For those of you who weren't able to make it out to the Utah Pride Festival this past weekend, you missed out on one hell of a party. At least, from where I was standing. --- This year in particular seemed to be packed with people, more so than in years past with parade crowds pushing into the street and lines going around the block at Washington Square on Sunday after the parade was finished.
Gavin: Hey Mary, first thing, tell us a little about yourself.
Mary: The short answer: I grew up in Southern California in a large and conservatively Mormon family. Having grown up in the '60s and '70s, I love classic cars, retro clothing, vintage furniture and all things stylistically Mad Men. I played basketball at the University of Utah and am a sports fanatic and a fantasy-sports junkie. I’m a middle-age kid at heart living in a beautiful home in Sugar House that I share with my beautiful fiance, Julianna Christie, and our four furry family members. I’ve been writing songs since I was 10 years old. I play mostly guitar, some piano, some drums and percussion. I love sports, children, animals, movies, books, art and especially humor.
Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?
Mary: My home was filled with music. Both of my parents loved music, and I think I came into this world with music in my soul, so when I heard it, I recognized it as a part of myself. I loved The Jackson 5 and Donny Osmond as a kid. Growing up in a conservative and sheltered home, the music that was in our home was The Carpenters, Hank Williams Sr., The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and Seals & Crofts. Pretty tame stuff. But this tame stuff has informed a lot of my songwriting. This music and singing in church is where I learned to sing harmony. As my oldest brother and sister (Monica and Terry) got into high school—this would’ve been in the early and mid-'70s—the music in our home started to change a bit. I was introduced to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire ... and I loved it! And of course, The Beatles were happening, and although they weren’t really in our home, they were everywhere else it seems. I remember one of my first records that I bought was a Kiss record. It didn’t go over too well.
Gavin: What motivated you to start performing, and what made you choose to go at it solo rather than form a band?
Mary: You know, I think I always had an interest in performing. I remember watching Karen Carpenter play the drums on TV. Girls weren’t doing that then, but when I saw her, I wanted to do that. I asked for drums but was steered to the piano and then I begged for a guitar and got one. I was a very shy kid. When I was about 12, I wanted to form a band but didn’t know how to do it. I was so scared to ask any other kids, so I didn’t. I got very involved in basketball, which is a different type of performing. I put my focus there and excelled, winning many awards and a scholarship. It wasn’t until after college that I created my first band with some friends—that was probably in the late '80s to early '90s. A couple of bands later, I formed Sweet Loretta and had a lot of success in the mid '90s with that band. It was a great lineup: Adam Sorensen on drums, Ken Critchfield on bass, Page McGinnis on guitar, Michael Jodell Hessling on lead vocals, and me on rhythm guitar and lead vocals. We were being picked up by a booking agent out of Minneapolis and were getting ready to go on tour. But the night before we were to sign the contract, Michael expressed that she wanted to focus on really learning how to sing correctly, which meant taking a good deal of time off to retrain herself to sing. The booking agent was really sold on how the two of us co-fronted the band, and so we didn’t end up signing the contract. I have to say I was really heartbroken and took some time off to recover. That’s basically why I went solo: I didn’t want to rely on a band very much. But even so, I was scared to not have a band to “hide behind.” It took me a while to come out and start doing solo shows. I started small and just kept at it until I got comfortable with just me up onstage.
Gavin: What was it like for you first breaking in, and how did the first few years go for you?
Mary: The first few years were great! I was hungry and I absolutely loved what I was doing. Strangely enough, I think my basketball training really came into play. I’ve always been a team player. I excel in that kind of a setting. Once I felt like I sort of knew what I was doing, I was extremely determined and very focused when I first started playing in bands. I always felt more interested in working with a band at that point, than working alone. When I first started out, I got a good leg up by opening for bands that were having some success. We played for free or for whatever the headlining band wanted to pay us so that we could get heard and to build relationships with club owners. When I was in Sweet Loretta, we set a goal to be one of the top bands in Salt Lake within a year. Check. Then we set a goal to get a booking agent. Check. We should’ve just set that next goal to keep the band together once we got a booking agent! I think setting goals and working every day toward that goal is a good formula for success.
Gavin: With all the opportunities you've had over the years to pick up and head for another music-influenced city, what made you want to stay in Utah?
Mary: The truth is I really love Utah. I love Salt Lake City and I felt proud to be a part of the music scene then and now. I’ve always felt a great deal of community and unity here. And when I was coming up in the music scene here, there was an immense amount of talent and I had a deep respect for that. Still do. I’m proud to be from here, and I’m proud to have made music here. I grew up in Southern California and I didn’t really want to go back there. And I was probably too chicken to move by myself to Austin or Nashville or New York.
