Walking into Meghann Wright’s Bushwick apartment is like stepping into an optical oxymoron: it’s hard to tell if the place belongs to a rock star, or a newborn baby. A child’s stroller is propped up against a massive speaker set that frat houses across the country would lust over. On the top shelf in the kitchen, a baby carrier is nestled in beside a beat-up, sticker-slathered guitar case. A shelf on the wall holds innumerable bottles of hard liquor, near a flat screen TV playing a slideshow of digital baby photos. And on the living room table, a stack of books awaits, with titles such as “How Music Works”, “The Hungover Cookbook”, and finally, “My Life as a Baby.”
Wright is a professional singer-songwriter signed to Blacktop Records, with three albums and four national tours under her belt, including all 40 dates of the Vans Warped Tour in 2015. She is gifted on guitar, bass, and even saxophone, but her vocals are what make her truly stand out. Her voice soothes like the would-be lovechild of Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse, mixed with the power of Adele and the twang of Dolly Parton.
Her latest album, Nothin’ Left To Lose, was released in 2015, but will be the perfect CD to pop in for a long drive for years to come. Wright is only 34, but she has a lifetime of stories to tell, and music is the best outlet she has to get them out. Some of the songs that she has written are healing, and some are heartbreaking.
Out in the crowd through the dark and the mist
Between the long white lines and the cigarettes
A treacherous man with powerful thirst
For a wicked good time and a girl at her worst.
Wright grew up in Hawaii with her younger brother and sister in the metropolitan city of Oahu. “Some people don’t realize, but it’s very similar to New York in that it’s overpopulated,” Wright says of her hometown. It was there that she was first exposed to music.
“My mom sang opera and played the flute and piano,” she says, nostalgically. “And my dad, he’s a waiter, but he spends all his money going to concerts. He loves rock and roll. I remember when they split up, when I was like 5, I would go over to his house and he would lend me somewhere between one and three CD’s with his name on them. He would be like ‘alright bring those back next week and I’ll give you some more.’” Her love for music was fostered by her family, but quickly became her own.
I met Wright for the first time on a cool day in mid-November. She welcomed me in to her apartment with her eight-month-old baby boy, Calvin, in arms. He’s not yet old enough to say hello, but his toothless smile and flailing arms wave me in and make me feel welcome, regardless. The father of her son, Aaron Heinold, was not home at the time, off working at a restaurant named Eataly, in Midtown.
Despite the fine array of stuffed toys, pastel bibs, and pureed food decorating the apartment, it is clear that Wright is not a stereotypical housewife. She is dressed in shiny black leggings topped with a ripped, black Fairshake band t-shirt. A light blue pendant hangs from her neck, complimenting two bold facial piercings: one under her lip, and one where Marilyn Monroe had her famous beauty mark. Her hair is dyed a dark red, and her eyes are made wider using a creamy mauve eyeshadow. She swears like a sailor, and drinks coffee like it’s air and she’s asthmatic.
Hardcore rock-and-roll and newborn babies are two concepts that aren’t typically associated, but Wright manages the amalgamation with grace. Her doula, Olivia Ahn, commends her on such.
“I think there’s something really amazing about the fact that she’s just like a rock star mom.” Ahn says with a laugh. “She’s grown into motherhood with so much ease.”
Ahn is 27, and writes and sings music in her spare time. She met Wright five years ago at an open mic night Wright was hosting in the Lower East Side, and they have been friends ever since. “I just feel like she accepts the rough and tumbles of what motherhood is about,” she says. “It’s not glamorous, but she makes it super rock-and-roll and grunge. And I think that’s a testament to her tenderness as a person.”
Wright has typically played a show a month since Calvin was born, a change from the touring lifestyle she had grown accustomed to. “I always wanted a family and I put it off for a long time because of the music thing,” she tells me. “You can’t really tour when you have a baby, but who knows, when he’s older I may go back out.”
Your face is sunshine baby
I can’t bear to see you cry
I know I’m leaving you again
To chase those rusty dreams of mine.
Most of Wright’s childhood was spent living with her mother, a British literature professor. She raised Wright and her siblings to respect all religions, but she herself was a practicing wiccan. “When I got my first period I was taken out under the moon and anointed and shit, and we did a ritual,” Wright says, smirking. “It was very weird for a child to do.”
Growing up in Oahu “was fun, but it was hard,” she tells me. “They hate white people over there. Hate them.” Wright is half Irish and half Mexican, but her skin color rivals that of a bag of milk. Because the majority of the Oahu population is of Asian descent, Wright claims that she was often bullied for her race, even by her school’s administration. She explains that Hawaii used to be its own sovereign nation until British explorers first invaded in 1778 and forcibly laid claim to the island, eventually becoming a US state in 1959.
