U.S. Girls is Meg Remy’s musical moniker. The Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist’s music traces a circuitous evolution. It encompasses unconventional, challenging sound work as prominently as her vocally-driven explorations of American pop mores (often on the same album). Since 2007, Remy has toured several times in Europe, Eastern Canada and the United States. She accompanies her hugely distinctive voice with innovative set-ups, including combinations of reel-to-reel players, tape decks, and samplers, as well as occasionally singing with a full band. Remy has released a clutch of original records on labels as diverse as Siltbreeze, Kraak, FatCat and her own Calico Corp. imprint.
Her latest album Heavy Light was released in March 2020 via 4AD.
Meghan Remy is the creative force behind U.S. Girls, and she released her latest album under the name this year, just as the pandemic took over everyone’s lives. Jack Name just released Magic Touch, his third album. The two have known each other a while, and U.S. Girls even covered a Jack Name song. Here, they chat about pre-and post-COVID life, and the gift of not touring.
—Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor
Meghan Remy: I think it feels like a silly time to put out a record.
Jack Name: Yeah.
Meg: It’s all gambling. I found that I don’t ever want to stop making things regardless if they’re consumed by other people or not. And I found that the best course of action is to require the least amount of money in my life possible. We don’t buy new stuff. We don’t have the internet, and we don’t have Netflix, and we don’t have these things that add up that just get charged to your account all the time. You kind of live simply and do without.
Jack: You’re usually happier if you take some of that stuff away.
Meg: Yeah, because no one knows now that you don’t need it. Because they basically made it so that you do. And especially now with all the COVID stuff, it’s like they’re equating technology with safety and health.
Jack: Your whole tour got canceled, right?
Meg: Yeah. And I love playing shows, but I do not like touring. I’ve been touring a long time, and having such big bands the past few years, it is a whole rigamarole getting out on the road. The fees that U.S. Girls are pulling in are not fees that are equivalent to the band that exists. It’s not enough to be paying eight, nine people. So when it got canceled, it was disappointing, but also a little bit of a relief for me. I felt a little bit like I dodged a bullet, knowing I was about to go out on this long ass tour with brutal drives. I was going to get sick, I was going to get hemorrhoids, I was going to have to kind of dissolve myself for a while.
And COVID, the first lockdown… I don’t know how many times in my life I had a job and I was like, I wish the world would just stop today, so I didn’t have to go to my job. And that happened. And it was like, Woah, OK. What am I going to do with this time? The thing that I always wished for occurred. So we tried to make the best of it, reading a lot and talking a lot and thinking about what’s going on, and questioning the future, and dissecting our pasts, and getting outside a lot, and just slowing down even in terms of acquaintances, all the people we know. Like do I need to keep up with each person that I know? Do I need to spread myself thin in that way?
And that’s obviously happening concurrently while people are dying and suffering all over the world, of course. Your good time is always concurrently happening with that if you’re having one. Then summer opened up again. Here they started opening everything up — eating inside, and bars, and all of that. And it’s like people just kind of forgot. And then it just got so bad here again. So we’re in what should be a lockdown like last spring, but they’re not doing it because of the economy.
Meg: So it’s this very confusing time that the medical establishment and science is being like, “Don’t leave your house. Make your bubble really small. Wear the mask. This is serious.” Then you have these economic interests of the province and the country being like, “It’s not.” But I know it’s nothing like the States.
Jack: Everything is so weird here, even right now. I don’t know who’s going to be the president. It’s like, “Maybe you’ll find out in five minutes.” Obviously I’m pretty concerned, I wonder if I am going to be, “Oh, let’s just go drive into Mexico City real quick or something.” I don’t know. I’m considering my options. But it’s super crazy here. And yeah, suddenly having all that time, and not knowing what to do with it. I would have thought, Oh, I’ll just make music all day long. But if you’re in your house alone all day, after a couple days it starts to get pretty weird.
Meg: Have you seen anyone during that time, during the major lockdown time?
Jack: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I was dating somebody, but that was funny, too, because it expedited the whole thing where it was like you’ve been with somebody for three months, but it feels like you were together for three years. You’re pretty much living together. It’s a weird kind of way to do things.
