Chris Meck is a mild-mannered, often soft-spoken man. Like his wife Abigail Henderson, he’s the type of person you instantly feel comfortable around, but in very different ways from her.
From a musical standpoint, Henderson was the bold frontwoman whose voice and presence commanded every room she performed in. She also lived with a ferocity that kept her strong through a five-year battle with breast cancer, taking the stage (at Knuckleheads
) for the last time with Tiny Horse only weeks before her passing in late August (Read here for an interview with Henderson right before last year’s Apocalypse Meow to find out more about her).
On the other hand, Meck’s musicianship has typically been defined by its tastefulness. Though he plays with a finesse and texture that few other guitarists are able to pull off, he exudes a high volume of emotion and heart through each note. Likewise, he has been the perfect complement to Henderson’s big brazen personality and even larger heart. The two of them started Midwest Music Foundation five years ago, after Henderson was diagnosed with cancer. Apocalypse Meow was the name of the benefit originally held in her honor, and they helped provide the resources and manpower for it to continue as a benefit for musicians' health care for many years.
This will be Meow’s sixth year, and it’s expected to be the biggest one yet. Days before his wife passed, Meck decided he still wanted to play this show, as it had been a tradition since Henderson's benefit for the two of them to play the first night of Meow (they were unable to in 2011 due to Henderson’s illness). He had no idea what this project would eventually become, but he knew that it should happen.
“It’s not Tiny Horse, won’t even try to be,” said drummer Matt Richey. “Chris has his own approach to writing, especially now that he's taking on the role of frontperson; he's experimenting a lot too.”
Meck’s project The Guilty Birds will make its debut at The Midwestern Musical Co. for Apocalypse Meow 6 on Friday. It will be his first time as a frontman and primary songwriter of a band, both duties that Henderson assumed in all of their previous projects, which included Trouble Junction, The Gaslights, Atlantic Fadeout, and Tiny Horse.
“I stopped writing songs about 15 years ago. My tastes exceeded my grasp, so I decided I was probably a better guitar player and became a side man. I was playing with all these people that were prolific and I didn’t need to write,” he explained. “In our bands, Abby would usually bring in what she would call the bones. Basic musical changes, lyrics, melody. I would do the arranging. That’s kind of what I’m doing now, with the roles switched.”
Richey and Zach Phillips provided the rhythmic backbone of Tiny Horse since it was realized as a full band (Cody Wyoming also rounded out the five-piece), and remain with Meck in this new venture. “His writing is sharp and we're really making an effort to keep the focus on the songs, not overplaying as many trios tend to do,” stated Richey. “At its heart it’s still pretty straightforward rock ‘n roll, but there are elements of soul and country. It’s pretty high-energy as well. The more he continues to write, the more it will change.”
But Meck seems slightly concerned to be at the forefront. “I’m terrified,” he remarked. “But I’ve always heard... if something scares you, you should probably do it.”
He explained that he barely touched a guitar for about a month after his wife passed away. "She was the most prolific songwriter I knew. We played together for 10 years, just a couple months after we started seeing each other.” Not long before she passed, the two of them discussed her songwriting process. "Abby used to say, ‘ass in seat.’ Even when we were on tour, she would always be up early sitting in the corner of our hotel room with a guitar. So I sit down every morning with a notebook and fill it with drivel, waiting for something good to come out."
On Friday, The Guilty Birds will execute Meck's newly exercised songwriting process, debuting four original songs, along with a few covers. This year’s Meow will be notably different with Henderson’s absence, even more so while three-fifths of her band performs for the first time without her. "There will be a lot of nerves and it's likely to be quite emotional," said Richey. "I have no idea what to expect it to feel like, but I'll be up there with good people who I have a great deal of respect for and surrounded by a lot of friends. That's what matters the most.”
With Meck at the helm, it’s certain that he will take a divergent path from Henderson’s style of songwriting, but it will be handled with the same delicate sense of care and earnestness. “I don’t know if the end result is gonna be good or not, but I'm enjoying the process. It’s a new adventure for sure."
Tiny Horse "Ride" from Jetpack Pictures on Vimeo.