US - New York - Full Moon 51 - 12/11/00
- what Mary Lorson said
Heartfelt is the word
"I hope I'll be able to bring my band on tour, because I don't like to play solo at
all", Saint Low's Mary Lorson had told me in an interview this summer. Yet she knew back
then already that chances were slim that her group's self-titled debut album (on Cooking
Vinyl in Europe and Thirsty Ear in the States) would sell well enough to justify to "big"
tour. Obviously that's not because the album's no good. It's an excellent singer/songwriter
record, somewhat sparse/experimental in parts, but overflowing with passion throughout. It
was also the first chance for Mary to shine as a songwriter. In her other band Madder Rose,
she mostly sang the songs written by Billy Coté , because "it's his band", as the she had
explained in an interview with Luna Kafé last year. It was also a chance for her to earn some
money with her talent as a songwriter and performer rather than working in a restaurant or
as a substitute teacher to make ends meet.
When plans were made for a Saint Low tour through Europe and the UK, the initial idea was
to put Mary and her guitar on a train and make it a solo tour neverthless. A bit too "solo"
for Saint Mary's liking in fact, who wanted to turn some solo shows in London this summer
into duo gigs by inviting english friend Simon Arpin to play guitar for her. When Simon
joined the American "alternative country" collective Willard Grant Conspiracy for their
six-week long European jaunt this fall, plans quickly were made to incorprate Mary into the
package as well. As the opening act as and the WGC's backup singer. For five dates in Germany,
the group was even joined by Walkabout Chris Eckman and the shows proved to be a great little
package indeed. Especially since various members of the Willards helped out during Mary's
opening set already, giving the evening something of a revue style performance. The singer
from the Ithaca, NY area started her set with a few tunes at the keyboard, including a stunning
stripped down Walk On By but it was when she picked up the guitar to do maybe her best
song, Crash, that you got reminded why Madder Rose were such a great live band in the
first place. Simply because Mary seems to be the embodiment of the coolest rock star imaginable.
It's just so much fun to see her on stage! The way she sings with more passion than anybody
else, the way she seems to re-live every single line from her songs again while she sings them,
the way she plays guitar and moves about the stage, often almost kneeling in front of her guitar
amp - if she'd drink vodka instead of mineral water, she'd be the total rock n roll heroine.
She's pretty much all your favorite female singers rolled into one. And she's not only an
amazing performer, she also has the songs to match!
"I love the trio, the guitar, the violin and me [on keyboards]", she said of the show when
I met her before the gig in Bochum, Germany. And the trio sounds so good indeed. Imagine Joni
Mitchell with some Lisa Germano thrown in for good measure and you're getting close. With some
of the songs, the stripped down arrangements work even better than on the album and you never
think that they are are not expressed in the best possible way.
Also, Mary's role in the WGC on this tour - 40+ shows, virtually without ANY days off -
shouldn't be under-estimated. Apart from bringing a lot of smiles to the - on previous tours
- rather serious WGC show, she also did a great job as their backup singer. That term is
somewhat misleading as well, because Mary wasn't a backup singer in the Diana Ross & The
Supremes / The Ikettes kinda way (i.e. cute singer hidden at the side of the stage, destined
to sing a few "o-o-h-s" every third song), she was singing what probably could be described as
"shared lead vocal" on many of the songs, the same way Nicolette Larson did for Neil Young
back in the day.
"It's good to be part of a group", she said by now knowing that there virtually no chance
that she'll ever be able to take the Saint Low line up featured on the record - Zaun Marshburn
on drums, Joe Myer on violin, Michael Stark on piano, Stahl Caso on bass and Jennie Stearns on
backing vocals - on the road. But then again you never know what happens and if there's
somebody who deserves just a little more success, it's definitely Mary Lorson. So here's what
Mary had to say about...
... the Willard Grant Conspiracy:
"I'd never heard of them before I met them when I supported them in London this summer, but
I'd heard great things about them . I'm really happy to play with them, because they are
musicians in a style that the people in Madder Rose were just not at all into. As great as
they are, I was always a little more interested in that kind of thing than they were and they
really resisted having anything like that kinda flavor in our stuff.
... being on touring:
"I'm basically doing two shows every night... singing up to three hours every day. Since we've
all toured tons, we all have been through stretches like this. The first Madder Rose tour
started as five weeks, turned into nine weeks and I think we maybe had three days off during
the whole time, so we all know how to do it. Actually I think there is something good about
playing every single night without any off days, because it kinda keeps you disciplined and
right now, if we had a day off, I'd go "Hmmm, what I'm gonna do now?' at 9 o'clock! That's what
usually happens when you get home from the road as well. You do what you can. Some bands can
afford to take every third day off, but most bands I know, can't. In the end it all adds to
the thrill, the "kamikaze-we-can-do-it'-thing' (laughs)."
... making new plans quickly:
"I was supposed to do a theater tour with M. Doughty (Soul Coughing) and Miles Hunt from The
Wonder Stuff in England next week, but that got cancelled just a few days ago, so I now I got
a whole new plan. I'm staying with Willard Grant through their gig in Brighton and then I'm
doing eight dates with Kurt Wagner [from Lambchop], so it's gonna be a different thing, but
it's still gonna be in the UK and it's still gonna be theaters and it's just me solo opening
up for him, solo."
"When I put my own music together, I really have this weird mishmash of things that I'm trying
to express, I think it's kinda good when you can't pick out one or another. That's what I'm
going for, I'm trying to make it pretty mixed up, without subconsciously going like: "Hey, I'm
doing this person now...'" I'm sure playing with the Willard Grant Conspiracy will be an
inspiration in ways that I haven't thought of yet. I think when I find things influencial to me
it's not before I start writing, it's always when I'm in the thick of it... you try five things
and after you picked the one you like, you think: "Ah, maybe it's a little like this..." I
have a little writing tape going all the time, so if i'm not humming into it or playing into
it, I'm listening to it. I started this trip with two new songs that I'm playing [including a
beautiful piano tune, apparently called Your Lament which was the opener in Bochum -
author's note] and four that I had the music and the melody for but not the words. It's been
beautiful though to have this keyboard with us on the road, because I do most of my writing
on it these days and usually I don't have one on tour. The songwriting process is always
different. It's like a ride (laughs)."
... future plans:
"I don't have any plans. I was so lucky, because in the last year a lot of things have
happened. People liked my record, but it's not selling... actually it might be selling
good... and then this [the WGC tour] unfolded and it's so great and I started thinking: "I'd
really like to be on the road more', but you never know what opportunities are gonna come, so
I guess I'll just have to stay open minded and just try to connect with people I meet on the
road and see if other things can come from it."
Copyright © 2000 Carsten Wohlfeld