Artist Spotlight: Mega Bog

    Mega Bog is the experimental pop project led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erin Birgy, who has been sharing songs under the moniker for over a decade. Having spent much of her adolescence as part of a traveling rodeo, she moved on her own to Spokane, Washington at age 15, where she contributed poems and band interviews to a local magazine called The Finger. Mega Bog’s label debut, Okay Human, came out in 2011, and since then, Birgy, who now lives in Los Angeles, has been expanding the project with a revolving community of collaborators that have included James Krivchenia of Big Thief and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy.

    Released today via their new label home, Mexican Summer, Mega Bog’s seventh LP, End of Everything, was co-produced by Krivchenia and features contributions from Duffy, TOPS’ Jackson MacIntosh, and Westerman, among others. Birgy wrote the album on piano and synthesizers instead of the familiar guitar, buoyed by the immediacy and drama of ’90s house hits and Italo disco grooves to drive a necessary, powerful, and transformative response to trauma. Even as it untangles some of her prior work’s more obtuse songwriting with a new playfulness and sincerity, Mega Bog’s music remains thrilling, curiously introspective, and darkly hypnotic – and paired with a series of music videos shot by Birgy in Greece and Los Angeles as well as her first published poetry collection, The Practice of Hell Ending, the record continues to stretch the Mega Bog universe out into uncharted territory.

    We caught up with Erin Birgy for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the importance of dancing, the process of writing and recording End of Everything, practicing presence, and more.

    One of the first things that struck me about End of Everything is just how danceable it is. Why was this an important quality for you during this time?

    I feel like the most important, somatic, physical thing that I can do is finding a way to play with the shell that you’re caged within and dancing. [laughs] When I was two years old, I wanted to be a dancer, and eventually, I wanted to be a choreographer. I always had this dance imprint for some reason, because it made me feel so excited. When a lot of these songs were written, it was when we were homebound and cut off from the rest of the world, and I wasn’t doing a lot of the physical things that I am used to doing and enjoy doing. I used to go dancing, host things with friends, hike infinite miles every other day, and all of a sudden, we’re not allowed to leave the house. I didn’t need any more complications, so I just honed in on the specificities of ‘80s, ‘90s dance pop hits, or Franco Battiato – he’s one of my favorite composers and lyricists, so dramatic and so gentle at the same time. It was just a way to get me through some of that deep stuckness, macro-level things that were going on around 2020, but also my micro existence. I really needed to hype myself up to dance more. A lot of these songs, they weren’t written as dance songs, even; by the point we recorded, it was so desperate. I was like, “We gotta try something real different.”

    Do you remember exactly when that revelation happened?

    Yeah. A lot of really heavy, traumatic stuff happened right before we went into the studio to make this, and everybody I was working with knew the circumstances of an assault that happened. I wanted to make the record because I was like, “If I don’t make this record I’m gonna die, so let’s just do it.” We were kind of laying the songs out as I demoed them before, so I just remember sitting in the live room, and I was like, “Maybe we reference some of these synth compositions, or maybe we even reference Enya,” and then started to do that and it’s like, “Uh-uh, it’s not… What do you actually want? What do you need right now?” And it was like, “We just need to be clear, emotionally direct, and summon that desperate energy into something that does not leave us feeling more desperate, but feeling release and relieved.” Especially James and Aaron [Otheim] and I, we were just like, “How do we do that?” We always just do live band stuff, and it was a lot of heads down, trying to work with different synths and sequencers and things that we hadn’t really figured out. We didn’t even really know how to use MIDI at that point. And then when we figured it out, we’re like, “Wow, that’s how you do it, and it’s amazing! Now the code is cracked to begin on this new, exciting, potentially infinite process.”

    How did starting with the piano and synthesizer instead of the guitar for the writing of a lot of these songs feed into your lyrical approach?

