Premiere: Tyler Meacham Tackles Inner Demons On Intrepid Song “Nightwalking”
If there was ever a year to struggle with reality around us and seek out a better way, it’s 2020. And as this crazy, chaotic year begins to wind down, it’s important for us to come out on the other side with something to show for it: perception and purpose, two themes that are central to the latest song from Tyler Meacham, “Nightwalking.” Out this coming Tuesday, this new single is a bold step forward, and one The Auricular is proud to premiere along with its accompanying music video.
In comparison to her 2019 EP Property, “Nightwalking” is an intriguing song from Meacham, featuring an assorted mix of styles and sounds that are peppered in bit by bit over the song until the concoction combusts in the song’s climax. A spectral synth line sets the hazy foundation of the song, allowing muted funk lines and garage rock strumming to bounce back and forth before electronic filters creep their way in. Meacham’s dynamic voice anchors the song within her catalog though, making the song feel less like an outlier in her growing canon and more like the anticipated next chapter her fans have been waiting for.
Lyrically, the song is defined by uncertainty and doubt, something the infectious call-and-response chorus hammers home in the same way that simply asking a question a second-time can elicit a completely new answer. Despite its shaky core, the song feels inspiring through its honesty and vulnerability, with the opening verse offering additional resonance in the middle of a pandemic still ravaging our world: “Did someone turn the lights out on me / I feel like I’m walking blindly / If I hold a hand up, will you lead / If I take a handout I’m falling”
The music video for the song comes just in time for Halloween as Meacham explores the darker nature of the lyrics and music to align it with the spooky time of year. In this setting, the synthesizer provides a more eerie backdrop for the song to play out, as Meacham and her bandmates pal around with skeleton on-lookers and neon pumpkin masks. Most notable though is the collaborative joy that comes through the video, a hallmark of Meacham’s music which builds off the energy of bandmates Nate Hubbard, Joel Worford, Brandon O’Neill, and Colleen Christman as well as Chip Hale who also produced, engineered, and mixed the song.
“Nightwalking” serves as a standalone single, but Meacham states that she is “working diligently on a full length album” tentatively scheduled for 2021, and while there’s nothing official to announce right now, Meacham has set up a Patreon account — which you can join at patreon.com/tylermeacham — in order to share news and updates as they happen with fans.
Ahead of the song’s official release, I spoke with Tyler Meacham about the inspiration for “Nightwalking” as well as shooting the music video in uncertain times.
You had a lot of stuff in store for 2020: touring outside of Richmond, monthly showcases at The Camel with Offset RVA, new music, new videos, et cetera. Obviously, the pandemic threw that all out of the window and the lyrics here seem to try and make sense of the “new normal” as it relates to your life and art. How hard has it been to get back to a degree of normalcy in regards to your music?
I think a lot of people have found themselves making major life changes in the midst of all of this, so it took moving to a new house and building a home studio over the last four months to feel some sense of normalcy. I was in a major rut for a long time and felt like I had lost my sense of purpose without the ability to play live. I had to go through a process of grieving what was supposed to be, because you’re right — this year was going to be a big one for me and the band. I’ve shifted my focus to writing & recording as much as possible in my new normal.
Personal life inspires art and with life being put on pause for so many months, how did songwriting differ for you within quarantine?
For a large part of quarantine, I wasn’t writing at all. Before COVID, songwriting was a friend to me and something I leaned on when I needed it. When life slowed down for everyone, I felt a drop off in my ability to write a song, and I started to feel estranged from it. I fell into a funk of believing that there wasn’t really a point to writing music because everything seemed so much bigger than that. All of that changed when I started to think about putting out new music and had a space to really focus in on that. If I summed up the new material that came out of this, I would say it is 75% about my personal journey with anxiety and 25% about our current political climate. Definitely a shift in direction for me as an artist.
The line “maybe looking up is the only way” sticks out as a bright spot in a song full of poised uncertainty. Do you feel like you’ve been able to come out the other side and look up, or is it an ever-present struggle for you?
