Eternal Sunshine of the 23-year-old Mind
Ellen O’Meara released her debut album, Take Me to the Desert, in May. Produced by Darwin Smith, it’s a combination of folk and Americana.
As a child, O’Meara became fascinated by spaces and shapes, so she considered becoming an architect. Her main goal was to live creatively with a sense of adventure. The local also grew up a tomboy; constantly exploring, climbing trees, and building forts. It’s the kid in all of us that makes her music so accessible.
It wasn’t until 2011 that she picked up a guitar.
“I was 21 years old,” says O’Meara. “I took a couple lessons, which bored me to tears. So I went home and listened to my favorite folk song on repeat until I had figured out the picking pattern by ear.
“I used the only four chords I knew to write my first few songs. During that time, I also found interest again in playing piano. After that, I picked up harmonica, then accordion, then banjo, and I haven’t stopped since.”
O’Meara grew up in Georgetown and went to college at Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, where she earned her nursing degree. Around the same time she started playing guitar, she began working as a pediatric nurse at Austin’s Dell Children’s Hospital. Inspired by Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, O’Meara found a way to put her health care-oriented empathy to work as a songwriter.
“I play acoustic instruments that make real sounds, and I write songs about real life and real people,” she explains. “I love the simplicity of folk music. My music appeals to people because it’s about common people and it’s easy to relate to. My music is narrative folk music and poetic imagery and symbolism.
Take Me to the Desert takes its name from a song about “someone experiencing a stark winter and pleading for rescue from the cold.”
“Though the desert is a place of desolation, in this song the desert represents a place of warmth, light, and eternal sunshine,” she offers.
Eternal sunshine of the 23-year-old mind.
“Everybody has to start somewhere,” she acknowledges. “I’ve had to remind myself of that a time or two. It’s easy for me to compare myself to my peers and wish I was more established as a musician than I am, but when I reflect on the past two years and how much I’ve accomplished, I’m proud of myself.
“My bandmates and those who played on my record are my friends, but also my mentors. They have years more experience than I do. They have been gracious, patient, and encouraging of my music and where I am in this process. I learned a great deal from them and am grateful to have them in my life.”
O’Meara plays Wednesday night at the Cactus Cafe as part of Five & Dime, her trio with Darwin Smith and Jaimee Harris. Take Me to the Desert can be found at Waterloo Records and online via iTunes and Amazon.