Consider the term “vibe.” It’s gone from hippie vernacular for “feeling” to modern substitute for “intuition” to a magazine title, all the way to its most current (and popular) use, which can best be described as an “emotional atmosphere.” Sure, folks like DJ Khaled and 21 Savage have sort of run the most current use of “vibe” into near total memedom with the “Issa vibe” thing, but there’s a beauty to how the word vibe has shifted its secondary association throughout generations, all the while maintaining its primary association - causing one to feel. It’s associative, through and through, which lends itself quite nicely to the arts, particularly in music. Therein lies how Khaled and Savage were able to turn it into a meme. That being said, in this week’s feature interview with Meaux, the (hopefully) obvious focus touchstone is vibe(s). What propels an artist like Meaux to take to move from being spotlight adjacent to smack dab in the middle of it? How does she find motivation to create? What’s most important when she creates? In one way shape or form, it’s some sort of vibe, not in the Khaled or Savage sense, but one that sticks to the true meaning of the word - connecting and affecting a sense of feeling. A sense of connection between Meaux and those who listen. You do right by the vibe, and it'll do right by you.
Now/It's met with Meaux at Portland Brew in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville.
N/I - Thanks for meeting up with me.
Meaux - Of course.
[Coffee order is called out]
N/I - That’s not you?
Meaux - No. No. No. I’m actually going off the coffee bender. I’m doing tea today. I feel like with all the nastiness outside, I can’t get too into [coffee].
N/I - The way it fluctuates back and forth makes for a tough adjustment. You can hear it in my voice - I’m not sick or anything, but it’s just cold and warm going to town on my vocal chords.
Meaux - And then there’s all the pollen.
N/I - I’m okay with it, but you don’t realize the effect it can have.
Meaux - So how do you know Kristoff?
N/I - That’s a good question. He and I both went to Belmont…. Did you go to Belmont at some point?
Meaux - I went to Belmont for a little bit. I wasn’t in there for very long, but that’s how I met him.
N/I - Kristoff [Hart], I’ll say, is one of the best at networking, at least from my experience.
Meaux - He’s the shit. It’s like “Wow. Teach me your ways,” [laughs].
N/I - Seriously. He’s a guy that has an infectious personality that you can’t help but want to be around and work with him. It looks like it’s working out for him in spades.
Meaux - He’s killing it. I can’t wait to see…. I feel like he’s one of those people that I’ll look a couple years down the line and be like “Yo. His brains amazing.”
N/I - It’ll be super cool to be associated with him.
Meaux - I want the best for him. I want him to succeed, and I know he’s going to be one of those people that has his family, has his house. Just grinding, you know?
N/I - So how did you guys get connected? Same social circles?
Meaux - I honestly don’t remember when I met him. I feel like the Belmont scene - when I was there, it was so long ago - I was such a different human. So I feel like I’ve blocked it out of my mind.
N/I - Well a lot a people do that. In a weird way….
Meaux - It’s so strange!
N/I - Especially in your world - you kind of have to.
Meaux - It’s weird, “What? School? Why should that matter?” When I first moved here, I was straight out of high school, and I was going to college. That was so different than the world I’m in now. So I’m like “Wait? I don’t remember how I came across that.”
N/I - Well so you left - what was the deciding factor in that? That’s a pretty big crossroads.
Meaux - Leaving Belmont?
N/I - Leaving school in general, not necessarily Belmont.
Meaux - When I got there, it wasn’t really for me. I knew right off the bat - when I went to high school, I felt like I was killing myself to try to get into colleges and all that kind of thing. I was definitely an overachiever, but the type that had to work for it. I wasn’t one of the ones that just rolled in and got an A. If I did, it was because I studied for thirteen hours leading up. And once I got college, I was like “Fuck. I wanted to come here to work on my career, and focus on it. I don’t want to take these dumbass Gen Ed classes.” So immediately…. And I moved from New Orleans, so it was kind of a huge culture shock for me.
N/I - I would imagine so.
Meaux - So Nashville was very small, especially with Belmont being a bubble. I was like “Ahhhh!”
N/I - What were some of those things made it such a culture shock? One could probably assume a number of them.
Meaux - Sure. Growing up in Louisiana, it’s very lax on drinking and party days. I kind of had my party days in high school, so that’s just what it is. When I moved here, there were a lot of people who had never seen alcohol in their lives.
N/I - Which is such a wild thought.
Meaux - To me, I knew how to compose myself, but other people were like “Yeah!” and making dumbass decisions, and I’m just left to be like “What the fuck? I can’t be around that.” So that was a huge reality check, when I was like “Oh my god. Not everybody grew up the way I did.” In Louisiana, especially being from New Orleans, there’s an occasion all the time.
