When songwriter and guitarist Meg Duffy, who performs as Hand Habits, recorded their latest full-length album, Fun House, Duffy wanted to break free from the narratives we all tell ourselves about our own lives, and specifically to reject the orthodoxy of what they thought they could do as a musician.
The songwriter and guitarist’s third studio album is out now on Saddle Creek Records. Hand Habits returns to Eugene Feb. 17 at Sessions Music Hall Lounge, where they supported Andy Shauf in the main hall in September.
As a guitarist, Duffy has toured, performed and collaborated with some of today’s most intriguing indie musicians, such as Weyes Blood, The War on Drugs, Kevin Morby and Perfume Genius. Duffy now finds joy in their own songwriting, which fits nicely alongside recent classic heartland rock updates from bands like Big Thief and the immaculately understated quality of groups like Fleetwood Mac in its ’70s heyday.
Over the phone from their home in California, Duffy tells Eugene Weekly, “I spent so much of my life identifying as a guitar player, not as a songwriter. It’s hard to break out of patterns that we’ve made for ourselves.”
With the gently rhythmic Fun House track “Just to Hear You,” alongside Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius, Duffy repeats in a circling harmony, “I don’t need anything.” It’s a statement of purpose, with an edge of thrilling release.
On Fun House, Duffy adds, “I wanted to get outside of that fear a little bit,” and to be more ambitious with tempos, instrumentation and arrangements. “I wanted to be pushed creatively.”
Duffy mentions Fleetwood Mac guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham as an influence; the proficiency Buckingham shows with his instrument, but also his willingness to stay subservient to the song: tasteful, intentional, not afraid to take a solo but also in the moment.
Duffy holds themself to those standards, too.
Raised in New York state, Duffy studied guitar performance in college, but demurs when asked if they’re a “gearhead.”
“I’ve had the same guitar since I started playing,” Duffy explains. “I just like the way my body feels and my spirit feels when I play guitar. I’m more of a ‘music-head.’”
“As a guitar player I can shy away from overdoing it,” the musician continues. But in that minimalist approach to songwriting and performance, it’s easy to lose sight of what can exist in between.
On Fun House, Duffy says, “I really wanted to take up more space as a songwriter,” pointing toward album track “Aquamarine,” which started out as a dark Leonard Cohen-style ballad but is now opened up with electronics and breakbeats. It’s a “banger,” Duffy says.
Writing music, they say, “starts with a feeling, or a reaction to a feeling, that I’m trying to work out.”
Some people are secure in their identity, while still others are always searching. Music can be that way, too, Duffy says. Determining what a song will be should first and foremost be the song itself.
“Most of the time when I sit down with lyrics — I’m not being mystical and I’m not being evasive — but I feel that I’m not in charge,” Duffy says. “I try and just follow it and let it come out.”
Hand Habits performs with Gregory Uhlmann 8 pm Thursday, Feb. 17, at Sessions Music Hall Lounge; $15 advance, $15, 21+.