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No one knows the plain language of the barroom better than Meiko (mee-koh). Waiting tables at the Hotel Café in LA’s Cahuenga Boulevard arts district, she’s been privy to a few conversations no sober heart would choose to have in public. So it seems a shock when she stands up before that same crowd and openly proclaims the sweetest secrets of her own beautiful heartbreak.
On the self-titled Meiko, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter is at once tough, tender, raw and funny. Never exactly what you expect, she and her songs all explore loss and loneliness, but none of them seem to live there. “I have a hard time writing love songs,” Meiko says. “I write frustrated love songs.” With a keen eye for detail and a vivid gift of narrative, Meiko collects jagged moments and devastating conversational snapshots, and turns them into deceptively simple tunes with hushed, gentle tones and stunning imagery.
Hailing from Roberta, Georgia, (population 808), Meiko grew up in an actual log cabin built by her father’s hands. It was her dad’s affinity for The Eagles, The Allman Brothers Band and others that gave Meiko her folk sensibility. “He had this beautiful old Gibson guitar,” she recalls, “And he played and sang for me right from the cradle.” Of course, a child can’t yet discern a cover song from an original. “Imagine my surprise years later when I heard some band named Led Zeppelin playing my father’s song — ‘Stairway To Heaven’ — on the radio.”
It’s no surprise, however, that an early diet of folk, blues and rock gave Meiko an appetite for other sonic sustenance, from Nina Simone and Sade to Cocteau Twins and Patty Griffin. After high school, her hunger for musical expression carried her all the way to the doorstep of the Hotel Café. And from that barroom floor, Meiko listened. She listened to Griffin play the Living With Ghosts songs that shook her to the core. She listened to the Sia song that secretly made her cry. “I was thinking how cool it would be if I could pull the tears out of some waitress at some bar somewhere,” Meiko says.
Then something surprising happened. The people to whom Meiko had been listening started listening to her, instead. First at open-mic nights. Then, during an early slot on a weeknight. Eventually, opening for Patty Griffin. And then folks started talking again. A local buzz led to regular airplay for a self-released collection of Meiko’s songs on the LA tastemaker station, KCRW. National buzz led to television placements and a stay atop the iTunes Folk Album chart with more than 200,000 downloads.
Intense record label interest followed, with Meiko finally allying with MySpace and DGC after sensing a shared vision for her future. “I felt like my creativity was going to be left to flourish,” she says, “Rather than be molded into something else.” Meiko has continued to sharpen her songs on the Hotel Café stage, and record them in late-night sessions – with maybe a glass of wine or two to ply the brutal truth.
Months after its initial release, Meiko’s Lucky Ear/MySpace/DGC debut has been remixed, remastered and, in the case of some fan favorites, entirely re-recorded. It also now includes a brand-new single, “Boys with Girlfriends,” a cheeky primer on the dangers of befriending men with jealous female companions. Among the album’s many highlights is the sumptuous folk-pop confection, “How Lucky We Are.” “Under My Bed” showcases the versatility and strength of Meiko’s singular voice as she considers the souvenirs left behind by a former flame. And the spare and compelling “Reasons To Love You” reminds us why it was prominently featured in the fourth-season premiere of TV’s Emmy-winning Grey’s Anatomy. Rare song “New Road” is a duet with indie songwriter AM.
With all her recent recognition, Meiko has had little time to reflect on her former occupation; but, she has definitely moved on vocationally. “I retired from the waitressing field earlier this year,” she muses. “Getting up in the morning and writing songs is my new profession.” And, if you ever find yourself at the bar, she’s definitely worth a listen.|
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