[Kristoff Hart arrives, having just gotten back in town from Los Angeles]
N/I - Speaking of the other LA, do you split a lot of time between here and Los Angeles a lot?
Meaux - A little bit. I try to make at least two or so trips a year. My goal with it - I’ve done that for the past two or three years. My sister lives out there, so that’s an excuse to visit her, and I have a free place to stay and hang out, but also can do what I’ve got to do. It took her a minute to realize that, the whole “Oh! You’re working too. This isn’t as much fun.” But she gets it now. She likes it, and likes me being there. I try and go twice a year.
N/I - So when was the last time you were out in LA?
Meaux - Last October.
N/I - What was that for?
Meaux - I originally went out there to Pasadena for this health conference with my mom. My mom is a health counselor, and I’m really into it.
N/I - That’s good. That’s not a bad thing to be into.
Meaux - Yeah! And so she was like, “Do you want to come with me this time?” So of course I said yes. I went out there and we did a conference for a couple of days, and then went to LA. Pasadena is like thirty minutes away from LA, so I spent the rest of the week in LA. Hung out with my sister a little bit, wrote, and hung out with my friends out there.
N/I - So I have to ask, with your being a multi-hyphenate - dancer, performer, artist, choreographer… How would you describe yourself?
Meaux - I’d say I’m an entertainer, for sure. It’s where I thrive. I think since I have a couple different talents, I’ve kind of - especially moving here - I just gig. The way I’ve always been is “Whatever you need, I’ll do it. I got you.” I’ll make it work, and if I can’t physically make it myself, I’ll find somebody else to. And now, it’s moving in the direction of my sourcing out people. A lot of people still come to me asking if I can choreograph something, and I say “This isn’t what I do anymore. I don’t enjoy it.”
N/I - It’s good to know that.
Meaux - Right. But I know really great people I can connect them with. But I’d definitely say entertainer. I love to be on stage. It’s what I do.
N/I - So when you’re in Nashville, are you mostly operating as Meaux in strictly music terms, or are you still doing some other forms of performing? Are things pretty uniform?
Meaux - I would say in the last year…. So I was doing background vocals for a long time, and that was what I was mainly doing. And last year, once I quit the band I was touring with, I had to make that transition, and it was super hard, because a lot of people saw me as that, but I was like “No! But you don’t understand.” I kind of fell into that, rather than what I was setting out to do. I was having to shift the perspective. So I did have to turn down a few gigs. Telling them that I’m not performing as a background vocalist all that much anymore, so I can’t do it. Of course, I’d give them other people. I love doing that. I love helping my friends make money. But I think now, since I’ve played some shows, and I’m starting to really make it….
N/I - Figure out what a Meaux show is?
Meaux - Right. Make it very clear what it is that I do. It’s cool, because I’m glad and I haven’t been getting as many background spots, so my heart is a little torn, but I get it. This is what I was trying to do.
N/I - It’s part of the come-up. You have to embrace the weird adversity of turning down paid gigs. In the end, it’s slowly but surely solidifying you as just Meaux.
Meaux - For sure. You’re an artist or you’re a work for hire sometimes. So a lot of times, people do see it the way I do. It’s tough, because I want to make music for a living every day, but being a baby artist, it’s not like the snap of your finger sets things in stone. You have to grind it out before it becomes a reality. As a side gig, it can work, but you definitely don’t get the same opportunities, so I definitely had to take a deviation from that. It sucked, because I was like “Fuck, I’m not doing as many shows as I’d want to,” but it’s all part of the process.
N/I - So with the shows that you have played, you’re fronting the entire band. How different is that mentally from being a background artist with one job, so to speak?
Meaux - I work with my music director, so we always meet before a show and after a show about what we can do and how we’re going to go about achieving it. We’ll talk about what I’d like, like if I want this particular element or something similar. We’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t work after shows, how the band felt, how I feel. He’s been really great, because my brain is always all over the place, but he’s able to put that in musician terms. So he’ll tell everyone what we’re going to do, and I’m like, “Yes!” It’s been cool. Since we’ve had a few shows now, we’ve taken lots of little liberties to create moments. We’re deconstructing the tracks and figuring out what can be made into a moment.
N/I - So with the tracks…. Am I safe to assume you write everything?
Meaux - Yeah!
N/I - And as far as the production goes, is that still mostly you?
Meaux - No. I usually co-write with a producer. There are some I do just piano vocal, but I love getting in the studio with lots of different producers, because I feel like you have more access to…. Stuff. Things to play with.
N/I - I feel like you have more perspectives, as well.
