Artist Profile No. 2 Meredith
Meredith Coloma is an artist in her own right. Her canvas? Guitars, bass’, mandolins and violins. She builds instruments. From a touring musician to actor to an internationally acclaimed guitar maker. All the while - being an absolute hustler fueled by her passion to express herself through building.
Meredith and I went to high school together, so our interview commenced organically as we chatted for the first time since grad.
Remember in senior year when I basically disappeared for six months? And I was always on tour playing across Europe before that? Well, I was at the Lee Strasburg School in New York, and I had to work to save as much money before going so I was constantly on tour or doing sessions in the studio before moving.
I don’t even remember you going there! But I have a terrible memory… How did that even come about?
I knew I wanted to act and take it more seriously, so I went to the best of the best. I basically gave them no choice but to let me in. I did not stop emailing, mailing, calling them until I got accepted. Just this kid from East Van bombarding this high profile school in New York City - that year they let me in as the 13th student when they only ever have 12 in their program.
So how did you go from a prominent theatre school to building instruments?
Well I hated every moment of the school. The life style, the industry. But every day I walked home from class, I would pass this old Yiddish man sitting inside of his little violin shop. He didn’t speak any english but I would go in there and sit with him, play instruments, watch and learn how he repaired and built his own. On my last day, I walked into his shop and explained to his wife that I was leaving New York, so she could translate it to him for me. He responded with giving me names of schools and programs I could attend to study building instruments. I think it was then that I understood this was a career option, like - this was a thing that I could really do instead of it being just a hobby.
I always found myself naturally curious about instruments; why one sounded better than the other, difference between brands, materials. I’d be in sessions in studio and examine all the instruments surrounding me. On tour with bands if one of the other musicians’ instruments would break I would be the one to cobble it back together - usually because I was the only sober one at that point due to being underage!
So I worked as an actor in New York for a little bit longer, continued to hate it and found myself always going back to this hobby of mine. Then I found a school on Vancouver Island and decided to take a risk and enroll.
That’s so interesting and serendipitous that you go to NYC for theatre school, end up hating it, and come back to build instruments. Was there any part in your mind that even considered making guitars for a living?
I had no idea. Not at all. I knew inside - without a doubt - I had to go to New York. But the outcome was not what I expected. But this year it will be ten years since I have been building instruments. And it’s finally lucrative for me! It took eight years. But I stuck with it. And I’m ADD which makes me perfect for building guitars.
That’s funny you say that! Most artists I talk to have some form of ADD or ADHD. Thriving under chaos?
When there are deadlines - thats stressful and chaotic. But if it wasn't for ‘last minute’ then I wouldn't get anything done because that constraint is where I focus most. When I’m working I'm totally focused. There are so many steps with building guitars, that after I finish one process there’s another process so I get excited to use every tool! I’ll stay at my shop from the early afternoon until about two in the morning - who else gets excited to stay those hours?? My guitars show my ADD, because they are so many colors and all different designs.
Do you think there is a personality trait for all artists across the board?
Can I ask you a question?
I have this drive… and I’m a lazy person - but this drive to achieve. It feels like a fire inside me - which is super cheesy - but it is lit and it just drives me forward. Do you have that?
Oh yeah - if I finish one thing it’s onto the next and it’s never ending and I don’t look back or think about anything else except for what’s next. Do you think that is a similarity?
Yeah - I think so. The drive. I get so excited to work and keep ticking off my list and making new ones. I don’t think about success, it’s just continuously driving forward. But people are weird about success… Like - they consider your success by being in a magazine. I remember this one time I was at the grocery store, it was ridiculously late, but I had to go buy lemons - because a Latina can never not have those - and this person just stopped me and was like, “Hey! You’re in my Acoustic Guitar magazine! You build guitars! Can I get a picture with you?!” I was in my Star Wars pajamas with glue all over my hands holding lemons and this was my first experience with “success”. But it was seven years into my career. And people wanted my picture because I was in a magazine, but I’ve been building these same guitars for years and I’d be doing this regardless of write ups and articles - so I resisted it a bit.
Like I said earlier, this has only just become lucrative for me. So that means there were eight years of hustling two side jobs, plus an internship, plus building my own shit because I loved it so much. People thought I was new and an overnight success when really I had been grinding since I was 18. But the whole time I knew that this tireless grind now would allow me to to work for myself later.
Also, you’re a woman in - kind of - a man’s world. How many female builders do you know?
There are thousands of builders internationally, I know of maybe… ten female? The first five years were horrible. I’d get shredded on online forums because I was a girl. Once I was at a guitar show and a photographer came through to take a photo of me. He asked me to lift up my guitar so it was near my face. When I saw the photo published, he had cropped it so it was just the arm of the guitar next to my cleavage - my face wasn’t even in it. Men online would openly discuss how they didn’t believe I built my guitars, that I was the face for a ghost builder. I got hate mail! The online forum hated me, but I had my small percentage of respected followers so they are who I focused on.
When I first started going to shows, my clientele was predominantly female. I think they were attracted to me because I was a young woman, I wore make up and heels because I like to dress up, and they would always talk to me. They are the ones who started buying my guitars. The wives of collectors and musicians. My guitars are colorful and very artistically designed so that flew with the female percentile.
I had this really cool moment which was when I knew the gender card was almost done with - when the one man who had fueled so much of this hate for me online, was next to me at a guitar show. He picked up one of my guitars, studied it, played it. We talked for the rest of the day and at the end of it all he held out his hand and truly apologized for everything he had said. Said this was the best guitar he had ever seen or heard.
When did you realize you were an artist?
I think I was a kid. I played music, I was an actor. I knew I always had to express myself artistically… So maybe always. My mom is a crazy hippie, my dad was a musician, so yeah - always. I’ve always felt the need to express myself, and somehow through using these tools and different shades of wood and the sounds of the instruments; I found the way to express what I have.
What instruments do you play?
Guitar, bass, violin, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, ukelele. I started with the fiddle when I was 9.
Woah. OK. What’s next for you then?
I started the Vancouver International Guitar Festival, it’s a show I curate and bring in other builders. I got to the point where I physically cannot meet the order demand, but I knew all these amazing builders so I invested in this show with my friend Shaw Saltzberg. He is a retired musical agent, so he gets the enthusiasts and I get the builders. August 11th to 12th, it will be our second show. Last year we were one of the most successful boutique shows, as we sold just under $300,000 worth of instruments. so through demand we’re back, selling other peoples guitars.
You're literally changing careers and lives with this!
My mom has always encouraged me to build a community. It’s a way for me to give back because I sometimes feel guilty over success. Because there are other people living how I used to be. I love and respect these artists and our craft so I want to help them out if i can. I didn’t have this when i started out, so now I can create it for others.
Final question…. What would you tell your younger self?
*Laughs and smiles… Don’t stress out so much. It will always work out. I’m a stress case and I have to keep moving in order to destress… But honestly I’m still learning! I don’t have it figured out.