“I get it, I understand where the animosity comes from,” she says. “But I think I also internalized a lot of the whole white privilege guilt thing before I even knew what it was. I hated myself because I was white, and I always wanted to fit in. So I understand racism on a very serious and personal level.”
Wright identifies as bisexual, which also wasn’t always easy growing up. “I grew up bisexual at a time when I didn’t even know what that was,” she says. “I didn’t have a word for it. I didn’t have any role models or anything.” Wright has dated women, but is now engaged to a man: her son’s father, Heinold, an Asian-American metal-band member, and a cheesemonger/assistant manager at the aforementioned restaurant Eataly.
In her senior year of high school, Wright wanted to take her most serious girlfriend to prom, but was stymied by both her mother and her school’s administration. She remembers admitting to her mom that she was attracted to both genders, to which she says she received the response, “that’s disgusting, you have to pick one.”
When she submitted her prom request form at school, the guidance counselor told her that a girl could not be a girl’s date. “They said if I could get a bunch of people to sign a petition, then I could get her to come,” she says. “But I couldn’t hold hands with her, I couldn’t dance with her, and I couldn’t kiss her. So I got people to sign it and she got to come, and we couldn’t dance together or anything,” she remembers, still visibly bothered, “but we did end up taking a hot picture together, so that was our F.U.”
Wright settled into the music crowd in high school, and played the saxophone in the school band. “When you get to high school I feel like you can surround yourself with people who are like-minded, and that’s kind of what I did,” she says. “I hung out with the punk rock kids, the goth kids, the stoners, and the art kids.”
Wright became involved with the punk scene, a distinctly different sound from the music her parents exposed her to. As her teen years drew on, she began contributing to punk rock zines and became a regular audience member at all the shows available to her on the island. Hawaii received most of its musical influence from the West Coast of the mainland, and Wright discovered a lot of her favorite bands through compilation albums.
“All these labels would put out albums featuring a song from every band on their label. And then they just gave them away for free, and were like ‘here, check this out,’ and then you would get into a band that way,” she remembers.
After high school, she moved to the mainland, attending the liberal arts college Franklin Pierce University, in the rural town of Rindge, New Hampshire for video production.
Rather than focus on her major, she learned to play guitar, started and joined many bands, recorded, toured, and promoted her bands on MySpace and other websites that she created. “This was all in like 1999-2001, so it wasn’t really common to do that stuff back then,” she says with a hint of pride. “People didn’t even have websites back then. Some people didn’t even have fucking email.”
When she wasn’t touring, Wright was going to rock-and-roll shows every weekend in bigger New England cities like Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts. At one of these concerts in 2003 she met her current fiancée, Heinold, who grew up in Boston. “I’ve known him forever,” she tells me. “We were casual friends back in my college days, and we would go to the same shows. He would perform in the shows; I would perform in the shows. We’d go to each other’s shows.”
Heinold’s sound is quite different from Wright’s: he’s a screamo rock singer, but somehow they go together like a perfect harmony. Wright and Heinold were platonic acquaintances and it would take years before the friendship turned into something more.
After graduating from college in 2005, Wright spent a brief stint in L.A. where she started a catering company called Haute Mess, with comedian Chelsea Handler’s brother, Roy Handler. She calls cooking one of her biggest passions outside of music. She shared a house with Chelsea for a while. “That was weird,” she laughs. “We met a lot of interesting people, as you can imagine.”
Wright moved to Brooklyn in 2008 with the promise of work as a bass player for a backup band.
Keep my treasure, my bedroom, those green eyes
Warm and dry while I’m away
And I’ll be home before you know it
To get the heart I left in Brooklyn in the rain.
The backup band fell through, but Wright ended up finding her niche within the music industry in New York. Through the years she has worked as a business manager for Premier Studios in Midtown Manhattan, as a talent buyer for Pinks Bar in the East Village, and as a touring musician under her own name. Submerging herself in the music, Wright began to learn that being a woman in the industry was far from glamorous.
“Sexism does run rampant,” she bemoans, “and it’s unfortunate, because I feel like a lot of women don’t get a shot in the music industry because of what they look like. When I was in that backup band they would talk about our appearance all the time, like how we had to be skinnier or work on our butts, or show more cleavage.”
She believes that the standards of beauty she was held up to were unrealistic, and claims that sexual harassment was ever-present. “Name a guy in the music industry and I’ll tell you why he’s a schmuck. 100%,” she tells me.
Back in 2009, she began hosting open mic nights at Parkside Lounge in the Lower East Side, where she became connected with other artists around the city. Wright began noticing a lot of female musicians coming to the events she hosted, many of whom were ambitious musicians new to the city, including her future doula, Olivia Ahn. Because Wright knew firsthand the challenge of being a woman in the music business, she felt compelled to help these aspiring female artists.