Meg: Well, it seems that people were either breaking up or it just seemed to be a very revealing thing.
Jack: If you’re in somebody’s life and you’re excited about it, and then all of the sudden someone says, “Oh, you guys got to just stick together now.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal at all at first. And then a few months in you’re like, “Woah.” I’m grateful that that was a part of that experience for me. The people that I know that were completely alone through it felt like that it was a good realization after the challenge.
Meg: I know people that didn’t touch another human being for six months.
Jack: I know people that are still freaked out, like, “I’m not leaving my house.” And I get kind of nervous about some of my friends because they’re getting kind of weird.
Meg: It’s this weird thing that’s making me realize how little control I have over other people. Where you can be so mad at other people, and you can be disgruntled and think you know best and stuff, but it’s just like you’re dealing constantly, whether you’re standing across from one person or a thousand people, you’re dealing with someone that was molded in completely different conditions than you. It doesn’t mean that you’re right. You may be right for you, and your ideas are right for you, but I don’t know.
Max [Turnbull, Meg’s husband] and I are both on this trip right now where we’re really trying to not talk shit on people. The other day we were like, “We need a code word that when someone starts talking shit, we say this code word and then we just stop.” We don’t want to talk shit about people. When you do that, it’s showing a lack in yourself.
Jack: Like you say, not only can’t we control people, but we don’t always understand people. Even if somebody’s done something so crappy, everything leading up to that moment goes into it. Forgiveness is a real important thing that people used to probably take more seriously. Because nobody knows what you’ve been going through and how it got there. And remorse is real. And so when we talk shit about people, it’s brutality in a weird way, like on a social level.
Meg: And it seeps into everything. I’ve been in Canada 10 years, and watching America from afar and being in touch with it mostly through people I know, and then through traveling there and stuff, it’s just like everyone’s just talking shit on each other. That’s what’s so wild with the election, over 60 million people voted for Trump. You can’t hate all those people. You can’t say, “Throw those people in a pit and they’re done.”
Jack: No, and some people tried.
Meg: But that’s the thing, I’ve really found that the more that I focus on myself, trying to understand myself and clean my side of the street, if I’m just cleaning out my shit and holding myself responsible and doing the work that I can do, the better I can handle when I have to come up against someone that’s done no work. Do you know what I mean? I’m able to have empathy and be like, “I’m going to see you in your context and I’m going to just accept you and feel for you. And hope that something shifts for you, because I can see pain inside of you,” instead of being like, “What the fuck’s wrong with this person? This person’s a moron.”
Jack: Right. Or trying to convince them to be the way you want them to be right now.
Meg: That’s what I’m saying. We’re all in the same boat right now. We don’t even know the full brunt of the climate crisis yet. What the fuck is that going to look like? You can’t vote to change that. You can vote for Joe Biden and his flimsy climate plan, but the climate changed.
Jack: And pointing at people isn’t going to help, either. What can we do now? It’s important to understand how we get somewhere, I guess, but in a situation like that, it won’t be a practically viable thing to do with the time that you have to point fingers at each other and be like, “Oh, well you voted for this guy.” And I wonder sometimes: Do I want to shout this person out of existence or do I want to somehow persuade them to see things differently? And I could fight with people, but then they’re just going to walk away thinking, Look at this lefty guy.
Meg: Yeah, like you’re an idiot.
Jack: If you can stop and be compassionate and try to find some middle ground or try to talk to somebody you actually might be able to have them say like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about it that way and that’s kind of a good point.” Maybe they’ll take another year of thinking about it. Maybe it’s a seed you put in their brain. I understand the frustration that’s going into some of the situations, but I don’t know, it seems like it’s kind of one step forward, two or three steps back sometimes.
Meg: I think about death a lot. I think about death daily, which I really find helps, do you know what I mean? If this is my last day on Earth, do I really want to be fucking screaming at someone or talking shit on someone? It’s like we’re getting so stressed out about the planet, and then the minute you leave the stratosphere and you go up, it’s like nothing that is an issue here exists. It completely disappears and you go into infinite possibility. And you go into everything happening, at the same time not happening. It’s so vast. It’s so small at the same time. It’s everything. And nothing is so strange and yet comforting, and I try to get my brain to that spot as much as possible.
