INTERVIEW: Mary Epworth 2

INTERVIEW: Mary Epworth


Mary Epworth released her long awaited debut album ‘Dream Life’ through Hand Of Glory / ADA at the tail end of last month. A wonderful record that showcases Mary’s enchanting voice, stripped back instrumentation and homespun songwriting that surfs genres of the past and present, all gracefully set amongst a timelessly wide screen backdrop, these are classic songs in a modern setting.Apart from the fads, here is a female artist of real substance and genuine heart.

Above all else, ‘Dream Life’ is a testament to the power of music as befits an artist and producer who also run the Hand Of Glory label, reissuing lost psych classics. Its creation is based on a shrewd Ebay deal for an autoharp (buying price £26, selling price £1500), the sale of a beloved and ultra rare Shellac record and film extras work, each step in the process delivering that little bit more cash to progress the record towards its finish line. We caught up with Mary on the eve of her performance at Bristol Ladyfest, to delve a little deeper into her work and inspirations.

Hi Mary how are you? Excited about the release of your new album I’ll bet?!!

I’m good I think, it’s a bit of a funny feeling finally having the album out there, it having been my own private project for so long. The last few weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I keep having to go for really long walks just to get my head straight.

The first track of yours that captured me was ‘Black Doe’ what was the inspiration behind it?! There’s almost a country rock vibe to it, was that how it first emerged or how it developed over time?

I wrote the song quite a long time ago, after a walk in a beautiful medieval hunting forest near where I live, where I suddenly was up eye-to-eye with a lovely fallow deer and her fawn. It’s really just about the wildwood, and wildness in general. When I first wrote it, it was a gentle and hypnotic finger-picked acoustic thing, but it ended up mutating a lot! I realised though, if you speed it up it probably sounds very bluegrass.

I definitely had a big country rock phase, if I’d finished the album sooner it might have been much more in that vein.


Did you create the songs on ‘Dream Life’ over one period or was it more peace meal than that? Having had a few releases in the run up to it did you decide to re-record any or all of them for the album? Because for me it has a really thematic quality as a long player, like a lost classic that hangs together like albums used to do? Are you trying to bring classic songwriting and production into a modern setting do you think?

It’s so nice to hear that you feel it works as a whole, as it wasn’t a straightforward process, and I really wanted it to feel like a body of work. Black Doe didn’t get a re- record, but we did get a different mix for the album, so that it fitted better with the other songs. I think “classic songwriting and production in a modern setting” is certainly something like what we aimed for; we wanted it to not feel retro, even though most of my favourite music is from the past. Will figured it out, that we listen to music that was ahead of it’s time, and pushing forward, so 40 years on it still sounds exciting.

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your work before? Or is it too diverse?

I think I might be too close to do it. I wanted it to be atmospheric, and also to be a bit ambiguous as to what you are hearing, rather than immediately spotting a banjo, a guitar etc. I always enjoy records where you realise what you are hearing is a guitar and a synth playing the same line, or a piano layered with a marimba purr. Music like that bears repeated listens as you unravel all the layers. It’s fun!

Holed up in Norwich recording the album whilst snowed in did that atmosphere infect the mood in the studio in any way? What did you get up too when you weren’t recording?!?!

When we weren’t recording Will and I just listened to music, and watched bro movies, think we might have played Mario kart too. We didn’t do a big three week block of recording, it was three weeks individually, and the snow didn’t quite trap us, but we enjoyed being isolated. Neither of us can drive and the studio is really in the sticks, so it meant once we had been dropped off with our gear and supplies, you could just focus on the music. I’m smiling as I remember. Hope we go back again for some more recording.

What did Will Twynham bring to the album and songs? Or was it more of a mutual partnership when putting it together?

When it comes to writing I’m stubborn, these are my songs and I don’t collaborate. When it comes to creating the sounds, and looking at the album as a whole, that’s Will as much as me. We’re a couple, and I think that having someone who is so close to you, but is still one step away from you is really helpful. He knows me and the songs so well, it’s easy to then go from there, to see where you can take these words and chords, and create some magic. I’m very lucky, he’s a brilliant producer.

