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Megan Palmer - Forget Me Not

By the time Megan Palmer performed with club owner Dan Dougan’s band The Wahoos at Little Brother's one Wednesday night in 2002, she’d already been playing violin for over 20 years, making a name for herself as an instrumentalist with steady gigging since the late ’90s. That June 2002 evening, The Wahoos were opening for Canadian band Luther Wright & The Wrongs. The headliners, touring their bluegrass version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, liked what they heard from Megan enough to ask her to tour with them. She agreed, and the following few years were a crash course in life as a touring musician during which Palmer began writing the songs that would eventually end up on her impressive 2006 debut, Forget Me Not.


Megan Palmer

Forget Me Not

Sunken Treasure Records

2006

"Lots from that tour figured into the songs -- especially Tomorrow's, the bluegrassy song. It's about how you're always spending what you think you're going to make the next day. But it's also about living -- really in-the-present living. You're just going with it every day," Palmer noted in Aaron Beck’s excellent 2006 feature in The Columbus Dispatch.


During this timeframe, I was living in Merion Village with my then-girlfriend (now wife) Elisa Nicolas, who’d set up her first studio in our house. Singer/songwriter Jason Quicksall was doing some work at our place when he clued us into the fact that Megan Palmer and vocalist Jen Miller were neighbors, living just around the corner. So, this began an exciting and fertile period of creativity in our house and neighborhood as Elisa began performing again after a hiatus, often with Palmer, and started learning to run a studio. Megan began coming over and playing embryonic versions of her songs and working on her playing. Being a fly on the wall for all of this was pretty heady stuff for me.

Megan Palmer (L) and Elisa Nicolas (R) @ Victorian's Midnight Cafe circa 2004
Megan Palmer (L) and Elisa Nicolas (R) @ Victorian's Midnight Cafe circa 2004

Palmer's journey with Luther Wright & The Wrongs came to an end after extensive touring from the fall of 2002 into the beginning of 2004, and she was ready to start recording her own tunes. Sessions for Forget Me Not began in Hamilton, Ontario with some of the folks she’d met during her stint with The Wrongs. Those sessions ultimately petered out, but recording resumed in Columbus with Brian Lucey before the album was finished with musician/producer Jeff Ciampa.

Released on April 22, 2006, with a show at the same Little Brother’s club where things began, the album was unusually well-received by local critics for a female-fronted project of its style. It was picked up by Robert Duffy’s (donewaiting.com) Sunken Treasure label and re-released on September 26th. Stylistically eclectic, Forget Me Not was a remarkably mature and fully-realized debut. It attracted quite a substantial cross-section of Columbus’s finest musicians to participate, many of whom spoke glowingly of their experience with the new songwriter on the scene.


"I had a preconceived notion that was half-right," Ciampa was quoted in Beck’s 2006 Columbus Dispatch story. "I knew her as a fiddle player and assumed she was playing alt-country, alt-rock, roots-rock kind of stuff. The surprising thing to me was she was a lot broader than that niche. Her strength is her writing and her singing. It's that 'X' factor, that pretty-hard-to-define 'X' factor. But she has it."



In the same article, Columbus drumming stalwart Jimmy Castoe noted, "Some singer-songwriters, they want to be sincere, but they end up being too self-involved. Megan writes very close from the heart about adult subjects, but it becomes my song. She is able to tell a story that becomes universal, and I identify with it even though I'm this big, overweight, aging male. I understand. It moves me very deeply."




Added songwriter Tim Easton, “The playing obviously is great, but there's also just elements of spirit and personality that bring other musicians around. There's something in her voice that reminds me of Beth Orton; and the song styles, a little bit of Sarah Harmer. Megan's got more going on in the songwriting world than people realize."


In a retrospective review, The East Nashvillian noted that Palmer’s music “straddles the Americana and adult alternative radio formats while drawing from an even wider-ranging palette of influences that she blurs into original hues. Her voice, attractively austere and affectation-free, is nonetheless versatile enough to suit the varied styles housing her intelligent lyrics and deft melodies. Her 2006 debut, Forget Me Not, showed signs of a blooming individuality and a knack for expression that belied her fledgling songwriter status.”


I was fortunate to have a lively and wide-ranging Zoom chat recently with Megan from her current home in Nashville. Here are some highlights of that conversation, edited for cut, clarity and carat weight.



