Mary Bue on growing up, pop music, and cathedrals

Mary Bue on growing up, pop music, and cathedrals
Photo by Ryan LeMahieu

Mary Bue has been out of the game for a few years, but don't count her out of the running. With a new album that is five years in the making, the Duluth artist has concocted a self-appointed indie-folk record that has all the flavors of a pop album. The hooks, sweet melodies and granduer are all there: it's just that everything appears to be moving at a different pace to life around it.

Gimme Noise spoke with the artist before her album release at the Turf Club on Sunday about the recording process and stories that went into Apple in the Ocean.

Gimme Noise: You've been performing for a long time. How have you honed your live show since you started playing as a teenager?

Mary Bue: I used to be extremely nervous and blush a lot. I started performing my originals at age 17, and they were so raw and emotional that I got carried away in this revealing vulnerability. I would giggle and chatter. Now my stories can be rambling, but I tend not to talk as much and just let the songs speak for themselves. I used to sit and play the keys, but now it feels stronger and carries a bit more power. If I can't thrash with an electric guitar right now, at least I can dig my heels in the stage.

How do you feel you've grown as a songwriter?

The songs have moved from stream of consciousness poetry to more direct story line. They are not all about break ups and heartache; the themes have changed to other human dilemmas, like mortality, breaking habitual patterns of being, social alienation, as well as finding balance and joy in the little things.

Do you still connect with the songs that you wrote from way back when?

Yes, I do! Whenever I sing a song, I try to bring myself back to the time when I wrote it and all of those unique feelings and circumstances. I try to put myself back in those old, ill-fitting shoes. It can be pretty intense, but I want to give the song the respect it deserves and honor that time in my life -- however sad or lovely.

You define your music as "pop," but I also hear traces of indie-folk in there too. Why do you think this is?

Oh yeah, it's definitely folk-pop. I used to call it "folk," and then as it started to get more upbeat, I've opened up to calling it "pop." I struggle with genre names. Piano can be bluesy and soulful, folk songs can be rambling and word-y, pop songs can be booty shaking at the nightclub, but also bopping your head as you're driving down the highway. But yes, I agree with the "indie-folk" label as well.

It's been five years since your last album. Why such a long wait?

I moved out to Seattle in 2008 to study a form of yoga called Viniyoga and got really engrossed in the community and the more internal way of being out there. I had a daily meditation/yoga practice and set up my mind for a bit of grounding and trying to get my head out of the clouds and heal the mind/body split as it were. I found that I had been taking myself on these long fantasy mind trips of how I wanted and expected and hoped things to be, and I was getting far too frustrated when things weren't going the way I desired. So, I studied my desires and the workings of my mind, and I needed to just shut up and sit down for a while and not yap at the mouth into the microphone for a while. Then the urge came to move back, and I had this heap of songs that had collected over the years. I wanted to give them a life! It always feels like when I finally write the song -- in a cathartic sense -- I can move on and write more. It's like a new chapter, or in this case, a whole new book. I also yearned for the folks that I used to make music and record with here in Duluth, and I wasn't musically established out in Seattle, so the ease of recording out west just wasn't, well, easy.

Were you afraid that people would forget about you in those dormant years?

They have, haven't they? Who the heck is Mary Bue? Everyone is pronouncing my name wrong, so yeah, I think I was forgotten. I have a few diehards and they still love me, so it's cool. I do find it harder to book shows when people have forgotten about you; I was building my name in the days of MySpace.

What's the meaning behind the name Apple in the Ocean?

I liken it to feeling like a "drop in the cosmic pool." I had this image of an apple -- buoyant and floating on the ocean waves. It feels a little chaotic out there, and the waves take it to and fro, but ultimately it's floating, because apples float for a while, and there's an uncertainty and excitement. At some point you sink, which we all will, but then they apple is a part of something else: being digested by someone or something, being mushed up in the sand at the bottom of the water, and you're still a part of everything -- just changed. Obscure, right?

You recorded in an old cathedral in Duluth. What drew you to record there?

I've recorded there three times now. Half of my 2003 album East to the Sea was recorded by Sir Alan Sparhawk in the cathedral and the majority of Boat With No Oars was there (parts were recorded at Third Ear, RIP). For one, it has a beautiful Baldwin grand piano that I love to play. Two, it has a very strong energy. I'm not Catholic, but I imagine all of the souls who went there seeking solace, repentance, and forgiveness.

How did you integrate the church into the recording of the album?

Eric Swanson, the sound engineer, would capture the reverb of the room and sometimes turn the microphones out into the main hall and fill the record with the cathedral's signature reverb. It's like a gloss, or flavor, that spices the whole record -- just enough to give it a cohesive feeling.

What was the story you wanted to tell with Apple?

For me, it's a record about acceptance and getting on with it. It's also about embracing your weirdness, your inner child, your fucked up yearnings and bad habits, and seeing if you can evolve and move through the muck -- even though you might feel like you're bobbing in the open water at the whims of the waves.

What can we expect at the album release show?

I will be sandwiched between a few of my favorite acts (yes, I am performing second because American Rebels rock hard), and I might be wearing that terrible wedding dress. I might have scissors in hand and a few glasses of wine in me. The band might be dressed to the nines. There could be glitter; the plan in still incubating...

Mary Bue will release Apple in the Ocean at the Turf Club on Sunday, August 19, 2012 with the Brian Just Band and American Rebels.
21+, $5, 9 pm

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