Megan Hattie is a renaissance person: comedian, musician, director, XRAY FM host, and the anchor of Kill Rock Stars’ “Swinging @ KRS” – that’s basically too many things to wrap my mind around in one sentence. With the hauntingly layered and chaotically cool release of 9 Bed, No Bath, Megan has launched the most entrancing and inimitable compilation of the year. In assembling original songs, covers, and comedy show excerpts, we’re given an unconventional and nuanced lo-fi biography. But Megan is also an audio advice columnist in Portland (she told me to stop wearing basketball shorts on dates, and it worked!). In wanting to interview one of the top prize fighters in the PNW, Cinema Spartan asked questions about art and human rights, the cultural affect Paris has on American society, and the importance of the perfect cover song. [Feature ???? by Emilly Prado]
Rob Patrick: You and DJ Mami Miami host an advice and music show on XRAY FM called “Is Butter a Carb“. The program explores subjects such as body image, the process of aging, and the confusion of relationships with both humor and care. How did the idea for this show come to fruition? I hate the word fruition.
Megan Hattie: I have been hosting radio shows since I was a college freshman in 2009, although they were mostly music shows. My only foray into talk radio was for a few months in 2014 when I hosted a 3-hour-long show every Saturday for this web-radio station in Paris where I played upbeat music, promoted events happening that week, interviewed guests of my choosing. XRAY FM is a really amazing free-form community station so when I moved back to Portland from France in 2015, I knew I wanted to get involved there. I started a music show, then in October 2016 decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of having an advice talk show, having always been a fan of Frasier. I thought 2 heads would be better than 1 so I asked my dear friend Emilly Prado (who’s an incredible writer) to join me and she said yes!
After answering a question on the show, you and DJ Mami Miami will play a song that directly – or indirectly – correlates with that specific listener’s submission. When are you going to release all of these songs together on a master playlist?
Honestly, I doubt we will, there are so many songs now and we’ve been adjusting the format the last couple of months to be more theme-based than question-based. Now we only play about 5 songs per show and rely more on listener interaction during the show rather than questions in advance.
With this particular administration’s lack of concern for equality, art, and dialogue, it’s incredibly important that open conversations about emotional and physical health are being supported. As a community, what can do we do, everyday, to reinforce the importance of art, human rights, and empathy?
I agree, it’s so important! With our radio show both of us try to be especially open and honest about our experiences and especially our uncertainties in life, and try to let others know they can be heard, and that it’s ok to be unsure and vulnerable. I think community media like XRAY and Open Signal (media art center and tv station) are doing great things to try and amplify the voices of different communities in Portland. In terms of what can be done every day, I think fostering human connection through even just smiling at people you see in your neighborhood can help. And if there are artists in your life and you like what they do, you should help support and encourage them, whether it’s financially or by helping promote their work or events.
You are currently creating a documentary about Parisian au pairs. Having had lived and worked in France, how do you think the city of Paris affects the culture, identity, and language of the metropolis’s visitors and non-French inhabitants?
Paris is insane. It’s the most romanticized and unapologetically chic city I can think of, living up to this reputation at times and proving itself to be the complete opposite at others. But for me, having spent almost 3 years living there, it has always been a place where I felt anything was possible, more so than in my home city of Portland. I think any foreigner who spends time living in Paris will first experience culture shock (see Paris Syndrome) but then gradually Parisian habits will seep into their sense of self. They’ll become more reserved in public as they realize that smiling at a stranger is seen as bizarre and suggestive rather than friendly. They’ll become used to the fact that boulangeries and banks close for lunch and will plan their errands around these closures. They’ll gradually eat dinner later and later in the evening. Most of the friends I made while living there were other au pairs from all around the world (my first stay in France was working as an au pair) and Erasmus European exchange students when I later studied there because they were also outsiders in awe of this incredible place. While I have a few Parisian friends too, I found myself being more naturally befriended by other foreigners, perhaps because of the French tendency to value few, close-knit relationships rather than being overtly friendly and open to meeting new people like Americans are often conditioned to be.
Historically there has always been an appreciation for French cinema, particularly when it comes to New Wave directors such as Agnès Varda, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard. But outside of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film, Amélie, American audiences haven’t embraced great and modern French cinema. Michel Gondry isn’t noticed unless he’s doing an English language movie, and the exceptional Catherine Breillat isn’t mentioned at all. What do you think it will take for American audiences to become invested in French cinema again?
I’m actually not familiar with Breillat, will need to check her out! Growing up, Amélie was the first French film I saw as a young teen and through high-school I only saw them in French class. I watched a few Godard movies my freshman year of college and that was it. During my Paris au pair year when I was 19 my host mom turned me on to Cédric Klapisch and that was the only contemporary French stuff I’d seen since Amélie and Paris, Je T’aime.
