Megan Henwood: ‘I write from a very honest place and that isn’t going to change’
On the eve of the release of her second album, Head Heart Hand, Shire Folk caught up with Oxford-based singer songwriter and Nettlebed Folk Club habitué Megan Henwood. It’s been six years since she and her brother Joe won the BBC Young Folk Award, so first we asked …
SF: Do you feel BBC Young Folk Award pigeonholed you in the folk genre and has the award been a blessing or a curse?
MH: I won the Young Folk Award with my brother Joe and it was in no way a curse – it was a huge shock because it was so unexpected, but it was amazing and we both felt incredibly blessed to be involved. We genuinely didn’t think that we were in the running, we were just enjoying the experience of meeting fantastic musicians and even now, six years later, it still feels like a crazy dream. It opened many doors for us both, it solidified my decision to become a full-time musician through the confidence it gave me and I am so grateful for all the things I have learnt and all the people I’ve met during the folk award journey.
In terms of feeling pigeonholed, my outlook on that has remained the same since I began making music, and winning the folk award has not changed that. I do not write with any conscious genre confines, I do not produce my songs with any thought of ‘what will the folk world think’ or ‘what demographic am I pitching this to’ – that is limiting, it makes me feel claustrophobic and frustrated and I can’t write in that mind set. Some people might see this as self-indulgent, others might think I should be more savvy – I simply do not care. I write from a very honest place and that isn’t going to change.
SF: It’s been four years since the release of your debut album, Making Waves. Why the wait?
MH: Similar to my stubbornness in not pigeonholing my creative output, I refused to feel pressured or rushed into finishing it – I wanted to make something I was proud of, something that felt genuine and honest – I had to think and learn a lot during that process and that takes time. I moved to Oxford and spent an intense year writing in a tiny, mouldy, attic room home studio. I set my personal standards high, I was cruel to myself, I discarded over three-quarters of the songs I wrote. It was painful and difficult and I loved it.
During this time my brother was working brutally hard to turn 580 straw bales and 8 tonnes of plaster into an inspiring, creative and beautiful professional recording studio – which he has achieved in such an amazing way. But when we started recording Head Heart Hand, the studio was still only half-finished so this slowed the process on some occasions – I didn’t mind!
SF: How do you think you’ve developed over those four years?
MH: I have learnt so much – I’m much more aware of what I need to do to keep improving and developing, I am more focused on where to direct my energy in order to achieve the targets I set myself. I have more confidence in my live show – where once things felt daunting, they are now exciting – or perhaps I just find the fear exhilarating now?!
Co-producing Head Heart Hand with Tom Excell has been the biggest learning curve for me. Production is about enhancing the songs to reach their full potential, but there are countless ways in which to do that, which can be overwhelming. Tom and I chose to be free, creative and open minded within the plethora of production possibilities, rather than confine and concern ourselves with what people would think of the outcome.
I still have a long way to go and it’s been a tough four years, but I am so glad to have had the time to concentrate on my song craft and performance – I appreciate people’s patience too!
SF: The lyrics on your new album, Head Heart Hand, are quite densely packed and carefully considered. I assume the lyrics are very important to you? Do they come first or the music?
MH: Lyrics are the most important thing to me. In terms of what comes first, it really depends. Sometimes I have full poems/songs written and work the music around them, other times it all happens together. ‘Chemicals’, ‘Garden’ and ‘Painkiller’ were songs that were written in quite a flowing, organic and cathartic way. Others took longer and warranted more scrutiny. I often write a song and then only realise what I was writing about a good time later – it’s a strange penny-drop moment.
SF: Folk musician Jackie Oates appears on six of the tracks. How did you come to work with her and what do you think she brings to the album?
MH: I am so lucky that Jackie was kind enough to contribute her beautiful voice and viola playing to the album! Our paths crossed a few times over the years but we properly met at Nettlebed Folk Club and then began making music together (with encouragement from Mike Sanderson!). She is a wonderful woman and incredible musician – her approach is so intuitive and sensitive and she has taught me a lot. Her harmonies sparkle on the album tracks and her voice still makes the hairs on the back of my neck do a little dance. I feel blessed that she was willing to be involved and very lucky to call her my friend. I am in pure admiration of every single musician who played on Head Heart Hand. They are all phenomenal players who have inspired me greatly.
Head Heart Hand is out now on Dharma Records