There was a time when neither Meg nor Dia Frampton thought they’d ever play together again. The sisters – two of six – had spent over eleven years making music together as Meg & Dia, and between 2004 and 2012, their emotive, soul-searching songs made their name in the indie and alternative rock scene. In that time period, they expanded to a five-piece, released four albums, and toured with the likes of Anberlin, Bayside, Saves The Day, The Plain White T’s, Angels & Airwaves, Dashboard Confessional, New Found Glory and Sugarcult. They also completed three summers on the Vans Warped Tour and its short-lived, UK kind-of equivalent, Give It A Name.
In 2011, in an effort to promote that year’s fourth independently released album, Cocoon, Dia appeared as a competitor on the first season of The Voice and finished as the runner-up. That led to a record deal as a solo artist and later that same year the first album under her own name was released, something which inadvertently drove a wedge between her and her sister. In 2012, under the name Dia Frampton, the band supported country star Blake Shelton on a US arena tour, but it was soon after that that they went their separate ways.
“Meg and I really split up on the last day of that tour,” says Dia. “She just said ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and I remember falling to the ground and balling my eyes out. After that, we didn’t talk hardly at all and there was this weird tension for maybe eight years, where we’d give each other a stiff hug at family gatherings and then gratefully turn our attention to our other sisters. But eventually we did go to therapy together, because even though we weren’t getting along, we both wanted to get along.”
Fast-forward to the start of 2019, and the sisters are not just preparing to head back out on Warped Tour this summer, but are gearing up to release Happysad. It’s the album neither of them thought they’d ever make, but it’s one that not only finds their friendship rekindled, but their creative spark reignited and their musical horizons expanded. The unlikely reunion came about after Dia released her second solo album, Bruises, in 2017. She didn’t not like it, but something about the experience felt off and she felt drawn to the musical past she’d shared with Meg.
“There was this thing that just started calling me,” Dia explains. “I wasn’t happy playing alone. I put Bruises out and it wasn’t hitting home with me. That album felt really, really lonely to me. It felt like me at the time, but it didn’t feel like me as a whole. I was just really lonely in creating art because we’d done it for so many years together. I called my younger sister Jade and said ‘How’s Meg doing? Do you think if I asked her to start up the band again she’d say yes?’ And she said ‘I don’t know, just ask her.’
Unbeknownst to Dia, Meg – a much more spiritual person than her sister – had also been feeling an urge to regroup with her sister and get the last incarnation of the band back together. In fact, she’d been so determined to do so that she’d been attempting to send telepathic messages to her sister and the universe in general.
“I had been toying with the idea of manifestation,” explains Meg, “and bringing about a reality with my mind. I was feeling discontentment in my job as well as the desire to be creative and have a deeper connection with Dia. So I started visualizing us playing together again for a week, and on the eighth day she called me and asked! And it’s a big commitment – it wasn’t asking me if I wanted to make a casserole, it was asking if I want to change the direction of my career. And there wasn’t even a hesitation. I was so ready to jump on board.”
With the last incarnation of the band – bassist Jonathan Snyder and guitarist Carlo Gimenez, Meg & Dia began writing new songs together, but not before Meg ventured off to South America to do ayahuasca and then went on a silent spiritual retreat – two things that changed everything for her.
“I did these things,” she says, “and it kind of broke me open right before we started writing the record. I’d done mushrooms and acid each one time before and I thought it would be like that, but it was like this alien plant that you consume and then you literally feel like you’re in a different galaxy. When I got back home, I kept saying ‘I want a normal life and a normal job’ because that experience was so crazy, but it shook up my world a little bit and I made some changes in my life. I ended a 10-year relationship, I changed my focus to music and emotionally I’ve just been different. I fell into this super dark place, but in the midst of that it made me really open and sensitive, but also really needing to connect to the people that I loved.”
While she was in that dark place, Meg says became incredibly close to Dia again, which allowed her to become rebalanced and start writing again. The result is an album that, in keeping with its title, treads the line between joy and melancholy, darkness and light. Opener “American Guru” – a song inspired by Meg’s spiritual quest to find the truth in life – is a soothing pulse of dreamy electronics that’s riddled with existential questions even as it realizes the answers are out of reach. The songs electronic flourishes are not a one-off, but demonstrative of Meg & Dia’s new sound. “Lit Match”, for example, is propelled by a slick yet soulful pop groove, while the tender innocence of “Teenagers” is offset by a dark undercurrent and “Koala” makes no bones about being “a fucking mess” – even if the melody could easily get a whole club full of bodies swaying together.
While in the past, Meg and Dia would take turns to write individual songs on albums, their efforts on Happysad were much more collaborative.
It means these 10 songs are a blend of Meg and Dia’s two distinct yet compatible personalities, songs which show how in tune they are with each other but also how different they both are. At its core, however, is a fragility and vulnerability shared by both of them, but which they hope can help others who may feel similar. Dia, in particular, is adamant she wants this record to not hide any truth – including the fact that, despite her success with The Voice and the fact she works regularly with other songwriters, she also still works as a waitress in Los Angeles.
“I feel that when people come back, it’s often bigger and stronger than ever before,” says Dia. “But I feel like Meg and I are coming back and honestly, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re scared and nervous and we have the same fears that many people have – fear of failure, of not being enough – but we’re still coming back.
I don’t feel like we’re coming back stronger and bigger than ever with all our shit together. I feel like we’re coming back older and hopefully wiser. There’s so much security in being young and in youth – if things don’t work, you’re 21. Who cares? You can start again. But if things don’t work out, we’re in our thirties now and I’m a waitress in LA and I don’t know what I’m going to be doing. So there’s a lot of fear in coming back, but I think the biggest thing that Meg and I wanted to translate is not to skip over our fears, but tell people that we have them and we’re still doing this. Everybody’s scared of doing something and if we can represent anything for anyone, we want it to be that we’re not perfect, we don’t have all our shit together, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we’re just as insecure and nervous as anybody, but the fear of not even trying is more terrifying. And luckily we have each other.”
“One of my biggest fears,” adds Meg, “is not knowing if I’m headed in the right direction. That brings me a lot of anxiety. But this is a time for exploration and stepping up to the plate and feeding into those insecurities and fears and exploring what the world has to offer. Writing a record with Dia, and even just being around her, has really opened my eyes. She’s so open and not afraid to put her truth on the table and be vulnerable, whereas I feel like I’m still covering up pieces I don’t want people to know and that I don’t know if it’s okay to share. And that’s kind of how the process of writing the record went. The songs would get really dark and sad and I’d say things like let’s claw it back a bit and not quite go there all the way and let’s not be such an open book and she would always say ‘No! Let’s just tell the truth!’”
In addition to being so open about those fears and vulnerabilities, Dia hopes this record can also serve to embrace the sisters’ roots and become a kind of beacon for other Asian-American voices. That’s something they’ve never done before but which Dia feels, while they’re being so honest about everything else, is just as important.
“Growing up in a small town in Utah, we learned to try our best to hide our differences. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be like people around me. I think Meg and I were seriously the only Korean-American girls in our school. And Asian Americans today are still highly underrepresented and when we are represented, it’s often in poor taste. We want to break the stereotype and represent the underrepresented,” she says, “and show how Asian-American women can be strong and independent and in a rock band, and not these silent, submissive stereotypes. I hope by being more visible we can show that we don’t have to be side characters in a TV show or in our own lives. We call ourselves the Seoul Sisters now – a lot of our childhood was hiding who we are, so it feels good to finally really be ourselves.”
Today, newly reunited Meg & Dia release ‘happysad’ through Pure Noise Records. The.