitution that always seems to apply. That song was meant to sort of lighten the air about prostitution, not make a joke of it, but speak of it light-weight, fluffy, funny terms. To just say “it’s a job”. It’s the oldest profession in the world and it’s something that anyone— male or female— could fall back on if they needed to. Most of us have the tool that are needed for the job (laughs). I wasn’t thinking about any sort of violence when I was writing that song but it makes sense that you would pick that up.
E: I guess I was kind of looking for it.
M: Yeah, we connect the negative with that topic in our minds.
E: Yeah, it’s great that you have a song that’s so “pro” sex workers rights.
M: Yeah it just makes sense from a human perspective.
E: It made me start thinking about that, I hadn’t for a little while.
M: If you’re not doing it, you’re probably not thinking about it. But it’s going on all the time all over the world, in good ways and in bad ways. It’s such a part of our world and has been since, the beginning of commerce.
E: Yeah I guess I started to think about it— and sadly— because in the United States it’s illegal so the people don’t have the same protection from sexual violence that they should.
M: Yeah exactly, and hopefully people will think about that, it’d be great if it made people think about that.
E: Well it made me think about it. And “Jack’— which I know you didn’t write— has the chorus ‘you dress the way you do’ and that seems kind of topical in light of “Slutwalk” and all the protesting about victim-blaming for the way they dress.
M: Definitely. I didn’t write the song, so I don’t know what the intention was of the man to the lyrics. It’s about Jack The Ripper, a dream he had about Jack The Ripper so I’m not sure how that line plays into his narrative but that line definitely makes me think about that age old thing of “well, she was asking for it”, “she went out of the house looking like that, and if you do go out of the house looking like that, you’re asking for it. What did you expect t happen? Of course you’re going to get attacked and raped. Of course you’re going to be murdered”. How, so many times it’s been the women’s fault.
E: Yeah and it’s really upsetting. I was just also wondering, in your earlier albums you gained a reputation for being a loner and liking to work by yourself. I was just curious as to what you felt the differences were working with Slim Twig as a producer and just what it’s like to record with somebody, I’m always interested. I’m not a musician myself.
M: Well the thing about Slim Twig is that he’s also my husband so he knows me pretty well. He really allows me to still be a loner, working in my head. I was self-sufficient for a really long time and it’s best when I work by myself. So he was definitely very patient with me and understanding that it a big step for me to bring other people into the fold and trust them with my songs. So he made me really comfortable and made the transition really simple for me. And it’s definitely different having other people around, people to bounce ideas off, people to be able to do something like play a piano line that you can’t do. It ups the level of the music— at least in my case— to be able to pull other people’s talents and ideas aswell. I’m not a trained musician so really when I’m recording alone the possibilities are only so high, I can only do so much alone. Whereas when I’m bringing in other people with different talents from me, the possibilities are really pretty endless. So I think it definitely helps the quality and how dynamic the music is now.
E: Yeah I’m really glad you found somebody that you’re as comfortable being with as you are by yourself.
M: Yeah it’s really great, it’s kind of why I married him (laughs).
E: I was looking at your videos, you direct most if not all of them.
M: Yeah I’ve directed two of them and then the rest were all pretty strict collaborations with other video artists. So if I wasn’t the full director I still had a big part to play.
E: It’s nice that in that way your videos can really go with your songs becaue they’re kind of a continuation of your vision.
M: Visuals really matter to me. They’re really powerful and hold a lot of weight. I feel I really need to have a say in every video just so that I feel the song is represented correctly.
E: Last night I was watching the video for “North On Forty Five” which I really liked but unfortunately I haven’t had the time to really think about it as much as I should have, but I was especially curious whether you attached any significance to her dropping her robe?
M: Yeah. The dropping of the robe and the picking up and putting on of the robe, for me it was symbolic of shedding the skin, moving on. Lightening the load. Getting rid of things that were really pressing on you, continually. And the picking up and getting the robe on is symbolic of, power, covering up. Then on flip-side, of staying where you are. Being told what to do, keeping yourself in the mud, coming upon something and doing it— not because you want to but because it’s what you’re used to. It’s kind of abstract, kind of a hard thing to express which I why I think I write songs and make visual art instead of writing novels. (laughs)
E: Well, you expressed yourself very well. (laughs) I found that really extended the meaning of the song for me but I noticed— and correct me if I’m wrong— you kind of took a classic stereotype of violence again. She’s running away, the car is coming after her, she’s a deer in the headlights, but there are certain shots where you see her face and she doesn’t look scared. She looks really empowered.
M: Yeah, definitely the juxtaposition of the running away and then running towards. Running from something and then, the flip-side, she’s almost chasing the car. She’s the one who’s moving forward while the car is moving backwards, at a kind of disadvantage. But there’s also another meaning there, like you said, the violence. She’s running away from it and then on the other side she’s running towards it, which again is something that we all do a lot in our lives— running towards things we know are bad for us— for whatever reason.
E: Yeah I really liked how multi-faceted it was. It had many interpretations. So in one of your interviews somebody mentioned Cindy Sherman and you said that you enjoyed her work. I started thinking in your songs it’s almost like you put on personas like Cindy Sherman does in her photography. Are there any other visual artists who you feel inspire you specifically?
