After an attention grabbing Preaching From the Pews entry and a genre defying influences feature, Mary Epworth has proved herself worthy of the GIITTV Featured Act title. To see all of our articles on the Hand of Glory executive and London based musician, head over here.
With her time as the apple of our New Music eye coming to an end, Tiffany Daniels spoke to Epworth about not being a stereotypical acoustic mistress, shunning convention (without being contrived), recording her debut and generally being an awesome individual. Read the results below!
Are you recording at the moment?
Mary: [We’re] mixing at the moment, just finishing off the album. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks it should all be done.
How long have you been recording the album for? It seems like – from what we’ve spoken about on the internet – it’s been quite a while.
M: It has yeah – well, it’s hard to say really because it’s my first album. The composition properly started last December, but we finished a lot of it, and then there was a big break.
Who’s been working on it?
M: It’s a funny thing, The Jubilee Band. I might put [the album] out under my own name and not as ‘Mary Epworth & The Jubilee Band’. Basically the live band always plays with me because I’m not a very good solo artist. In the studio there have been quite a few people [playing with me] though. I’ve probably got three different drummers playing on [the record], and Will [Twynham] produced it. We’ve got these two brothers I know from Germany called Rainer and Karsten Süßmilch, and they’re playing all [of the] brass on it. We went to Berlin and [recorded those parts] last March; that was really great. Loads of people contributed actually!
Do you see the project as more of a collective than a band?
M: I think really it’s my solo project. They’re all my songs, and I’m quite – not stubborn, but I want it to be right. Also even though there’s a band playing live, I didn’t want to have to think, “We’ll have to have some guitar on this song because we’ve got a guitarist”. We went back to the drawing board with all the songs, thinking what would be best for each song rather than working with a particular line up.
Why did you have a band name in the first place? What was the need?
M: I always play live with a band. Before that we were ‘The Mary Epworth Band’ – it does keep changing a bit! I’ll probably still [perform] as The Jubilee Band live because I do love my band. I’m very lucky. I guess it’s to differentiate between it being just me and an acoustic guitar. I think especially with female singer-songwriters people automatically assume what you’re going to be like.
Is that a perception you’ve come across quite a lot in the past?
M: To some extent it’s true because I am, but at the same time I think people always assume that it’s going to be acoustic, and not heavy or psychedelic. All the time when people say to me, “I’ve found some music you’ll really like,” it’s always some girl with an acoustic guitar! No offense, there are some really great musicians out there, but it’s not really what I’m into or where I’m coming from.
You play the harpsichord – what other instruments do you play?
M: I’m a terrible harpsichord player, I have to confess! My main instrument is an acoustic guitar, and also the autoharp. They’re the two instruments I use a lot. The harpsichord really – on the album – Will plays that most of the time, although actually I do play it on a couple of [songs]. My reach exceeds my grasp, I can think of some really interesting sounds but I can’t always play them very well!
I sang first, for a long time, and couldn’t play anything. I was writing, but that was the most frustrating thing in the world, because I couldn’t get the song down. I learned guitar quite late really. There’s this one track that may end up as a b-side that I play drums on, that was really fun, and there’s a bit of accordion on the album too. I’ll have a go at anything, but I’m not very disciplined at becoming a virtuoso at any instrument!
What influenced you to pick up something other than what you might call a traditional instrument?
I’m quite a contrary person, to go with my name. Originally it didn’t occur to me to learn piano or guitar. I actually remember buying an autoharp from a car boot sale when I was about 14. I had it for years and years and years and never played it, and then kind of remembered it and got into that! I really wanted a xylophone for years, and I got a really big [one] and I’ve never learned to play that. I’ve got a Theremin; I’ve got a few things, but you know – there’s always more fun stuff, there are always more things to buy!
What instrument do you want to learn next?
M: I would like to learn keys properly. I can kind of bash a few things out, but not well. I think when you’re writing there’s much bigger scope and more interesting chords [on the keyboard]. I’ll add that to my list of things I’m supposed to be learning how to do!
What’s your song writing process like? If you’ve been focusing on this album for over a year, have you let the tracks develop over time or have you written them and then they’ve sat there waiting for you?
It’s a bit of both! They’ve definitely developed over time in terms of the arrangement and the production. I really don’t like to collaborate with anyone on writing, so I don’t particularly rewrite songs, but definitely if I’d recorded some of them when I first wrote them they would have sounded really country. Now we’ve done the album I’m somewhere else musically, and I’ve come out with something completely different [from what I could have imagined back then]. Or even now during the mixing process, there are songs where we’ve recorded loads of [parts], and don’t know what to keep. We’re trying to make decisions with some songs, at this late stage, whether we want it to be cool or empty and spooky. We’ve just put the kitchen sink on everything!
What’s your lyrical inspiration?
I don’t know if I’m massively inspired by anything. The songs that I’m happiest with tend to just come to me! I’m hugely into nature and wildlife, and landscapes – I think that comes through. It’s one of those things that I try not to think about too much – you know when bad lyrics are kind of conceived? I think if you labour it too much they get really bad.
Going back to the album – how many tracks are there, and what’s it going to be called?
There are going to be I think eleven tracks, and it’s going to be called Dream Life.
Where’s the title taken from? Is that the name of a song on there?
It’s not a song on there, but me being me, I’ve started to write a song called “Dream Life”! It wasn’t deliberate!
What genre do you think optimises the sound of the album, or is it quite diverse?
It’s quite diverse, but there’s a lot of continuing themes and loads of space-echoes. These beautiful sort of 60s, 70s kit, it’s really lush and reverb-y. I wanted it to have loads of atmosphere, for the songs to be mixed up so you can’t sit and think, “That’s a guitar, and that’s a bass”. I wanted it to be almost like pictures. Lots of harmonies and loads of space. Quite a few of the songs are empty. It’s sort of the opposite of what people might expect!
How do you shape the songs? Do you deliberately go against the grain, or have you used silence in your songs because you like music to be sparse or spacious?
Both – I am, like I say, contrary! I do rebel a little bit; if I think I fit neatly into a scene or there are other people around me playing similar music that makes me really not want to do it. It makes me want to do something different! But at the same time I don’t want to be one of those people make wacky, deliberately attention seeking music. I think sometimes as well my songs are quite classic, and [they have] conventional song structures. I want to try to bring something to it that takes them somewhere else, and makes them sound like they didn’t just come out in 1970.
Do you find 60s and 70s music influences you more than modern music?
I really love 60s and 70s music. I’m a huge Beach Boys fans, a massive fan. There are loads of genres [from that era] like prog and psych, I love all of that. There’s so much there, and even if you listen to it for thirty years, you can still find amazing new songs that did nothing when they came out.
Do you think that’s been lost in modern music? Do new bands not write such introspective music?
I don’t know. A couple of times a year I’ll find something modern that I really love and that’s it, but to be honest I’m not out looking for it unless I hear it on the radio or something. I’m probably missing really good stuff. I don’t know whether it’s just the case that the people who were making that kind of music in the 60s and 70s were the first generation to really do it, or whether it was just that point in the evolution of music that was really interesting.
All your previous releases have come out on your own record label. Is your album going to be self-released, too?
Yeah, September or October hopefully!
To keep up to date on Mary Epworth’s goings on, head over to her official site.