Two summers ago, Megan Jean and Byrne Klay experienced a turning point in their career as performing musicians.
The married couple had put their possessions in storage in Charleston and had been on the road booking their own tours and sleeping on friends’ couches, touring nonstop for a year and a half. They didn’t expect much from a spot in a competition at Virginia’s fast-rising FloydFest.
“We were playing in the only tent with a roof, and it started to rain,” says banjoist/upright bassist Klay, remembering hordes crowding into the tent.
“It was a magical moment,” echoes singer/multi-instrumentalist Jean. “The rain. The crowd. Our headspace. All the things aligned.”
“I’d never stopped to think about what applause from thousands of people sounds like,” she adds. “We were all crying under that tent. I had to hold my washboard in front of my face. I felt like we were onto something for the first time.”
The experience further solidified the Klays’ commitment to the road.
Two weeks ago, they finished converting a cargo van into a “livable apartment” with a queen-size bed, a working toilet and a camp kitchen they can quickly set up outside. They’ve had no address since February 2011, but this marks a new chapter where they can easily take their vaudevillian, acoustic, old-time gypsy folk-punk nationwide while visiting parks and museums on days off.
Megan Jean & the KFB stop at Snug Harbor on Tuesday to play with locals Sinners & Saints. (KFB is short for Klay Family Band, and Byrne is the entire KFB.)
The couple met while in college in New York. A Seattle native, she studied musical theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He studied classical upright bass at Oberlin Conservatory, toured with bands, and played in off-Broadway productions.
They already have found a home with the steampunk crowd. The duo’s sound resonates with the retro-futuristic aesthetic made popular in the fantasy and science fiction sub-genre; they play sci-fi conventions that cater to that crowd, but Jean’s darkly poetic lyrics also resonate with hula-hoop hippie girls, goths, kids and Americana fans.
“Just like a Broadway musical, we have songs in different styles because my songs come from a theatrical place and each song is sung from a different character,” she says.
Those characters often deal with the macabre. Her interest in that world is something she’s thought a lot about.
“I grew up in a dark situation and saw a lot of things I didn’t understand, so I started seeing people’s various disorders very young as monsters inside of them,” she says. “Alcoholics with eyes glazed over looked like zombies to me. Rage fits equaled werewolves. People that sucked you dry emotionally became vampires. It became this way to explain these disorders that I didn’t understand.”
“I’ve grown up and gotten out of that life, but at the same time, I feel like embracing dark parts, finding humor and humanity,” she adds. “It’s cathartic for me.”