The Oxygen Ponies are primarily the vehicle of singer/songwriter Paul Megna, an enigmatic, unpredicatble performer of rare emotional intensity. Band membership changes from album to album, with Megna - who writes, composes and sings all of the band´s material - being the only constant member. Like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and other poets of despair, Megna´s autobiographical songs are reflections on a life well-lived; melodic discourses interweaving man´s struggle vs. society and man´s struggle vs. his own animal nature. This uplifiting battle for survival, hope, bliss, peace and ultimately redemption is what makes them so compelling. Megna´s songs are a constant tug-of-war, reaching unexpected crescendos and spiralling down on a tightrope of oblivion, yet they never lose their balance.
When pushed to define The Oxygen Ponies, Megna describes it as ´intoxicating bedroom pop´ or to quote Magnet Magazine "minor chord folk-pop for the end credits". Both are correct. With traces of Neil Young´s On the Beach, Leonard Cohen´s Songs of Love and Hate and echoes of Dylan, Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Afghan Whigs - those labels certainly seems to fit. The Oxygen Ponies are firmly rooted in the past without seeming retro,
both timeless and timely.
l to r: paul(front), joe, bonnie, drewMegna was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts and raised in a broken home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He found solace in Nan, his step-grandmother, whose house he often ran away to and where he lived for periods of time. He escaped his surroundings through avidly reading and writing poetry and was awarded ´best poet´ of his elementary school while in the fourth grade. At nine, Nan bought him a piano and he studied for two years and excelled - until she passed away unexpectedly. After that, he stopped speaking for a week and and never touched the piano again. It´s still sitting where he left it, rotting away in Rhode Island.
From that moment on, the music chapter of Megna´s life was closed. He focused his attention on sports and ultimately acting, where he also excelled. It was football that brought him out of New England, but it was the pursuit of an acting career that led him to move to NYC. Paul´s acting career started off with a flourish but was mainly comprised of almost weres and unfortunate accidents. Something was missing. It was this period of his life that Salon.com described as "an almost comically over-the-top catalog of misery." Yet, it was one of these ´unfortunate accidents´ which ultimately led him back to music. One autumn evening, on the way to a play rehearsal in Hell´s Kitchen, he was shot in the neck by a sniper and hospitalized for a week. This led directly to his being cast as Kurt Cobain in the Off-Off Broadway play ´Coffee With Kurt Cobain´. To prepare for this role, Megna bought a cheap black Fender guitar and called Jeff Buckley (who he had acted with previously in a production of ´Woyzeck´) to show him how to handle it authentically. Very organically, Megna began writing songs as excercises for his character, but he still had aspirations of being an actor and tucked the guitar away in the back of his closet once the production was over.
megna on sabbaticalIt wasn´t until a year or so later, (after he saved his ex-girlfriends´ life when she attempted suicide in the midst of their break-up) that Megna took a seven month sabbatical to Sag Harbor and began to perfect his unique songwriting style and odd finger-picking technique . By day, he worked as a pig nanny. Late at night, in an old abandoned barn, he would practice his ´intoxicating bedroom pop´ songs over and over until they were memorized and then record them into an answering machine because he didn´t know how to jot them down and was afraid he´d forget them. "At the time it was cathartic. I had no intention of ever being a musician. I just needed an outlet. I felt like I had so much bottled up anxiety that I was going to explode. They [Those recordings] were for my own sanity and weren´t meant to be heard." These ´answering machine tapes´ became the basis for the songs of the Oxygen Ponies and you can feel the emptiness haunting the air from the moment you hear the incurable loneliness in Megna´s world-weary voice.
But it really wasn´t until 2005, after ending a five-year relationship a few months shy of the scheduled wedding, that Megna decided to record at Don Piper´s ´Between the Trains´ studio and make the record he´d always been hesitant to make. He found himself sitting alone staring at the walls of his empty Hell´s Kitchen apartment and realized music was indeed his calling. "I felt like I had spent my entire life running away from things that I should have been holding on to and holding on to things that I should have been running away from. As much as I loved writing songs, I was terrified to commit them to record. But I knew I had to. They were all I had left."
the oxygen poniesIn 2006, The Oxygen Ponies critically acclaimed self-titled debut came out of nowhere to garner favorable reviews in Magnet, Tape Op and Salon.com while landing on three bloggers best albums of 2006 lists with such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Band of Horses, The Decemberists, and Cat Power. Americana UK raved "Beautifully, well-crafted songs... reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at times... a balance is achieved where emotions are allowed to shine through without being lost in a confusion of noise. This album could indeed become a modern classic if given half a chance." With only a handful of live performances under his belt, Megna took off for a 2007 UK mini-tour with Randi Russo - who eventually started singing with him, playing shows with Caroline Martin, Jacob Golden, and The Early Years, and a Truck festival gig with Garth Hudson, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Electric Soft Parade among others.
That fall, he wrote and recorded the upcoming Oxygen Ponies record Harmony Handgrenade. It too is of its time, but rather than turning inward it punches outward and gives the finger to everything that´s wrong with corporate America. It´s post-apocalyptic without being melodramatic or self-indulgent. Matter of fact, chastened, jaded but hopeful. Just like Megna himself.