Mega Bog is an exciting band/project headed by Erin Birgy. Their latest album Happy Together (released through Nicey Music in February 2017) is a labyrinthian DIY-pop exploration of violence, social spaces, and lived experiences. I connected with Birgy over Messenger after they shared my review of the album specifically highlighting a comparison to Iggy Pop (the post gleamed, “a childhood dream to be in psychological momentum ranks with Iggy Pop…”). Birgy later tells me that Iggy once provided something like an early model of self-liberation for them, however differing each’s mode of navigation is at times.
After a few messages back and forth and the suggestion of an interview, Birgy emails me an unreleased track (file name: Truth In the Wild.mp3). With it, they state: “I do have a new record I’m wrapping up now and shopping around. It’s my fav so far. Only a couple songs with rough mixes, but here is one!” The track’s style is cozy but incredibly novel-sounding, expanding on the experiments in form, arrangement, and vocal phrasing that Happy Together laid out. Floating above a picked-apart Jobim/Gilberto-esque bossa, Birgy loosely, repeatedly, and earnestly declares, “Never smother that mystical song that rests deep inside you/ Alone, stupid scorpion/ I wanna play with the one I love/ I wanna be with the one I love.” Here, as in our conversation — held in their friend’s backyard in Glendale, California — Birgy comes off as knowing and clear, all the while suspended in a state of query, a singer of the mystical song. We spoke days before Mega Bog’s recent tour with Hand Habits.
What’s the band for the tour?
Matt [Bachmann] and Derek [Baron] who also live in New York. Matt plays in Big Eater and he lived in Seattle for a little bit, maybe four years ago. He started playing in Mega Bog there but then when he moved he was just kind of out of the band… But then also he hooked me up with a lot of stuff when I moved out there and a lot of friends and Derek was one of them. And Meg Duffy who plays guitar and tours as Hand Habits, but we’re playing as her band as well. Also Will Murdoch. […] It’ll be good.
I want to talk about Happy Together a bit. You also sent me a new track that’s so good.
Oh yeah. [laughs] I love that track.
So do you have a whole new record together?
Yeah, we did that in a place I was living in upstate New York called Outlier. James [Krivchenia] came up and — well he and I were both living there last summer — and he came up and engineered it with most of these people. Will [Murdoch] wasn’t there, Aaron Otheim (from Heatwarmer) came over, and my friend Ash from Athens, Georgia, came up. It was really funny. It was amazing, it was the first time we’ve done pure studio-vacation vibe.
So how long did you spend on it?
It was just a week, but I lived there for three months before so I was writing it all and demo-ing it in the meantime.
Yeah, it sparked something in my mind that I wanted to talk about with Happy Together as well. The looseness of it feels like a lot of 60s and 70s home recordings, or bands that I associate with that sort of thing. I don’t know, some Nico stuff or also—I know you’ve done a Kevin Ayers cover—it kind of reminds me of that… It has this level of looseness but high creativity in production.
Yeah totally, I feel like those are people I look up to because music is their main thing but then there’s some sort of silliness in self-preservation like, “We’re just gonna do a live band, we’re not gonna think about it a lot, we’re just gonna go do it.” I think about it a lot — and I’m sure they did too — but instead of a lot of at-the-board adjustments its just, “Throw it out there we’ll just keep that, that’s the original feeling and I’m not gonna feel terrible about it.” It’s a very live album, the new one.
No, whatever’s coming next, I’m not sure what I’m gonna call it.
Yeah, I’m excited to hear. I think that’s an interesting way to put it because I think there’s a certain niche in DIY right now that is based on these home recording projects that capture that energy of — exactly what you said — this ultimate seriousness toward music but also the knowledge that it’s a little silly.
Yeah, I feel like moving to New York I’ve met a lot of people who really industrialize themselves and really stress about it for a financial move, so if it’s not viable in terms of capital or if the record doesn’t do well then they’ll have a lot of spiritual hardships. I think about that a lot but I also don’t want to buy it completely… or at all really. I’d really like to outgrow all those systems of thinking and making music and art, so, yeah, it’s goofy [laughs].
Do you think that’s pretty different from Seattle?
Not totally, I think Seattle would do it if they understood music money more. A lot of my friends wouldn’t. But it doesn’t have it’s own economy like New York City does, and we just kind of get tossed through a cycle over and over. Yeah, Seattle seems kind of punk because it’s more innocent in a lot of ways. But it’s becoming less so with a lot of money moving in.
And there’s people who know and experience a lot more of what I was just talking about and decide against it. Like, Will is so amazing, Zach [Burba] is so amazing, they do their own thing and they’ll do it no matter what happens.
Yeah, I guess related to all that, how’d you get involved with Nicey Music down here [Los Angeles]?
