US - New York - Full Moon 36 - 09/25/99
Mary Lorson talking
The return of the melody makers
This article is gonna be pretty long. But you can simply summarize it with four
words as well: Madder Rose are amazing. Of course, I could be the only one to think
so, but I definitely believe it's true. I own thousands of records, I go to (literally)
hundreds of shows every year and basically I spend most of my waking hours listening to
music. But very rarely I get REALLY excited about a band, a record or a show. At least
not for long. Most of the music I listen to is from the 60s and 70s and on almost every
single one it's melodies and harmonies first. Very, very few bands in the 90s still
remember that. They think a big sampler and a cool guitar-riff (stolen, to prove my
point, from old records) is enough. They are just wrong. That's where Madder Rose
come in. They know that good pop music is all about the melody and everything else,
as important as it is, should be secondary. Maybe they know, because they weren't 18
or 21 anymore when they formed the band in 1991. Maybe it was for different reasons,
but when you listen to their first two albums Bring It Down (which I rank as one
of the 10 or 12 best albums of the decade) and Panic On you'll know what I mean.
They are also one of the best (and loudest) live bands I've ever seen. At their shows
in early 1994 even the people with earplugs were wincing. And it was quite a sight to
see them drink whiskey straight out of the bottle as well. That's rock 'n' roll. You
don't even get that at a Keith Richards show anymore these days, kids!
Panic On was released on Atlantic, the company who did release Tragic
Magic - the 1997 follow-up - as well. Most people in Europe had lost track with
Madder Rose - Mary Lorson (guitar, vocals), Billy Coté (guitar), Johnny Kick (drums)
and Chris Giammalvo (bass) who replaced original member Matt Verta-Ray in 1994 - by
that time, because Tragic Magic was never released in Europe. Exactly five
years after their last full European tour the melody makers from New York State are
finally back: Having signed a new recording contract, Tragic Magic was released
with two new tracks this spring and got very favourable reviews everywhere. And now
Madder Rose even have an all new album out. It's called Hello June Fool and
it's as good as anything they ever did. After a short tour in England in late August
and a few showcases on mainland Europe in September the band, now living in upstate
New York, hopes to be back for a more extensive tour of Europe in October and November.
I had the pleasure to talk to Mary recently and here's what she had to say.
Okay, I guess at least some people remember that you toured here (in Europe)
a lot in 1994, right around the release of your second album Panic On on
Atlantic. Then we kinda lost track...
Mary: Yeah, let's see... We toured a lot on that record and we came home in
late '94, returned to New York City and then actually decided to move away, so we
moved up here, to western-central New York state about five hours away from the city,
about 300 miles from New York and we wrote most of Tragic Magic here. Actually
we wrote half of it in New York and the other half here. It took a long time to make
that record, partly because we were still on Atlantic and things move kinda slowly
when you're on a major. That came out in the summer of '97 and we toured a bit. We
also played the Phoenix Festival in England that year, but the record was never
released in England. They were planning to release it, that's why we went over, but
they never put it out.
I read some reports that the American label wasn't too happy with the album
Mary: I don't know why, they said they were. To our faces, they said they
were, but probably they weren't and then they dropped us. But they were in the
process of restucturing, so they dropped us along with a lots of other bands
and we had to start all over again, because we lost our management right after
we lost our record deal. We started managing ourselves, found a new record deal
(with Cooking Vinyl in Europe and Thirsty Ear in the US). It's great! We got
label support that is way more compatible with our view of things now. And that's
really great cause you can communicate with these people, whereas you couldn't with
Atlantic. Three people would have to be involved if you had to ask a simple question
Was it important for you to have Tragic Magic re-released (or more precisely,
released properly for the first time) in Europe this spring?
Mary: Yeah! I was so happy because whether or not it is... it was a worthwile
effort on our part to make it. We put three years of our lives into it. It was kind
of the perfect way for it to come out. I'm proud of it, but it's not exactly where
I'm at right now. So I'm glad that people have an opportunity to find it, if they
are looking, but at the same time it's good to stick to the more current stuff.
It was also good to ease your way back into people's minds, I guess, cause most
people I talked to recently replied: "Oh, great band, but I thought they broke up three
Mary (laughs): Yeah! I heard that rumour, too, but we never did.
How do you approach your music?
Mary: The effort is always to be creative. And you try to find new ways to play
with it. We always kind of guard the melody, but the rest can be up for grabs within
the parameters of our talents. My voice is always gonna be what it is. I'm never gonna
be a screamer, so we couldn't be a (laughs) death-metal band, but within what we are
we always look for possibilites. And as I said, we always protect the melody and try
to start with a good song.
You started using samplers and things like that on the last two records. I'm sure
though a lot of people like you because you used to have a very "traditional" approach
, along those lines of: guitars-bass-drums-the end.
Mary: You just don't realize how much everybody uses these things. Partly because
it's not even a trend anymore, it's become part of a lexicon and also partly because
people are trying to make music more economically. There are no record companies with
any money anymore unless you're a major star, and if you are a working musician you need
to use these really accessible and afforable tools. People can say that, but it would be
a pretty naive accusation. It might be fair to say on Tragic Magic we went a little
hog-wild with toys, but we definitely didn't on this one. I actually think this record
is kinda simple in a way.
How do you feel when people still bring up comparisons like The Velvet Underground,
My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus And Mary Chain now that you've been together for eight
years. Isn't that totally ridiculous?