The Quiet One

I know you started in Hamilton…


Megan Palmer

(Musician/engineer) Robin Aubé was the first person’s studio I worked in. He was in Hamilton and I had been there several times and worked on records with Luther (Wright). And so, when I was getting the tunes together, I thought, Oh, that will be fun to go to his place and make a record. I don't know why I didn’t stay in Columbus like I probably should’ve. But I don't know, I was just like, I'm gonna go up there and make a record. And it'll be Canadian artists and American artists. An international record. (laughs) And so it began, Jesse (Henry, vocals, acoustic guitar) and Nate (Anders, vibraphone) came up with me. And we put a shit-ton of instruments in my car and drove up there. And Jason Mercer (acoustic bass) came from, I think he was living in Toronto then. So he came over from Toronto and Dan Curtis came over, he was the guitar player with The Wrongs, and we just kind of made the first parts of the record. I had made a few demos. But it was pretty much starting from scratch. Right there. And it was a really interesting experience. And everything went really well.


TQO

Things in Hamilton ended somewhat abruptly, however.


MP

And then finally, (producer) Jeff (Ciampa) and I kind of revamped the project. We did save a lot of the parts that we had done in Hamilton and a couple things that we’d done at Brian’s (Lucey, engineer). But then, we kind of just put it in Pro Tools and basically started over using a click track, which I would highly recommend. If you're trying to record and you've never done that before and you don't know that people will notice when your tempo is up if you're not using drums live to start and (laughs) that's when we got the Columbus crew involved with (drummer) Jimmy Castoe, Jeff, of course, and a whole bunch of Columbus people ended up on that record. So I think the total number of musicians was like 22. Including your wife (Elisa Nicolas, vocals). She sang on a couple tracks.


TQO

It's, I mean, it's a great package. It's definitely, I love liner notes and stuff. And...


MP

Oh, I know, I love that. And that was Manj and Bill (Manjari Sharma, photography; Bill Gaines, layout and design). That was the first time I worked with them. And I had just met Manj. And so she'd taken some pictures of The Spikedrivers (Jesse Henry's band, whom Megan still occasionally plays with). And I was like, Oh, my gosh, you take amazing pictures. Will you work on this project with me? And we didn't really know each other then. But she was like, Yeah, I was like, Alright, cool. And then we just did that, which is pretty cool. Pretty cool. The way that all turned out, it was a lot of fun.


TQO

Jeff was able to salvage those (Hamilton) tapes?


MP

For the most part, yeah, I think we found almost everything that we were looking for. Some of it definitely needed to be redone, but a lot of it was keepable, especially the parts of the vibraphone that Nate played and some of Jesse's stuff, and some of my, a little bit of my stuff, but I think I really ended up replacing quite a bit of my parts, and then adding proper drums, and all the people that were there for the initial session in Hamilton, some semblance of what they did made it on the record, even though we had to redo a lot of other things, I was able to kind of save some of the great moments from that first Hamilton experience.


TQO

And at that time was Brian Lucey's studio up at the house in Delaware?


MP

Yes. So I’d done a couple of things on tape with him there. He had a two-inch tape machine. And, actually, the piano for Forget Me Not, and Tim (Easton), that’s Tim's guitar and his harmonica on Forget Me Not, the title track, and my piano. Those were all done at Brian's. And then I also got (guitarist) Bob Saxton when he came in, he recorded his stuff at Brian's, and also (pianist) Terry Waldo is on there and he did his piano stuff at Brian's too.


TQO

How did you know Terry Waldo?


MP

Um, I met Terry at Lee Brown's New Year's Day party. Remember Lee Brown? He would write a column at The Other Paper, he was a jazz… he was a professor from OSU. But he wrote about jazz, and he wrote Jazz Notes or something. And he was a kind of elderly guy, but this New Year's Day party every year that I would go to with (vocalist) Jen Miller, and Terry Waldo would always play - him and Dave Powers would just go head to head and play songs, and duets too, and stuff. And so we got to know him that way. And then we just sort of kept in touch. And I don't know if he was just, he happened to be in town, and he wanted to hang out. And I was like, Do you want to come into the studio? I have this song, it's a little complicated, and nobody wants to touch it. Maybe you could do something. (laughs)


TQO

That’s awesome. I do have a Terry Waldo record in my ridiculous collection.


MP

Oh my gosh, wow. Yeah. He's a wild man. (laughs)


TQO

I bet he's a character.


MP

Oh, he's a character all right.


TQO

So, Forget Me Not comes out in April of 2006. When I was doing my research, a lot of things say it was on Sunken Treasure. What was the connection with (Columbus music blog) Donewaiting and (founder) Robert Duffy?


