By Johnny Griffith
Matt and Megan Magill love the stage. From the moment they met on stage in Oklahoma City years ago, through a decade in New York City, and a return to roots in East Texas, theirs is a marriage of music and ministry. As the “Magills” portion of The Magills & Co, the husband and wife duo take the stage singing songs of life, love, faith, failure, triumph, and trust. They like to call their music “grace music,” an honest conversation with the listener rooted in transparency, compassion, and music that flows from the lives they live together.
I sat down with Matt this month to get a better snapshot of who The Magills are and what’s coming up for them in the near future.
Johnny: When did you each start developing an interest in music, and what was really the moment when you realized this was something you wanted to do as more than just a hobby?
Matt: Ursula K. Le Guin said that “the creative adult is the child that survived.” Megan and I didn’t develop an interest in music. We just never left our childhood behind. We are children, and so making music is both hobby and vocation. It isn’t work to play. A child at play is unconcerned with things like deadlines or obligations. His/her life is an expression of possibility and joy. When considering “moments” that we realized music was something that was sacred to us, it’s more that there were moments that could have crushed us, that could have caused us to withdraw; rejection, failure, and discouragement did not have their way with us. Instead, our marriage has been a great gift to each of us – a friendship based on the mutual determination to remain open, expressive children, receptive to what we’re given and faithful to give it away to others.
Johnny: You two have a great story about meeting, whirlwind romance, marriage, and off to the Big Apple to “make it” where you persevered through struggles, eventually finding your way back to East Texas. How much of what you guys had to endure during that time period, going through the crucible of maturity and experience, influences how you approach the music today?
Matt: New York City was transformative for us because it’s an incredibly difficult environment to endure but also because we moved there two weeks after getting married. Cut off from our respective communities and parents, we had to learn who we are in light of our new city and new marriage. It changed us forever.
People often ask us, “Why would you all move (or stay) in Tyler, Texas?” or “Don’t you want to make it?” Our response is always that we’ve already made it, and we’re finally home. We dreamed dreams and lived lives in New York City and became a married couple there. We walked through “the fiery furnace of affliction” that is choosing to stay with someone who inevitably fails you from time to time. The commitment fuels the passion and as you look in the rearview mirror (which is all you have) you see that God was faithful to provide you the tools emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually that you needed to keep walking through whatever “valley of the shadow of death” you were enduring. Gratitude becomes the response, and hope springs eternal. Artists need to be critical of the status quo but hopeful about the future. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re not critical, then there’s no need to speak truth. If you’re not hopeful then you’re resigned to silence expecting truth won’t be received. Music is a means of truth in our lives both when it comes to us (and through us) as a cultural critique or an expression of hope. The roots of our commitment to and appreciation of this path were forged in our earliest days and darkest nights of our marriage together in NYC.
Johnny: When did you decide you wanted to make music as a duet instead of pursuing individual musical paths?
Matt: From the day I met Megan I knew my life would be better with her than without her. I feel the same way about our musical lives. I’m better when she’s beside me. Our sound is better when she sings with me. I’m a more honest performer when she’s there with me, and the reason is that I am who I am because she is my help-mate. I have become who I have become because of her help, and she has become more fully alive in that role. She is such a fully-realized woman….and probably because of how much help I needed! I HAVE to have her beside me.
Johnny: Do you primarily perform as a duet, or do you utilize a full band?
Matt: We love to play with our band. Collin Anderson (bassist and Meg’s brother), Chris Foreman (guitar), Loren Roe (drums), and Andrew Lindstrom (keys and trumpet) are brothers and are the most generous guys I know. We love to play with them as often as possible, but we also dig the intimate moments around town playing as a duo.
Johnny: Who are some of your most significant influences musically to this point?