Jack: That’s what I do love about touring. Going on a nine-hour drive, for some people that sounds hideous, but I just love watching the land. You’re coming over some mountain, you see some crazy… just all of it. It takes me out of the stupid little bubble of whatever city that you’re from, and the people that you know, and the scenes, and the dramas, and all that stuff. Especially leaving LA, it’s kind of amazing because suddenly you’re in that weird Nevada. It looks like the moon or something. And instantly all of that stuff just goes away. I need to spend more time in nature. For some reason I keep imagining that it might be fun to go skydiving. I’m terrified of heights, so that would be like the worst comfort zone, but for some reason it seems like it would also be so much fun to just be floating in the air. Have you ever done it?
Meg: No. I would. I think it’s good to let go of control. I feel that sometimes about falling in love with Max and deciding to really go for it, and surrender. Because you have to surrender to jump out of a plane. You can’t half do it. You either fucking jump or you don’t. And I’ve found that really was my relationship, like I surrendered to it, but the rewards I got back are just… and those don’t even really have to do anything with Max. That really just came to me that I got from the act of surrendering and not trying to control something too much and strangle it too much and be strategic. I think it’s good for us to do that, especially because our culture is not that now. Everything’s so curated. Everything is so, like you’re talking about personalities, really there are no personalities. Everything they put up online, they triple check. You know what I mean? It’s not a surrender.
Jack: Yeah, they’ll sanitize.
Meg: So I think jumping out of a plane will be a good thing.
Jack: I know I’ll do it in a couple years.
Meg: Are you doing any shows?
Jack: I just played with friends the other day in my house and we video taped it. I don’t know what it’ll be. It was fun to hang out with people and play music. Are you working on anything new?
Meg: I’m working on a bunch of stuff. I’m making a record right now. I’m just trying to go in a way I’ve never done before, all over email. My friend Rich Morrel, who I’ve written a bunch of tunes with before, and then this guy Alex Franco, and then a bit with Max. And Max is here, so it’s different. But just writing vocals and sending things back and forth. I want to get a mixer to mix it that I have nothing to do with, just give it to them. Someone that will just take it and do something with it without me.
I’ve been also writing a bunch of stuff on guitar. I really want to just try to make a guitar record, minimal style. I’ve never done that. Max started teaching me stuff on guitar, and then I was going to take a guitar with me on our tour. And everyone in the band played guitar, so I was just going to have everybody show me what they knew. I was like, I’m going to be so good by the end of this year of touring. But then COVID happened. That gave me lots of time to focus on playing guitar. It’s really fun and it feels very new. It makes music feel very new to me even though a lot of what I’m doing is playing old songs. I’m obsessed with songs. But I never understood the mechanics of how, even though I’ve written tons of them and sung with other people, but I didn’t understand. I just didn’t get it. It feels like it opened up.
Jack: I’m kind of relieved the same way as you about the touring thing in a weird way.
It’s kind of like everything worked out perfectly in that way, I guess. And now I can focus on something else instead of having to recharge. I don’t know if that happens for you, but for me, after the tour, it’s almost like this weird postpartum depression thing happens where you’re like, What just happened to me?
Meg: The way I started to deal with it was just making things right away again, just starting on the next thing. It was almost like the old songs were stuck in my head and I needed to write new ones to get new ones stuck in my head or something. I managed to avoid it for years. I never felt like I was phoning it in. I always felt like I could find something in the performance. I didn’t ever want to feel that way. So I think working on things when we come off the road just refreshed me in some way. I’m always sick on tour.
Meg: I always had a cold, always some digestive thing. Just like bad sleep, so stressed out. I would get beyond stressed on tour. And you’re just like, Does everyone have their passport? Everyone have their bags? What the fuck? I am not good at letting go. I want to be a control freak. And I’m addicted to stress. I’m an addict for stress chemicals. My body loves them even though I hate them.