Meaux - And different sounds. That inspires an entirely different thing in and of itself. Over the last year, I’ve been hunting in really great producers who do the kind of music that I do, can be experimental and dive deep into meshing the worlds of hip-hop, pop music, and R&B. That is honestly the most difficult part, finding people who get it.
N/I - Especially in Nashville. Not to say knock the city, but you’re in a unique spot, as far as the past couple of years are concerned - there’s been a wave of cooler R&B, hip-hop is becoming more experimental from deep house to new jack swing, but most of those people are doing the production themselves, and can’t necessarily do their stuff and someone else’s. How do you navigate that?
Meaux - It’s a large crowd out there. It’s been a lot of jumping in rooms with a lot of different people, asking if people know someone who might be a good fit. Some people are iffy, and others are incredible. It’s part of the process, and I think with anybody that’s trying to find their own people - there are good writers and artists they love to work with, because they vibe well and create great shit. That’s definitely been part of the hunt from getting in rooms. Sometimes is really awesome, seeing what happens.
N/I - So do you feel like you’ve started to find some of your people?
Meaux - There are a couple of people in town that I’ve become really comfortable working with. People I love working with, that I wish I could work with everyday, but I can’t.
N/I - If you love working with them, there’s a chance you’re not the only one, right?
Meaux - Exactly. But it’s cool for them, because they can get a lot of work, but then people on the other side sometimes can’t get with them as frequently because they’re booked out so long.
N/I - I would imagine you’d like to see that grow more in Nashville.
Meaux - Sure. I’d love to see more people. I love trying things out. I have no ego in the sense of “I’m good for you. Or you’re too good for me.” If you’re cool and you make good shit, let’s try it. I also want to be strategic, though, where I’m not throwing myself into every room, because you are your environment. The stuff you listen to most should be your melodies and lyrical content. But in the end, I’m always down to try things out.
N/I - So who have you found yourself listening to lately that you’ve really connected with? Either here in town or in general?
Meaux - I’m a huge Kehlani fan. Especially lately, she’s just been coming out with banger, after banger, after banger. It’s like “God damn!”
N/I - That last record she put out is like twenty, twenty-five songs or something.
Meaux - I know! I was hyped on her when she had that mixtape out - “I love this girl. She ratchet,” [laughs] - and then she dropped her most recent album, and now she’s hopping on features. I feel like every New Music Friday, Kehlani is on it. And she’s got stuff coming out all the time, but she’s great because she always delivers. I’m a huge fan of her. I like her a lot.
N/I - She’s been killing it, for sure.
Meaux - I’m always going to be a huge fan of Jojo. I always will be. I’m also a huge album listener. I love hitting up a an album, getting stuck on it for a couple of weeks, moving on, and then coming back to it. I love that. I did that with H.E.R. And then SZA. Sabrina Claudio, I love her.
N/I - She’s incredible.
Meaux - My heart. She just melts me as I listen.
N/I - Do you ever listen to Kali Uchis?
Meaux - I’ve never listened to her as a whole. I’ve listened to a few songs here and there.
N/I - She’s been on a lot of features lately. She’s doing a good amount with Tyler, the Creator.
Meaux - He’s also really strange. His music is out there.
N/I - Sometimes I’m really into it, but then I’ll shift the next time I listen to it. You have to be in a really specific mood.
Meaux - That’s why it’s great. The music I listen to depends on my mood. Am I trying to get turnt? [Laughs] It’s always about the vibe.
N/I - So when you make your music, do you find yourself trying to do the same thing? Imbue a vibe?
Meaux - Oh yeah.
N/I - Because some people have the lyrics, that’s the message, or it’s the feel.
Meaux - Recently, I’ve been trying to challenge myself in the sense of - a lot of times I find myself sitting back in a comfort zone - I love chill R&B. I love to listen to it. It comes very easy to me, but that’s not where my voice really shines.
N/I - Do you come in with an idea? Or a blank slate?
Meaux - It depends. Sometimes I have a hook idea. Sometimes I come in with just a title. The other day I came in with a melody idea that I wanted to be epic and explode in the chorus. It just depends on the day, to be honest. I remember I wrote with these two guys - it was our first write together. They were hip-hop dudes, so I came in and I went through the most shitty day, and they were like “How you feeling?” and I was like “I’m feeling some type of way!” [Laughs] I was something. We wrote the sassiest song ever. It just depends on the day. Sometimes you might have a really great idea, but if you’re not feeling that way, it’s not going to go anywhere. I try and be true to myself. It might be a great idea, but it might be best served to be revisited. You just have to feel things out to do justice to the songs and to yourself.