Gavin: You started off in 1995 and have been performing for nearly two decades. How is it for you to look back and see that kind of longevity in your career when so many other local musicians' careers end before even hitting five years?
Mary: There’s a big part of me that laughs when I try on this question because I think maybe those local musicians were smart for having a career where they could consistently make a good living ... and in this version of my story, that’s what’s happened with them. Ha. It can seem like being a musician is kind of an all-or-nothing world. You either make plenty of money doing it, or you struggle. I always kind of bought into that starving-artist mentality. Like there was some honor in it. There isn’t. That mentality is just a fabrication and there is a choice about buying into it or not. There are musicians who struggle, some who make enough, and some who make exorbitant amounts of money. Just like many other vocations. The real answer to the question is that I tried to have a “big career” outside of music and I’ve tried getting a “real job,” and it just feels like I’m lying to myself. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a musician, and songwriting and my music and my songs are my commodity. It’s the truest way for me to show up as myself in the world of commerce at this point. Someday that may change.
Gavin: In that time you've received a number of awards, both on a local and national level. How is it for you to receive that kind of recognition for your work?
Mary: It’s great! I’ve worked hard on my music, and I continue to do so. And although it doesn’t define me, I’m not shy about being rewarded. I’m deeply grateful when it happens.
Gavin: Most recently, you released your album Landscape of Love Vols. 1 & 2 back in March. What was it like for you recording that album?
Mary: Mostly it was amazing. This record is truly a labor of love. And I mean it was laborious and it was a love-fest. It’s not always easy work to record an album. It’s a very technical and precise thing, and at times the fun part of making a record can get lost. I didn’t always make it easy on myself too. In true Libran fashion, I changed my mind a lot. I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with amazing musicians on this record. I got to really spread the work around. I got to work with people that I’ve worked with before, and I met and worked with some new and brilliant players. And I had the fortuitous opportunity to record most of this album with Matthew Denton Brown at EchoTone Studios in Portland. He’s a beast! And a sweetheart.
Gavin: The album prior, Fuzzy Halo, got a lot of attention and praise. How was it trying to make an album coming off that kind of status?
Mary: I guess I didn’t think of it that way. Fuzzy Halo was a very intentional record in terms of what message I wanted to put out there. Prior to the record, I had been diagnosed with and treated for a benign pituitary brain tumor. My life has changed quite a lot as a result of that, and much of that change is for the positive. I think when we have challenges in our lives that can seem daunting, there is a choice to be made around how we want to go through it. How conscious and aware can you be in these difficult times when it comes to making choices rather than just reacting. This record is about that. How can I show up as an angel even when the path is very dark. This new record is focused on love. The heartbreak of love, the excitement of love, the pleasure of love ... a colorful tapestry. I’ve had some of the songs on this record waiting for a place to go for a long time and others that are freshly written. So I feel very happy to have completed this and to be able to have a home for my love songs.
Gavin: How have fans reacted to the new album since it's release?
Mary: Those that have heard it love it. The feedback I’ve gotten has been very positive. Thank you to everyone for that! I love hearing what people think about my music, good or bad. What’s your favorite song? What songs do you skip over? I appreciate the feedback in all directions. I haven’t yet had a CD-release party for this record. I’m planning on doing that this summer.
Gavin: What's it like for you performing at the Utah Pride Festival, and how has the LGBT audience treated you over the years?
Mary: I love playing at Pride. It feels good to participate in the community as a performer. And I’ve loved seeing how much the festival has grown over the years. I’d say the biggest benefit of its growth, as an artist, is that the Pride entertainment committee is able to support and value the performers in a more substantial way. There’s even a green room tent with drinks and treats in it! The LGBT community has been great to me. I’ve always had a lot of support from different members and feel well-received by them.
Gavin: How is it for you as a musician to have that kind of connection with your audience?
Mary: It’s vital. If there isn’t any energy coming back to me as a performer, it can be exhausting. I’m interested in really connecting with the audience, really entertaining them, so yeah, the connection is highly important. I’ll say this though: I’ve had it happen at my singer-songwriter shows where people come to support me and then end up talking throughout my show. I don’t mind people wanting to talk and connect with someone else. I think that’s important. But there does sometimes seem to be a learning curve with some Salt Lake City audiences in terms of respecting what the performer is doing. If you want to talk, please go outside or move to the back of the room. This hasn’t just happened at my shows. I’ve been to shows with national touring acts here in Salt Lake—Regina Spektor and Michelle Shocked come to mind—who have told the audience to shut the bleep up because they were being so disrespectful. Not heckling, but just talking so loudly that a national touring artist was bothered by it. So if there are any audience members out there who have done that, please understand that whoever is onstage has spent a lot of time to prepare for a show that you paid for. It’s our job to do this. We want you to have a good time, and we want to have a good time with you.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to tour over the summer?