I think you nailed the idea of uncertainty, because the key word there is “maybe.” “Nightwalking” is really a song about fighting against inner demons. We all have things we struggle with whether we’re aware of them or not that can greatly affect our lives and the people in them. Personally, my relationship with myself & my mental health can build or break a situation. I have a fierce inner critic that can come out in the worst ways, and my anxiety tries to make me believe that I’m alone in all of this. So some might hear that line as looking up towards hope or goodness, which isn’t wrong. But the dual meaning for me is that sometimes “looking up” is more simply, becoming self-aware, looking up out of the inner fog, and tuning into the people around you. It’s like a reality check from the stories I make up in my head.
There’s a lot of interesting sounds and styles at play in the song, some we’ve never heard from you before and others we’ve never heard this prominently. How did they all come about when writing and recording the song?
This song has taken on many forms since its initial writing. If you caught the band at one of our last live shows before COVID, you would have heard a version of this song that was blues-ier and probably unrecognizable compared to what it is now. I demoed this song out five times before landing on this straight, almost R&B drum machine. It completely contradicted the arrangement we had prior. Being stuck at home without access to our bandmates for most of quarantine forced Chip [Hale, producer & bandmate] and I to experiment with what we have: a couple of electric guitars, a growing number of guitar pedals which ended up on some of my vocals, and my collection of weird keyboards. I’ve always loved vintage synths, and we snuck a lot of JUNO-60 sounds on the EP, but not noticeably. For “Nightwalking,” the JUNO-60 is the song. It’s only absent for 2 bars of music in the whole track. What we ended up with is something I’m really proud of.
It’s always hard to branch out while remaining true to your own personal brand and sound. Was this song one you sat down to write as a new challenge, or was it a song that once done you saw as having the opportunity to open the door for different ways of playing and recording?
When I wrote this song, I had no idea what it would turn into. I write most of my songs on my acoustic guitar, and sometimes I can hear all the parts and know where a song headed right away, but “Nightwalking” was more of a mystery. I wrote it after coming home from a particularly rocky tour last summer and the arrangement truly haunted me until we got it right. I felt very frustrated by this song. It’s convenient and easy when things just come together, but I felt like this one never did until we found ourselves in this weird focused time. I felt the pressure to get something new out while also feeling like that “something” didn’t really matter, and I think that opened us up to experimentation.
Was the song and music video always envisioned for a Halloween release and theme?
Once we landed on this arrangement, yes. It started to sound like a combination of some of my favorite spooky season sounds. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” record & Stranger Things came to mind. The serious subject matter of the song gave way to something more lighthearted in conceptualizing the video. I also just love Halloween and in my mind, this song makes sense for the season.
How much preparation and planning went into being able to record this music video with everyone?
Like everything else during COVID, getting the video made was an arduous process that started with a high end, full-fledged production team and ended with the band, a camera, and our own weird sense of humor. Things are so unpredictable right now, and we tried very hard to plan for this big budget video with extras and explosions and crazy monster makeup, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over and over again during these difficult times, it’s that having the ability to create with what you have on hand is a gift, not a curse. I have a degree in film production and I have always loved emulating lo-fi in my work, so when the opportunity to make something glossy and perfect faded away, my ideas for the video went in the complete opposite direction. There isn’t too much meaning behind it, nor is there a concise narrative throughout. I think if you lean into the visuals, we ended up with a very subtle theme of personality and self-examination.
The joy of creating something definitely comes through this video. At one point, we can see Colleen Christman and Brandon O’Neill mugging the camera, and in another, there are back-to-back shots of yourself and Joel Wolford playing guitar with ear-to-ear grins. How cathartic was it to be able to actually put this music video together right now, with all of your bandmates?
We had a really good time, and I have been missing that aspect of making music with my friends. Everyone in the band is just down to goof off. We got Joel to head-bang. He had neck pains the next day. My bandmates are my COVID bubble and have been a light in the dark throughout all of this. We’ve been spending time together without playing music, so a night out with a camera and some weird masks is just another fun, weird hang for us.
“Nightwalking” officially comes out on Tuesday, October 27th, and you can pre-save the song via Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming platforms at this link. Until then, enjoy the cadaverous music video above and make sure to follow Tyler Meacham on Facebook (@tylermeach), Twitter (@tymeach), and Instagram (@tymeach) for more updates.