M: Yeah well a big one is Andy Warhol. I feel like he played a lot with characters, archetypes and presenting these things that we’re often faced with—bombarded with— and showed them from a different perspective. Showing people visually but then letting them speak for themselves and not being scripted. I think that’s really interesting— not just to mention the aesthetic, which I find really appealing. But I mean, Cindy Sherman is definitely a big one for me. Recently I just got into this photographer too, who has show up in the Guggenheim and I cannot pronounce her name. (Laughs)
E: Rineke Dijkstra I think?
M: Yes. I love her. Her work in person, and then I bought the book too for the show. That was a really powerful thing for me. Something about it reminds me of Cindy Sherman but she’s using real people and just using the real people, and shooting them and letting the narrative completely leave it up to the viewer. And that’s interesting because the viewer is making up these narratives— these pretend ideas and stories— in life for these people that actually do exist. Not like these characters in Cindy Sherman, dressing up as a disgruntled housewife or something. These are real people, who actually have lives and stories but you then look at it and make up your own. I was really taken by her show.
E: Yeah I saw it. I loved it.
M: It was so good I cried at it. Really intense.
E: Well, my professors will be happy to hear you liked it. (laughs) And then this something you have spoken about in lots of other interviews, so I guess I should include it incase people haven’t done research. Your musical influences, you like the old-time radio, do you like current pop songs?
M: Yeah, I mean I’m just a child of pop from old until now. I don’t follow pop-radio as much as I did in 2000 and before, when I was younger. But I still every month will have a song that’s new from the radio that I love, that I just pick up on from flipping around stations. But the radio has definitely been my biggest influence, my biggest kind of view into music. I listened to it non-stop as a kid and I still listen to a lot of am radio. Even though they cull all the old songs, it’s very rare that I’m surprised or shown a new song but there’s just something about the way I feel about radio, it gives me a certain kind of alertness and absorption rate that helps me when I’m working on collages or cleaning the house or driving or anything. It just seems to open another part of my brain. And on top of that I’m glad of the stuff I got into from the radio like The Ronettes, and how I got into Phil Spector and how he recorded everything and who he worked with, and it just grows and grows and grows. So I’ve still learned a lot from the radio and it got me into things that they don’t play on the radio, just through one song and you search it out and research it. If not the radio, it’s just friends telling me about things, playing me records and me liking them. It’s a pretty broad thing, I like Free-Jazz all the way up to I don’t know, you know? Britney Spears!
E: And what’s your pop-radio song of the month this month?
M: I don’t know, I’d have to think because I only hear it when I turn on the radio you know? (laughs)
E: Well, I’d tell you to turn on the radio but I don’t know if you’re anywhere near a radio right now.
M: I’ll see if I can think of the last one that I heard that I’ve been singing.
E: Do you have any thoughts on how radio is kind of becoming obsolete in our current music culture?
M: Yeah I think it’s sad because it’s free. It’s really free, I mean you need the console but it’s much easier to get a radio than a computer. People may say “Oh well you can post music for free on the internet” but you have to have a computer, or access to one. While any person on the street, living under a bridge can have a radio. Hear music, hear news, hear interviews, stories, whatever. And it’s sad that that’s going to go away. I don’t think it’s going to disappear in our lifetime but it’s definitely becoming less important.
E: Yeah. Like newspapers. So much that used to be like staples. I remember my favourite radio station was on am radio. Late nights they used to play this show called “Music from Other Minds” and it was experimental and classical. Yeah and even though I try to stay informed and read blogs, you don’t get that same way. That something totally different to what you’re used to.
M: Yeah it’s different with the radio because you’re not in control. The only thing you’re in control of is changing the dial or turning it off and on. Unless you call in a request or something, but it’s exciting, there’s this element of surprise. And it’s different then, with the internet where you type in the song you want to hear, you’re really in control. I mean there is internet radio and there are still DJs and people putting it up, it’s just in a different form I guess.
E: Hopefully the medium will survive somehow.
M: I think so.
E: Have you found since you moved to Toronto, has anything changed about your songwriting process? How heavily does your environment influence you in that regard?
M: Well I think moving to Toronto and starting a new life and getting married and being happy in life has maybe changed the things I write about. I’m feeling like I’m in a safe place in my life that has allowed me to maybe dig a little deeper into my mind and my feelings to talk about things I didn’t want to talk about before. But now I have some supports and some safety so I feel ok to enter into the dark corners.
E: Well I’m really glad that you’re happy. That sounds cheesy but it really makes me happy that people can find that.
M: Yeah it can. I don’t know how I found it but I’m glad I did.
E: And then I was just curious if there’s anything that you wished peolpe asked you that they didn’t. Or anything you’d like to broadcast to the world.
M: I don’t think so. I’m perplexed that anybody wants to ask me anything.
M: Well, you know, who am I to answer questions about things? What I ahve to say I really say it in the things I create so it might feel a bit uncomfortable for me. It’s not my medium. (laughs)
E: (laughs) Well I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.
M: Every interview does, you’ve done very nicely.
E: Thanks. I find you very articulate and intelligent so I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say.
M: Well, thank you.
E: That’s really all the questions I have for you.
M: Well, congratulations on your first interview.
E: Thank you. Congratulations on the record.
M: Thank you and best of luck with school.
E: Thank you. I’ll make sure to stop by at the next show in New York.