here’s a longstanding nautical term known as “red right returning,” it’s a lateral marker designed to help guide ships returning into a channel or harbor. By keeping the red markers on your right you keep your craft at both a safe depth away from the rocks or shoreline, and by following them you can help guide yourself home. After a few years of playing together Meagan Grandall and her bandmate Kendra Cox released Lemolo’s debut album The Kaleidoscope. The album was highly regarded, and the pair quickly became one of Seattle’s most notable music acts. They sold out the Columbia City Theater two nights in a row for their album release, hit the road for multiple West Coast tours, and they simultaneously performed The Kaleidoscope in its entirety along side a fully choreographed dance by BarefootCollective and MLK Ballet. Then in August of 2013, Meagan and Kendra parted ways musically with Meagan continuing on as Lemolo. For the next two years Meagan navigated the sea of her music career alone, employing a handful of drummers to fill in when needed, everyone acting as a channel marker helping her find her way to her latest album.
Meagan Grandall has been playing music for years, earlier than the late 2010’s when, just two weeks out from a Battle of the Bands competition at Seattle University, Meagan approached her friend Kendra Cox and asked her to play drums, which she wasn’t exactly familiar with. The duo placed second and Lemolo was born. A few years later they released The Kaleidoscope, a beautiful dream-like album that tended to lean on a shadowy sound. Lemolo was huge for a band out of Poulsbo Washington, a quiet Scandinavian port nestled in the armpit of Liberty Bay. To get from Poulsbo to Seattle a ferry ride is required, leaving the looming snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountain range and crossing the heavenly Elliot Bay into the industrial clunks, rusty grinds, and angular architecture of Seattle. The Kaleidoscope is dream pop at its best, full of etherial vocals, and gentle keyboard strikes, a calm-bay reflection of that ferry-ride journey across the water.
Changes are hard, bands breakup, they shift, they alter the lineup, and when Kendra amicably left the band Meagan was all alone on a ship out at sea, navigating the waters with the wheel in one hand, a map in the other, and her eyes on the horizon. I remembered something I said about Lemolo’s first album back when it was released, I called it “dark and solitary,” I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but Meagan is a very private artist, who prefers to write alone “I can be a little uncomfortable being creative around people-especially people that I don’t know well. The most conducive thing for me to be creative is-either to be around no one, to have privacy in my own space, or to be around people that I feel good around or that I know really well.” At her home on Lemolo Shore drive Meagan is just steps away from a short shoreline that sits right on the quiet bay looking towards Keyport Washington. The sun spreads its yolk over the water with a glimmer that is full of unimaginable beauty, something that comes across in her music.
For two years Meagan shuttled between her home tucked nicely into that idyllic beauty, close to family and affordability, and to returning producer Shawn Simmon’s Studio Litho in Seattle. Shawn produced Lemolo’s debut, and he would be one of the channel makers, that helped keep Meagan on course. Recorded in chunks, Meagan would return home from the studio with a pile of song layers and sit and analyze them over and over again, feeding her quest for perfection. “I’ve always been hard on myself and if I have this inkling that I could do something better then I can’t rest at night knowing that, there could have been more, or it could have been better, or I could have done it differently to make it a stronger song. Enough time of feeling that way made me think that I should do something about that feeling that I have.” A quiet and gentle soul, when faced with her art Meagan is fierce about what she wants, while setting up to record Backslide for our interview Meagan was not shy about asserting herself and adjusting the levels appropriately. It was a beautiful thing to watch, and for me, for even just the briefest moment to be collaborating with such an immense talent it was very special.
Red Right Return came with a far more edgy sound than its predecessor, inspired by bands like Portland’s Menomena, and drummer Emily Westman’s “driving and complex” drum patterns, Meagan found sounds that crunch, fuzz, and bite at the listener. There are moments on the album were the keyboard crackles, and guitar solos are fuzzed up and nip at your ears, and there’s a power to the whole album thanks to an added depth, less etherial and more grounded. “I ended a few relationships that had me not feeling good about who I was and not feeling comfortable with who I was, that’s what inspired the songs on the album.” Meagan went in search of her voice, that powerful and dominant voice, and she found it using her channel markers and forging the most important relationships in her life, it seems that some of the grit of Red Right Return is based in the development of Meagan’s personal strength.
For an album inspired by ending and strengthening relationships, there’s one song about a special relationship; Casting Call. In the song Meagan talks about Katie, a friend she had as a child, one whom she lost touch with when she moved away before high school. For Meagan, Katie represented an honest relationship, one where she felt like she was at her most free and creative self; the pair painted a neighbor’s fence with freshly picked dandelions, mapped out plans for a fake B&B, and took paddle boards across Elliot Bay into Seattle. In Casting Call Meagan is looking for someone like Katie that can allow her to be her most creative self, someone like producer Shawn Simmons, Emily Westman, or Meagan’s new drummer Adrian Centoni.
This past December Lemolo embarked on a national House Show tour that spanned more than 12,000 miles, with Adrian taking over at the drums. The two go back quite a ways predating Lemolo, when Adrian was playing in the band Colonies, who ended up opening for Lemolo on a few occasions. When Meagan told him she needed a drummer he was right there taking a permanent place behind the drum kit. “He’s an amazing drummer, he also loves to tour,” Meagan tells me, as does she, which was a major selling point, “He loves driving, and I don’t,” which has also been another added bonus of having Adrian along. Meagan is clearly the kind of artist that works best and allows herself to be the most open and creative when she is comfortable with her collaborators, and it would certainly seem that Adrian is that kind of collaborator.
Just four months old Meagan is already looking beyond Red Right Return, working on new songs while she takes a much deserved break back in Poulsbo. In all likelihood Spring and Summer will bring about more tours and Meagan is sure to be busy, that quiet personal time she values greatly is going to be few and far between, the stunning beauty visible just outside her bedroom window will be far away, but with that we’re going to get to peek inside the newest songs that will help shape the third Lemolo album.
Somewhere out at sea, alone and vulnerable, Meagan Grandall began to try and find her way back to port. Splitting her focus from the map, to the toggles and switches, then out to the horizon, there were times when it was smooth sailing, when the wind caught her sail and pushed her along at a comfortable clip, the surrounding sea clear and visible. There were other times when that ocean turned on her, the waters churned and chucked the boat, the wind tossed her, and she put all her energy on staying upright that she forgot to look out at her surroundings. It’s at these moments that its comforting to be able to let a hint of red just off the starboard bow become her guide, protecting her form jagged rocks hungry to devour her keel or a fast encroaching shoreline threatening to leave her high and dry. Those channel markers can be the family that keeps her grounded, the producer that tells her when enough is enough, the natural and quiet beauty just beyond her driveway, or the drummers that punctuate the music she writes and was brave enough to share. Red Right Return is a beautiful image for the journey Meagan took on her way to making this truly exceptional album.
You can find Lemolo at Lemolomusic.com, on twitter and instagram @lemolomusic, and you can pick up Red Right Return which is now available for the first time on vinyl at lemolomusic.bandcamp.com. In celebration of that vinyl release you can see Lemolo live at the Triple Door in Seattle with Abby Gundersen on March 18th, assuming you’re lucky enough to find tickets. The above quotes come from my interview with Meagan this past January, you can hear the full interview in the Depthsounder podcast here, or here, or right in the player below.