Six years ago, Megan Hickey was just another young Brooklynite who saw her future as “singing, writing music, and probably playing the bass poorly.” Then one day she had a vision and was soon teaching herself how to play a 60-year-old lap-steel guitar bought for her by a friend of a friend from a pawnshop in Delaware. Her band, the Last Town Chorus, was born. She spoke with Rebecca Milzoff.
So what exactly is a lap-steel guitar?
It sits on one’s lap and has raised strings, and it’s played with a steel bar. Typically, it takes the back seat and does little flourishes and fills, but for me, it’s the equivalent of a lead guitar.
Why did you start playing it?
There’s a picture on the fridge of me with my first cheap bass guitar when I was 12. I also had a pink sparkly drum kit and played a bit of piano. But I didn’t know how to make those instruments do anything novel. There are far too many six-string-guitar players in the world, and, you know, I’m not Hendrix.
What do you like about it?
I play it through very new-wave– and rock-sounding effect pedals, so it becomes an instrument that it’s like I’m the only person in the world who plays it. I’ve never had a lesson, and I’m wary of learning how to play it technically properly.
How do you feel about the indie scene?
I’ve got the social habits of a grandmother. People I play with come into my home, I make them tea. I think the word indie has been colonized by a certain style of sloppy, cool-aspiring ironic music.
What music are you drawn to, then?
I listen to a lot of mainstream country because it’s unapologetically pleasurable. I adore Kelly Clarkson. Now they have that American Idol Rewind, where they have her singing “Natural Woman.” I was fucking crying in my living room!
You cover David Bowie’s “Modern Love”—of all his great songs, why that one?
I confess to being a fan of Bowie’s work in the eighties. Since the first show I played at some tiny Irish pub, I’ve always played an eighties-pop-song cover. We once did Wham’s “Everything She Wants” at Bowery Ballroom.
How do crowds take to the lap steel?
After the show, people sometimes want to touch it, though they can see I’m holding it like a child and that they should ask first. Somebody recently said, “Oh, Cyndi Lauper plays lap steel!”
No, she’s playing dulcimer!
Really? Thank God! I’ve been walking around going, “Now a whole bunch of people are going to do it, and I’ll just be one of those girls who play lap steel.”