MP

Well, he had written me and said, "Oh, I really love this record. It's so good." Because I self-released it. I didn't even consider trying to find a label. I made this record and by this point, I’m in the third year of it. I'm like, I have got to get this off of my chest because I am going to die if this thing doesn't come out soon. After moving it across the border back into the United States and then moving it again to another studio, I'm like, I gotta get this out. So I wasn’t gonna try to shop it (to record labels). I had no idea what to do anyway and so I put it out myself. I just picked a date. Dan Dougan at Little Brother’s was like, "You can have this date and it could be your record release," and I was like, Sweet that'll be it. And of course, it involved a trip to Cincinnati to pick up the CDs because they were running behind and they were not ready until the freaking day of the release party. So that also included a trip to Cincinnati. (laughs)


TQO

I always find it interesting that certain songs endure in an artist’s repertoire, while others fall by the wayside. What songs do you still enjoy playing from Forget Me Not?


MP

It's a really good question. I know.


TQO

What songs are still… I think I probably know some of them.


MP

There's a few that made it into this incarnation of me as a musician and I think I could still play most of the songs on there, but there's a few that I would never probably attempt again.


TQO

Please Don’t Come Back. That's a standard.


MP

Yeah, Please Don't Come Back. That one is still in the rotation. It's probably like the most country song I ever wrote. (laughs) Tomorrow's. I’ve done a couple versions of that one since that one. And I still will play I'll Be Home once in a while.


TQO

Portland.


MP

Portland. I don't play that one that much. But that one? That one, kind of, I could get through that one. I could get through Absinthe on the piano. Forget Me Not. Sometimes I'll play that one.


TQO

Angelo?


MP

I can get through Angelo. (smiles) Probably don't play it that much, but that doesn't mean I haven't. If (bassist) Larry Cook’s around and we're, if we've had a couple drinks he'll start playing my first record from top to bottom because he can play every song on it. He's just like, oh Angelo boom, boom. And like know it all. It’s kind of crazy. He's an idiot savant in terms of songs. He doesn't forget anything ever.


TQO

When I was researching, I mean, you probably approved it, but there's an ad for absinthe that uses that. Do you know what I'm talking about?


MP

No.


TQO

Really? I’ll forward you the link.


MP

No idea. Oh my gosh. (laughs)

TQO

It’s on YouTube. They're just talking about it, it's the company that makes the absinthe and it's playing in the background. They’re showing…(makes pouring motion)


MP

Is my song on there?


TQO

Yeah. (laughs) Do you have a lawyer?


MP

No, not really. I mean, I know lawyers but no, shit. Wow. Okay, well, forward me that link I'd be real interested in… Damn. Okay, whatever. (laughs) Oh, life.


TQO

Why do you think it is (that some songs endure)? Is it just that there are certain songs that you like better, that the lyrics speak to you over the years? Or what do you think it is that causes some songs to stick around and others not?


MP

That's a really good question. I think whenever I make batches of songs, I never know which ones are going to be the ones that are going to evolve to the next part of my musical life, some of them just kind of stick to you and they become songs that you feel comfortable playing live, that are, you know they're gonna work. I feel that way about Please Don't Come Back and Knife Twister, which; I recorded several albums and never got that one on there until (the album) What She's Got To Give in 2016 because I had made a few versions of it, it just never was the right version of that song. Even though I've played that song longer than I’ve played a lot of the songs even off of Forget Me Not. I don't know, I think it's just how songs stick to you. And some of them just keep coming along with you on journeys. And other ones are just sort of like, we were friends for a while, but we're good now. And well, we might visit once in a while - they're like distant relatives that you just moved on from here, like, we'll see you down the trail, but probably, I'm not gonna. You're not coming on the trip.

TQO

What Comes Around is probably my favorite track on the record. At the beginning, it sounds like you say something before a door slams and the song kicks in. Was that just studio chatter the tapes picked up?


MP

Yeah. That was at Jeff's. (Guitarist) John Boerstler was in the studio. He was going to play guitar on it. And what I'm saying is “I didn't write the bridge out,” because I didn't write the chords for the bridge and I said that as I was closing the door so he could record.


TQO

So that’s actually, you're closing the door, that wasn't just a sound effect.


MP

No, that was me leaving John in the room to do that part and I was going out of the room because it was too small of a room for us all to be in there and I was like, I'll let you have your space, but here's the song. I didn't write the bridge because, I think I'd written down the chords of the chorus and the verse, but the bridge was too many chords to write down and I knew he wouldn't even look at it. So I was like, You're on your own. (laughs)


TQO

I do love that song. I like Southern rock and The Allman Brothers and all that and, I mean, Boerstler’s playing on that… the slide, and with Castoe on drums, right? and…


MP

Yeah, and Happy’s on that one too. He's playing the Wurly (Wurlitzer) Mm-hmm. And Elisa sings on that one. And Kate Sland sings on that one.


