When Salt Lake City singer/songwriter Mary Tebbs accidentally stepped on her dog during an off-kilter moment nearly two years ago, it triggered an unlikely series of events that led to her diagnosis with a life-threatening brain tumor.
Talk to Tebbs now about that diagnosis, and her new album that subtly explores her experiences during recovery, and you’ll quickly find out that her life was feeling off-balance well before her physical illness came into play.
It might be hard to remember for Salt Lakers who know Tebbs from her long-running solo career and stints in popular local bands like Sweet Loretta, but she gave up music around the turn of the century. Frustrated with being another struggling musician, she bailed for a graphic-design job in Vegas. The drive she once put in to writing and performing was now geared toward 16-hour days sitting in front of a computer.
“After three years, I thought, ‘I’d rather be doing what I love to do and not making as much money, because I’ll be happier,’” Tebbs says. “That kind of started this journey for me, a midlife discovery. I don’t call it so much a midlife crisis as an exploration of what’s at the core of me. What makes me up? Who am I?”
Tebbs got involved in what she terms a “conscious community” that opened her to new ways of thinking—tools and “basic principles” she didn’t have before.
“I started discovering there was more to life than broken hearts and chasing girls,” Tebbs says. “I discovered a whole new way of perceiving things. I realized it was up to me. If I wanted to change something, it was up to me.”
Naturally, that’s where fate stepped in to challenge Tebbs’ new perceptions. Tripping over her dog in July 2008 led to an appointment with an eye doctor, who spotted a tumor on her pituitary gland. It had grown so large it was destroying her peripheral vision and had to be removed immediately.
“That was a scary experience, but fortunately, I now had this background where I knew I had a choice of how to deal with the experience,” Tebbs says. “I didn’t choose to see myself as a victim.”
After recovering, Tebbs delved back into her music. But instead of a return to what she calls her old style of “funny, groovy, ‘Hey, let’s have some fun!’” songwriting, she found a need to dig into some deeper reflections on the songs collected on her new CD, Fuzzy Halo.
That’s not to say Fuzzy Halo is a tough listen, wallowing in the depths of Tebbs’ emotions at her low points, or beating the listener over the head with the joy that came with recovery. Tebbs is too savvy a writer for that.
“I struggled with it and I fought it for a long time because I don’t want to be preachy,” Tebbs says. “I don’t want to be a songwriter who says, ‘This is what you should do, this is my message.’ But I feel like I’ve found a way to be subtle with a message rather than be in your face about it.”
Indeed, songs like the autobiographical “Make It Light” and the closing gospel-tinged “I’m Gonna Shine” pulse with positivity, but it doesn’t sound forced in the least. Touching on folk and country along the way, Fuzzy Halo is a welcome return for Tebbs after a decade on the sidelines.
Now the 49-year-old just has to figure out how to navigate a music industry that’s vastly different than the last time she engaged with it. Fuzzy Halo is available on iTunes and Amazon, and Tebbs plans on touring when the time is right.
“For me, it’s a matter of getting the word out locally, then getting the word out regionally, then getting the word out beyond,” Tebbs says. “It’s going to take some time, but I feel like I have time now, and I actually believe it can happen now. And believing is half the battle.”%uFFFD