    I think at that point in writing, I was trying to write the music and the words together, mostly, just to have that divine bond between them. But a few years ago, I didn’t really know how to fluidly play piano, so I had to slow everything down. It was a lot of inhibiting myself in kind of a positive way and just focus. There was a lot of practice in between too, I had to play the songs over and over. It was less comfortable and less instant than it has been in the past with other songwriting practices, and this one was a lot more rudimentary. I felt like a toddler a lot of the time, and that kind of gave me a freedom to write more vulnerable, straightforward lyrics as well. I’m so grateful it happened; I think in general, when you slow down from anything, there’s a lot of space for other things to come up that you haven’t thought about in a long time. I think that serves this music really well.

    Did this focus on directness force you to actively shed away some of your older impulses to maybe write more abstractly or in a more coded way?

    There was fighting, yeah, it wasn’t easy. I think I framed my identity within a realm of almost ignorance – just being able to blast through a skill that was well known, which is, you know, stream-of-consciousness poetry alongside meandering guitar. I know how to do that, and it was challenging for me to have the curiosity to sit with feelings that were old, sit with feelings that were relevant and newest as well, but go into exploring them with a totally different pace and discomfort. So you have more space to learn, like, “What am I feeling? I’m feeling uncomfortable; my hand doesn’t work the way I think it should work, and that’s okay. How do I make best use of it?” Or with lyrics coming up – like, ‘The Clown’, I thought it was such a stupid song, and I was so embarrassed of the lyrics. I had to unlearn that judgment of myself, just sitting with it and sharing it with people.

    Were you more concerned, given the circumstances in which the album was made, about the usefulness of the music on both a personal and a more collective level?

    I was coming to an awareness of how making music served my own health. I was thinking about the people I was working with, when I started working with people, of just – I’m very emotional, and people have criticized it, and I feel self-conscious about it, so I’m always kind of like, “Okay, how do I make this a fun experience for you at the same time”? There’s a lot of pre-processing to the session that goes into it. It’s cliche, I guess, but I started doing intense cognitive behavioral therapy earlier in 2020. I’m still doing it, and it’s changed my life in a really cool way – just identifying things that could help in desperate moments. Like, I’ve known for ages, Just pick up a guitar, just hold it, play it for like ten minutes, and I usually feel a lot better. ‘The End of Everything’, the song, I had a really bad night, had a really bad while, and was – not completely hopeless, obviously, because I crawled out of bed – but just, I have to do something, I just have to play. And it was dirgy and depressing, but writing that song – I’m sorry if this is too dramatic, but writing that song saved me that night, because I had kind of made a decision to go elsewhere.

    That was one of the last songs, but I think ‘All and Everything’ came after it, and that’s a little more triumphant and wasn’t necessarily from a place of desperation. I had this reflection, I was hanging at the cemetery with my friend Katie – we were on a funny adventure, but came back and had kind of made peace with a lot of very specific pains I was trying to sort through before that. I was trying to figure it out, and I did figure it out. And then the process of making it with other people, that year and a half of having it started, like skeletal studio recordings, finishing them, and then unleashing it onto the world – making sure it’s useful and moving and inspiring, that I’m handing it off with care instead of, like, “Here’s this terrible place that it began.” Actually, it’s been processed, and you can almost see the process. You can feel it in the music and in the writing. I don’t want to cause more damage; I want to reverse some that already exists out there.

    One of my favorite lines on the album is from that song: “It’s something I’m trying commit to/ The all and everything.” In the poetry collection, though, you write, “I accept the all and everything.” Is it something you’ve had to wrestle with over time, that gap between commitment to and acceptance of hope?

    The song came first, and the commitment is like, “I know that this experience is happening, so I must deal with it.” But I think writing the song, I was still trying to control a situation that was out of my control a little more. I was trying to commit to this idea, where I knew that there must be something that’s obvious at some point, but I was trying to make sense of it. And I think with the line in the poem, that came a year and a half later, just sitting with that idea a lot more, and it was honestly addressing the same pattern with a different figure. But at that point, I could loosen my grip on the idea, and I accepted that I didn’t have to make sense of it, that faith in something outside of my power – it’s just happening, it’s not like anything has intentions for me. It was just trying to document, like: I think I get it. I don’t have any control over this other figure’s reactions. I’ve tried my bit, and I can see how it has taught me something already, and it hasn’t even been fully swallowed, so I guess I’m grateful.

