Interview a Creative: Songwriting with Meredith Coons of Lamb's Ear, Part I

It's a major challenge to put words to Meredith. As one of my oldest, most faithful friends and a soulful creative, she is also approachable, stirring, and lovely. My childhood is marked by creating with Meredith, and as we've grown older, we've become even more kindred. Simultaneously, I've witnessed her musical pursuits grow deep and greater in abundance, like a great oak tree.

She's written songs since she was a small child. Now she writes for her band, Lamb's Ear, as well as working on collaborations. She leads a full life. When she's not nurturing her little ones, dressing up as Anna from Frozen, or pursuing a graduate degree, she's making time for writing songs. Since my words will fail at capturing who Meredith is, I'll let her share her own story of creativity. Here's the interview.

Emily Hawkins: I have known you since you were born, for those who aren't familiar with our history. Your dad has written songs for as long as I can remember, and you have always been a musical person. Can you talk about your musical beginnings and if you remember when you first began writing songs?

Meredith Coons: Yes. In fact, some of my early songwriting memories consist of collaborations with you! Being friends with you all my life has been an honor, truly. My first memories of writing songs begin at about age six, when I discovered that I could record my voice on my dad's old boombox. I would hit the button and improvise songs about whatever was on my mind. When I was in third grade, I began actually writing lyrics pen-to-paper, and even had a little band. Around then, my dad also taught me to harmonize with him. Guitar came into the picture around middle school, and I kind of dabbled with songwriting throughout high school. Before graduating college with my BA in Creative Writing, I started to take music seriously and it all took off from there.

EH: You are married to a songwriter. What is it like to write songs separately and together?

MC: Songwriting really drew us together. You can learn a lot about a person by listening to their songs, and I think certain types of writers (including my husband and myself) really aim to connect with people through the songs they write, so it makes sense that we fell in love by listening intently to each other's music. We've always been each other's biggest fans, and I love having the opportunity to hear his perspective on this life we're living reflected in the songs he writes. We have actually never written anything together, though! I think songwriting has always been more of a solitary pursuit for each of us, though I would love to try writing together in the future.

EH: You are studying to become a speech pathologist, you work part-time as a party princess, you host get-togethers for vegan families, and you have two little ones (among other things)! How do you find time to be creative?

MC: I am extremely busy (grad school and the kids are the primary culprits), and finding dedicated creative time is difficult. I end up writing down lines or concepts whenever I think of them, wherever I can. Sometimes one of my kids will say something in this poetic little way, and I'll modify it somewhat and jot it down, so time with them gets worked into my creative process. To form those little scribbles and stray lines into anything cohesive, however, does take a concerted effort, and making time for that is hard. Giving myself deadlines is useful. Sometimes, I'll have a show coming up, which forces me to finish whatever I'm working on so that I have something new to play. Collaboration is also helpful, because I want to make sure I'm working on my end of things. The immensely talented artist/poet Trinidad Escobar and I have just begun a collaborative project that we're pretty excited about, so I want to make sure I'm honoring her time and effort by putting in work of my own. That's a pretty effective motivator. The last time I finished a song was this past Friday, when she and I had our weekly email exchange and I had a show to play that same night!

EH: You seem to have such a cool confidence with your creative endeavors. Have you always felt comfortable creating and putting your work out there?

MC: Thank you! I'm glad I come across that way, though I don't feel like I'm especially confident. I do feel pretty comfortable creating — probably because I've been doing it for so long. It's a part of me, and I can't imagine my life without it. As for putting my work out there... that's not so comfortable! Marketing oneself is absolutely necessary for musicians, and I tend to be pretty passive. I don't want to bug anybody by shoving my songs in their face (or ears, I guess). When it comes to promoting my shows, or the music I have available for download, I am the worst! I have come to actually enjoy performing, though, which wasn't always the case. I used to get very nervous. At this point, I feel like I can compensate a little better when things go wrong and just incorporate my messes into the show. That makes it more of a fun challenge than an all-out catastrophe.

EH: What is it like to find your style and to allow your inspirations to shape your work?

MC: Finding my style has been fun, especially lately as I get older and care less about what people think of me. There's a bit of stigma attached to being a female musician, and I have definitely experienced some of that. When I started out, I tried to write these complicated songs with lots of fingerpicking to justify my place in the music scene. I still love fingerpicking, but I've realized that I need to adapt my songwriting practice to my life's current circumstances and simplify things a bit. And the songs can still be good! Since I've been doing the princess thing (and listening to lots of David Bowie), I've become really interested in the impact it can have on art to experiment with different personas. I'm not about to do any kind of Ziggy Stardust thing, but I'm definitely giving myself permission now to try things that I used to say were not for me. With stripped down guitar parts, I can concentrate more on my singing — bring out my inner Elsa! I've also been wanting to see what it would be like to play electric. I used to be so afraid of being loud in any way, but now I put on fake eyelashes, wigs, and fluffy gowns and belt my heart out for children, so that fear is quickly dissipating. I'm also striving to be fearless in terms of the topics I choose to write about. Thao Nguyen recently released an album in which she grapples with her father having left when she was a child, which had always been an untouchable subject for her. Her openness in crafting that album has really been an inspiration to me. Beyond that, I've been really responding to female rappers, like Nicki Minaj, and the raw confidence they display in their songs. I'd like to try to find my take on that, because it is totally unlike me to write that way, which would make it really fun to explore!

Can't get enough of Meredith? Totally understandable. Stay tuned for Part II of her interview next week. In the meantime, check her out on Tumblr and Bandcamp