Mary: People just need icons to describe music. I'm sorta just used to it and those
references are the ones that I respect, so I don't mind. But recently we were reading the
CMJ monthly ad somebody was described as being like us and so I thought: okay, this is
what happens eight years down the line (laughs).
Was that very thrilling?
Mary: Definitely, it was kinda neat (laughs).
When you look back on those eight years, are you pretty satisfied despite the
problems you had over the last few years?
Mary: Definitely. You never know what will crop up. Having the chance to make
records is rare. On the other side of the fence people think, oh you get a record
deal and everything is all set but it's just that you have the chance to have a job
at music and it requires just as much work as any other job. But I feel really lucky
to have had these opportunities. Money is a problem, but it wasn't why any of us got
I guess what sets you apart from a lot of other bands is the fact that you weren't
18 or 21 anymore when Madder Rose started out. Do you think that was an advantage?
Mary: Yes and no. I think it probably helped us understand the parameters of the
situation, we weren't sitting there thinking: Great, we gonna make a million dollars,
we didn't have any naive dreams. But I wonder sometimes if that handicapped our perception
by the record label.
I just re-read some old interviews with you from 1993 and '94 and you were always
like: Okay, we're gonna have our 15 minutes of fame and then we'll probably disappear
again. Some people might have thought: Well, if they don't even want to get famous, why
Mary: Oh, that's interesting! I was more thinking of the fact that we were less
marketable than younger bands might be.
But did you really approached things like that back then, or wasit just my perception
that you seemed to be very cautious about getting dragged into the limelight?
Mary: No, we didn't do that on purpose. If they had pushed us, we would have let
them (laughs). It's a really weird world and I'm not kidding. Just two years ago I was
sitting in the office of the President of Atlantic Records and he was holding my hand,
looking me in eye and said: I'm gonna put you on the road and I'm gonna make you a star
just like I made Jewel a star [who sold about 8 million records, in case you don't know - ed].
I'm not kidding, the guy said that to me! And you sit there thinking: okay, I'll work,
I'll go on the road for a year, why not? We've been in this for a while, we deserve a
litte success. (laughs). And then all of a sudden you leave their office and you NEVER
HEAR FROM THEM AGAIN! I don't know how many people the guy did that to or whether he
meant it when he said it but later was unable to fulfill the promise, I don't know.
That really happened and that was only two years ago and six months later we were on
the street. They play on people's desire for approval and that's something that as
a musician I really trying to work on right now, cause I'm too old to be bummed out
when we get a bad review.
Do you really think about the whole business side of it a lot? We obviously
talked about it for quite a bit now, was that just because of my questions or it
that really on your mind a lot right now?
Mary: I think it is. We manage ourselves now and we need to be practical.
Maybe that made me a little more down to earth about it.
Is that a blessing or a curse?
Mary: I don't know. Probably both. It's fairly healthy to be responsible
and to be aware of the cause and effects. Careers that succeed are really not magic
and that's a good thing cause then I feel that if I work hard then I can still have
the privilege of making music.
My last question: How did the relationships within the band change over the last
say, four or five years. I guess it's been the same line up for five years now?!
Mary: Yeah, Chris joined us in 1994. Our friendship gets stronger and stronger.
It's an odd friendships, but it's a really strong one and we all have this thing that
we do together that we don't do with anybody else. We are just this Madder Rose thing
and I love the fact that none of us bailed out when we got dropped. It would've been
so easy. The world was not begging us to stay together hahaha. We just decided that
we wanted to keep going and since then we've been really, um, good.
Five records recommended by Mary Lorson:
Robert Wyatt's Shleep
Carsten: Nice choice!
Mary: That's a beautiful records,isn't it? It's just so simple.
Carsten: It's interesting that you picked it though, cause most people would probably
go for his early work, like the Soft Machines third album or something.
Mary: I don't know any of his earlier stuff. I'm not an authority on him but I
love that record (laughs).
Van Morrison's Astral Weeks
Mary: Everybody in Europe has that, right?
No, I'm not sure.
Mary: I don't think people in the States really do.
It's an amazing record and he still does a lot of the songs live. I saw him a lot last
year and I was very impressed with Cypress Avenue.
Mary: Oh really? I'd love to see him live.
Lisa Germano's On The Way Down From Moon Palace
Mary: I love her first record, I don't know how many people have that. She's
a star. I just love her.
Did you have a chance to see her with Giant Sand as OP8?
Mary: No! But I saw her solo and she was great. That's funny though. After that
OP8 project came out ... I have that record and we just got dropped ... that's when I
thought: Let's call Thirsty Ear, they are cool! (laughs) (OP8 are on Thirsty Ear
in the US - Carsten's note.) And I did, but he ignored me, and in the end the label
in England hooked us up with them.
The Raincoats' Odyshape
Mary: I bet a lot of people have these things. I'm not really on the cutting
edge of music.
Lilys' Eccsame The Photon Band (Possibly, as Mary couldn't remember
the name of the record I picked the album with the strangest title, the only one with
"made-up words". Hope I got it right - Carsten's note.)
Mary: There's this one record by The Lilys and I'm trying to remember the name of
it. It's got like a colour in the name as well, I think. He made up some words as well.
I can't remember the name of it but it's the most beautiful CD.
Copyright © 1999 Carsten Wohlfeld