    There was this article I was reading on the chemicals that are activated when you’re feeling anxiety or stress, that those chemicals can’t be fired off in your mind if you are sitting with gratitude. And with that situation in particular, I was like, I have to just be grateful that I have this opportunity to learn and maybe change my life for the better. I’m remembering it now – I feel like I’m starting to slow down my speech just because I need that right now. I need to sit down and make a gratitude list or something. But yeah, there was a difference in time, of having been introduced to the idea versus having practiced it for just a short while. I said earlier to you, “I figured it out.” It’s like, no, I haven’t figured anything out, but I have something that’s a little more ingrained in my practice, which does serve the understanding a little more.

    Would it be fair to say that the poetry collection provided a space for you to explore a language that’s more personal and a little less direct than the kind you use throughout the album?

    I didn’t have any intention of sharing this poetry with anybody. I was having a hard time journaling, documenting my days, and a friend suggested I make lists, and they just so easily turned into poems – another part of my brain went off. When I started school, I wanted to be a poet, I was in a poetry program, and I left it. It was kind of a despicable environment and didn’t feel healthy, being around these people who also wanted that in a specific way, so I ditched it all to start touring. Last year especially, while I was writing this, I was completing these pretty important cycles, like, when I was 14 and 15 I was going to be a poet, I grew up wanting to – I mean, whatever, let’s not get into childhood. But I started writing these just as ways I could keep track of my emotional self with the daily activities, kind of like: Here’s what I was thinking and feeling, here are the characters that were involved, here is how I view the world, just as a personal reference. James and I went camping, and I was just thrilled about re-reading some of my journal and read it around the fire. And he was like, “These are amazing, you’re like a poet again.” I was like, “I think I am!”

    It became a really important piece of routine. Routine has been something that I’ve been focused on and never really had. This was something that made me feel free and curious and exploratory. I can use whatever language I want, and I can have whatever tone is honest or relevant in that moment while forming structure. I’ve noticed, if I don’t write for a day or two, I’m thrown off, and having a specific time to do that was a good way to start building a routine for myself. To have not only artistic stability, but just some mental stability. I look forward to writing. It’s one of those things where you’re like, I see that it helps, and that’s kind of weird, but this one was actually like, I love this, I’m so glad it helps. Because this is what I’ve always dreamed of and resisted for a long time. Felt like I wasn’t good enough, or felt like I couldn’t handle it. It’s like, “Nobody has to read that.” I would reread journal and be like, “Wow, this makes me so depressed.” And this is the first time I was like, “I think I’m, like, doing better. I think I have a handle on something.” And it’s okay if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, but I’m also speaking to myself in a language that’s more direct. I’d never done that.

    I was actually talking about a pretty strange synchronicity that happened to an old friend. I was like, “I haven’t really talked to you about things that happened when I was younger since I’ve been doing all this psychological work.” And they reminded me that when we met, when I was 19, I only could speak to them about my past through ghost stories or supernatural experiences. I couldn’t access the direct. I have extreme PTSD, and I’ve worked through so much of it to this point where I don’t have to hide behind an external story. I can practice presence, and it’s not so scary because my presence is safe; right now I’m safe, and I’m good, and I do have an extreme backstory. That’s okay, it’s just contributing to whatever I’m uncovering now – or not even uncovering, but what I know now about myself.

    One poem simply reads, “I look forward/ As usual/ To music.” Do you remember writing that?

    That was another one of those moments of, “What am I looking forward to? What am I grateful for?” I was in Greece, having a miscommunication and some strange feelings with a friend. I was like, “Well, I know that that will happen.” It’s simple, but I love other people’s simple poems. I have a lot of like one-liners just in my personal notebooks, and that one just felt so absolute and relevant forever. Not even just making it, but knowing that it’s in the world, and that I can listen to it, is such a reassurance. It’s just an absolute for me. Music is the most important thing. [laughs] It’s everything. It’s just everything.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Mega Bog’s End of Everything is out now via Mexican Summer.

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