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From the tender age of 15, Mary Epworth has been part of many of the better known artists around Herts and Cambridge, as backing singer for both The Broken Family Band and The Sweeny, as well as fronting Hannah Fallen and Bambino in the early nineties. She is now fronting her own outfit, The Mary Epworth Band who mix folk and psychedelia tinged with sixties pop.. Music-Zine popped round for tea and myspace moments at Mary's house in Bishops Stortford.
Where did you get into writing and playing music?
'I wasn't musical from an early age ' I ended up hanging out with people in band when I was 14 or 15 and saying 'I'll sing in your band' ' up until then I had only played recorders and stuff at school. I had a few crushes on instruments ' I loved the sax and the sound of the harp but they weren't really the easiest of instruments your parents could buy you on a whim!
No-one ever said to me that I had a nice voice or anything so I guess it was kind of a shock that I ended up being passionate about singing.
I started getting into music at 13 or 14, but there were signs ' I remember writing a song when I was 6 or 7 sick from junior school. I'd scored it all out on recorder and wrote the lyrics and everything. When I went back to school, without my knowledge my mum had taken it up there and the whole school played it back to me when I arrived!
Tell us about the bands you fronted?
My first proper band was Hannah Fallen ' they'd just kicked their singer out and I offered my services and found that I could do it. So we were playing all the cool Camden venues while I was still doing my exams. I started writing for them straight away and we were doing quite well ' labels were coming to see us and for a first band it was really exciting.
Eventually they kicked me out and I was heart-broken. The very next day there was an amazing review of our demo in the local paper, really complimenting the songs, so the band phoned me up and asked me to join again, literally days after firing me, but I was so hurt that they'd done it that I just didn't want to talk to them again.
So my plan was to then get another band together, but that didn't happen until I was 22 ' about 5 years later.
It was a really frustrating period ' I really wanted to do something but I guess I was hampered by the fact that I didn't play anything, I just sang. Eventually I bumped into the guitarist from Hannah Fallen again (Mark Lovell) and we had a chat and decided to form something, which became Bambino. I had been writing things in that time and eventually bought a four track, so we used some of my songs and some of Mark's and we wrote some stuff together. We were into totally different things so the music was quite a mix of different influences.
After about a month Nihal (Radio 1 DJ and former Collapsed Lung front man) offered to manage us, and then it all went crazy. It really snowballed ' Nihal is a real entrepreneur and a complete genius for stirring up attention. We only had six or seven songs at this point. We'd entered the Harlow rock contest early on, just to get a gig, but by the time that came around we'd had a load of label interest so people hated us as they thought we were there to show off, but that wasn't the case at all. It's just that things happened so quickly. Creation came down to one of the contest heats to check us out, which was weird but fantastic! We supported The Sneaker Pimps on their UK tour and other bands ' it was really exciting and it probably went to our heads at the time.
Did you sign a deal with any label?
We'd signed a big publishing deal with BMG and got a lot of money which we quickly spent on putting a 7' single out. We got a new manager and managed to hire a shark of an accountant who eventually went to prison for embezzling money from Oasis and Primal Scream!
But looking back it all happened so quickly that we didn't have a chance to properly gel as a band. The labels were looking to mould us into being the new trip-hop band or whatever was going on at the time.
We all drifted apart soon after as a result - we all wanted different things from it ' I wanted to do more of the writing, using some of the influences I had, like Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Shellac and so on. Lots of experimental stuff, but I was in this pop band so I was torn between these two things.
After that I went through another long and frustrating period of trying to get my own thing together. I taught myself to play guitar and continued to write.
In that time I sang backing for The Sweeny on a couple of albums and The Broken Family Band for their first two albums ' I think I'm on a song on each.
How did that come about?
