Mary Bue | Turf Club | Tuesday, March 10
On her new EP, Holy Bones, Duluth artist Mary Bue's emotional explorations are everywhere. She moves from death and materialism to giving voice to a baby cow, and her guitar riffs echo the mid-'90s Pixies and Juliana Hatfield. Amid the racket, some sensitivity flows in.
She shakes up her musical senses by stepping out from behind the keys to take up the guitar on Holy Bones and shares with Gimme Noise her new outlook on life before her album release on Tuesday.[jump]
On the new album, you change things up by picking up the electric guitar as your main instrument. Why did this happen? Have you played guitar before?
While I love the piano, I've been banging my head against the keys for awhile now. You're really locked behind it as a performer -- unless it's a keytar! I have been getting into louder, more aggressive music than what I used to gravitate towards and feel inspired to rock harder lately. I actually started songwriting in 8th grade on the electric guitar. It was a Fender Squire with a hot pink strap -- I still use the strap. I was, and still am, really into bands like Belly and Juliana Hatfield Three and all that grunge going on in the '90s, so that really influenced the sound of this new album.
How do you think your writing style changed?
My songs got simpler and way shorter! A 90-second-long pop-punk number called "Cheribum" came out of me. The lyrics also became simpler, while still full of euphemism. I let the songs unfold from solo numbers, to my touring duo with Kyle MacLean (frontman of rock band American Rebels), to fleshing out with the full band. They took shape along the way and shifted over time.
How did your backing band help shape the tracks?
Brett Molitor, who played bass on six out of eight songs, is mainly a lead guitarist, so his bass lines are lyrical and unusual. Marcus Matthews drummed on the majority of the tracks before moving to Los Angeles, damn him! Marcus is a multi-instrumentalist and composer in his solo project the Virgin Marcus; he lent a very orchestrated approach to his drumming. At times I feel like he is singing along with me through the drums. Uncanny! As the live band transitioned, I brought in Duluth "celebrity rhythm section" Scott Millis and Heather Dean Millis whose attack is tight, straightforward, driving ROCK. Kyle MacLean (my hubby) crunches it up with layers of guitar. The synth licks by Zac Bentz and Hammond organ parts by Jake Larson I simply couldn't live without. These musicians bring the flesh to these simple songs. I bow down!
Tell me about "Holy Bones." What was the story behind that song?
I heard an interview on NPR with a woman very close to death. She said she had attached luggage tags to all of her furniture so that when she died, the family would know who got what. I thought about all the material crap that bogs us down in this life -- how we can't take it with us. And beyond material items, all the titles, accolades, degrees, jobs, paperwork, experiences, lovers, friends, secrets... it all falls away in the end and all is revealed. What do we have to show for a life? What really matters?
In my other life I am a yoga instructor and I dabble in Buddhist ideology. I ponder non-attachment and non-excess, both themes that are present in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the teachings of Buddha. There is a verse in "Holy Bones": Who'll believe you Who'll forgive you when your closet breaks open with ghosts raucously holding a toast when your heart breaks loose of its shackles"
It's basically saying to live honestly, exorcise your ghosts while you're living, and live with heart. [page]What demons do you felt you slayed during the writing of this album?
Whew! Demons -- there are always a few! This album deals with themes of materialism, mortality, compassion, letting go.
"Heart's Desire" is one of the most personal tracks; it's about an indecisive tendency I've had about "what I'm doing with my life." I think it's pretty rampant in my generation/this country: the luxury to choose different career paths, perhaps thinking you're destined for the dream job, the blow of failure or the recession or moving back in with your parents, and then changing your mind and pursuing something else. I am ridiculously grateful for the opportunities, mental faculty and personal will to attempt different career paths.
My family is rather brilliant; my brother is a rocket scientist! But ultimately I keep choosing "the artist's way" and have struggled with comparison -- not so much to genius brother, but of friends climbing their career ladders, other artists, people my age who are acting like adults. This song says "screw it, I'm doing it anyway" even though a blogger at City Pages doesn't think I should make money at it. I wasn't really in it for the money anyway. I've been making music for a long time; it's something that I feel an urgency to do, so I'll keep putting it out there until I don't want to anymore. I have relieved myself slowly over the last few years of caring so much about what is popular and where I "fit," and just continuing to uncover my own voice.
I also hung out with my anger and disgust with factory farming and the veal industry in "Veal." It is sung from the perspective of a calf destined for slaughter. These veal calves are confined in cages with very little exercise as their meat is prized for not being muscular; fatty, tenderness is preferred. Yes, I anthropomorphize in this song, but I've watched too many documentaries and read too much about the inhumane treatment of animals not to be affected, not to know that they are sentient beings who deserve compassion, who feel affection, who feel pain, who suffer. I want to give that baby cow a voice. I will not eat you, baby cow!
A big purpose of writing this album was to continue to evolve. The songs came out of a few late autumns and winters of stir-craziness and feeling unmotivated to keep doing the same piano singer-songwriter stuff that I've been doing for years. Tori Amos has a line in her song "Northern Lad" that says "I guess you go too far when pianos try to be guitars," and I feel that!
There is a different voice on the guitar and it feels freeing to move around with it, and I can feel my brain working as I try to wrap my head around the instrument. Being a piano player makes the guitar absolutely baffling to me. It isn't very linear when you come from 88 black and white keys in a straight line. Who came up with this thing? Some radical lutist? I guess I should google it. Learning guitar and taking lessons has opened me up a little more to blues and jazz. Solo attempts stretch my comfort zone and bring back the deer-in-headlights feeling of playing alto saxophone in my 6th grade jazz band! Feels good to find my edge and learn something new. I am definitely changed because of this album! Any particular tracks that you gravitate towards more than others?
The opening track "Candy" has been a fun one. I wrote it initially for the Duluth Homegrown Music Festival's children's showcase three years ago; it's been in the works a long time. It's for the 3-year-old in all of us. My favorite line -- feel free to use it whenever you need to -- "I want what I want when I want it!" There is a choir on this one with eight of my Kickstarter supporters and I got to mess around with my Juno 106 for the perfect soaring synth-y sound. The last track "A Million Moths" pumps too -- the band really kicks in on that one and I get to wail "BURN IT ALL!!!!!" The visual in this one is "a million moths gather around your heart" as if your heart is a light shining in the dark.
What are you excited to share at your album release show?
There may or may not be piñatas, and I am planning to have a ceremonious, ritualistic removal of the keyboard from the stage. Also excited for all the special guests: Zac Bentz (Dirty Knobs) on synth, Jake Larson (The Social Disaster) on organ and Amy Abts who did that AWESOME cover art singing harmonies. Excited to show a different side of my songwriting to the Twin Cities. Mary Bue's Holy Bones release show. with Chris Koza and Brian Just Band. 21+, $7, 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 10, at Turf Club. Tickets.
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