By Jillian Dawson
When I first started bartending at the martini lounge, Kyle Megna was just getting his start as a solo musician in the Fox Valley. He played acoustic covers with a handful of his original songs mixed in. Having a heavy lineup of musicians at our venue, it usually takes a couple of shows for me to remember exactly who each artist is/what they sound like when people ask about them. He has a song called “Merry Way” that is one of those sweet acoustic-pop songs with a hook that gets stuck in your head after the first time you hear it – you can sing the chorus along with him by the second verse. This particular song was what identified him to me the second time around, like “oh yeah, this guy!”
He always left a stack of CDs behind for the staff. If you ask any of the bartenders working there at the time they would nod and say, “The one with the yellow cover.” When the album to employee ratio became unbalanced, we brought the extras to our friends or shared them with our regulars. I make note of this because a few years later, I hunted down Megna’s merch table to buy copies of his album “Catfish Joe” for Christmas presents to each of my family members.
Over the years, Megna has created quite the buzz around the Fox Valley. What started out as a solo gig turned into a full band, Kyle Megna and the Monsoons, and duo appearances featuring Dave LeBlanc, Aaron Zepplin and, most recently, Ross Catterton (but we’ll get back to that later). From Appleton’s Farmer’s Market to Summerfest, the Meyer Theater to opening for Toto, Megna averages a whopping 150 plus shows a year. Tired just thinking about it? Rest assured, Megna is doing what he loves. “It's crazy where music takes a person. I love being a working musician and staying true to music. I've been to places I never thought I'd be because of it.”
The latest album, the self-titled “Kyle Megna & the Monsoons,” is one of his favorite albums so far, crediting life experience in his later song writing. “I’ve been writing songs since I was seventeen; there’s not much to write about at that age. Now I can say I've lived in three different states, been flat out broke selling instruments to make rent (he once sold his first electric guitar and vintage Rhodes keyboard, a decision he regrets) broken some hearts and had my heart broken.” He also credits falling in love, dealing with depression and self-confidence issues, death of loved ones and as Megna puts it simply, “Life.”
A man of independent booking and self-marketing, Megna’s proudest moment has been his album release show at Stone Cellar at Riverview Gardens this past July. The ticketed event produced a packed house of people there for the music. “It's rewarding because it started from nothing. Just knowing that you can take an idea and make it work without having a booking agent, marketing company, or push from any outside source feels really good.”
The lineup of the Monsoons has changed and expanded over the years. Megna notes, “Having new band members gave it new life. We’ve grown together and now feel like a tight unit as a band.” The current lineup features Aaron Zepplin (guitar), Fred Velpel (bass), Mike Underwood (drums), Noah Harmon (keys), Ross Catterton (saxophone) and Kurt Shipe (trumpet). “[The sound] still has funky overtones, but there’s a very dynamic feel to it as well.”
The latest venture for Megna is booking a traveling duo performance with fellow bandmate Ross Catterton, which features three sets – one for Megna, one for Catterton and a collaboration of the two. The two musicians are bringing their show to Rock Garden Studio for an evening of songs accompanied by members of the Fox Valley Symphony. Megna approached Symphony member Heather Anderson about the collaboration. Anderson assembled a team, charting out the music to rehearse with songs Megna provided. “I gave a few ideas for the songs, but I trusted her judgment and she came up with the string parts on her own. She's a pro!”
As an outsider, watching Megna develop musically over the years has shown his ability to take risks. Thursday’s performance proves just that. “I love that something like this challenges me musically and inspires me to grow. When you feel a little bit uncomfortable and nervous, the best things come out of it.”
Catch Kyle Megna and Ross Catterton Thursday September 22nd, 7pm at Rock Garden Studio.