This past spring, singer/songwriter Megan Dooley thought she had it made. Her band Moxieville was getting gigs left and right. They had written all the song for a new album and just received a grant to produce it from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
But just a few weeks before they were about to start recording, the band broke up.
I had to move - I had to find a new place to live. I had to find replacement players, rearrange music. Play the music that I’ve been playing as Moxieville for a long time and kind of just reorganize the whole thing in a very short period of time - like a two month window. And I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to record…cause everything was planned out in advance. We already had recording dates scheduled. The whole…I mean it was going with or without me and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. Because the music that I had created during that time was really special and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to put it down on record. And I didn’t want it to be tinted with this whole disbandment thing. I wanted to create something out of a situation that was less than favorable.
So Dooley gathered together local musicians from bands like Who Hit John?, Branden Mann and the Reprimand, Delilah Dewydle and the Lost Boys, and The Red Sea Pedestrians.
She says it was tough, but they managed to produce a live album in just three days. Dooley says it’s her best album yet. Engineer Ian Gorman at La Luna studios was able to capture the live sound that she says she’s tried to create for so many years.
I’m not a studio musician. It’s always been really hard, even just recording a few songs in your studio. It’s weird when it’s just a quiet room and there’s no people there, there’s no energy. I love performing live, so like I wasn’t very good at studio recording and I didn’t really have…I don’t know there’s a special kind of confidence to sit in a room and listen to you make mistakes over and over again. But I went into this recording extremely prepared and very comfortable with Ian and his studio’s amazing. And the album it just turned into something I’m really proud of.
Dooley is having a release show for the album Thursday night at 9 p.m. at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. The album, called Made In Kalamazoo, is her first one in eight years.
“Every other contributing musician and the artist and the photography and everything involved except for the actual manufacturing of the album was based and created in Kalamazoo,” says Dooley.
Dooley even has a tattoo of the old Gibson Guitar logo that says "Made in Kalamazoo.'
"I was born in Kalamazoo," says Dooley. "I was actually born in the parking lot of Borgess hospital and my parents lived right down the street and I grew up on the Eastside right off of Sunnyside until I was like 12. And then we moved to Vicksburg and I actually moved back to Kalamazoo as soon as I could.”
Dooley says she dropped out of high school while she was in Vicksburg to pursue her passions. She doesn’t advise dropping out, but says she has few regrets.
I was lucky enough to really know what I wanted to do immediately. A lot of people have to take a little more time to figure that out. But I knew I wanted to play music and I knew I didn’t need a high school diploma to do that. And I also wanted to cook too, so I actually started working in kitchens really early. And then I eventually got my GED and went back to college just because I could.
Dooley says she doesn't cook professionally any more, but she still enjoys cooking at home.
"I was a cook for like 13 years alongside playing music and luckily I got to just start playing music about a year and a half ago. And I’ve been doing that full time ever since and it’s been really nice,” she says.
Though Dooley is a Kalamazoo music veteran, the new album is unlike anything you might have heard from her a few years ago. Dooley played more rock and blues back then.
But that was before she met Andrew Whiting, who was an upright bassist in Chuck Whiting and the Tip Rail Ramblers - a band fronted by his brother. Dooley says she and Andrew both had an interest in that old-time music, so they formed Moxieville.
We both wanted to play that style. We both wanted to not just because we love the style so much, but to introduce a new generation of listeners to this sound. That is…it’s always a lot richer and a lot more - I don’t know there’s just a lot more that goes into it. And we really wanted to bring that to a new audience as well as appealing to an older generation of people who grew up listening to music like that too. So it…we wanted to really be all inclusive with that.
On the new album, Dooley's primary instrument is the banjolele. Dooley says it's like a tiny banjo, but it has nylon strings like a ukulele and is tuned like a ukulele.
"It’s a little more punchy than a uke,” she adds.
But Dooley hasn’t just changed her sound, she’s also changed her song-writing. She used to rely on personal experience, now she’s telling stories. You can see that in her Tom Waits inspired murder ballad called “Nothing But Trouble.”
It’s about a couple of alcoholics who have been together for a long time. The woman is just extremely frustrated because the man - her husband - that she’s been with has been cheating on her relentlessly for years and years and years. You know set back in a time where divorce wasn’t so easy or socially acceptable. So she just kind of snaps and she’s drinking a lot and she just decides that if he does it one more time, she’s going to kill him. And she knows his schedule and so she tells him that she’s going out, that she’s going to be gone for a while - knowing that he’ll probably start drinking and inviting women over. So she kind of camps out behind the house and has some drinks while she’s waiting. And of course some women come over and she like loses it and grabs a cleaver from the kitchen and kills him.
So what’s next for Dooley? She says she wants to travel.
“I’ve been a working musician for almost 15 years now in December and I’ve never been on tour. But you know I wanted to put something out that I was really proud of that would represent me well as an artist and I’ve never felt like any of my other recordings did that. So after this, I’m going to hit the road sometime soon,” she says.
You can see Megan Dooley at her album release show Thursday night at 9 p.m. at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo.