Dani And Will From Megafauna Discuss Austin, Time-Signatures, And Creativity

Back at Treefort Music Festival in March, we had the opportunity to sit down with five amazing bands and artists. After a month of making sure the audio recordings were transcribed properly, we have finally started to release these interviews into the world! Check out our interviews with NNAMDÏ and Meltt, and be on the lookout for the other two to come soon. This time, we’re publishing our interview with Dani and Will from Megafauna! We were able to discuss life in Austin, Texas, the music scenes that shaped their sound, and their creative process. 

A: Recording is rolling, so first and foremost: how are you guys doing today?

D: Good!

W: Fantastic!

D: Yeah, it’s good to be here.

A: Very good to hear that! And how are you guys feeling about yesterday’s set?

D: I felt really good about it. It was really fun.

A: Awesome! So tell me a little bit about you guys, about the band’s history [alarm goes off in the background] OK… Nice — just for the —

W: We’re starting fires.

D: Yeah. [chuckles] Yeah, we started in 2008.

W: Yeah, she had an early… like, a proto-version of this band, I guess, in Brooklyn, and then when she moved to Austin, we met. And then we’ve kinda just had a rotating crew of people, but we’ve had the same people since like 2015 now.

D: Yeah, Zack joined in… or earlier? 2012, right?

W: Zack was 2012, Winston was —

D: 2015, yeah. 

Megafauna Band Photo (Credit: Unknown)

A: So you’re originally from Brooklyn?

D: I’m from Connecticut originally. And then I moved to New York City after college.

A: Nice. How would you say all the different scenes you’ve been a part of have shaped the sound of Megafauna?

D: Oh man. Well, like, as a young person, I played a lot of blues and was exposed to a lot of blues music. My guitar teacher was obsessed with blues and I would sit in with his band, The Triple Threat Blues Band. And then later, college, I was really into grunge and I had a band there, Common Response, and we were into like… Radiohead, alt-rock, grunge and stuff. And then when I lived in the city, I was exposed to a lot of free jazz and more experimental stuff. My boyfriend at the time was a free jazz trombone player, so we would jam and have shows in our basement and stuff, and I was exposed to a lot of cool, weird bands through that.

A: That’s dope, wow. And so with regards to Austin: how has that scene shaped your sound? Cause when I was listening to the new singles, I was getting a little hint of Spoon … I know a lot of bands from Texas, but when it comes to Austin, I specifically think of Spoon, so I was like “How is that coming through?”

W: Austin has a really good scene. I feel like… I don’t know if we really consciously thought about it, but Texas is actually a big metal place, so there’s a little bit of an undercurrent of that, and like… I grew up doing jazz and stuff, too, but just like everybody there listens to metal. So when I heard her stuff, I was like “Oh yeah, we should be heavy.” … There’s a really good scene there. I feel like not a ton of it gets out, but in the 2000s, it was very jam-based — it’s always been a big songwriter place, and there was a big jam-band and reggae scene there, and then I feel like around 2008-or-9, all of a sudden, it was like all indie rock and Spoon-type stuff. Which came in and took over, and that’s totally fine. I guess more of what I’m saying is there’s all kinds of stuff going on. … It’s less pigeon-holed than it tends to be. I’m sure you feel that way about Nashville, too. It’s not just a country place.

A: Oh, absolutely.

D: Actually, Ryan, the trombonist, he made a list when I was moving to Austin of all of these more out-there, cool, kind of weird bands, and one of them was Muchos Backflips, which is Winston’s project, from our band, so I went and saw them and we got connected with that whole scene and this other band Opposite Day … There’s a lot of cool, I keep saying experimental —

W: Yeah, there’s not a ton of money flying around there, so there’s just lots of people doing like the coolest, weirdest s*** they want to for fun. Which is a good thing!

D: Yeah, there’s money, but not in the music industry there. I feel like. I guess Nashville has a bigger music industry, to me, maybe?

A: A little, yeah. I would say a lot of label offices lean more towards putting their country offices in Nashville, but when it comes to the DIY scene, it is very similar. There’s just everything going on.

W: Yeah, I feel like there’s people that tour outside of Austin that are based there.

A: Yeah, I think of like… when I think of how The Black Keys came from Ohio but then they both settled in Nashville, so they had the whole beginning elsewhere, but when they wanted to settle into a place, they chose the Nashville scene. So it’s a little interesting for me coming from Chicago … it was a huge culture shock for me, but I’m sorry, I got a little off on a tangent there. Sorry about that.

D: Oh, it’s all good.

W: No, you’re great.

A: Who or what would you say is your biggest muse right now?

D: Whoa… Whoa. I don’t know, dude. [chuckles] I’m trying to think how to not sound too goofy. I believe in the divine creative flow, so I try to let that idea of source fuel me, and I’m rereading The Artist’s Way, so the idea of… Yeah, just that. So it’s not really like a specific person or anything.

A: That’s cool. Is that book the one with the “artist date” concept?

D: Exactly! And the morning pages and stuff like that.

W: They want you to write thousands of pages.

D: Yeah, exactly, slough off the outer layers to get to the good stuff.

W: To be a professional writer, they just trick you into writing all the time.

D: Exactly!

W: It’s a great idea and a great book.

D: And Zack lent me this awesome book by Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way Of Being, and it’s very cool. It’s all about being in the flow with the universe. So maybe my muse is the collective unconscious or a mysterious unconscious.

A: And when you’re getting that out, what does the band’s creative process look like, when you’re creating through that flow?

D: So I’ll come up with an idea and bring it to them. It hasn’t been a full, finished song in a while, but we’ll jam on it together and flow through it that way.

W: We all have our fortes. I feel like you and Winston write from scratch better. I feel like Zack and I are almost more utility guys, like… I hate writing songs. [laughs]

D: You come up with good stuff, though!

W: But I like hearing things that are already there and then thinking “This would be cool with that,” like the arranging side of things, that’s more what I’ve always been into.

D: Shoutout to Will, my favorite part of our new song “Capsize” is at the end where it’s like [hums guitar riff] that was his riff.

W: Yeah, we’re good at running with each other’s stuff. I would say that whoever starts it, that’s kind of what’s kept us going.

D: And then Zack somehow figured out to play that in 4/4 over that. Or we suggested that. I don’t know. 

A: I was gonna say, there were a lot of odd-times yesterday [EDITOR’S NOTE: 4/4 is Common Time, Andrew was referring to polyrhythms and odd-feels as well as actually odd-times the band played in throughout their set] and I was like “This is awesome.”

D: Oh, we’ve got so many more, too!

Megafauna at Treefort Music Festival (Credit: Andrew Gardner)

W: Yeah, do you know that band Pantera?

A: Yeah!

W: I read an interview with Dimebag Darrell a long time ago where they were talking about their writing process, and it was so like… something a middle schooler would say, like, “Oh, we just get really high and we just jam until it grooves, man,” and I was just like that’s actually kinda… Not like really high, but that’s kinda just what we do. We work parts until at least 3 out of 4 of us are like “Ok, that’s sick.” 

D: Yeah, that makes me wanna write. I miss writing. And I have like… a zillion voice memos on my phone of various ideas, some of which are not cool at all, others of which become songs. So I, right now, have tons of those to wade through and then bring to the band.

A: And with Olympico coming out next month… do you know Twyla Tharp’s concept of the “spine?” I put the quote here so that I wouldn’t forget. 

W: What’s that?

A: “The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intentions for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to employ this structure. The audience may infer it or not, but if you stick to your spine the piece will work.” Would you say there is a spine for Olympico?

D: No. [laughs]

A: Ok, I love that.

W: We started writing it right when all of the pandemic stuff started going down, and just kinda random happenstance, like Dani and Winston and I were all living together at the time, which hasn’t historically been a thing, so it was just weird timing, and you know, we were just kind of writing songs, existential crises, and alcoholic goblin-hood, and just all sorts of —-

D: There are themes throughout.

W: Just chaos was like the spine of that. Like, you and I were listening to it, and were like “What do these songs all have in common?” But then I’m like “Oh yeah, it was just such a wacky time.”

D: It captures a moment in time for us, really.

W: Yeah, that’s the spine. 

D: So there is a spine. And I had a lot of questioning about life issues and a relationship I was in…

W: I feel like we all grew up a lot during that time.

D: Yeah, definitely! Like that lyric “How strange and ordinary” from one of the songs that isn’t even out yet, that was about the pandemic. A lot of it’s about that feeling of isolation and getting to grow, and it was kind of amazing to not be public-facing in any way in life and not have to interact with anyone except your band and your really close friends, and that was a cool climate to write in.

W: Yeah, and just figuring out mid-life amidst all of that —

D: Almost mid-life. [laughs]

W: Kinda wanting it, and then sort of kicking and screaming going into it at the same time. But it’s actually pretty great, Like, we all kind of came out of it better. It’s probably a cliche thing, but I feel like we did.

A: And with the singles you’ve chosen, I guess the big question is what was the purpose behind those songs as the singles?

D: I wanted to come out really heavy with “Capsize” … It just felt like a good song to be like “We’re back, baby, let’s bring it.” And then “Dozer” is Winston’s song, so it’s also heavy, and then… Well, I guess we haven’t brought out any of the quieter ones yet, come to think of it. [laughs]

W: The last one before it comes out is a quieter one.

D: Yeah, “Sometimes Island.” That drops with a video next week, actually! March 31st. We did a rad video on a sailboat… it’s a cool video. It was shot on film by this lady Vanessa Pla. But yeah, I think we wanted to come out with songs that are indicative of Megafauna and what we’re about first, because it’s been a while since we released anything.

A: And do you contend with audience expectations when creating music? Or is it just purely for yourselves?

W: Oh my god, I feel like we do contend with it.

D: Yeah, we do.

W: We try to… You know, there’s always some internal disagreement, but I feel like that’s one of our main ones we’ve struggled with. Just like… You don’t want to alienate people, but I also like, hate the “Does this sound like Megafauna” question because there’s only so many odd-time signature, pentatonic riffs out there. [laughs] And I actually think our soft stuff is some of our better stuff, often.

D: Yeah, and we’re like “How many soft songs can we play in a set?” Those don’t always feel like they land as well in the moment of the live shows cause people wanna rock out, but at the same time, they make the full set more deep or whole feeling, and sometimes those are the most raw songs. Sometimes I’m like “Oh, cut that soft song, let’s keep it hard!”

W: Dani is also an accomplished vocalist and lyricist, and I feel like it’s tough to make that shine when we’re having to focus on just driving the ship together in like 5/8 or whatever the hell. [laughs] So yeah, the softer songs are where that gets to shine more. I feel like a lot of people aren’t expecting that when they see us.

A: Yeah, I felt like the inclusion of [“Lookout Mountain”] towards the end of the set was a great spot within the flow of the setlist to let people rest before… Really, I just want to commend you guys on setlist flow, because I thought it worked really well. And I guess my last two really important questions are: what are you guys listening to right now?

D: What am I listening to right now? Um… King Gizzard, Unknown Mortal, Tame Impala, Khraungbin.

W: Yeah, I’m glad Khruangbin is doing great. It’s cool to see a Texas band blowing up like they have. I’ve been really into this band Magic City Hippies, and I pulled this old — I’m really into 2000s electro. I don’t know why, but I was listening to a ton of that. … We love Stereolab. 

D: Oh, I’m obsessed with Stereolab.

W: Stereolab’s kinda like my flagship, when people are like “I’m not very familiar with all of that,” I’m just like “we really like Stereolab.”

D: Oh, Radiohead, too, I’m obsessed with Radiohead.

W: Yeah.

A: Absolutely love Radiohead. One of my friends in my MFA program referenced “Subterranean Homesick Alien” in a piece, and I was like “Hey, I know that line!” [laughs] And my last question is: as a publication and as an audience, how can we best support you guys?

D: Man, really just let people know they can preorder the album at our Bandcamp and then catch us when we come through their town, but we really need to book another tour. But definitely check out the new singles and videos and stuff, and follow us! [chuckles]

A: I wish I could ask so many more questions, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I think that’s a good place to wrap up!

D: This was lovely, thank you! It’s been great talking to you!

W: Yeah, sometimes we end up dreading these, but this has been great! You’re an excellent conversationalist.

Check out Megafauna’s most recent release, Olympico, below, and check out their website here! Be on the lookout for our review of Olympico as well!

Andrew Gardner Administrator
Obsessed with all things music. Currently finishing an MFA in Chicago. If you see me at a show, say hey!
Andrew Gardner Administrator
Obsessed with all things music. Currently finishing an MFA in Chicago. If you see me at a show, say hey!

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