Matt: I go through phases. When I was a kid I was crazy for Paul Simon, and I still am. Then I went nuts for The Black Crowes through high school, and then I got into southern California hippy folk rockers Gram Parsons and David Crosby type stuff, and then I got super into all the Tulsa Sound JJ Cale music and Leon Russell and Delaney and Bonnie. Currently Megan and I are huge fans of Dawes, and lately, an Ontario duo called Kacy and Clayton have caught our attention. We also really love Blitzen Trapper and their whole Portland, Oregon music scene. It’s so super rich right now (Fruit Bats, Vetiver, Blind Pilot, Laura Gibson just to name a few). And on the Gospel tip I still listen to old school stuff like Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, and The Staple Singers – before the Christian music machine made everything sound the same. Don’t get me started on all that.
Johnny: How would you describe your musical style, and how much of your current set list is original versus cover songs?
Matt: We play songs we like to listen to as well as songs that I write. I’m a super record freak so I’m always discovering old tunes that I want other people to hear. So we learn them and play them. Learning the newest cover song that everybody is listening does not interest me at all. Megan loves the Standards (Great American Songbook) so we’re always mixing those in, and I’m always bringing the band songs from early Clapton or Spencer Davis Group or Steely Dan or Traffic or Sam Cooke. But, if people are listening, I’m apt to play more originals. So listen up, and you’ll hear them.
Johnny: Faith is a big part of your lives and by extension, your music. Is that a deliberate decision to utilize music as a ministry tool, or would you describe it as simply an organic expression of your core selves?
Matt: We play with the same band that plays at Bethel Bible Downtown campus (above The Foundry Coffee House), so musically it’s like a “Farm to Market” band. We live lives alongside these guys; we pray with these guys; we break bread with these guys; we drink wine with these guys, so it follows that we would make music with them. Before we met, Megan and I were both trying to be something we weren’t yet. That’s what kids do. But God gave us one another to learn to become comfortable with who He created us to be and accept love. Because we have accepted that love (first from God and then from one another) we have become increasingly at ease with who we are. Whether it’s Saturday night music or Sunday morning music we are us – receiving love and giving love. We’re the same; our band is the same; our sound is the same. We’re not trying – we’re just being.
Johnny: What has been your best musical memory to this point in your journey together?
Matt: Watching the curtain close on Megan’s musicals each year fills me with so much pride. She has a musical theatre studio and teaches about 80 kids throughout the school year imbibing them with so much confidence and encouraging such profound character and emotional honesty in these kids. She writes these musicals that are just beautiful and so much work. When they come to completion it just fills my heart. As far as rock n’ roll goes, getting to play with Marc Ford of The Black Crowes, and probably the baddest guitarist ever, was THE highlight of my musical life. Period. (Not to mention he played guitar all over our new record, “Down is Up is Down” available on itunes, spotify etc.)
Johnny: What have been the biggest challenges to this point?
Matt: Megan and I don’t always agree. And mostly because I don’t want to be wrong. Our challenge is the same that any married couple working together experiences. I want her to think that I am strong and dependable and wise (the list goes on). But the trick is, when I fail her, I don’t want to admit it because it makes me feel weak and dependent and foolish. Vulnerability is the key, and it doesn’t get easier, but through the years we’re becoming more aware of our need to exhibit it. You didn’t know this was going to turn into marriage counseling, did you?
Johnny: What kind of experience are you hoping a first-timer gets when they come to a Magills concert?
Matt: On the best nights, they’ll get us talking into the mic saying things about our lives and laughing with the band. If we’re feeling good, giving grace to one another in the moment, then our music will sound great, our hips will be shaking, and I’ll probably be sweating. Those are the good nights – when the folks in our community are soaking up what we’re pouring out.
Johnny: What’s on the horizon in 2018 for you guys?
Matt: We’re thinking about taking all of our gear down to Meg’s folk’s lake house and setting up for four or five days with all the wives and kids and just working out some new tunes and writing together and living together for a while. The tribute shows at The Foundry will continue (we do four or five a year), and February 23rd-24th I’m putting on The 4th Annual Mockingbird Conference in Downtown Tyler. This year our musical guest will be Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper. I’m a huge fan of this guy, and it will be an honor to host him in Tyler. Megan will put on another musical in May, and we’ll play all year long with the band that goes by “& Co.” on our never-ending “Stick Around Town Tour.” Why would we ever want to leave?