I met them on their, maybe it was their moving out-tour; Mega Bog just played a show with The Lentils and Grape Room in New York and that was the first show where I felt, “Wow this is music I love, I’m in New York City and I’m seeing music I love! I didn’t know I could go to a fun show!” And uh, I don’t know I think Peter just reached out because I made a post and said, “We’re looking for help, I don’t have the means to put out a record by myself,” and they were very excited and super helpful.
Their stuff is so distinct, and yours came out with Jepeto Solutions too. And they’re the same sort of thing but a little less quirky, but that playfulness is still very present.
It’s cool, yeah, Zach [Phillips] and Christina [Schneider] [both of Jepeto Solutions] were some of my first friends there and it was a very heartwarming friendship.
That’s cool, yeah. And so Happy Together, you recorded in 2014? Is that right?
Yeah I started then and then I finished in early 2016, so it took a really long time, there was a move in the middle of it and yeah I don’t know I was between… I hardly ever have a computer or I have a really broken one so it’s kind of hard to do dubs alone sometimes. Like right now, the record we just finished is close, but I can’t play with it at all because I don’t have a computer. So just a lot of that funny stuff, waiting around. Also the forced time between recording and tracking was really awesome because it was like, “Oh, this is not what I want the record to sound like, it’s gonna sound different even though I have these skeletal tracks.” The forced time was really good for it.
In what way, the forced time?
The forced time being, “I can’t work on this project right now.” I’m either on tour or moving or don’t have a computer or something like that, so then months would pass and it would make sense how a song should sound when before it was just, “Man, what am I doing?” [pauses] It’s a messy album.
In a way; why do you say so?
I feel like it was just, because it took so long to make and there was a lot of weird ambition that was… some of it was very intentional and some of it was: “We just gotta leave it; it sounds cool now, we gotta leave it.” Some of it was like, “I gotta give up now or I’m going to ruin it.”
What moments feel like that for you?
That song “Blackout.” I loved that song when I wrote it and then maybe two months later I hated it but it was already tracked and the vocals took maybe a year to finish, with maybe five different attempts, and you can kind of hear it.
So I guess when you were writing it it felt… Did it feel less sincere to you or harder to revisit?
Yeah, it felt harder to revisit. It was sincere in the moment when it was tracked, but that’s why it was so weird to do the vocals afterwards. Because it wasn’t the same moment and it wasn’t going to synch up, and I like how disorienting it is, but it’s still hard for me to get into that song.
Interesting. And was it all recorded to tape?
A lot of it was. So we recorded it in Anacortes at the Unknown Studio, and maybe eight tracks were all recorded to tape, but I did all of the vocals digital and a lot of the guitar stuff I did. And then just to get people who I want on the album on the album I’d just carry around a computer or recording console to wherever they were, so that stuff isn’t tape. I don’t know if it sounds like tape… to me.
Kinda. It has that kind of smoothed-off sound.
It is kind of smooth. Edges rounded. [laughs]
Right. [laughs] I just think that’s also very interesting — just like you’re saying with this forced gap in time with the recording process — doing something to tape is also this very committed act. So it’s interesting how you’re working with this kind of constant dressing up of this initial energy.
Yeah, it’s weird. It was funny because I started it maybe a month before I moved and thought, “Four days in the studio it’ll be great, it’ll be done, I have all the songs. It’s fine.” And it just did not happen that way. Then it was all with the engineer Nick [Wilbur], it was with him, so I just didn’t know what to do and I had so many conflicts with getting the files when I left, so it wasn’t as easy as just putting it on the hard drive and going. It’s funny, “Fwee” has so many overdubs, but we just did so much backwards guitar solos just lifting the tape over and over… So it’s a cool collage of different moments and people.
Do you feel like this album you’re trying to step away from what you did on Happy Together?
I don’t know. I think using the same band to do most of the tracking in that single period is going to be very different, all the circumstances are very different. There was a lot less confusion in the writing process. People were all together and on board and we did it in a single session. I don’t know if the songs are actually different. I think they are, they’re all very songwriter-y. And the experiments are mostly in the arrangements and not… goofing off alone with a keyboard.
I noticed on the Bandcamp for Happy Together you had tagged Alice Notley, was that just a spur-of-the-moment throw-in-a-bandcamp-tag move or is it actually relevant to the album?
No, it’s relevant. I was reading The Descent of Alette all through moving and — I toured out to New York, that’s how I got there — and that was just like my book that I took everywhere — even though I read it in a pretty small sitting, I read it over and over and yeah, I feel like it inhabits every part of the record. I don’t even know how to say it I guess. Just the writing, emphasis on certain phrases. Have you read that book?
No, I haven’t.