I met them through The Folk Orchestra. I went through a country phase for a bit ' loving the songs and harmonies. That was a real musical rebellion for me ' it changed everything. I went and had guitar lessons and found this brilliant club in Camden called 'Come Down And Meet The Folks' which is run by Alan Tyler who used to be in The Rocking Birds. It's a real supportive place, amazing bands and a great community for song writers. So for me it was a real education in song-writing.
So from there I joined The Folk Orchestra for a while, which numbered anywhere from 5 to 10 people.
I was busy doing as much as I could in that time ' I joined a gypsy choir as well and did some gigs in Prague who I met through my dad He got quite interested in that sort of stuff. I don't want to say New Agey, but that's what it is! Ever since my brother (celebrated producer Paul Epworth) and I were kids we've been into quite a few hippy-type things and this was one of those. The Gypsy Choir is a singing workshop run by this half-Czech, half-gypsy woman called Eda Kellerosa who is an ex-Jazz singer. She has this amazing technique that she taught and had this choir for her students. We sang in this odd hybrid gypsy-slovak language which had an amazing influence on my writing.
So while I haven't always been playing the music I've wanted to, I've always been doing some kind of music related thing, as well as writing all the time.
Tell me which instruments you use to write with?
Mainly guitar, autoharp and banjo, and live we use the same, as well as keyboards, bass and drums. Our drummer Richard plays Djembe on a few numbers too. I should mention the other members of the band - guitarists Will and Horse and keyboard player Sian.
You don't often see bands using an autoharp in their set'
No ' I mean, it's just chords ' it's easy to play but difficult to mic up as it's not very resonant unless you're holding it ' you can feel the resonance, but it has a magical sound. We still need to figure that out properly, how to mic it up so it can be heard.
Tell me about the tracks on myspace?
They're very rough ' just demos recorded at home with bass, guitar and keys.
Black Doe is an old song from eight years ago that has come back to life. Also The Saddle Song which I love as it has a musician friend from Berlin on there who plays English concertina and some trumpet. We're keen to get into the studio, but the band has just formed so we're spending our time rehearsing for gigs at the moment
Tell me a bit about what current bands you're into.
I listen to loads of old stuff, I'm a bit of a sixties pop fiend, but the one person who's current who has completely blown me away is Sufjan Stevens, hence the banjo my brother gave me for my birthday. I heard Seven Swans and loved it and it made me look at how to do my stuff from a different angle, not to sound like him, but because I'm doing something that in a way is a traditional music but not in a trad' English folk band or something, so I really like the fact that it's traditional instruments but the production is a little bit psychedelic, or a bit prog ' I love that! So expect a more psychedelic proggy production on my songs from now on.
I'm also a long term Beach Boys addict,' I always go back to them.
So does that influence how you approach your song writing as well?
I'm sure it all does influence me, but generally something will come to me and I'll just write it down and if I'm lucky it will come fully written, but I don't consciously think 'I'm going to write a Beach Boys song' or a country song or anything like. But then the way I treat them definitely comes from that.
We've been listening this great sixties pop singer called Margo Guryan and when we recorded our song Black Doe, we thought we should do Margo Guryan vocals ' triple tracked and really breathy..
What does the next year hold for you?
Lots of gigs and recording hopefully! Some gigs in Europe would be nice. I spent some time in Slovakia recently with some of the people in the gypsy workshops and we spent time out in the woods, knee deep in snow with bears wondering around and things and I thought that it's a bit strange to plan to just record in London with a band with bass, guitar and vocals because that's what everyone does. I thought I should travel around ' get my friends in Berlin to record some concertina and violin and then record some stuff with the gypsy choir. That's what I'd love to do, take it beyond the singer songwriter bit.
Finally, 5 albums you couldn't be without?
Definitely a Van Dyke Parks album' Sing Cycle or Discover America, A Shirley Collins album ' they're all amazing, I suppose I should say Smile 'cos you've just got to have a Beach Boys album. Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson and No Other by Gene Clark, my two favourite albums of all!
Listen to The Mary Epworth Band on www.myspace.com/maryepworth