In a regular series of features, we’re inviting Minnesota artists to introduce themselves to our audience. Today: folk group Maygen and the Birdwatcher. They’ll be releasing their debut album, Moonshine, with a show at Icehouse on Oct. 10.
Maygen Lacey (lead vocals/guitar): I’m pretty much terrified of performing live. So, my Maygen Lacey solo stuff was always studio things and collaborations with friends. We did some original songs and then I also did plenty of cover songs for a record label over in Sweden, but I never was able to play those songs live. It didn’t really speak to who I am and the type of music that I love to write and play live. Being able to write with Noah really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what music can look like and what a future can be like with a band; with writing songs that mean quite a bit to me and come more from the heart. It’s been great to start with Noah and then build this band out to be something that I feel a lot more passionate and excited about.
Noah Neumann (guitar/background vocals): Maygen and I are the progenitors of the band. We got together…how many years ago? Four?
Lacey: First of all, I’ve never heard the word “progenitor” in my life. But yes, we started in 2017. We released an EP in 2018, just the two of us.
Neumann: After that came out, we wanted to shift focus a little bit musically and add a full band feel to it. So that’s when we started getting everybody. And that was just a few months before COVID…I knew Ethan from some other gig opportunities. Ethan’s brother is Jesse, so they had been in bands together. And then Maygen and I had done a moto-i gig with Nik.
Lacey: 2020 was supposed to be our get-out-and-introduce-ourselves-as-a-full-band year. We were gearing up from December through February, and then everything shut down. We wound up spending the rest of 2020 deciding as a band to write songs and come out with the album that we’ll be releasing this fall.
Neumann: We had to be flexible with things. But for the most part, it was okay. We didn’t have any hard deadlines, so it’s kind of cool to just be able to go with flow.
Lacey: It was tough for a little bit there just because we were trying to get Nik to hang out with us and jam with us a month after COVID stuff happened. So, we were like, “This is kind of nerve-wracking and weird that we’re asking you to come join our band while everyone’s scared of COVID, but do you still want to come jam?” It ended up working out around May. From May onward, we felt pretty good about getting together.
Nik Pellinen (banjo/lead guitar): Sonically, I feel like it’s Americana meets bluegrass. Maygen’s songwriting reminds me a lot of Brandi Carlile — that kind of singer-songwriter type of vibe — and I think it works well with those styles.
Jesse Moravec (mandolin/violin): Ethan and I grew up playing in a bluegrass band. So, it’s the kind of style that I know and I’m comfortable with. All our different individual influences get together in depth…it blends into more of an Americana style, meet in the middle type thing.
Neumann: It’s always evolving and changing, but the Americana base gives us a jumping off point if we want to dip our toes into country, bluegrass, blues, rock…we try to explore the musical space and stretch our wings. More cowbell!
Lacey: We recently signed with a record label and one of the main questions topics of conversation was: “What type of music are you?” Like Noah said, we have a strong base in folk. Folk is the root of country music and bluegrass…Noah and I write songs from a place of depth and meaning. We write about things that you really want to share with someone other than yourself in hopes that it touches their life or helps them in some part of their life. I feel like the Americana genre does a great job of that. There aren’t a bunch of fake songs in the Americana genre.
Neumann: In Americana, there’s more authenticity and it avoids some of like the pop glam-up or the country homogenization. Americana seems to be ever-expanding. We still get to use a lot of traditional instrumentation, which is a lot of fun. We try to keep things as acoustic as we can and work with those sounds. Being able to express ourselves that way is why I want to do it.
Lacey: The song “Antidote” is important to me. I was wrecked with COVID at the time of writing it. Noah had sent me guitar that he had been working on and I sat on it for two or three months. I thought the guitar was so pretty. I just wanted to write the perfect words to it. I kept trying different ideas, and it just wouldn’t stick. But then, while I had COVID and was being quarantined in my room, my husband took care of me, giving me all these vitamins and being super caring about me. So, all the words came to me in 20 minutes. It’s everything that I wanted to say about my love for this person and I’m really happy with how it came out. These guys with their instruments made it so much better than I could have ever imagined. It’s just beautiful.
Neumann: The song “Full Moons” from our upcoming album is a favorite of mine. It has a violin lead at the beginning and the end. It was fun to pick up violin again after having not played it for a long time.
Ethan Moravec (bass/background vocals): I’m gonna second “Full Moons.” I love the songwriting and how it all came together in the studio…as a musician that’s not necessarily full-time, it can be tricky to figure out how it fits with everything else while prioritizing it enough to make progress with it. We moved down to Pepin, Wisconsin. So, a challenge right now is just staying connected with all the driving it takes to meet up.
Neumann: It’s the artists versus the rest of your life kind of fight along with being a little bit older in my music, career, and stuff like that. I think the challenge is trying to find the balance that makes me happy. I know that there’s a balance, but it’s hard to find what that is.
Pellinen: Finding a balance with music and everything else in life is hard. But aside from that, I think finding my musical identity has been the main struggle. Back when I was using, my musical identity was pretty much tied to being addicted. In the past four years or so, it’s been a journey of finding that new identity, who I am as an artist and what I’m conveying.
Jesse Moravec: I started playing in my other group when I was 15 years old, and I played in that group for 13 or 14 years. I was kind of comfortable with where I was at as an artist in that band. Switching to a different band and trying to find where I fit has been a little bit challenging for me.
Lacey: I have always been a singer and I’ve always had music in my soul, but I have never actually learned to play an instrument. I started learning guitar about a year ago and I just wish that I could be hypnotized and wake up and be amazing at it. It’s just a challenge to want to be as good as these guys are. I would love to just be on the same level as them musically so that I could jam. Noah will start doing some jam thing and I won’t know what chord or key it even is. So, I’m just gonna stand here and shake a tambourine or whatever.
Neumann: I think we still just kind of develop that a little bit. And also, with us not being 19 anymore, where all you do is just gig and write with your friends all day long. I think it’s just trying to be cognizant and knowing that people are busy. People have lot going on. Nik is a solo artist and plays with other bands as well. Ethan does a lot of other music, and Jesse as well. It’s trying to be cognizant that we’re trying to get this done and do something that we think is special, but at the same time, having awareness that we’re part of people’s lives.
Jesse: For me, it’s the community. Just us as a band, we have a lot of fun together. Getting together, especially during the time of COVID where we couldn’t really go out and meet a bunch of new people. It’s nice to hang out with each other. And then we add in community that we bring into our live shows and bring people together through the music that we play.