Interview with: Mary Lorson (Madder Rose, Saint Low) Location: Via Email Year: 2011
Can you introduce yourself please? I am Mary B. Lorson, singer and writer of things, born and raised in the suburbs of NYC, city rat for many years, and now an upstate New Yorker. I’ve been in bands for a long time, first Madder Rose, and then Saint Low, now the Soubrettes. Along the way I have sung and played keyboards for Tanya Donelly, Willard Grant Conspiracy, and Jennie Stearns.
Please tell us a bit about Mary Lorson and The Soubrettes. The Soubrettes were formed about two years ago when I was in a writing funk and thought it might help to shake up my creative routine. So I started casting about for a new band lineup, wanting some variation from bigger rock-band sound I’d been working with for two decades. I envisioned something spare and organic, and happily met Leah Houghtaling (banjo/vox) and Amelia Sauter (standup bass/vox) when I played a gig at Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, a hotspot they own and operate in Ithaca, NY. We leave a lot of space in our arrangements, which I happily fill in with three-part-harmony ideas.
As a musician what do you consider to be your greatest achievements so far? Wow! The trouble with that question is that musicians are both the most egotistical and the most emotionally vulnerable people you can find, so on the one hand, I feel like my own mother, saying “good for you, honey!” and on the other hand I assassinate myself all the time saying, ”can’t you do better than that?” But if I calm down and think about your question, I can say that I am very proud of the second Madder Rose album (1994) as a rock album; I am proud of the first Saint Low album, because it was the first time I’d made a record without someone else in charge, and I found an amazing band and they just glowed all over the thing. I really like The Piano Creeps record I got to make with Kathy Ziegler and Billy Cote; I only wrote two of the songs so I really focused on the singing and I think I did some new things for me in that regard on that album. And now I feel very proud of the new Mary Lorson and the Soubrettes album, BurnBabyBurn. I worked hard on the writing for this record and it’s been a good challenge.
If you had to, what 3 songs that you've written would you choose to represent you and which songs are you most proud of? Again with the good/difficult questions! OK:
1. “Walk on By” (Saint Low eponymous debut, 2000) (Song subtext: an awful adolescent memory turned into a Burt Bacharach tribute) 2. “Anything Can Happen” (ML & Saint Low Tricks for Dawn) (Subtext: No matter what happens, I have a hopeful heart.) 3. “Busboy” (BurnBabyBurn, 2011) (Subtext: So much is going on in this crazy world right now! People ought to remember how lucky they are and share a little!)
The first time I ever saw you was with Madder Rose performing 'Margaret' at Glastonbury on UK TV* in 1994, what can you remember about touring the UK and Europe around this time? It was such a great fun time, but also exhausting and disorienting. Looking back I think it was so much work to get from gig to gig that I missed out on a lot of the details, and spent too much money on nothing. But I learned a lot on those early tours, and got tough.
You sang on Seafood's 'What May Be The Oldest', how did this come about? They were kind enough to invite me to sing, and even to pay me for the privilege! It was a fun and funny session in Brooklyn. David went on to get very sick and I’m glad to hear he’s feeling better.
What has been the best thing that being a musician has allowed you to do? Is it travelling or being able to be creative for a living etc? What a good question. I love traveling and have had a lot of fun times on the road, but more important is just the fact that music comes very naturally to me but I spent a long time believing I couldn’t do it. I have been playing music in my head since I was a child, started playing piano by ear at 8, and then struggled with crummy piano teachers, Attention-Deficit Disorder, a very unstable family, depression, etc. etc. so it took me forever to realize that yes, one could actually do this thing. I was obsessed with it and am so pleased that I brought this intense desire out of my private little head and into the world. I regret that I didn’t take my musical training more seriously but I have taught myself fairly well, and continue to do so. After so many years now, I tend to take music a little bit for granted, but then when I write about music and my non-musician writer friends read my stuff, they look at me like I am the luckiest person from the planet Venus. This reminds me that it’s a gift, no matter how exhausting it might be.
If you could pick any two/three other bands to tour with, from any period in music, whom would you choose? I love Arcade Fire! And other big bands like Lambchop, Mekons, Broken Social Scene…I was in Willard Grant Conspiracy for a while, and it was a blast to be onstage with 8 other people… ….Also melodic geniuses like Eels, Gillian Welch, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom… …Also fun bans like Avett Brothers!... …I especially love the singing smart girls, particularly Neko Case and Jenny Lewis… BUT…the ultimate dream come true would be to sing backup for Neil Young. I would float to heaven on that.
Who would you fire a Verbal Rocket at?
English teacher Mary requests that you re-state the question: QUESTION: “At whom would you fire a Verbal Rocket?” ANSWER: Thanks for the ammo! Sarah Palin? Too easy a target. How about people who think their opinions are fact.