Honest Words, the scorching debut album from recording artist Megan McCormick, is in many ways a genre-defying throwback to the contemplative music of eras past. Therefore it comes as no surprise to hear the 24-year-old newcomer name-check artists as disparate as Jimi Hendrix, Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt, and Steely Dan as influences. Yet the singer-songwriter-guitarist with the rockabilly pompadour, who seems poised to take her spot in the pantheon of prodigious multihyphenate musicians alongside Brandi Carlile and Tegan and Sara, is also an exciting new breed of entertainer. McCormick is gay and feels no need to be cagey about her sexuality.
“I think after seeing me perform or meeting me, most people would probably say, ‘Yeah, Megan, she’s definitely gay,’ ” McCormick says with a laugh.
In a year that has seen celebrities ranging from Sean Hayes to Ricky Martin finally come out as gay after years of evading the question, it’s encouraging to hear the soft-spoken McCormick reveal that she never felt pressure from either her management or record label, Ryko, to play it straight.
“It was a total nonissue for everybody,” she says by phone from Nashville, where she lives and records. “I don’t think my sexuality affects my music.” McCormick acknowledges that when it came time to discuss the promotion of Honest Words, the mention of her sexuality did indeed come up. “They just asked what I was comfortable with and how I wanted to include this as a part of who I am,” she says. “The label has never asked me to be something that I’m not. I know that’s not the case for many recording artists.”
McCormick, an Idaho native who spent her teen years in Wasilla, Alaska (making her the most famous woman from there who isn’t named Palin), just wants to make music. Though she studied business and marketing after fleeing Alaska to attend East Tennessee State University, she was more excited about the school’s bluegrass program, and she can’t imagine pursuing another career. “I highly doubt that there is an existence out there for me aside from being involved in music in some way, shape, or form,” she says, “My mother is a country singer and a drummer, my dad is a guitar player, all my aunts and uncles had a band, and both my maternal grandparents are members of the Western Swing Hall of Fame.”
Veteran Nashville music publisher David Conrad, champion of accomplished performers such as Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, was an early advocate for McCormick after seeing her perform as part of a showcase at the Basement, a popular Nashville music venue. “David said, ‘This is so different from what I’ve been hearing,’ ” McCormick says. “‘This is so not Nashville, and I really like that. Let’s work together,’ and that was the beginning of some very major relationships in my professional life.”
Though she can play a guitar (be it electric, acoustic, bass, or lap steel) with the best of them, McCormick’s most singular instrument is perhaps her voice, which can switch from a whisper to a wail in a heartbeat. Despite McCormick’s fresh attitude, Honest Words often sounds like a newly discovered gem from the country-folk alt-rock world of Southern California three decades ago. Tracks like the lusty “Shiver” and the redemptive ballad “Oh My Love” wouldn’t feel out of place on a Linda Ronstadt album from her chart-topping heyday in the mid ’70s—albeit with slicker guitar licks.
On a break before several performances prior to launching her official tour this fall to support Honest Words, McCormick is excited to get back on the road. But she takes a moment to reflect on the reason she’s making music. “I’m totally blessed and thankful,” she says. “I get to have this really amazing conversation with people through music.” She also downplays the notion that she might be considered a pioneer for being out at the onset of a career, but adds, “I would love to think that I’ve made it easier for the next person.”