It’s the one with the parentheses to give space between each word so you have to take a breath like sixteen times in one sentence and… it’s about a group of all women who are trapped in an underground subway and they don’t really remember how the got there and they vaguely remember that there’s daylight and something above the subway. But they just endlessly ride the subway, and they realize that there’s a tyrant — like, a single figure that they identify in the book — that is responsible for all of it. He sort of projects himself on images in the subway —
it’s not their subway they’ve just been cast there. The main woman in the book sort of decides to confront the tyrant and goes on this quest, and the subway turns into a series of caves and tunnels that show her more parts about herself and more parts about the human situation and leads her through the bellies of different snakes and all this stuff. The environment is just morphing completely until she finds the sort of heart of the tyrant. It’s just a really visual, beautiful… I don’t know, I love it so much.
Yeah, I can kind of imagine how that informed the album. You strike me as pretty literary in your influences, are there any other books or films that influenced Happy Together?
Well, I feel like another direct influence in the same vein as that story in particular are some Almodóvar movies, especially that one What Have I Done To Deserve This?, and just that sentiment of extreme and brutal acts against a person and having to, I don’t know, almost hilariously overcome them with more brutality. And you know, who knows how extreme a situation is ever, but I just clung on to those pieces of work a lot through making it. Now I feel like I’m still clinging to certain texts but they’re kind of in a different realm. I read this book The City & the City, by China Miéville, and it’s sort of a sci-fi crime book… Anything that can portray and explain something that would disorient and be disorienting and sort of be inflicted on you, be inflicted on so many people, a story that can help you make sense of that or climb out is really fun. Or not even climb out, but just give words to it.
Yeah, I’ve actually been reading through The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson.
Oh yeah. I just got into Maggie Nelson, she’s amazing.
Yeah, she’s great. Yeah I think her way of dwelling in cruelty and violence, or even just extremity, and working the complexities of those things and the different gradations of what’s going on, it resonated with [Happy Together] for me.
Yeah, it’s something that gives the album a very interesting tone, is that kind of reflective capacity that you pulled out for it.
Yeah, I don’t expect it to be really fun for just anybody to listen to but I think it’s… I really enjoy reading through people’s diaries or just notes, like when I read The Argonauts there’s footnotes everywhere, everything is just like a journal and quotes over and over. And, I mean, it is beautifully written just because it’s her and she’s a beautiful person, but I love that style. We’re not setting aside time — we talk about it as a band a lot — most of us don’t set aside time to just practice or really perfect a certain part of the craft or whatever we’re going for, we’re just kind of living whatever path it happens to be and it sort of materializes sometimes, and doesn’t sometimes. You really never know what the next step is. It’s easy in this sort of music situation when you’re like, “I’m recording an album,” then the album’s done and it’s released and then you do it again, but then sometimes you don’t record an album and you’re still working towards the goal of your existence. And I love her books because it just feels like that. Like, “Well yeah, I’ll put out a book all the time but I’m just writing and reading non-stop and feeling as I do that.”
Mhmm. And so do you think of it as though you’re documenting your own experience?
Kind of, especially Happy Together, it’s just like a scrapbook… of people and situations and how we got to the next point.
Yeah, Maggie also associates her work with auto-theory which is like… I think she took the term from Beatriz Preciado [Paul Preciado], who did a book called Testo Junkie, wherein he — it’s kind of about an experimental transition in his life, so it’s penned as Beatriz but now his name is Paul. But after the death of a friend he started experimenting with whether or not he could get addicted to testosterone gel. Or just what the guide-less experimentation with testosterone gel in these ritualistic and manners could be like. Anyway, it’s described as a work of auto-theory, which is like forming a theory for greater concepts and contexts based on direct experiment on yourself. The line is, “I’m the molecule and the state, and I’m the laboratory rat and the scientific subject that conducts the research; I’m the residue of a biochemical process.”
Yeah, that’s awesome.
I wonder what you think of viewing your work in that context. Because I think that’s a way a lot of artists could benefit from viewing their work rather than thinking they’re serving something much larger.
Yeah, for a long time most of my life I felt like I was supposed to be some sort of martyr, but I feel like a lot of people feel that. I don’t know actually, but a lot of people I talk to do. But when you were describing that I thought a lot about my time at Evergreen, which was a write-your-own-course style school. And I have no idea how many credits I ended up getting. I went for three years, but I probably only have a sophomore amount of credits — because I would just rewrite contracts and rewrite studies all the time. I had this thing that I thought was scientific and I tried to get it passed in the science department but they were like, “What are you doing? What is this?” And it was just all about dreaming in the light and how that’s supposed to create different dreams. And I had myself and my roommates set up to be part of this dream experiment where I would just change conditions really subtly as if I were some sort of pharmaceutical agency. But it was just in our house in a really scrappy manner. I don’t know, it was just really fun to be taking notes that probably meant nothing in the greater scheme… It helped me form really intense opinions about something that doesn’t mean a lot to anyone else.