I think American audiences have so much available to them and made just for them in English — all of it on-demand, and binge-able, with no annoying subtitles to read — that choosing to watch a foreign film just might seem too taxing, especially considering there are a lot fewer of them on Netflix these days. Discovering Agnès Varda at age 21 changed my life forever and she remains my biggest influence by far, but often when I talk about her to American friends they sometimes groan about “subtitle fatigue”. I get it: I probably appreciate French cinema more because I speak French and sometimes the subtitle translations can often be pretty bad. For example, when I watch a German film, I can appreciate things like the cinematography, costuming, and music, but since I don’t speak German, it’s impossible for me to ‘get’ the film as a whole due to not understanding the dialogue or the nuances of the language.
You just recently released 9 Bed, No Bath, a compilation of covers, original songs, and comedy that you recorded over the course of four years. On songs like “They Told Me To Stop” there is an eerie, disembodied narrative that sees reverb, distortion, and urgency come together in sort of a fever dream. What are some of the things that are important when crafting a sound that resonates with you?
With “They Told Me To Stop”, in particular, I was going for a sort of cold wave vibe, but in general I like to make music that’s rough around the edges (because honestly I don’t have the resources nor the patience to record perfect, well-produced music) using the instruments at my disposal. When composing songs I start with chord progressions I think are interesting and then craft the main vocal melody and finally add lyrics and different melody lines, chords and vocal harmonies. With original songs, I like using my voice as an instrument rather than making sure all of the words can necessarily be understood easily. Writing interesting instrumental bridges is my favorite thing ever.
Though your song covers are mostly faithful to their source material, there is always an interesting, unconventional, approach to the way you reinterpret them. When you deconstruct and reassemble someone else’s work, what is the first thing you look for?
Well, first I figure out the chords and then figure how I’m going to do the beat, whether that’s trying to remain faithful and replicate as best as possible it or experiment with rhythm. I think my love for recording covers is related to my love for documentary and archival footage in a way, a lot of it is a fascination with taking something and manipulating almost scientifically, placing it in a new context to create something new.
The tracks on “9 Bed, No Bath” were recorded in nine different bedrooms “…in a handful of towns/cities between France and the US from 2012-2016…” Did you find that the aesthetic, geographical, and cultural changes altered the way you approached each song?
Geographically, I always had different instruments at my disposal each place. For The Magnetic Fields cover I wanted to only use a xylophone and tambourine because there was a xylophone at my parents’ house, where I started it. I didn’t have time to finish the song before going back to Portland where I didn’t have a xylophone, so I had to record the bridge totally a capella! Sonica was recorded in my grandparents’ Arizona guest bedroom because they had a sonica (this super rare and cool instrument invented by Frank Eventoff, who gave it to them as a gift).
Besides instrumental limitations, wherever I was living, I recorded the majority of these songs on days off when I’ve had hours of free time and would just decide to write and record a song all in one go. Making music has always been a solitary thing for me, although I would love to play keyboards in a band someday. More than the places themselves, the seasons or my mood at the time were big variables. The song “Earthquake” was recorded in a creepy bedroom I really didn’t like because I slept on a single mattress on the floor and would always have trouble falling asleep due to earthquake anxiety (I’m still terrified of the looming Big One). “Last Christmas” and “Blues Run the Game” were recorded on dark December nights.
Tapes are amazing, and I’m happy that they are being reintroduced by artists and labels. What do you think sparked the reemergence and popularity of physical media in what was such a digital landscape?
We talk about this all the time at the Kill Rock Stars office. Despite the digital landscape of both music and other media I think people still value buying and owning tangible products. More so that even ten years ago, tapes and especially vinyl are being made and sold again, maybe even more by young people than older people because for young people buying tangible product is new and exciting since they haven’t already been doing it for 30 years! Personally I’ve been collecting tapes for the past decade and I’m attracted to their compactness (they’re easy to move abroad with!), and the fact that all of the tracks run together and that you have to physically flip them at the end of the side. If I see a great band play a show and they happen to be selling a tape, I’ll definitely buy it.
It’s funny because Jessica and I are roommates who don’t see each other at home much so some weeks we talk more on Twitter than in real life! It’s kind of gross but my brain has mutated to the degree that I often find myself “thinking in tweets” so it’s disgustingly natural for me to churn them out every day. For stand-up, though, Twitter is a great resource to be able to test premises or punchlines for jokes and get instant feedback. My advice for a good tweet is to be honest, blunt and don’t be afraid to overshare and possibly shock someone.