Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band comes to Des Moines


Courtesy Megan Jean and the KFB

Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band will appear at the Bluestem on Feb. 17. 

Waylon Sternhagen

Ames music lovers disappointed by the cancelation of Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band’s gig at the Bluestem on Feb. 17 will have another opportunity to see the band this week.

The husband and wife duo will perform at Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines on Feb. 24. 

Megan Jean, the band’s singer and principal songwriter, switches among guitar, washboard and percussion, and husband Byrne Klay splits his time between upright bass and electrified banjo. The final product is a unique, Vaudeville-esque spin on folk and bluegrass that has been likened to 1920s heavy metal.

“It’s sort of a creepy Broadway show without the dialogue,” Klay said. “We have a lot of songs that illustrate different characters from different places. Every song has a different set of influences.”

Megan Jean and Klay met in New York City in 2004 and began dating shortly after. Both were pursuing individual musical careers, Megan Jean as a singer-songwriter and Klay as a working musician. While many artists see the city as a place to catch their big breaks, getting out of New York was a primary motivator for Megan Jean and Klay to begin taking their casual musical collaborations seriously. 

“Our heads were barely above water and we were pretty frustrated and unhappy,” Klay said. “The future looked pretty bleak. We decided to get rid of all of our stuff and go on the road. We essentially started the band to get out of New York.”

The band has played approximately 1,300 shows since embarking on a never-ending tour in 2007. Though they have a home base in Charleston, S.C., the vast majority of their time is spent on the road. As one might expect, spending so much time playing music and traveling in a van as husband and wife does not come without challenges. 

“It gets real,” Klay said. “You have to look at yourself very honestly because you can’t hide behind the bulls— that a lot of people hide behind. It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of care. We’re fortunate that we genuinely get along and we really do enjoy each other’s company.”

Life on the road also makes the songwriting process a bit more difficult. 

“It’s so hard to work on new material,” Klay said. “We’ve worked out stuff during soundchecks. We’ll have a song and we’ll play it live, and sometimes it doesn’t quite happen for a while and sometimes it works itself out in front of [an audience]. You kind of have to do what you can in the cracks as they’re presented to you.” 

The duo is currently working on material for their third album, “Tarantistas,” to be released in 2015. According to Klay, the album is the third act in a story, loosely based on Megan Jean’s own experiences, that the band has been telling since their debut album, “Dead Woman Walking” [2010]. 

“The first record is an allusion to a woman who has just been beaten down in life and picked on and kicked,” Klay said. “She just comes to a point where she just feels so dead inside she just goes numb. ‘The Devil Herself’ [2012] is kind of when people project negative things onto other people, especially women. It’s sort of an allusion to, ‘Alright fine. If I’m the devil, then I will be the devil herself.'”

“Tarantistas,” which takes its name from a dancing sickness in Renaissance Italy, follows the main character as she comes to terms with her demons and struggles in life. 

“[In Renaissance Italy] they believed people would get bitten by a spider and they would be in so much pain that they would just have to dance [it] away,” Klay said. “The third act [says] ‘Get it out and be a complete person.'” 

While the third act is traditionally seen as the last part of a narrative, Klay says “Tarantistas” won’t be the final chapter for Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band. 

“We’re still living and we’re still breathing,” Klay said. “We’ll still have good days, and we’ll still have bad days, so we’ll definitely have stuff to say about that.”