Margrit Eichler is the heart and soul of San Francisco power-pop group, True Margrit, and while her band name is a nod to the gruff Western made famous by John Wayne (and now made more famous by the Coen brothers), she might be one of the most personable people you’ll ever speak on the phone with. We spoke about her upbringing in a small town in East Tennessee, her love of piano and the thin line between cheese and authenticity when it comes to writing music.
AE: Tell me a little bit about your background and your childhood. Did you grow up in Knoxville, Tennessee?
ME: Actually I’m from Oak Ridge, Tennessee — have you heard of it?
AE: No, but I’ve been to Nashville. My mom lives there and is a professor there.
ME: Oh! That’s funny — my ex-stepfather was a professor of philosophy there! But I grew up in Oak Ridge, and it’s a pretty strange place, you know, the Manhattan Project was there so they used to have these signs and it would be like, “Home of the Atomic Bomb!” [laughs] It’s a very strange small town, but everyone has a PhD. I thought about this a lot actually, my mom was a classically trained pianist and we had two friends who were concert pianists and I think that’s kind of a lot for a small town.
AE: Yeah! So then did you get your love of piano from your mom?
ME: Yes, definitely. My mom has this nice baby grand that she got the year before I was born and so it was always there. It’s funny because she taught piano lessons and – I must have heard them right? I would lie under the piano and kind of hum and correct the wrong note but I never took formal lessons from her. We were always saying, “Yeah, we’ll start lessons tomorrow.” But it never happened. My family was just super cool and let me learn the hard way of trial and error. I started writing my own music when I was ten. My first gig was when I was 14.
AE: Oh wow! So I’m assuming you weren’t playing your first gigs at a bar though, right?
ME: It was actually at a coffee house in the Unitarian Church.
AE: Did you belong to the Unitarian Church or was that where all the good concerts were?
ME: Oh yeah, it was a really groovy place to be. Actually I’m Jewish which is a pretty interesting thing to be in small town Tennessee.
AE: Me too!
ME: See we have so much in common! Yeah, it was interesting being the only Jewish kid in east Tennessee because my teacher would always be like, “And now Margrit’s going to teach us all about Cha-noo-kuh (Chanukah).”
AE: That’s always fun, trying to make your friends jealous of our eight days of lighting candles and opening presents. But then no one gets jealous when you tell themabout Yom Kippur.
ME: Definitely not.