Armed with a voice that snakes through the foggy bayous of rural Louisiana and explodes with feeling in the streets of New Orleans, Maggie Koerner is here to pull at your heartstrings. Maybe pull is too light of a word. She yanks them full force. With her self-written, self-produced second record, “Neutral Ground,” in the bag, Koerner candidly spoke with the IN about this whirlwind of a year that’s been her first in the Big Easy.
IN: When did you first realize you had a voice on you?
KOERNER: When I was a kid, I think I could sing better than I actually could. I would sit in my room and listen to a lot of Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner.
IN: So you were a little diva?
KOERNER: Yeah, I was. I would try to belt out what they could do. Then of course, the female angst Lilith Fair stuff with Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow happened. I was a little Catholic schoolgirl in the choir growing up. I got banned from doing the solos by my sophomore year of high school. It was a very traditional Catholic mass, but people applauded for me after my performances. That didn’t sit well with the priest.
IN: What are some of the toughest things about being a strong female lead in a male-dominated rock and roll world?
KOERNER: Ha! Every once in a while, I have to deal with it. It’s been probably two or three times. Sometimes, somebody will say something inappropriate or forget that I need to be treated as an equal. Thankfully, now I work with guys who don’t care about that stuff. They respect me. They listen to me, and I listen to them. Their opinions are just as valuable as mine.
IN: How old were you when you moved from Shreveport to New Orleans?
KOERNER: I was 25. I’ve been in New Orleans for about a year now. It was a huge, necessary change. Shreveport has some of the best singer/songwriters I’ve ever heard. Maybe some of them will never be known, but they’re in a league of their own. I needed to get out of the town, though, because I didn’t want to get stuck only playing there. It’s like a black hole. I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and needed to live a little more life. I needed to be in a city where you could let your freak flag fly. The whole purpose of New Orleans is to be yourself and have a good time doing it.
IN: What else makes New Orleans so special to you?
KOERNER: The people and the constant desire for community. You walk down the street and there’s a crawfish boil. You go a few more blocks and there’s a Mother’s Day brunch in the hood happening. One of my favorite memories of New Orleans happened a few months ago. I was in my house and I could hear a second-line band playing. I walked out the door toward it and ended up in the middle of the procession. Here I was, not knowing who this was, with people from all different cultures celebrating the life of this man. People that don’t live here too often talk about the negative aspects of this city. They don’t understand how magical it is.
IN: As a new person in the city, how did you cope with those negative aspects of New Orleans?
KOERNER: I surrounded myself with good people. I was extremely fortunate that the moment I moved here, I found a really great group of human beings.
IN: Speaking of your friends, how did you get involved with the Revivalists? It seems like you all have a tight-knit group there.
KOERNER: They’re the sweetest guys. They played in Shreveport and offered me a chance to sing with them in their next set. I don’t think they expected me to be good at all. They probably thought I was just some ditz flirting with them. They’ve been the most supportive guys, especially David Shaw, the singer. He’s gone out of his way so many times to show me the ropes and move me along in my career. He’s invited me to co-write on Galactic songs. David’s motto is “give, give, give” and to not expect anything back in return.
IN: What are you trying to accomplish each time you step on-stage?
KOERNER: Human connection. To not feel at one moment in the set like it’s contrived. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I wrote these words. The best compliments I get are when people say that it seems like I’m not even singing and that there’s something moving through me. I’m not here to make you dance. I’m here to make you feel.
IN: Does performing come naturally for you?
KOERNER: Singing comes naturally, but stage presence is something I had to learn. When I go to shows now, I’ll take mental notes about what they’re doing on stage. It’s like a football game. What do they do up there that I need to do? The biggest problem I have on stage is the time in between songs. Stage banter is not my thing. The guys encourage me to speak as little as possible.
IN: You mentioned how it was a goal of yours to headline Vinyl in Pensacola. What’s it like seeing that and other goals come to life?
KOERNER: I didn’t have anybody to tell, so I knew I had to tweet it! It’s unreal. A lot of musicians, myself included, can get bogged down and wonder what we’re doing when there’s so many of us out there working for the same thing. I’m one of a million. Am I doing it right? Am I writing the right stuff? Maybe, I’m not where I want to be in the long run, but I’ve made a lot of progress in a year. I’m trying to be more present and grateful for what has happened instead of bumming out about what hasn’t.
Photo: Libro Musica