We here at the City Paper have written more than our fair share of stories about struggling artists and musicians who have used Kickstarter to raise the much-needed moolah to get their projects off the ground. But sometimes your Kickstarter comrades just don’t come through. Enter Megan Jean and the KFB.
Back in 2010, the husband-and-wife duo of Megan Jean and Byrne Klay used Kickstarter to raise enough money to master and release their 2010 album Dead Woman Walking. However, when they gave the site a go again to fund their follow-up disc, The Devil Herself, they came up short, and it may have turned out for the better. “We had to put recording on hold for a whole year while we toured, saved, recorded demos, and rethought the whole process,” Megan Jean says.
After spending 2012 recuperating from the blow, playing major festivals and winning the Under-the-Radar Competition at Floydfest (the annual world music and art festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia), they were ready to give it another shot. Taking into consideration timing, promotion, and other details, they launched a new fundraising campaign and made $11,000, $3,000 more than their goal. That put the project in the top 10 percent of the most successful music campaigns in the website's history. "To hold the physical product in your hands after that kind of a roller-coaster-ride is just one of the high points of our careers," Megan adds.
While Dead Woman Walking was a band finding their sound, The Devil Herself is a band who has defined it. Since the first LP, the Klays have played more than 400 shows. The rhythm they've found on the road has helped refined their sound: the percussion is more purposeful, the vocals are a little less coerced, and the do-it-yourself instruments have been improved. "When you play for people, they let you know what's working and what's not," Byrne says. "When you play every night with the same people, the music gets tighter and more nuanced."
Because they spend so much time on the road, that's where much of The Devil Herself was written. "You have to write in the car, tapping out rhythms on the dashboard — hell, I've even played guitar in the front seat of our Honda Element," Megan Jean says. "You won't be prolific on the road, but you get lots of ideas." It's hard to write or practice in hotel rooms or living rooms, so she'll take snippets and work through them during soundchecks. "And then little by little, you flesh them out every night," she adds. "A song isn't really done for us, until it's been performed 200 times." That way, the audience can let them know what works and what doesn't — by how hard they dance.
Even if the couple has a more relaxed opportunity to write — like last month when they retreated to a New York beach house to crank out 10 new songs for the next album — the tunes are still not finished until they're performed live. For example, "These Bones" started when Megan Jean came up with a little ragtime ditty. A year later, it had a Dixieland melody. Klay played his banjo with a different rhythm, and they flushed out the verses and chorus. The song is now completely different, except for one lyric: "These bones, these bones, so far from home." (A live performance of the track impressed PBS so much that a video of it was featured in the show Music Voyager.)
When the couple finally made it to the Jam Room in Columbia, the process went pretty quickly, since they knew exactly what they wanted to do. The material on the album is somewhat dark, as any record that starts with "The Dead Show" and ends with "Last Days" would be. But it also has a lot of political inspiration. "I wanted to write for people that don't get anthems, but have the most beautiful hearts," Megan Jean says. That includes women, LGBT teens, and people who have lost their civil liberties. "I wanted to say it's OK, and you're not alone."
The band was also heavily inspired by the Southeast and its music scene, like the music coming out of Alabama and Georgia, as well as Charleston's own "dynamo lady-singers." But it also comes down to the support that this scene has given Megan Jean and the KFB.
"The audiences listen. They really listen. If they like you they support you," Byrne says. "We owe everything to the people in the Southeast who have bought our merch and come to our shows. If Megan Jean and the KFB wasn't based in the South, we wouldn't be a band because we wouldn't be able to make it work."
Not surprisingly, the Klays will be on the road for 35 shows in the coming months, including one at Awendaw Green on Feb. 27 and an album release show at the Tin Roof on March 1.