HYPE has destroyed many a precocious musical talent. And not many Australian artists in recent years have attracted expectations as lofty as soul-pop sensation Meg Mac.
It all begun when she uploaded the track Every Lie to Triple Unearthed in 2012 and two years later she claimed the youth station’s best emerging artist award.
A five-track EP MegMac in 2014 further catapulted the Melburnian, with the emotionally-deep voice, into international consciousness.
Then came the wait. Mac, whose real name is Megan McInerney, admits the critical acclaim and success she achieved with the EP made writing her debut album particularly testing.
“If I ever think about anything like that it makes me really nervous,” Mac says of the hype. “You kind of psyche yourself out. When I’m writing music that’s usually when I can forget about everything. When I start songwriting I use it to escape from the world.
“If I have to write a song for my album today I won’t be able to do it and I’ll write something that isn’t very meaningful. Once I can find the zone I can usually block out any scary thoughts like that.”
That “zone” for Mac is usually created alone in the dark with just her voice and piano for company.
The good news is Mac succeeded. On Friday she released her debut Low Blows, an album of passionate American R’n’B-influenced soul, which taps into the spirit of her heroes Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Otis Redding and Bill Withers.
The obvious American vibe wasn’t by accident. The album was recorded at Niles City Sound studio in Fort Worth, Texas.
The studio full of vintage music and recording equipment became famous following the release of American gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges’ stunning debut Coming Home in 2015, which was recorded live and on tape, rather than digitally.
Mac is a massive fan of Bridges and travelled to Fort Worth to trial the studio.
“I spent one day in the studio and we recorded a rough demo to tape of one of my songs Ride It,” Mac says. “It was the best. I heard my voice on tape for the first time and everything was live. That day was so exciting and so fun.
“I came back to Australia and said, ‘I’ve found where I’m going to make my album’ and I organised the trip to go over.”
I was going for something real, so you could almost feel like you were there with me and I was playing the song for you.Meg Mac
Niles City Sound also perfectly suited the artistic vision Mac had for Low Blows. Unlike many of her contemporaries who have embraced electronic sounds and beats, she wanted something natural and timeless.
“We played the songs live on the floor before we recorded anything,” she says. “The studio was full of all this vintage equipment, synths, piano and it was really inspiring.
“All the guys are great musicians who play and it’s all about the feeling and it definitely influenced the album, because we always started from that place before we recorded.
“I was going for something real, so you could almost feel like you were there with me and I was playing the song for you. I wanted it to sound real above anything else.”
Ultimately it’s Mac’s powerful voice that drives Low Blows. From the epic opener Grace Gold, the lounge jazz-inspired Kindness to the bluesy I Didn’t Wanna Get So Low But I Had To.
The music supports her voice that rises and falls, accentuating the emotion of each sentence.
The songs on Low Blows have been bouncing around for several years. They were written in Mac’s Melbourne home, on the road supporting US multi-instrumentalist D’Angelo and while renting a Brooklyn apartment through Airbnb.
The sweetly-spoken Mac doesn’t appear one to get consumed by negativity. However, she admits Low Blows was fuelled by a series of melancholic moments in her life and that’s when she finds the greatest creative inspiration.
“Any emotion that’s strong enough, I can write about it,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not necessarily dark places, it’s just confusion or frustration. Lots of powerful emotions and I just have to write about it.”
Meg Mac’s first ever Newcastle show at the Cambridge Hotel on September 23 sold out on Thursday.