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Interview: Mary Epworth

Video Still: Matthew-Robert Hughes


Classifying Mary Epworth into a genre is hard. One listen to her record ‘Dream Life’ is enough to show you how her psychedelia crops up alongside some folk influences, a bit of soft rock and pretty much anything else that has found its way to her ears as influence. Strangest of all? It’s still accessible and more than listenable. I had a chance to ask Mary a few questions about the album, her future plans and got a little insight into what she thinks of One Direction…

Hi Mary! Thanks for your time.
Hi Simon! Thanks for asking me.

Firstly, am I right in thinking that it’s ‘Mary Epworth’ on record and ‘Mary Epworth & The Jubilee Band’ on the live scene?
That’s half true, I actually put a couple of 7”s out with the Jubilee Band tag, but decided a while ago to shed it. Sadly Facebook won’t let me change it, so it’s either delete my page, or put up with it. I got the name from a band my Mum’s ancestors all played in, in a little village in Norfolk.

The record is beautiful and a real body of work, how long did it take to finish?
Thank you! It took a long long long time. Partly due to finances, and partly due to life throwing a few spanners in the works. If we’d been able to finish it more quickly, it might have ended up being a very different record.

Which song was the last to be completed?
It was ‘Those Nights’ which wasn’t going to be on the album at all, until quite late in the day. It was nice to have a surprise that late in the process.

Photo: Danel Matthews

‘Long Gone’ is my favourite track and I love the passion and emotion that you’ve put into it. Was it a cathartic song to write?
Yeah, it was a definite outpouring. My friend’s Mum died and then I had my dog put down in the same week, so death and loss were all around. It’s nice to be able to take that pain and give it a shape, something physical to do with what you are feeling.

‘Two For Joy’ takes my breath away. The simplicity and the chorus’ crescendo is stunning. If you could duet with anyone, who would it be? I think Nick Cave would sound fantastic on this track. 
I did actually write that as a duet, so well spotted! I decided I liked it too much to share it, very greedy. In my mind it’s Will Oldham on the other part.

‘Heal This Dirty Soul’ has an almost spiritual touch to its lyrics -what inspired this one?
It’s about wanting someone to come and take you away from the life you are in, finding an escape. It’s really a bit of a love song to California and the West coast in general. I get really moved by landscape.

I have to ask about ‘If I Fall Now’ – I love how otherworldly and atmospheric the track is – it feels almost like an interlude before the grand finale. What is it about?
It was a thing written in a really euphoric moment, I think I was coming back from seeing a great gig. It’s me saying “If I die right now, I would die happy”. That sounds morbid, but it’s more a celebration of joy.

From ‘Long Gone’ through to the aptly titled ‘Ray Of Sunlight’, it feels like the record goes on an emotional journey. Is there a concept behind the album?
Only retrospectively. We (Will who produced the record and I) worried a lot about how the songs would all hang together, as some of them felt so disparate in theme and feel. In the end it became meaningful as again some death in the family made me think a lot about life, dreams and the meaning behind it all. I’m very happy to hear that you hear it as a journey.

One of the first songs I heard by you was the fantastic ‘The Saddle Song’, why did you choose not to include it on ‘Dream Life’?
We put that out in 2008, I think, and it just felt like something from the past. If it had fitted the rest of the record we might have kept it on there.

The moment when the distortion takes over in ‘Black Doe”s chorus is a moment of absolute genius and cemented it as one of my favourites on the album. What is your favourite song from the record?
Hehe. I like them all for different reasons, and I try to avoid hearing the album, but I am most happy with ‘Those Nights’, ‘Two for Joy’ and ‘Long Gone’, all for very different reasons; sometimes
production, sometimes just because I’ve listened to them less.

Photo: Facebook

Which tracks do you most enjoy performing live? I imagine ‘Black Doe’ and ‘Trimmed Wing’ are pretty fun.
Doe is always fun, especially since all the 6music support means people suddenly go “Oh! I know this one from the radio” and bop along. Lots of them are more fun from a singing perspective; ‘Long Gone’ and
‘Two For Joy’ have parts I can really get my teeth into.

We were treated to the seasonal ‘Snow Queen EP’ recently – what triggered you to cover these songs in particular?
I’ve loved the track ‘Snow Queen’ for a really long time. The version I covered, by the Byzantine Empire, is just perfection, so it was a bit of a challenge. Same with ‘It’s Now Winter’s Day’, which is a lovely song with really interesting production. ‘Ice and Snow’ I decided to do as not only is it a gorgeous track, but the writer Maitreya Kali aka Craig Smith is really underrated, and I’d love more people to take a listen. ‘A Winter’s Tale’ was a different thing, as I loved the song but wanted to try and shed some of the 80s pop sheen from the original. It was fun making the EP, it was the opposite of ‘Dream Life’, in that we just went for it and got it out in a few weeks. It was fun!

What is happening with the music at the moment? Are you already working on the next record or waiting to be inspired?
At the moment we’re booking gigs for spring and beyond, and also I am giving lots of thought to the next record. I want to jump up a gear and make something really special.

Who inspired you when you were starting out in music?
I was a bit of a metaller to begin with, so probably that stuff! Then I got into the indie scene and was hooked, that’s when you see bands and think “I could do this!”.

What records are you listening to at the moment? Which artists on the scene today are you enjoying?
I don’t listen to loads of current music, i tend to be digging for older stuff, 60s or 70s, but I totally fell in love with Frank Ocean last year – I had ‘Channel Orange’ and ‘Nostalgia Ultra’ on repeat for about three weeks solid. Other than that I got obsessed with IAMAMIWHOAMI. I’d been listening since the first few vids, but seeing them live last year turned me into a full blown fangirl.

On the subject of current big names, what are your opinions of…
One Direction?
One Direction seem like sweet young boys, but so manufactured and tweaked I can’t even hear it as music

Mumford & Sons?
Again there’s something there but feels very cynical to me – like it’s more a business plan than a band. I guess they just aren’t my kind of thing.

Lady GaGa?
I love Gaga. That’s proper interesting and fun pop music to me. I like her voice a lot too.

Finally, how does it feel to have people connect to your music? Do you have a message for your supporters?
It’s the best feeling ever, and I don’t take it for granted at all. I feel extremely privileged that anyone gives a toss what I do. It makes me want to make better and better music.

Thanks Mary Epworth – you and your music are brilliant! Have a great 2013!
Thank you so much for your support! See you on twitter!

Mary’s ‘Dream Life’ is available here.

Photos: Daniel Matthews, Matthew-Robert Hughes & Facebook.
Interviewer: Simon McMurdo

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