Megan Keely came back from the first Women’s March back in January of 2017 with more than a fuzzy pink hat and soggy shoes.
She had a song.
“Stronger,” which is premiering exclusively below, is featured on the San Francisco singer-songwriter’s new album Bloom, which comes out May 25. It was, Keely says, her way of knitting together the many emotions she felt from the March and the election of Donald Trump, which included her views on immigration issues as a Filipino-American as well as her own experience with an incident of childhood sexual abuse. Keely came up with a song — and an album — she considers “ultimately optimistic, hopeful and empowering.”
“We had just spent all day walking around in the pouring rain,” Keely tells Billboard. “Many of us didn’t really know what we were doing there. Our world had just turned upside down with the 2016 election, and many of us were gathered there just out of an urge to do something. I remember walking away feeling so empowered; We had this resounding sensation, such connectedness, such unprecedented momentum. It was this sudden awakening that we were capable of things we never felt possible.
“I really felt compelled to bottle that feeling up in a song. It felt really important to me.”
The seven songs on Bloom — which Keely recorded last December in Santa Monica with the Punch Brothers’ Gabe Witcher, her brother Brandon Keely on guitar and other top-shelf musicians — run a broad emotional gamut. “Define American” is Keely’s rumination on DACA (her mother emigrated from the Philippines), while “Love Will Find You” was inspired by Keely’s friend’s 2016 wedding. The set also includes a version of the traditional Spanish folk song “De Colores” and an ode to Keely’s grandmother in “Marcia Montgomery,” while the closing “We Will Be Fine” is both an expression of hope and a heartfelt prediction.
“I tried my damned hardest to hold on to that optimism and hope,” Keely explains. “It’s an active choice to turn concerns or troubles into something that channels hope and positive momentum. And it’s easier said than done. Ever since Trump took office there’s been countless reasons to shut down and withdraw from the political landscape, because it’s so overwhelming and endless. But I wrote (‘Stronger’) to commit myself to at least keep trying and keep putting my energy towards causes I care about. It’s tempting to withdraw, but through my music I’ve been pushing myself to focus on that positive momentum and address the values that I care about.”
As she prepares for Bloom’s release, Keely is starting to hatch plans for playing the songs live. She’s planning a couple of album release shows for May and is working on some “fun” pre-release packages. She does have ambitious ideas for going on the road, however. “I’m considering ways to tour the album on bicycle,” Keely reports, “and considering ways to do a bit more of a digital approach and more localized shows. It’s definitely on the horizon but also very unknown at this point.”