Local Vocal Wonder
Meghan Linsey, the New Orleans-born artist and singing sensation on The Voice, shines on her new EP Believer and will perform in Louisiana in October.
Like her native New Orleans, singing sensation Meghan Linsey is enjoying an incredible renaissance. After making her musical mark as one half of the country-music duo Steel Magnolia, the songbird made the leap in 2013 to fly solo with her career and debuted her self-titled solo EP in 2014. She has been showered with nothing but love in return. This year, Linsey was a favored performer on Season 8 of NBC’s hit reality music show The Voice, where her bring-the-house-down vocal prowess earned plenty of attention from the panel of exacting celebrity coaches and the millions of American viewers who voted Linsey into the impressive runner-up position on the show’s May 19 finale. On July 31 Linsey released Believer, an honest, thoughtful and refreshing six-song pop-soul EP that showcases her powerful, dynamic range and her outstanding songwriting skills, and that finally puts Linsey’s soulful, New Orleans sound on full display. And because Believer has been well-received across the spectrum, from her diehard fans to the demanding music industry, Linsey is over the moon.
“It’s been really humbling and really awesome,” Linsey says. “The Voice was a great platform to show who I am and what I do, and I was born and raised in New Orleans, so coming off that show, we really wanted to get back to my roots and make a record that had some New Orleans influence and some soul stuff in it. Believer was really a fun record to make. I co-wrote all the songs on it, and it was really an amazing process just getting to write with my friends, and my boyfriend Tyler [Cain] produced it. I really didn’t write with anyone that I didn’t know and love. It made it even more creative, because I didn’t have to conform or fit into any kind of a box, because I’m not on a record label.”
Even without the all the bells, whistles and big money that would derive from a huge record-label push, Believer triumphed with a debut at No. 6 on the iTunes Pop Chart, making Linsey satisfied for going the independent route. “I feel like people want to hear what I have to say, and that’s very rewarding,” Linsey says. “I feel empowered because we put the record out with no label support, and it did very well. For people to have heard Believer and bought it, it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re obviously on to something, and that feels good.’”
Believer shines with Linsey’s distinctive, emotive and robustly expressive voice — which has been influenced by the legends she loves, such as Etta James, Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton — and makes Linsey stand out in a way similar to artists such as Adele and Amy Winehouse. “I’ve gotten that a lot actually, and it’s such a huge compliment,” Linsey says. “I’ve heard that some of the record sounds like if The Black Keys had Adele singing with them, and that’s the dream genre where I’d love to live, because that’s the kind of music I love to listen to.” Rolling Stone magazine deemed the single “Sunshine in my Soul” as “enlivening” and said that listeners would be transported to New Orleans within the first 10 seconds of the song. “Somebody told me it’s almost like Dr. John meets pop, which was really cool,” Linsey says.
Linsey’s ultimate goal for Believer was to be real and to inspire people through music, and writing it served as therapy for her. “I wrote it all from life experience, so getting it out on paper was awesome,” says Linsey, who bravely confronted her harrowing experience of being drugged and raped while in high school in the song “Best of Me.” “It was something I struggled with for a long time,” she says. “I kept repressing it, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. It’s super personal and it’s hard to let yourself go there, because you just want to forget about it, but, I thought if I can write this song and turn it into something positive and make just one person feel better about what they’ve been through, then that’s reason enough to write it. I’ve been through this thing and came out on the other side, and I’m strong and I’m no less of a human because of it. There’s a lot of healing that came with writing it. And when people come up and say that this song meant a lot to them or spoke to them, that’s the most rewarding part of it all.”
Other gems on Believer include the funky, bold, girl power-fueled “Counterfeit.” “I think I’m either writing about stuff that’s either really sad or really sassy,” Linsey says, laughing. “I love empowering women, and women anthems are the most fun things to write.” “Everything Is Happening” harkens back to Linsey’s struggle as a female in her particular career. “I’ve been in Nashville for 11 years and doing music since I was 14, so it’s been a long road,” Linsey says. “You get to places in your career where everybody’s saying they’re doing stuff, everything seems like it’s happening, but then you’re sitting there like, ‘Okay, is anything really actually happening right now?’” “This Side of Heaven” is a feel-good tune that was influenced by online negativity that Linsey has experienced. “It’s brutal and this song counteracts that,” she says. “People just don’t think. I don’t know if they just don’t care or if they forget that you’re actually a human being,” says Linsey, who conceived the title from a text her mother wrote to her. “I thought it was a great hook for a song and, it’s true, we all are just living on this side of Heaven, so why don’t we let a little bit of that light in and be more positive, find a way to all get along and just love each other? We’re all just here for a short time, you know?”
Linsey credits The Voice for exposing her to many potential fans, which then helped drive sales of Believer. “It’s a testament to how the show really promotes artists,” she says. “My experience couldn’t have been better. They really want you to be yourself and be unique, and they were really good about letting me choose my songs and do my thing as an artist. That was the thing I was most concerned about when I was first contacted about doing the show, and it ended up being fantastic.” And the celebrity coaches were generous in their praise for Linsey; Christina Aguilera dubbed Linsey as the definition of The Voice, Pharrell Williams claimed he chose her to be on his team because he sensed her soul, and, ultimately, Blake Shelton stole Linsey from Williams to be on his team, stating earlier that he thought Linsey was one of the best singers he’d ever heard. “That’s pretty awesome, right?” Linsey says. “In what other scenario would you have compliments from superstars like that? It’s just a crazy, unbelievable opportunity.”