“I started this community for women in the heart of the city, and it was originally meant to invite them to come for help recording, and I would find someone to record them,” she says. Wright also owned some recording equipment, which she helped the women utilize. “They were low budge, not very good records, but at least it was something they could put on the Internet.” She named her community of women The City &The Heart. It is still intact, launching talented women on their desired paths to this day.
Wright began discussing The City & The Heart with established female musicians in the city, who suggested creating a compilation project with all of the artists. “It brought me back to the punk rock days,” Wright says, speaking of the compilation albums she used to listen to back in Hawaii. “It was a fucking cool idea.” So she did it. Her first compilation album was put out in 2013, and was aptly named The City & The Heart, featuring nineteen tracks by nineteen female identifying, NYC-based indie singer-songwriters. Wright’s song, Cocaine, was third on the track-list.
I got a group of rowdy girlfriends
Staring me in the face in my doorway
They are yelling please please please
Please come play
Put away your broken heart for another day.
Wright has now produced four volumes of The City & The Heart, all compilation albums. The most current volume was released this past October, which, notably, is domestic violence awareness month.
Wright tells me that she spent “a horrible almost three years” stuck in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a manipulative man. Her ever-present smile fades when she talks about him. “It was bad between us. And it was just like textbook shit.”
She says he became more and more physically violent with her and her belongings. “He would punch holes in the walls, and he would throw my phone,” she recalls. “I ended up going on tour, and he was super abusive to me when I was on the tour.”
Wright’s longtime friend, and drummer on the road, 31-year-old Andrew Nesbitt, remembers the situation firsthand. Wright and Nesbitt left for the tour, which they called the Good Times With Bad People Tour, in 2014, with a bluegrass band called The Green Gallows.
“Right before we left for that tour, Meghann and her boyfriend at the time were really strained in their relationship,” Nesbitt recalls. “They kept fighting for the first two weeks of that tour and she ended up breaking up with him while we were in the middle of a longstanding tour. But with all of the crap that Meghann was dealing with at that time, she never dropped the ball, she never snapped at any of us. And that particular tour was one of the most trying times, where it would have been easy to fall apart and let all those things that most people have as a façade just fall away. But it never did for her.”
Wright says that the abusive relationship “inspired me to take a real look at my past, and my life, and why I was in this fucked up relationship.” Her perseverance is palpable, as she speaks of this dark time as something she learned from, rather than as a roadblock in her life. One of her favorite songs she has written, also one of her most popular tracks, Leavin’ Cleveland, references the abusive past.
I’m leaving Cleveland today
I looked hard but couldn’t find another way
You know I love you, I’m so sorry I can’t stay
I got nothing left to bruise
And nothing left to lose.
Wright decided in 2014 that all proceeds from sales of The City & The Heart albums would be donated to a non-profit named Safe Horizon, a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse.
“I started researching women’s shelters, and I was attracted to Safe Horizon because it benefits victims of domestic violence in so many ways,” she says. “They are very positive and they help the highest volume of people of all other organizations like that.”
Supporting other victims of domestic abuse through music has allowed Wright to come full circle, taking her past pain and using it to motivate change.
“These women really need help, and a lot of times what these abusive people do, is they break you down. These women, or men, in these relationships, they need help getting out of them because they have no support system anymore. Because this person has broken it down.” She gets chills, and rubs her pale arms with her hands. “That’s why we do it,” she says, nodding her head, “that’s why we do it.”
The women featured on The City & The Heart donate their songs to the cause, and Wright puts an incredible amount of time and resources into making it possible on a yearly basis.
“She makes no profit whatsoever off of this,” Heinold tells me, touting his fiancée’s charity ventures, “everything is meant for others.”
It was around three years ago that Wright’s romantic life took an uphill turn, and her friendship with Heinold finally blossomed into a romance. “A few years ago he was like, ‘I’m moving to New York’. Which apparently, I don’t remember this, but apparently I was drunk one night and was like ‘you should move to New York!’ and he was like ‘okay’,” she laughs. “So we were always friends and then we started dating when he moved here. We probably should have dated before but it wouldn’t have really made sense. We both had to live our lives and learn shit.”
Heinold makes it very clear that he thinks the world of his fiancée. “She really, really brings the best out of everyone she’s around,” he says. He assures me multiple times that I’m “doing a great article on a really amazing human being.”
And I see my sunshine through the rain
You bring me pleasure through my pain.
Her friends all seem to look highly upon their Heinold and Wright’s relationship, and appreciate the way they both make time to work on the projects that inspire them.
