In 2007, a seventeen-year-old Welsh girl posted a cover of Bright Eyes’s “Landlocked Blues” on YouTube. Five years later, Kate McGill was one of the top-ranked musicians on the platform, amassing over three million views on one Adele cover.
Tackling an Adele song requires a strong voice and an even stronger sense of self to break free from a culture you find restrictive. In late 2012, Kate posted what was to be her final YouTube video, played a farewell gig at a club in London, and announced that she was moving on from covers to try her hand at original music.
Multi-hyphenate Daniel Broadley, known primarily for his film, photography, and cinematography work throughout the U.K., met McGill soon after she had released her first EP. He had been working extensively for bands like You Me at Six, Amber Run, and Black Foxxes, using his intuitive sense of space and sound to direct compelling music videos and shoot portraiture.
With work featured in Kerrang and Alternative Press as well as having connections to some of the U.K.’s most successful indie rock acts, Broadley could have successfully remained behind the scenes, working in various realms of the music industry without ever showing his face to the world. Instead, he chose to step out from behind the camera and begin making his own music.
It wasn’t long before he crossed paths with McGill, who, still in her early twenties, was standing at a crossroads in her career. The pair connected due to the similarities in their upbringings: both had grown up in Plymouth and had moved to Bristol. Both had had individual success. Neither had any idea where to turn next.
“I think I met Kate around the time she had just put out her first EP of original material, and for a multitude of reasons, I don’t think she was enjoying life as a solo artist. She’d built a name for herself doing covers of other people’s songs and despite a few loyalists who enjoyed her original work, most just expected her to continue to release covers.”
All creatives are aware of how painfully solitary the journey is. Artists left alone with their muses often learn how quickly they can begin to look like demons; countless musicians have given in to their self-destructive impulses due to an unstable personal life.
Broadley empathized with McGill’s sense of displacement and validated her feelings of isolation: “I think she found being a solo artist lonely, as I’m sure many do. She wanted to share the journey, with all its highs and lows, with other people.”
Broadley and McGill’s reputation preceded them, and when word got around that they were forming a duo, they were invited to open for Bastille at a Kasbah Club show. With the pressure on, they named themselves Meadowlark and wrote the first few songs that we now recognize as distinctly them.
Meadowlark is a fascinating band. They are the prime example of what can happen with an open and willing mind, a desire to move into the intimacy of creative expression knowing that another person’s unique capabilities will allow your own potential to grow.
McGill and Broadley, like Joy Williams and John Paul White of The Civil Wars, work together exceptionally well and seem unlikely to have a similarly disastrous fallout.
As Broadley explains it: “There is a dynamic that only exists when it’s us two writing. We don’t get it with anyone else and when we’ve had other writers with us, it disappears. Perhaps that’s what Meadowlark is—it’s the creative energy of two particular people.”
There is also something to be said for Meadowlark’s remarkably self-aware branding. For a fairly new band, they have already established their niche and acknowledged their collective strength.
McGill, with her dark feminine aesthetic and haunting vocals, leads with such quiet confidence that it is difficult to imagine her in her bedroom in her teen years uploading cover songs to YouTube.
Broadley is modest enough to make the potentially controversial statement that Meadowlark, essentially, is McGill: “She has such a distinct voice that, to me, that’s what Meadowlark is. It’s [her] voice, on a bed of music that sits somewhere melancholic folk and electronic pop.”
Meadowlark could release their music as acoustic folk-pop, and the melancholic sound would surely remain. Perhaps if McGill were writing alone, she would be content to let the songs breathe.
However, Broadley has a cinematic background. His “video mind” allows him to delve deeper into his music and mine unfamiliar territory for new gold. Both Broadley and McGill acknowledged early on in their partnership that while McGill’s voice was suited for “softer and quieter” music, but it was Broadley who evaluated how to accentuate it.
“It was just a question of where we drew that line, where the music would sonically overpower her and make sure we never cross that line.”
Meadowlark’s debut album, Postcards, was released in the summer of 2017. It is surprising, then, that the title track, a very self-contained ode to a lost love, didn’t seem to belong.
