Portland, Oregon doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think about blues-inspired singers like Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin. But that’s the home of artist Meagan Sky, whose incredible voice and songwriting put her in the select company of all-time greats like that duo, plus Dusty Springfield and Adele.
For someone this magnificently talented, Meagan took a circuitous path to her calling. She worked as a creative director and brand-builder for many years before pursuing her dream full-on.
In addition to releasing her brilliant debut album I’ll Be The One, Meagan is also a career mentor to fellow creatives, helping them trust their instincts and talent.
Meagan Sky is the most impressive blues and soul singer since the arrival of UK singer Mica Millar. To use an obvious pun, sky’s the limit for this artist.
Your voice is fabulous! I hear influences like Bonnie Raitt and Adele. Did you start singing in high school…and who were your favorite singers growing up?
Thank you! That’s quite the compliment. My dad has always been a big Bonnie Raitt fan, so I heard her music often when I was growing up and then later when I was in college I came across a live recording of her at the Rainbow Room in Philadelphia from around 1977. I must have listened to that recording a thousand times. And I started to learn to sing songs from that set-list. But my love of singing started long before any of that. I must have been about 6 years old when I decided I wanted to be a singer “when I grew up.” I spent the rest of my life chasing that idea, often leaving it behind only to come back to it again.
In junior high in Oakland CA, I joined a gospel choir. This was one of the most inspiring musical environments I had ever been in. I mean, these girls could SING! It was then that I fell in love with Aretha Franklin and realized I had a passion for soul singing. I went on to study jazz vocals and fell in love with Etta James, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. As far as Adele, I remember the first time I heard “Hello”. I was driving on the freeway and the radio was on low volume, but her voice just cut through. I turned it up and she had me in tears within the first four measures. She has had a massive influence on my music. Her phrasing, bold choruses and melodies are fascinating to me.
“I’ll Be The One” has that authentic sound of Dusty Springfield in Memphis. How did you find your horn players in Portland, Oregon?
Yes, all the horn players are from Portland. Actually the whole album was recorded with live instruments in the studio, which gives it this really authentic, warm vibe. When I first wrote “I’ll Be the One” I hadn’t even imagined adding horns. But at a certain point while I was creating the album, my producer Raymond Richards and I realized horns would add such a rich layer to the sonic palette. And I’ve always had a sweet spot for New Orleans brass bands and the horn stylings in Al Green’s music. So we took the plunge and started writing up horn (and string) arrangements for all the songs, then brought in the players to add their own interpretation and flavor. When the baritone sax started playing the bass line for “I’ll Be the One”, we knew we were onto something. I remember Raymond and I looking at each other with our jaws dropped. It was like the song really came to life and a whole new layer of sonic dimension was added to the album!
What’s the backstory on your great song “Tension And Release”? What were you feeling when you wrote it?
Ah yes, this song is really special to me. It’s been like an anthem for me as I work on self-love and showing up for myself. It’s about this feeling I had for most of my life (and still wrestle with) which is this feeling of being stuck between wanting more for yourself but feeling like it’s just out of reach. When I wrote this song, I was becoming more and more restless in my own life, craving more alignment to my calling (to create and perform music) and feeling stuck, only to realize it was my own limiting beliefs that were holding me back. This is a big part of my self-love process: allowing myself to dream big AND not getting down on myself for not having achieved those goals yet. It’s about not playing the victim in your own life and getting out of your own way.
Do you ever use synths in the studio or is it all analog, like in the early careers of Dusty and Bonnie Raitt?
I use synth, plug-ins and some samples when creating my demos, but when it was time to record I chose to go all-analog. I worked with Raymond at Red Rockets Glare, and he has an amazing studio and process of recording all live instruments. So everything from the Hammond B and tympani to the horns and strings were recorded live with amazing session musicians. This album has really been an exploration of finding my sound. I tried other routes, like using 808 drums and digital synths, but it didn’t have the warmth and soul I was looking for. I knew going into this album that I wanted live hip-hop-inspired drums (a la Quest Love), organ, Wurly, Rhodes and all of these instruments that were there in Raymond’s studio, ready for us to use and experiment with. We did use the Prophet and Nord keyboards on a song or two, to create a few synth sounds, but they were created in analog and were custom for each song.
Tell us more about your consulting/coaching career, where you strive to uplift and empower your creative clients.
When I began crafting my album, I started the process of learning how to truly see myself and how to leverage my unique story and artistic perspective into a brand experience for my fans. This was one of the most challenging growth periods for me and I gathered many tools and insights along the way that have made it more and more easy to show up authentically and share my music. I realized other musicians, creatives and coaches out there could benefit from what I had learned. So, I decided to fuse together my 18 years of creative direction and brand-building experience to help other creatives brand themselves. I’m currently working with clients one-on-one to build their personal brands so that they can step forward into their gifts and launch their creative offerings out into the world with confidence. The process is alchemic, tailored to each person’s core values and creative endeavors. I absolutely LOVE helping people see just how amazing they are! You can check out my personal branding services at youaretheone.me.