Mary: Touring probably isn’t in my plans. I’ll go to a few gigs out of state to play, but I don’t have a tour booked where I’m out of town for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. It can be a difficult life out there on the road. I have the utmost respect for those artists that are committed to this. It can really make a difference in your audience base and for me at this point in my life, I like to be home-based more often than not. My fiance and I have had a stage built in our backyard, and we’ve got some summer shows planned. Having the people come to me sounds great! Plus, we can bring in some other very talented musicians this way.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the local music scene right now and the bands coming out of it?
Mary: Wow! Just wow! There is so much talent here. I believe there always has been. Now it seems that some of that talent is being more validated. A lot of musicians who got their start in Utah are getting out there and getting heard by millions of people. The risk of trying to name them is that I’ll leave someone out, but I’m going to do it anyway so people know: Neon Trees, Fictionist, Joshua James (originally from Nebraska but I’ll claim him!), Imagine Dragons, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, The Used, Mindy Gledhill, Parlor Hawk, SheDaisy, The Piano Guys, Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband, Kaskade, Paul Richards, David Archuleta, Isaac Russell, Moon, etc. And then there’s all of the amazing talent that has not been recognized on a national level—yet! Stuff that hasn’t even really been unleashed yet. Like the group Gusto with Taylor Hartley and Stephanie Mabey. Again, wow! And the female musicians that are here will blow your mind! Again, I’ll be missing some names but here goes: including the names from above, plus Talia Keys, Bronwen Beecher, Leraine Horstmanshoff, Megan Peters, Secily Saunders, Monique Lanier, Chandra Whitaker, Kate MacLeod, Debi Graham, etc. Did I say wow?
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make the music scene more prominent?
Mary: There’s a magnificent club just south of here in Provo called Velour. The club owner, Corey Fox, seems to have figured out a formula that is working amazingly well at creating community, success and a captive audience. It’s a great place to be heard as a musician. I’m not sure exactly what that formula is, but if someone could do what he’s doing statewide, I believe that our statewide music scene would explode. If you build “it,” they will come. He’s built “it”! I think co-creating is key. Write with other people. Play with other people, not just your band or yourself. Try new types of music. This has helped me with my craft immensely. Also, teaching audiences how to listen. It’s starting to happen as the house concerts grow here and the coffee-house gigs get more popular.
Gavin: What do you think of the rise of sites like Bandcamp and bands essentially marketing themselves?
Mary: I think it’s a great thing. I believe using the Internet and sites like Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Soundcloud, etc. as a tool to get heard is an amazing thing for musicians who don’t have the machine of a label behind them. It’s necessary really. But you have to get the word out about your presence on any of these sites, obviously. Being an independent musician requires a great amount of work, and nowadays there are so many tools out there to help with that. And still, there’s nothing like a live show. I think there are websites now that are making it possible to have your live shows seen online. Here are a couple of cool articles on The Economist and HypeBot. I haven’t really pursued this avenue but it appeals to me, and I think I will at some point.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Mary: I’ll keep promoting Landscape Of Love Vols. 1 & 2 with some local gigs, some out-of-state gigs and an online presence. I’ve already started a new record, too, that will be very different from this one. It will be closer to my Sweet Loretta roots with songs that groove a bit more, have a little more funk. The subject matter will primarily be about feeling sexy. I’m considering asking guest artists to appear, so stay tuned!
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Mary: Yes! I want to invite everyone to go check out my new record, Landscape of Love Vols. 1 & 2 at my website, on iTunes, Amazon and I believe Spotify. Also while you’re there, check out Fuzzy Halo! I have a couple of shows coming up that I’d love to share and would love to invite anyone interested to attend. Saturday, July 21 at the Air Force Base, probably at 7 or 7:30 p.m. They are having a month of celebrating gay pride, and I feel honored to have been asked to be a part of it. They are the first Air Force Base to do this! There is a house concert for the Pioneer Day Celebration on July 24, and another house concert on Saturday, Aug. 23. (Check Tebbs' Facebook page for more info.) And finally, I’d like to promote love.
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