I see you have a range of influences how do they manifest themselves in your songwriting or do you try to clear your mind before you commit anything to paper or tape?

I’m a music fan, and listen to so many things that I love, but I’m never really sure how much of that comes out in my writing. Whenever I self consciously try to write about something, or to write a kind of song, I’m never happy with the results, it never feels grounded. The best thing for me is when the songs just come out of the ether. I’m not prolific though, and I’m sort of nervous and excited to think about what comes after this album.

Are you excited to play live again this summer? I see you have a range of festivals coming up including Ladyfest! Do you think it’s important to help and promote strong female artists in still
a rather male dominated music business?

I always enjoy working with female promoters, engineers, journalists etc, because to me, that has been the gap in the system, women working in music, around the creative aspect. It’s quite a pleasant surprise to not be the only woman in a venue!

I try not to focus particularly on the fact that I’m female, like I try not to focus on being over 25 even though that’s like 70 in music business years. Some things are just part of who you are, but not really relevant.

My drummer teaches music to kids, and he tells me that it’s about 50/50 boys and girls coming to learn now, which is encouraging.

Generally the only time I get wound up with that is when another band’s crew introduce themselves to the boys in my band, and not me. Then I really get the hump.

Speaking of which how do the songs emerge? Dreams? A riff? A piano part? A couplet?

A lyric attached to a melody, sometimes if I am lucky it might be a whole verse, or the first few lines. Once I’ve got that I have to snare it to some chords, and then work out what it’s about so I can finish the song.

Someone likened the album to a ‘love letter’ just how personal are the songs? Also I saw it was referred to as novelistic by another critic was that your intention to create an almost cinematic experience with the detail of a book you can get lost in?!

The songs are all personal; I must be pretty self obsessed as I only really write from the inside out, if you know what I mean. I’m telling the imagined audience something from deep inside. Like I say, if I try to write “about” I never quite feel like I’m telling the

I love that someone got that from the record. I wanted it to be absorbing. I think maybe it’s not an immediate album, you need to give it time to be drawn in to its pace and atmosphere. Will and I really wanted things to not just have sound, but feel as well.

How hard is it as a musician these days with the knowledge that it’s not exactly a ‘reliable’ career? Does that even matter?

It’s never been a reliable career, it was always a lottery, who would get picked by a label and get the breaks etc. It’s unreliable in a different way now, but I think now as an artist you have no choice other than trying to make it happen for yourself. You can’t expect anyone to sweep in and hand you success on a plate.

Also I think many people who have “proper” jobs that they don’t love have the same kinds of insecurity now. Most of us are just trying to make some kind of a life, and find a way to be happy.

What are your hopes for Dream Life? I have visions of playing this record on a proper record player was that your intention?!

Yes! It really was, we sequenced it as an LP, and we mastered for vinyl. The record is a bit delayed as we want it to be totally perfect and not just put something inferior out. I listened to a test pressing recently, and I can tell you it sounds better on vinyl than any other format. To really know this album is to hear it on vinyl. It’s going to look beautiful too.

What songwriters or albums would you pinpoint as an influence upon you as a songwriter and singer? Or are they all in the background really?

There are so many writers I really admire, Gene Clark, Judee Sill, Kevin Ayers, but I think they are more an influence on the arrangement/production than on the actual writing.

Do you have an idea what your next single will be?

No idea, we’re all trying to work that out at the moment. We may even do something that’s not on the record.

Are there any other artists you’d recommend our listeners check out?

I’m very excited about the other two artists on the Hand Of Glory roster, firstly Will’s solo project Adapter Adapter, and secondly Kiran Leonard, who we’ve only just found and taken on board. Both are really talented and unique self-producing songwriters.

Any other future plans?!

Apart from all the gigs, and trying to write stuff for the next album, I’d like to go and swim in the sea and look at some clouds.

Thank you for your time!

A pleasure!

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.