Interview: Mary Epworth

Alex Yau chats to Mary Epworth

Posted on May 27th, 2012 in Features and Interviews / By Alex Yau
Interview: Mary Epworth She’s the sister of acclaimed producer Paul Epworth but Mary is very much in a class of her own. Mary’s debut Dream Life, which was made with partner Will Twynham, is out very soon and we at Bearded are very excited. Once a backing singer for a variety of projects, Mary’s been proving that she’s very much a capable force on her own and Bearded spent time chatting with her…

Bearded: Hello Mary, how are you?

Mary Epworth: Hello! Pretty good thanks apart from the fact I seem to have lost my voice. Even went as far as to buy a steam inhaler to see if I can get it back in time for some sessions this week. It makes me feel like Darth Vader.

B: Dream Life is out very soon, excited, nervous or both?

M: I am pretty excited, it’s a bit scary after all this time, waiting to see what people think, but I’m looking forward to getting it out there. I’ve had this record as a focus for so long, I’m not really sure what’s beyond it.

B: You’ve said in previous interviews that your family’s really into nature and you recorded the album in the Norfolk wilds. Was this intentional considering the kind of influences you grew up with?

M: Actually it was a total fluke! We were planning to record in a friend’s studio that he was building in London, and with about a week before the sessions were due to start he realised that it wouldn’t be ready in time. We frantically called around to see if anyone knew a studio that would fit our very tiny budget and someone suggested The Sickroom. It was available at a ridiculous price, so we went for it. It was actually a perfect fit. Owen was a great engineer for us, and he’s filled his studio with lots of useful stuff. It’s really out in the sticks so once we’d got a lift there we were stranded, in a good way. It meant we could really concentrate on what we were making. It’s really weird that the place happens to be about 1 mile from the tiny hamlet where all my Mum’s family come from. It felt a bit like kismet really.

B: A lot of people have also described your music as quite ‘natural’ and ‘timeless.’ Has this always been the case with your music or was it something very different at the start?

M: I hope that means that people can hear there is a song there. I think when I was younger I was less comfortable with sounding pop, I probably wanted desperately to be seen to be doing something experimental or cutting edge. Then I got into country rock and realised it was actually ok to write songs with hooks and stuff. I try to make sure that I make music that doesn’t sound retro, so maybe timeless means I’ve got away with that one.

B: You’ve been doing backing vocals and harmonies for others for a considerable amount of time. Was it quite a scary process putting yourself into the spotlight?

M: That part isn’t really scary. It’s more of a relief that I finally get my turn! I think I probably bored everyone rigid by telling them “I write songs too, you know”. In fact that is the main thing, it’s always nice to be told you sing well, but really being seen to be a writer is more important to me. It’s quite typical to just be seen as a girly backing vocalist with nothing to say. That’s really frustrating, especially when you are trying your best to make your own stuff happen. I’m a much, much happier person now I have my own music rolling!

B: A lot of work was done with Will Twynham too. How was it working with him? Did he bring things that you perhaps might not have thought of at first?

M: We’re a team. We pretty much do everything together as he’s my beau too. He and I had tried to work with a few other producers but it never really felt right. We’re into all the same music, loads of great 60s psych and prog etc, so it means we’re both up for playing with sounds. He definitely suggested lots of things I wasn’t sure about at first and vice versa. We usually end up finding a compromise, but most importantly I really trust his ears and crazy mind. Also he knows me and the songs so well. He really understood what I was trying to say with each one. He’s making his own record too, which takes all the production on Dream Life a step further. I hope he gets to do more with other acts after this too.

B: It’s out on your own record label too. Would you only release music on your own record label or would you release your music on other labels in the future?

M: I love having my own label, it’s really fun and I hope we’ll get to release lots more music. I’m open to the idea of working with another label, but it would really depend on what they are offering me. I would be extremely uncomfortable with not having full artistic control, for instance. We’re working with a distributor now, which has been a really big help, as we were going to be posting stuff out ourselves etc. In some ways being a small label with a distributor gives you most of the tools of a bigger label anyway. Like I say though, open to ideas in the future.

B: The album was also delayed I believe. What caused these delays? Was it hugely frustrating for you?

M: Money is the main reason, boringly enough. We’re often relying on favours, or borrowing to make this stuff happen. We both realised once we’d finished tracking that this album would really benefit from a creative mix. We’ve been quite ambitious about what we were making. We didn’t want to settle for something less and throw the whole thing away. Frustrated is a massive understatement. It did almost break my spirit, to be totally honest. Trying to make music for a living these days, or any other creative enterprise, is a bit of a foolish gamble. When it looks like the odds are against you, it’s easy to feel like you made a big mistake to even try. We’re still in the finding out stage, if anything will come of it, but I am so incredibly relieved that anyone gives a shit. Life got a bit too dark for a year or so, but I’m happy to say I feel like I’m standing in the light again now.

B: Paul Epworth’s obviously your brother. In terms of your music, are you trying to stray quite far away from any associations with him or don’t you mind them?

M: I’m very proud of Paul, of course, but when it comes to music I’m just focusing on doing my own thing. I’m hoping that people will be open enough to just take my album for what it is and overlook my surname for 40 minutes.

B: Finally, what’s next for you?

M: Well, I’ve got lots of gigs coming up, and Hop Farm and Bestival too, so I’m really looking forward to those. Other than that, I’m just seeing what comes next I think. Hopefully get around to writing a second album at some point. Will and I also have an idea for a disco single we’d like to make, something totally unlike Dream Life. It’s a palate cleanser for the next record.