Megan Jean and Byrne Klay have been on the road for roughly 1,825 days. Over the years, they’ve thrown new instruments in the trunk, discarded others, and even added a new band member/road morale manager, Arriba McEntire, a Chihuahua. But there’s no end to this tour.
What began as couch-surfing and floor-crashing between gigs around the nation has grown into a true on-the-road lifestyle. Two years ago, thanks to meticulously smart saving and DIY know-how, the husband-wife duo converted a Mercedes-Benz van into a tiny mobile house. Boasting a queen-size bed, a toilet, and a campfire cooking setup, the entire thing was paid for with the band’s music income and now serves as their permanent home: they’ve officially set down their roots on the open road.
“I was really burned out,” Jean remembers. “Then we got the van, and all of the sudden, we were able to just make it work. It’s a completely different quality of life. If we had a few days off on the road, we’d be scrambling to find a place to stay. Now, we just go to a state park and go camping.”
Jean and Klay met while in school in New York; she was studying musical theater at Tisch while he was at Oberlin Conservatory for classical upright bass. Under the Megan Jean and the KFB moniker, they dish out a style that’s Americana in its banjo strains and boot-stomping rhythms, punk in its ferocity and disregard for rules, and dancey as all getout. They call the style “a metal band, if it was 1927,” and it’s a pretty perfect summation.
In addition to releasing Dead Woman Walkin’ and The Devil Herself, two records helmed by Jean’s bone-shaking voice and decorated with washboard, banjo, acoustic guitar, and big bass, Jean has long been a bold voice of DIY. Speaking from the trenches on the band’s Tumblr and Instagram accounts, she offers up healthy, affordable recipes that can be made in a passenger seat, shows off unique promotional tactics, and encourages growing musicians to fiercely follow their passion and ditch the doubters along the way. Together, she and Klay are leading by example, and soon, they’ll have reached a lifelong goal.
Details can’t be disclosed just yet, but they’ve been shopping their forthcoming record around Nashville, and good news is on the rise.
“We’ve been waiting for a unicorn deal, where you can make all the music you want and keep the publishing rights,” Jean explains. “It’s worth waiting for. And it does exist.”
Perhaps patience is the one crucial virtue that a DIY musician needs. It’s something Jean and Klay have clung to as they attend industry conferences and network whenever possible. Jean also demonstrates that the road life requires conviction—a fierce loyalty to oneself and belief in one’s own creative output.
She’s been focusing on that mentality particularly since she had a memorable conversation with songwriter Jason Isbell the last time the band played Abe’s.
“We’re outside the club,” Jean remembers. “He’s holding my Chihuahua. He says, ‘You don’t have control over much as artists except your artistic output. When stuff’s going really slow, you have to up your artistic output as much as possible.’
“It was really good, solid advice,” she attests. “All the pieces are up in the air. When you’re completely powerless and don’t have control over a situation, what you can do as an artist is make art about it.”
The band took the advice to heart. New songs were written. Klay, who’s created the band’s visual art since the beginning, has been showing in galleries.
“We are waiting for ideal industry conditions to work with our album, but in the meantime, my job is to make art,” Jean says resolutely. “I do all the politicking all the time, writing the songs, doing stuff, making plans, and acting as though industry stuff could or could not materialize. But if you work on music, stuff will come around eventually. Artists today have to do all the grunt work. Artistic development is one hundred percent on the artist.”
As they’ve shopped one record, Tarantistas, the KFB’s written a second, complete album.
“We’re sort of exploring this gap that exists in socially-conscious, angsty dance songs by way of Americana,” Jean says of their latest material.
“I’m not completely moved on from my monsters and that kind of imagery. As you get older, you just write about different things. Everything is more autobiographical. These are just a little bit more grown-up.”
As lyrical content has evolved, so has instrumentation. Jean doesn’t play her signature washboard anymore—shoulder injury isn’t something to take lightly—plus, it’s important to mix it up when you play multiple gigs a week.
“I always tell people, if we get to the point where you see us playing the same show for multiple years, take us down with a tranquilizer gun!” she laughs. “We started on guitar and upright bass. I’m playing snare and some other percussion, and Byrne is splitting percussion and electric banjo.
“When I started playing snare drum, you could hear Byrne’s banjo and appreciate it better.”
By shifting instrumentation, Jean remarks that breaking out older songs is a lot like “covering our own songs.”
“It’s pretty exciting when you resurrect an old song and you make it a little more accessible to the bars and clubs you’re playing now,” she says.
Jean hints that a fundraising campaign will be coming up soon for the new record. In the meantime, they’re waiting.
“They say ‘Don’t count your bricks before you build your castle,’” she says. “It’s a real reversal from DIY, because DIY, you take what you have in front of you and make it work. When you’re working with the industry, you’re trying for ideal circumstances. We’ve had really encouraging results, and now we’re securing the other parts of the puzzle.”
“I think that our band is always going to be a little DIY band that does it ourselves while working on partnering with the right part of the industry.”
While their sights are set on the horizon, MJ and the KFB are eager to return to Abe’s. Many Savannahians will recognize this unique opportunity to catch live music in the homey tavern; while Craig Tanner and Mr. Williams’ famous open mic goes down every Monday, a traditional concert is a rarity.
“It’s just a really raucous and intimate time,” Jean says of their experiences playing at Abe’s. “They treat us really well. With the small, cramped, intimate feel, [the audience members] feel like they’re discovering the greatest unheard band around. People are hanging off the rafters! It feels like an awesome throwback to the juke joints of yore.”
Best catch them on our home turf while you can, and keep an eye on that little van cruising away in the distance as it departs; its occupants are heading toward big things.