Christina LaRocca, fellow New York-based singer-songwriter, is a member of The City & The Heart community, and has known Wright for many years. “Meghann is a rock star and works very hard to put The City & The Heart compilation together,” she tells me. “She is a mover and shaker at large, great at bringing people together for a good cause.” LaRocca says she is honored to be a part of Volume 4 of The City & The Heart, with her track “I Am Only Human.”
The head of Wright’s record label, Ben Andress, also admires the work she does with The City & The Heart community. Andress is the head of Blacktop Records, a record label based in Ontario, Canada. “I look up to how hard she works, and the time she puts into charity events,” he says. “There’s a kind of cool glow about her,” he says. “She spends a lot of time doing things for other people, not just herself, which is something I think is a definite bonus. Plus, her songs are obviously pretty kick ass, so it was a no brainer.”
Precious heart hidden deep
Till the world discovers beauty in it
And covets it to keep
Cuts it out from its home
To shape and captivate its prism
So its light can never roam.
Nowadays, Andress says that the label is looking at licensing some of her songs and “trying to get her stuff into movies and shows, things like that.” He admits it’s been a little more challenging to organize her career now that she has the baby, “But we’re chiseling away.”
Wright tells me that she’s recently been venturing into the songwriting business, “Because I want to have what’s called passive income.” She laughs and says, “I want to make a song and then just collect a cheque.” Wright has been writing songs outside of her comfort zone and outside of her typical music genre, even traveling to Nashville this past year to write with acclaimed songwriter, Zac Maloy. “He’s a pretty well-known songwriter that’s written platinum and Grammy award winning tracks with Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw,” she tells me. Wright wrote three songs with Maloy, and hopes they will eventually get picked up by other artists.
In the meantime, Wright makes her living as the founder and CEO of GrindEthos, an artist services company that she runs out of her apartment, allowing her to stay home with Calvin. Wright started GrindEthos back in 2016, after she was fired from her job as a talent buyer at Pink’s Bar.
“Three months into my pregnancy they fired me with no reason,” she asserts, assuming that they did not want to pay her maternity leave. “I was like well, shit, I’m fucking pregnant and literally all I know how to do is marketing stuff and music stuff,” she says. “So, I tried interviewing for jobs and applying to different jobs and I’m pretty sure nobody wanted to hire me because they knew I was pregnant. So I was like well, shit, I’m going to start my own company. So I did.”
GrindEthos currently has eight artists under its wing, and Wright helps each of them in different ways. “Sometimes I help artists that have no label at all, and I help them with the development part and teach them how to be professional on their own so they become more attractive to industry professionals,” she says. “I also help artists that do have labels, but their labels just put out the album, they don’t do any of the other stuff.”
Wright teaches artists how to brand themselves, how to manage an album cycle, and how to make connections with industry professionals. “There are also a few artists that I simply manage, because they are doing well and are already established, so they don’t need my help with the other stuff, they just need higher tiered professional help.” Wright uses the media expertise she gained from her college degree, and the marketing that she did for her own bands back in college, to help other artists achieve their career goals.
Wright stresses that her company is “currently doing very well,” and she’s thankful she has opportunity to stay home and watch Calvin grow up.
Another moment and I’d be looking at you
Another moment and I’d be home with you.
Near the end of our conversation, Wright tells me that the adversity she has faced in her life – sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia – has all impacted the way that she wants to raise her son.
“Before we even decided to have the baby we were like okay, well, we don’t want to be shitty parents,” she says, speaking for Heinold, as well. “So hopefully we’ll do a good job. Everyone fucks up their kids somehow. I don’t know what we’re going to fuck up but probably something. We’re going to tell him all this stuff about rock and roll and maybe he’ll be like ‘I just want to be a lawyer, this sounds crazy,” she laughs. “So we’ll see. If he wants to play football he can play football. I just want him to be a compassionate, thoughtful, well-rounded person.”
She tells me that if she could spread one message through her songs, it would be: “that you’re not alone.” She sighs and looks me straight in the eye, never breaking her gaze. “That’s probably the worst feeling, that everybody feels at some point in their life. Some people more often than others. You feel like no one gets you, or that no one feels like you feel. I used to feel like that. And I want to prove that you can make something good come out of it.”
Her friends are eager to confirm that she achieved her goal.
“She’s given me advice on identifying toxic people and relationships and understanding what abusive dynamics look like,” Ahn tells me. “She’s given me empowering tools and affirmations to keep myself first.”
Her drummer, Nesbitt, also does nothing but sing her praises: “She sailed through personal hardship and came out on top of it. She’s got a lot of personal strength and stoicism to draw from.”
From her little apartment in Brooklyn, Wright and her music have made sizeable waves. Refusing to let adversity taint her journey, she has made the path to fulfillment more accessible for others. Hopefully, someday Calvin will understand how lucky he is to have a rock star for a mom.
When they cut into you,
Know that you are stronger than their blade.