words by joanie wolkoff
Hats off to Hand Habits (Meg Duffy to her elementary school teachers), who has spent the past two years touring with Pacific Northwesterners Mega Bog and the Kevin Morby Band. The singer-songwriter is gearing up to unleash her brainchild, Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) into the ether – and what a lucky ether it is.
Packed with lyrical narrative and velvety with lo-fi restraint, Hand Habits’ thirteen song offering soars with bucolic, whispery vocals and delves into dreamy handcrafted soundscapes. Having recorded and produced the album on her lonesome, multi-instrumentalist Duffy was able to breathe life into every last detail of this candid and introspective bedroom-debut in her own unmistakable way.
Now, ahead of its full release next week via the ever-productive Woodsist label (Woods, Kevin Morby), we speak to Meg about Goblins, Knuckle Cracking and Telling Men to Fuck Right Off. Read the full interview here…
Imagine I’m an alien and tell me what upstate New York is. Then tell me where you are going to take me when I spend twenty-four hours on planet earth with you in that region.
Upstate New York is a womb that birthed me. It’s south of Montreal. Do you know what that is? Canada? We will go to Irving Street in Albany and sit and look out the window first. It’s a nice view. Tops of buildings. Then we will drive down into the mountains, the Catskills, and spend the afternoon and evening in Saugerties. It’s on the river and there’s a little light house and an elderberry tree on the docks. You can walk there from the house. There are snakes there and also it gets very quiet at night. I don’t live there anymore.
How did the landscape and culture of upstate New York shape your music?
I spent most of my life before Los Angeles up there, so I’m sure the landscape and culture have influenced my sound and shape of musicality in ways I can’t even see. I think the small community of Albany area has made me aware of what’s outside of it, and making an effort to not close myself off too much from the greater scheme of things. I do love the slowness of the 518. I miss that. I spent some time in the Catskills, and I think that was my favorite time in the state of NY. It’s very quiet there and there’s so much beauty and time seems to be slower with few social obligations. A lot of my songs are long and slow. Full of textures to explore.
What are the best and worst parts of being on the road for you?
The best part is usually seeing all of these new landscapes, new color schemes and new faces. People are so different and so strange and I really don’t think I knew much about the world at large before becoming extremely privileged to get to travel playing music. Hearing people speak different languages always amazes me. Also learning about different social cues. The worst part for me is usually not getting much alone time. Or having the same conversation every night for 20 days in a row. Where are you going next? Where were you last night? How is the tour going?
What town that you’ve played in is closest to your heart and why?
Albany, because that’s where I started playing songs first and got so much support.
What is the weirdest/grossest thing that has ever happened to you on tour?
Uhh. The weirdest thing was when on tour with Mega Bog one time we went to Florida and at the place we were supposed to be playing there was literally a goblin playing music and the crowd was full of actual vampires and shape-shifters. Erin and I saw a teenage girl doing a ‘live’ drawing of this goblin playing music and although to the human eye he looked like a circus performer she was drawing a bald vampire with fangs and red eyes. And people had bite marks on their necks. We saw 3 hearses driving around and it was a friday night and a full moon. We got the fuck out of there.
The grossest thing is always when men think it’s appropriate to start a conversation about musicality by saying “I’m not sexist, but…” or something along those lines.
You have been described as naturally charismatic. If you wanted to be totally unnatural and un-charismatic for a day, what would you do differently?
Haha well thank you to whoever described me as such! I would tell most men to fuck right off. But I think I can be pretty “un-charismatic” without the permission to be sometimes.
Describe your relationship with production. What tools do you use? Are you self taught? Any favorite producers “in the game?” Could you share some technical goals or engineering challenges?
I just do what feels right. And try a lot of things but also making the record I didn’t spend too much time on one thing because when you’re doing it alone I think it’s easy to get lost in that process. I learned to trust myself a lot with recording. I use ProTool LE and an Mbox (2 channels). I borrowed an SM7b and a Blue Dragonfly from some friends. There was a nylon string at the house I was living at that I really fell in love with. My laptop is from 2008 and if anyone wants to buy me a new MacBook please email me at email@example.com because I think it’s going to die soon.
I taught myself mostly, took a recording class in college where we never actually recorded anything- WTF- and I’m always asking my friends for help. Also watching tutorials you can learn how to do almost anything. For production I love Chris Cohen’s style, and Phil Elverum, Jana Hunter, Paul McCartney, Liz Harris, Julia Holter, Laurel Halo. In the next few years I’d like to be making records with other people and engineering on my own. Outside of my bedroom.
Some have characterized your music as a warm bath. Do you like baths? What body of water (whether manmade or naturally occurring) would you compare your music to and why?
I do love baths. They keep me sane and centered. I have a tattoo of a bathtub on my leg. I think my music could be compared to a bath with the water running…or maybe a hot spring?
If you could take a bath with any musician, living or dead, who would it be and why? Any special touches? Candles? Flotation devices? Snacks?
Definitely candles. And oatmeal. Put a little in a sock and let it hang under the faucet. With Björk. She probably has an incredible bathtub. In that movie Drawing Restraint 9 she turns Matthew Barney into a weird dolphin creature and maybe that would happen. Oh and that scene when she has all those lemons. That sounds relaxing.
What are hand habits? Do you have any? How did you form them and is it possible to break them like other habits?
I think everyone has learned hand motions idiosyncratic to their personalities. I click my thumb knuckle a lot (a bad habit), but I don’t think all habits are bad. Some people get into really healthy habits like not looking at their phones all the time.
What is the best habit for a musician to form?
Practice. Play with your friends. Try new things.
Hand Habits new ‘Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) LP is released on Feb 10th, via Woodsist
You can pre-order it here
01/18 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
02/10 – Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right*
02/11 – Philadelphia, PA – Everybody Hits*
02/12 – Cambridge, MA – Lily Pad*
02/13 – Portland, ME – Apohadian Theater*
02/14 – Winooski, VT – The Monkey Theater*
02/15 – Montreal, QC – La Vitrola*
02/16 – Albany, NY – House Show*
02/18 – Washington, D.C. – Songbyrd DC*
02/19 – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight*
02/20 – Louisville, KY – Zanzabar*
02/21 – Chicago, IL – Schuba’s*
02/22 – Columbus, OH – Rumba Café*