Grappling with Existential Questions: A Conversation with Megafauna’s Dani Neff

by Joel Greatbatch


Renowned Austin rockers Megafauna recently released their sparklin’ fourth album Welcome Home, and celebrated with an album release show on June 11th at Empire Control Room. Earlier that day frontwoman Dani Neff spoke on the phone to Joel Greatbatch for Ovrld about the band, their new album, who influenced them, and the message the album can present to its listeners.

Joel Greatbatch for Ovrld: After giving your band name a regulatory Google I found that Megafauna is used to describe an animal with an adult body weight over 97lb. Is this a deep relation to your music or did it just sound cool?

Dani Neff for Megafauna: Yeah, it was kind of a blend. Our bass player came up with it, he had a friend who was in a basketball team with the name Megafauna, so that’s how the name literally came about. We thought it worked really well because what we were going for was a really big sound. I suppose the sound that a Megafauna would make.

The band would appear to define itself as an Austin band, but are you from Austin yourself?

DN: No, I’m originally from Connecticut and I moved to New York City after college, then I moved here to Austin in 2008.

So when you’re playing in front of an Austin crowd does it feel like a homecoming show? 

DN: Oh totally, it feels like our hometown for sure.

Apart from Austin are there other particular cities you feel at home playing to?

DN: We love touring, we tour a lot and really enjoy playing in Seattle, Portland, up in the Northwest. And also in the Northeast such as Providence, Rhode Island; Brooklyn, New York City. We have a lot of places throughout the country we love with great fans there, and know friends and friend’s bands, so it’s a lot of fun to tour.

So after finishing and releasing the album are you all set for going back on tour?

DN: I am such a nomad and wanna go back on tour again, or just travel.

In your younger years, was there a particular time you started listening to rock music?

DN: I got into grunge rock and alternative rock in the 90’s, I guess when I was about 13 and was really obsessed with Nirvana. That was kind of my entry way for getting into older stuff like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and then more obscure stuff like free jazz and experimental music.

Was there an age that you started writing your own rock songs?

DN: I started playing guitar when I was 10 and started writing shortly thereafter.

Do you have any favorite guitar players that have left an imprint on you?

DN: I really like Johnny Greenwood, John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix. Those dudes. Kurt Cobain, I like his style. I love Nick Drake’s style of playing for more acoustic stuff.

I’ve seen a common reference to your sound as being a mixture of Bjork hanging with Black Sabbath, but are there other artists that influenced you and gave shape to Welcome Home?

DN: Yes, absolutely. A lot of influences. Radiohead for sure, Krautrock bands like Can, some newer bands like Dead Meadow, Tame Impala, all sorts of bands. I listen to a lot of Elliot Smith and Nick Drake as well.

Is the ‘sound’ on Welcome Home something you’re set with or have you got even more musical directions on the horizon?

DN: I think we’ll stay in that general style. I’m liking that vibe, but it all just depends on what kind of songs we write. We’re just about writing each song without thinking of the genre it’s in or a particular style. And then the album forms organically from the songs. Then we’ll whittle down songs and decide which ones not to put on the album. But it’s very organic how it happens.

Is there an underlying message in the album that you want to speak to people?

DN: It just grapples with our searching for meaning in a society that has developed rapidly to the point where it’s difficult to feel certain in what you’re doing. To feel the presence of the divine or to feel like you have a place. A lot of songs are written from a stance of what our place is in this world, just grappling with existential questions. And giving people hope that they aren’t alone in their struggle. This is a really tough time to be living. It also speaks of trying to find your deeper self and your own search for that self.

Was recording the album a drawn out struggle or did it run quite quickly and smoothly?

DN: It was a lot of fun, it did go quite smoothly. It did take a long time, it took a year and we did it like that on purpose. We had five songs already recorded in 2015, and with the rest we had time to be really meticulous of how they were sounding. It did take a while but was a lot of fun.

Is recording albums getting easier?

DN: Yeah, it is. I really love the process so much and just having fun. And collaboration is really key for us. We got to work with Curtis Roush from Bright Light Social Hour and other members of that band, Jack and Joe. It was really nice to hear their input. Also Curtis played keys on two songs.

Winston Barrett appears to be a relatively new addition to the band. Did he contribute on the album at all?

DN: No, he joined the band after the album was recorded. After finishing the album we realized we needed an extra member to get the songs sounding full, they didn’t lend themselves well as a three piece live. And he’s our homie so that worked out. It’s been really fun having him on tour.

Apart from playing on stage are there any mutual activities you and the band get up to together?

DN: Our drummer Zack and I sometimes meditate together. And we all enjoy partying together.

Do you have allotted alone time on tour?

DN: Yeah, we try to make time for that so we don’t go insane. Though we’ll go for hikes and that sort of thing. A highlight of a tour is when we go to a national park and go for a hike. The hot springs in Montana were awesome.

With the new album out do you have any particular ambitions for the future? Play it by ear or conquer the world?

DN: Oh my gosh, we just wanna spread the love! And have fun and hopefully make some money. But that’s not what it’s all about.

I’m from New Zealand originally, so must ask if New Zealand would ever be on a spread the love world tour schedule?

DN: Hell yes! We would love to but we don’t know how to do that yet. If we could figure it out we would do it in a heartbeat.

Finally, do you like coffee, tea, both or none of the above?

DN: I like both! I enjoy tea, I like tall tea, I like all sorts of herbal and hippie tea. I love coffee but it makes me go insane. But I drink it anyway. I get really manic. I enjoy the process even though I can’t seem to kick it.

Megafauna’s new album Welcome Home is available now and you can read our review of it here. You can order it from their Bandcamp or pick it up from any number of local Austin record stores.

Joel Greatbatch is a Kiwi, but please don’t eat him.