TQO

OK, nice.


MP

And I sing the backups too, like I added more. There's so many vocals on that song that, I think I might have even doubled part of Elisa and Kate's thing because, I don't know, we just were like, Let's just make it really huge. (laughs)


TQO

It definitely has that sound.


MP

It's a good one. I like that one, too. I sometimes forget about it, you know? And, it's also one of those songs that was a painfully honest song, right? At that time. And, sometimes it takes me back to that place where I'm like, Oh, I don't know. I don't really know if I need to experience that at this moment again. Like, whoa, but when I can get myself removed from it, I'm like, Oh, that is a cool song.


TQO

Yeah, that's interesting. I’m sure that's true. Say that song was a hit or whatever, and you kind of have to play it, you probably have to compartmentalize it somehow in your head, and not think about it.


MP

Right. You can't relive the experience that you were writing about every time you play it. Otherwise, you might be in some kind of existential crisis for the rest of your life. (laughs)


TQO

It's an eclectic album. And I'm sure part of that probably has to do with, that it took two years, right? (chuckles) I mean,


MP

(laughs) I didn't know what I was doing at all. And it's fun to think about it because I was so nervous about every single thing about it at that time, and now I wouldn't be nearly… I mean, if I made that record now it would be so different. But not because I want it to be different. It's just because, at that time, every single thing meant something. And it just all felt so heavy and personal. And it made for each song to be its own little vignette. And that's what I wanted for it. It was my first stab at really writing songs. And I was changing a lot at that time, about how I saw the world. And just to be able to receive songs for really the first time in my life. Because I'd been hanging out with so many songwriters suddenly, and just really studying what they were doing. And then just finding ways to take what I had learned and apply it to my own creativity. It was a really freeing time for me to find the access to creativity. I'd been wanting it for so long, but hadn't been able to put the formula together.


So, at that time it was like whoosh, it was really, really fun. And I was getting a lot of stuff, and I was getting it really organically, just downloading it on a walk through our neighborhood and in the shower, and just writing it down and making it and it just was such an exciting time for me. I'm really happy with how it turned out. Because it just, it really reflects that period of my life where I've figured out how I wanted to make music, not just as a fiddler in people's bands, but as my own artist.


TQO

Well, there’s a saying that you have your whole life to write the songs for the first album and then the second album you have, like six months. But that's not really true in your case, because you didn't start writing till really right around the time, not too long before you started it. Right?


MP

I mean, I guess you could say life experience of 30 years, right? Yeah, for sure. In some ways, I felt like I was writing for the first time for my whole life, even though I’d dabbled in it a little, but hadn't quite gotten there. It definitely has that kind of impact for me, too. It's like, Okay, wow. All right. And then there it is and I’m holding it in my hand, I'm like, This really exists now. This is insane. Now what, what do we do? What's next?


TQO

Because Forget Me Not took so long, by the time you're ready to do another album, you had a pretty good backlog of songs ready to go, so that’s nice.


MP

Yeah, it was, it was kind of crazy how many songs were ready to go. And then, it's nice to look back on that time and be like, Wow, this is a prolific time, because I don't write that many songs now. I’m a lot slower about it. And that's probably for the best, but sometimes I'm like, Should I be trying to do this more? Or is this something that just is supposed to be spontaneous? Or is it a combo? Like, Do I need to try harder sometimes? Or think about it? Or, it's just different.


TQO

I think I have a fondness for the record because it makes me think about that time and living (in Merion Village) and just getting to know you guys and all that stuff. Yeah, it was a good time for me.


MP

Yeah, me too. Me too. It was so special to kind of meet y'all. And as we were sort of all developing into our artistry, or who we were, I don't think any of us even thought we were young then, even though you look back and like, Well, we were young. We were younger, at least. (laughs)

Tracklist

1 Angelo

2 Mirror

3 Portland

4 What Comes Around

5 Tomorrow's

6 Please Don't Come Back

7 Forget Me Not

8 Lemonade

9 Absinthe

10 Diamond Mind

11 I'll Be Home

12 Everyday


Companies, etc.
  • Mastered At – R.E.M. Sound

  • Manufactured By – WWW.GO-QCA.COM

  • Glass Mastered At – ODS Optical Disc Solutions

Credits

Comfest June 25 2022, Gazebo

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