Jack: It’s a weird kind of satisfaction when you get worked up. You almost build a tolerance for it and you need it, even though you know that it’s the worst possible thing for you.
Meg: And then you need more and more. So when I look back on touring, I cringe a little bit for myself, personally. I should just really want to hug myself. I should be nicer when I look back because I was dealing with a lot. And it’s not really a natural way of being, where you’re like four people in a hotel room every night just shoved in and kind of always in people’s faces. It can be anybody. I need a break from myself a lot of the time. But I remember your show here so well. It was so powerful and everyone who was there really, really wanted to be there and was so into the music, on the music, floating on the music. Like really digesting it. And hearing those songs, it was just crazy.
I do have a question about your record. “Do You Know Ida No” — is that about Ida No from Glass Candy?
Jack: That was a working title, because I wrote that song when I was like 25. And that song was like a cynical look at love. That’s a weird song, but I wanted her to sing. I was writing a whole album of duets. The other duet on the album is from that same time. I was like, Who could sing this with me? And I saw a Glass Candy show and I was like, Hey, she would be cool. But I didn’t know her. So then I thought maybe I would just call the song that for the time being and maybe somebody’d be like, “I actually do.” But it never happened. I never met her in my life. But I remember her voice being awesome at that show.
Meg: She’s an incredible performer.
Jack: So that was it. I wasn’t even going to call the song that. But when Tim Presley covered it, it came out on a White Fence album, and he just used the working title for it. And I was like, I don’t know what else I’m going to call it. I guess that was just what we’ve been calling it, because we played it for years live. So all these people knew the song, but I never named it. I recorded it, but it was like whatever, some digital piano and me singing. But I never really recorded it. Maybe someday I’ll sing it with her.
Meg: You should. The idea of you two together is like a dream. She’s incredible. I was obsessed with her when I was younger. I moved to Portland, Oregon because I just wanted to live in the same town as Glass Candy. I was obsessed with them, because I saw them at the Fireside in Chicago in ’99 or something. That’s when they just had a drum machine. And Johnny Jewel was playing bass or something. And her just doing her fucking thing. I haven’t really seen many performers like her. Her voice can go from very sweet to super harsh. She can really do it all. She can scream, she can sing like a little girl, she’s such a good dancer, she has great lyrics. I don’t know what she’s up to. But when I moved to Portland, I moved into this apartment in northwest Portland, and I was going to shows and stuff like that. I went to Fred Meyer by my house one day, and Johnny Jewel and Ida No were working there. And my mind exploded. Johnny Jewel worked in the produce section, and Ida was just stocking shelves.
Jack: That’s funny.
Meg: It was one of the greatest moments of my life. Because it was so good for me to see these people that I really idolize having to work. You know what I mean? I was like, “Oh God, you’re just like me. OK, we just like music but we have to pay our bills.” It was just so leveling. I was still in awe of them. They looked like beautiful angels while they were working. You would see them and you’re like, They’re special. You could tell they’re different. I’m not comparing myself to them, but it was a really big moment for me.
Jack: I’m glad for the people that make it crazy big and they have mansions and everything. But I feel like music, in general, I feel like when I just have something that I’m doing that’s like this normal, totally unrelated thing, I feel it’s a little more sane, too. It can get kind of dark when it goes the other way sometimes.
Meg: For sure. I can remember a really fulfilling time in my life when I was cleaning houses and getting paid cash. I made my own schedule. I could pick up clients and drop them whenever I wanted. I could take time off and I could go play shows and go on tour. And then I had lots of free time to make music. And I had just enough money. And yet it was this separation in my work. I didn’t rage against it because it was the thing that allowed me to fund going on tour.
Jack: Being a dog walker was great like that, too. You go walk around, everybody’s happy to see you. So you could just walk a dog and think about music. You could listen to what you’re working on if you needed to listen to music. And then come home and you just feel ready to go.
Meg: We’ll see what happens. Maybe you’ll start walking dogs again and I’ll start cleaning houses again.
Jack: Yeah, hopefully we can start doing something again.
(Photo Credit: left, Logan White)