Cops and MTA workers on the ... [subway] platforms upstairs are doing their damnedest to look nonchalant about her performance, self-accompanied on cello, but I'm not buying it, because this is just too beautiful. 
-- Village Voice

If Nico, Patti Smith and Joanna Newsom were planning a tea party, they might invite Meaner Pencil along as a fourth. 
-- Sylvia Beloc

Meaner Pencil uses the cello like another voice and sings like a cello. Rich, warm music, and brave. 
-- Rorschach Herschel

Meaner Pencil grew up in Lincoln Nebraska and is the product of a specific artistic community centered around Clawfoot House, a DIY venue created by Ember Schrag in first decade of the 21st century. When life events brought Meaner Pencil to the subways of NYC, she learned to treat a subway station like a cathedral. In those cathedrals, she has lifted some heavy spirits. Dark, warm, brave music.

The Trail of Tears

an interview with Meaner Pencil

A.W. Strouse

Meaner Pencil and I sat down in my study to eat some lentils. 

Her nerves had been stretched out from performing so much. 

I felt nervous because I love Meaner Pencil’s music but I don’t know how to ask good interview questions. 

Meaner Pencil sings her most intimate thoughts to strangers in subway stations. 

Her songs are all autobiographical except for this one that’s about going back into time to murder Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson was walking swastika. 

Meaner Pencil told me that Jackson’s wife had begged him, “Please don’t run for president,” but he did anyway, and then, as he was inaugurated, she just died. 

Maybe it was because she knew the evil he was capable of?

A lot of our conversation had to do with “women who love too much,” which, as Meaner Pencil told me, is a sexist concept—why don’t we talk about the “men who are bastards”? 

I was glad that Meaner Pencil came over because I felt like I learned a lot about American history and feminism, which are two of the things you can never learn enough about. 

In Rihanna’s hit “We Found Love,” the lyrics make no mention of what causes this “hopeless place” to be so hopeless. 

It might be that we live in a society controlled by people with crappy values like Andrew Jackson.

Meaner Pencil said she feels a “patriotic duty” to sing songs that are honest about the world: “If you try to write what really happened, it will inherently be political.”

It’s not good for people’s souls that they hear songs that aren’t true. 

MP: You could write verses and verses and verses about what made this place hopeless. But if you just leave it at the refrain, people will be totally immobilized. It creates this false understanding of the situation, it disempowers people. It’s just like, it was like that, the place was hopeless, not that anyone made it that way.

One of my favorite Meaner Pencil lyrics is when she sings, “Your heart beats mine.”

That’s a really good pun that collapses love and pain into this admixture of overly loving, bastardized, hopeless places. 

Meaner Pencil is a mystic who channels the divine through her music.

I asked a really dumb question: 

AW: What is your astrology sign?

MP: Oh, sure, I’m an Aquarius, with my moon in Pisces. 

AW: I think I remember Aquarius is, like, one of the better ones.

MP: I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to look at it. 

AW: What should I be doing when I listen to your album? I’ve seen you perform several times, in venues and in the subway stations, and when I’m in the subway I have to commute, and at a venue I am reverently listening. But I was listening to your album here at home, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. I thought I better not clean the kitchen while I listen.  

MP: Well, I don’t feel like the songs are necessarily more divine than anything else. I don’t feel like I receive Gospel. I feel like what’s beautiful about them, is that I worked very hard to be truthful. You know?

AW: Um, can you say more about that?

MP: Truthful to the feelings. I’ve worked very hard to be true to my feelings. Not to cover up. 

AW: How do you do that work?

MP: I write a lot of free association journal. I feel like, if you do that for long enough, you get through—you write through the lies you want to tell yourself, and you become less afraid of what you really think, and get to a kind of clarity.

Everyday Meaner Pencil writes in her diary, or she tries to, and by doing so she learns how to be honest with her music.

This is a practice that I learned from Meaner Pencil and since our meeting I write in my diary every day.

MP: Part of an artist’s job is to push a little bit so that people can see more clearly. 

AW: And you do that by working to understand your particular life honesty, and learning to talk about it honestly?

MP: I try to see clearly. Honesty is the key. What does it mean to be honest? 

AW: I want to ask the questions!

MP: Honesty is like the fundamental love act. I think it’s what makes a work of art moving. 

AW: How do you do it?

MP: You practice.

AW: Practice it?

MP: You start by being honest with yourself.

Meaner Pencil said that her instrument is a part of her. 

She said her music is a kind of prayer. 

Not to God specifically, but a prayer.