The fact that Linsey was the first-ever contestant on The Voice allowed to perform on the show’s finale an original song she co-wrote (that Cain produced), “Change My Mind,” speaks volumes to the respect her eclectic artistry deserves. In addition, “Change My Mind” quickly ascended to No. 5 on the iTunes All Genre Chart, and Linsey’s performances on The Voice have been viewed over 5 million times. “I’ve never felt like I’ve been compromised as far as my artistry is concerned,” she says. “Even in Steel Magnolia, we always had elements of cool stuff in the music, and I’ve always tried to keep a healthy balance of being commercial and still staying true to myself.” Indeed, Steel Magnolia (which featured Linsey’s ex-fiancé Joshua Scott Jones as the other half) made music history when their first single “Keep On Loving You” became the highest charting debut single from a male/female duo in country music, and the duo was also recognized with 17 major music award nominations. “But this time around, I feel like I’m in a different place in my life where I know who I am as a person and an artist, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to make a record with no boundaries and just have fun again in the studio making music,” Lindsey says.
Linsey moved from New Orleans to Ponchatoula at age 11 with her family, and she began her singing career at age 14 back in New Orleans. “I started with my band playing lots of bars and festivals and sang in church,” says Linsey, who opened for large country acts such as Brad Paisley and — coincidentally — Blake Shelton during the early stages of her career. “I did the shows that WNOE-FM put on, and my mom was a baller,” Linsey says. “She’d call and make me sound really cool, and sell me to these buyers and I’d go open these shows. Doing this stuff so young was a huge part of my learning curve.” Linsey also played shows with Paisley, Shelton and other notables, such as Bob Seger and Reba McEntire, when she was in Steel Magnolia. And Linsey adores New Orleans. “We were just across the lake so we came back a lot,” she says. “There’s so much culture in New Orleans, and people are just real and I like that. I’ve been in Nashville for the past 11 years, and people are nice there and I enjoy living there, but people are just real in New Orleans; that’s the thing I like most about it. People are awesome and the music is just real music. There’s no gimmicks or put-ons; it’s real soul, and I’ve always tried to carry that with me in my music.”
Linsey will be back in Louisiana for a jam-packed homecoming weekend with several performances early this month, including a show in New Orleans on Oct. 2 at The Little Gem Saloon. She’ll be in Ponchatoula at Warehouse 140 on Oct. 3 playing for everyone back home. “I’m excited about the show in New Orleans,” Linsey says. “And it’s really going to be fun to play Ponchatoula after The Voice, and see everybody and just get back home! I have an amazing following there, and, during the show, they would all get together at the Roux & Brew [Seafood and Steakhouse] in Ponchatoula and have watch parties. There was a really big outpouring of love and support from my hometown.” And on Oct. 4, Linsey will sing the National Anthem at the New Orleans Saints/Dallas Cowboys game. “I’m thrilled” Linsey says. “I grew up in New Orleans, and I’m a huge Saints fan and it’s a great honor to sing at the Superdome.”
In addition to helping empower women, Linsey is involved in charitable work and fundraising to fight cancer, and she is a frequent visitor to children’s hospitals, where she enjoys visiting patients. “I try to do as much as I can at hospitals such as Vanderbilt in Nashville, because I think it’s important. It’s just dear to my heart and a huge passion of mine to play for the kids, and meet them and raise awareness. Cancer is such a terrible disease.”
Animals are another great passion of Linsey’s, who was preparing to drive four hours from Nashville to Georgia to rescue a dog at the time of this interview. “I have a rescue Beagle named Betty and a little Morkie, a Maltese/Yorkie mix named Charlie,” Linsey says. “Oh my gosh — they’re best friends! Charlie licks Betty’s whole face every night before she goes to bed! They’re adorable and very loving! They’re my children. I’ve turned into a complete dog lady!”
Linsey was raised in an animal-loving home with parents who are serious dog lovers and rescuers. “It’s in my blood,” says Linsey, who is active with animal efforts in Louisiana. On Oct. 18, Linsey will perform live for thousands of pet-loving guests at the Tails from the Bark Side-themed Jefferson Parish SPCA/Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter Pet Fest 2015 at Lafreniere Park in Metairie, which will feature a Mega-Adopt-A-Thon with hundreds of homeless pets from local rescue groups and shelters looking for good homes. “I can’t wait to play at Pet Fest,” says Linsey, who could possibly be swayed into bringing home another canine companion while there. “You know, you never have enough dogs!”
Linsey is also a celebrity co-chair for the 37th Annual Louisiana SPCA Howling Success Patron Party & Gala on Nov. 7 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, which features an I Love the 70s theme. “I think it’s so important that people are educated about spaying and neutering their pets, because there’s definitely an overpopulation problem, and heart worm prevention and treatment is badly needed, and I’m glad the Louisiana SPCA addresses these issues,” Linsey says. “I think they’re a great organization to help these animals like they do, and I partnered with the Louisiana SPCA because I want to make as much of a difference as I can.”