“The song was definitely a curveball on the last record,” Broadley remarks. “It felt separate from everything else we had written up until that point. We ended up just mixing the original rough demon and releasing that version, as it had something magical about it that we couldn’t recreate in the studio.”
As technology has replaced tradition in many ways we often take for granted, the simple timelessness of “Postcards” is compelling. McGill sings of sending a postcard to an ex-lover. In 2018, the act of expressing intimate feelings through a handwritten letter is almost radically romantic.
Meadowlark’s music is full of such melancholic callbacks to softer eras. Universal themes—love, life, loss—feel deeply personal and profound when placed against a lush backdrop of electronic music. Like a recurring dream, some specific themes color the landscape of Postcards. Broadley doesn’t believe this is an accident.
“Kate had various experiences of love and life during the writing process. I think that’s why a lot of the themes steered in that direction. [We are] both very philosophical and social people. I guess that’s where most of our themes derive from. I hope that we can continue to explore deeper into those areas as time goes on.”
Meadowlark songs often contain clever turns of phrase. Their use of language and avoidance of cliché is one of the things that makes them stand out the most amongst a wealth of similar artists. Necessity drives invention, and it’s inevitable that Broadley has to write a lot in his directorial roles, but he believes that McGill is also uniquely good with words.
“I think we are just both aware of how language is best used to evoke imagery and depict stories,” he muses. “We spend a lot of time trying to find different ways to say the same thing until we both unanimously agree that we have found the best way.”
Broadley and McGill may have their songwriting partnership on lock, but when they enter a recording studio environment they become overwhelmed.
“Meadowlark is an interesting project because it’s not really a band,” Broadley explains. “Kate and I don’t have specific instrumental roles. We are just songwriters, and we gravitate towards whatever we have in front of us at the time of writing. But this becomes difficult in a studio environment because it’s an open-ended question of, ‘What do we want it to sound like?’”
In the very early days, they worked with Oh Wonder’s Ant West, still an unknown at the time. He produced Meadowlark’s first EP, Dual, in a “tiny little garden studio.” The resulting EP was a “perfect mix of real and synthetic.”
Later on, when Postcards was ready for mixing and mastering, McGill and Broadley sought help from their close friend J.J. Mitchel, a first-time producer embarking on the process of recording a full-length album alongside Meadowlark. “It felt like we were all in it together—lots of trial and error and learning curves.”
Through that experience, Broadley absorbed so much knowledge about production that he feels prepared to take on that role when the time comes on—at least for Meadowlark’s music. “I have spent a lot of time honing my skills as a producer and am now in a position to be able to self-produce our music. It was a decision I made myself, but our new record label all loved the demos so much that they didn’t feel like we needed to go and re-do them with someone else.”
Their upcoming second album is currently in the works and this time around, they have chosen to collaborate with a mix engineer named Steve Nalepa who has taken inspiration from the duo’s lilting, atmospheric sound.
Meadowlark is not what you would think of as a political band, and Broadley is hesitant to discuss politics in his work. Most of Broadley’s directorial work is visual and emotionally evocative rather than overtly shocking.
In light of this, Broadley’s treatment for the “Sunlight” music video, which depicts a homoerotic scenario between two half-naked men in Donald Trump masks, raises a few eyebrows. Why these bizarre visuals for such a catchy indie pop song?
“I figured we could just do something controversial, but not aimlessly. It’s a song about forbidden love. People thought we were slandering the U.S. president, but if you watch it and imagine them as two normal guys, it’s just a slightly surreal love story.”
Even though political art isn’t necessarily in the cards, Broadley and McGill aren’t exactly afraid to get their hands dirty. They’ve written bold songs. “Pink Heart,” heavily laden with drug references, was inspired by Amy Winehouse—and Meadowlark could be considered outsiders themselves. They’re the first to acknowledge their displacement in an inauthentic industry.
In fact, Broadley and McGill came together due to a shared disillusionment with the music industry’s commercialism and the fear of “entrusting your art with a monetized institution.”
In short, they make art for art’s sake. They are disinterested in pandering to trends. They simply wish to make music that sets up an ambiance and invokes emotion, a feat they have certainly succeeded at with Postcards.
. . .
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