“Joni Mitchell has this quote, ‘You must write in your own blood,’” Meaghan Collins fondly attributes. “I struggle to come up with a random idea and write a song about it. … Part of me feels like it’s ingenuine. Why would I write about something I didn’t go through?”
The Mitchell line speaks to the songwriter’s motivation, as Collins works to break into Boston’s music scene. She’s been at it as a solo act for about a year, the whole time showcasing original music and covers at open mics and paid gigs. Describing her genre as “indie-folk-country,” Collins says that she pulls inspiration from female greats like Mitchell and Carole King—women who unapologetically wrote their personal battles and fears into song.
As for her lyrics, Collins performs from the heart, as if she’s singing straight out of a diary entry. She says she didn’t begin writing through her music, but instead first wrote poetry as an emotional outlet while also forming a habit of writing letters that eventually came to greatly influence her music.
“I would write letters when I had some strong feeling towards someone, and eventually those letters turned into songs,” Collins recalls. “Now, sometimes my songs sound a little bit like letters—either a letter to another human or a letter to myself.”
While she’s always been involved in music in some fashion, from her interest in musical theater to joining an acapella group at Boston University, Collins never expected to become a musician.
“I stayed up until 2 am arranging [for the acapella group], and it was one of the most fun things I’ve done,” Collins says. “It was kind of like when you read a really good book and you don’t mind staying up late to finish it. … Putting all of the instruments into voices and writing it all down; I never knew I could transcribe music into sheet music but I somehow did.”
After a friend scored her a spot playing a gig, Collins suddenly found herself thrust into the local music scene as a solo musician. The only catch: She would need original songs. Having only performed covers up to that time, she got to writing.
In the time since, Collins says that many of her connections to venues and local showcases have come from acquaintances in the Boston music community. Navigating the scene, she’s found a network of support among her fellow artists that she finds to be pleasantly contrary to the greater industry’s cutthroat stereotype. As for her experience as a solo female artist in this region, Collins says she isn’t immune to the common struggles of her place and position.
“Women are naturally competitive with each other,” she says, “and I think it takes another level to step out of that comfort zone and not guard ourselves from each other. But I love seeing other women perform. It’s cool to share this man’s world with each other.”
Collins says she thinks about the broader impact of being a woman in music when she creates. Referencing the female-empowerment movement spearheaded by country music artist Brandi Carlile, she explains that this is an important moment for women in the industry.
“Right now it is a very powerful time for us,” Collins says. “She [Carlile] is just putting out this awesome message that … women in music … should start working together. We should start lifting each other up.”
One issue that Collins has found with the Boston music scene in regards to female representation: the region’s lack of a female-owned recording studios. Whereas there are such facilities in New York and Nashville that promote creative teams made up predominantly as women, Collins has had no luck finding one in her hometown. Such an establishment, she says, would be a great step toward paving the way for future Boston songstresses.
Her new single, “Growing Out My Bangs,” is the first of her original songs to be officially released. The track’s acoustics and personal narrative echo the ballads of Mitchell and King, while each verse serves as a small portal into Collins’ experience growing up and coping with change. She explains that she began writing the song after her decision to ditch her fringe brought her inspiration.
“I actually think I looked at myself in the mirror one day and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve gotta grow out my bangs!’” Collins says. “I’ve always seen that literary motif … girls cutting their hair [signaling] a big change in their personality. I thought that I could write a song about that and at the time I was going through a break-up, so I wrote the verse about a boyfriend. I didn’t want to just jump straight into that so I thought back to other times in life where I had to let something go and make a change that I didn’t necessarily want to make.”
Meaghan Collins will play as part of the Campfire Fest at Club Passim in Cambridge on 9.1 at 5:15 pm. Her new single, “Growing Out My Bangs,” is available to stream on Spotify. More info at meaghancollins.com.