I first learned of Maggie Koerner through three musicians–friends and colleagues of mine from the local bands Sexual Thunder! and Yugen (now defunct). They had been hired together as her touring band for the festival circuit and other runs in the spring of 2017.
When I did finally get the chance to meet her (in the flesh – as they say) I was enamored with her grit, a quality I did not readily expect when I was welcomed into her Easter egg-yellow home and greeted by her and her fluffy (and giant) dog Tom.
She is straight-forward, bold, and has no limits when it comes to speaking her mind–all insanely exceptional qualities when pursuing a career as a songwriter. And it shows, her music is haunting yet irresistible much like Homer’s sirens. In fact, I just made myself laugh because the first song on her sophomore album Neutral Ground is entitled ‘Sirens’.
Not long after our introduction, I too was hired to go on the road with Maggie and the band as a tour manager and chose to document our journey that summer.
This is the first tour diary in a project series aimed at introducing fans to their favorite artists in an often unseen way and I am grateful to kick things off by talking further with Koerner about her musical beginnings and process.
As a child, Koerner had dreams of growing up to become a musician, as many of us did or still do. If you remember watching School of Rock in your pre-teens and then printing out every photo of a drum kit (and Freddy Jones, am I right?) you could find to tape up in your locker at school, then you know what I’m talking about.
But unlike the rest of us, after earning a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at LSU Maggie found herself back on her musical path following a chance conversation with a fellow artist in Shreveport who told her to chase her dreams and reminded her that her immense talent should not go to waste.
And so, the girl who grew up teaching herself to sing by listening to Whitney Houston albums began waitressing in her father’s restaurant and less than two years later had recorded her debut album, Quarter Life.
But it was while that she was producing that album that another chance encounter with beloved New Orleans frontman David Shaw catapulted her to the next phase of her career.
“I met The Revivalists in 2011 when they played a show at Fatty Arbuckles in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. David and I became quick friends and collaborators. While I was on a weekend trip to New Orleans before moving here, he asked me to help him write some melodies and lyrics over a Galactic track. That ended up being ‘Hey Na Na’.
She moved to New Orleans and began touring shortly after that. One day when she and Shaw were hanging out, he asked her to help him on another Galactic track which went on to become “Dolla Diva”.
Later on, after releasing another self-produced album (the aforementioned Neutral Ground) with no management, no booking agent, no real plan, and within a day of giving up entirely, she got a call from Galactic about the possibility of touring with them for a short run.
Koerner ran with that and what was a few weekend shows turned into a year and a half of touring together from 2013 to 2014. Since then, she has been touring and promoting her own music across the country and has stood on many stages throughout her career.
“What I’ve learned from being a mostly touring musician is that I have strength in my ability to get on stage and perform in a way that genuinely connects with people and that my shortcomings as a human being are still learning how to manage and communicate my emotions maturely, especially when under the pressure and stress of touring.”
That said, her very favorite place to be is at home, often times sitting at a desk with a giant, hand-drawn calendar above her. Mostly she is at her piano, writing.
Every song is different from the next although, she admits, most of her ideas come from nowhere and she records them immediately. I think I still have a note in my phone of lyrics that she thought of on our first run together but she couldn’t take down herself because she was the one driving the van.
She goes on to develop that initial idea by herself or in a session with another songwriter, creating other parts, forming the structure of the song, and writing more lyrics.
Her favorite people to write with are David Shaw and another local legend, Boyfriend, but her wishlist of artists to collaborate with is much longer and includes Kendrick Lamar, Feist, Beyonce, Shakey Graves, John Mayer, and Radiohead.
Every once in a blue moon, an entire song will appear from inside her and that, she says, always feels sacred.
It can be very difficult to yo-yo between life on the road and coming home and reintegrating oneself into “normal” society.
Not to mention trying to constantly find inspiration to write new work on top of that, but Koerner puts a lot of energy into reminding herself that it is all a part of the path she has chosen.
“It’s tough living out of a suitcase and getting lost in the miles and days of the week and missing your home, loved ones, and stillness. It’s not always conducive to my personality to be stuck in a moving vehicle with a bunch of men but it is exactly where I am supposed to be when I am there. Once I get to the stage and feel the connection with the audience, it’s all worth it.”
She is proud of her achievements both personal and professional. She has had the opportunity to sing with her heroes and has grown as an artist, performer, and writer.
Her greatest achievement, she says, is getting sober over four years ago as well as a recent withdrawal from tobacco. She sees it as getting out of her own way so she can pursue this dream for the rest of her life.
When asked what a perfect future for her music looks like, Koerner kept it simple. She wished for people to connect to and love her new music, to use her musical ability to connect with people to give back in bigger ways, and to be surrounded by good and kind people. Only one major extravagance: a jet; so that she is able to bring her dog Tom around the world with her.
Words and photography by Katie Sikora.