A Goddess At The Console: Q&A With Mary Edwards

Published on January 30th, 2011 in: All You Need Is Now, Current Faves, Feminism, Issues, Music, Q&A |

Popshifter: It’s imperative to mention, too, that you are very much a performing artist, as well as a recording one. Generally, you seem to work with trios with a jazz sensibility, too. So on the live front, my questions are two-fold: how much of a struggle was it to perform live consistently? What kind of groundwork did you have to forge to get where you want to be, in order to satisfy the performing itch?

Mary Edwards: There are several mantras I follow. One being, “Pull back in order to spring forward”—I’m not certain who coined that–—and my other favorite is a saying of one of my closest friends and musical colleagues, Robert Scott, “Keep the production sounding small and expensive, not big and cheap.”

I try to apply this as much as I can in the studio, although most times that environment is a free-for-all playground. For live sessions, I am able to generate a clean live sound comprised of my piano and vocals with the help of drummer, Andrew Potenza, and bassist, Gary Wang. They are both superb, spot-on musicians with golden ears and instincts, and terrific improvisational skills. I often have to retrain myself to relinquish some responsibilities of the left-hand notes because I am supported by a resonant upright bass and a sensitive percussive palate. It’s really all about simple arrangements and a modicum of embellishments, accents, and attacks. Years ago, when I started playing live and mostly solo—once again, I recoil in embarrassment—I expected the audience to conjure in their imaginations the small orchestra I was hearing in my head! That’s kind of nervy, when you think about it. I’m much more humble, these days.

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Popshifter: I’ve also noticed you have a rather loyal following. From inception to present day, how have you successfully managed to cultivate this following? It sounds like a loaded question, but it’s not. I can venture a lot of it has to do with your natural rapport and comfort with the audience.

Mary Edwards: That’s very kind of you to say. I know you are not trying to employ flattery. I don’t see myself as a commodity, but as a conduit. I’ve honed this musical niche that has made such an impact on me, and am, in turn giving it back as a vessel filled with some of my own experiences. I am by nature a bit shy, and yet I love people. All kinds. I’ve been told I am a bit of an enigma because I am equally content walking alone in the woods as I am being among many at a cocktail hour. I am the same way with my work. I can spend solitary hours on end with my creative tools and imagination, and yet, I get an absolute thrill sitting behind the piano and creating a live connection with my listeners. In either case, I want to create a meaningful conversation both in and away from the performance, not only to get them to feel, but also to think and engage.

Popshifter: You seem to doggedly pursue optimism, which is a quality that I think draws people toward your music and performances. I remember when we first met how I had discovered the rare person who loves the idealism of Buckminster Fuller and the childlike joy of Joe Raposo’s music. How do you find yourself drawing these touchstones into your own music? And how do you stubbornly maintain such optimism in the face of an industry that everyone seems to think is fragmenting and shrinking?

Mary Edwards: I’ve always sought ways of articulating the correlation between music/sound and architecture/nature. There are many ways to draw the parallels, yet some for me resulted in a struggle and sense of detachment. Once I fully allowed my own experiences to lie at the intersection, I arrived at this place of comfort and joy. I embrace simplicity, yet I’m always in dialogue with complexity to arrive at that place. It’s almost philosophic and perhaps spiritual in nature, that my daily practice involves maintaining clean and clear lines of vision, and allowing things to “fall away” in order to make room for more useful things to come, or to simply create a space for a meditative and necessary silence. It helps me live well as an artist.

The optimism is actually an outcome of clearing that path of day-to-day obstacles and learning that every problem offers a solution. If you look at Fuller and Raposo, they each looked through a child’s lens to reveal the constant wonderment that life offers when we pause to observe rather than accept shards of daily experience that leave us fragmented and unfulfilled. The music industry is experiencing its own “bouleversant”—that is, things falling apart in order to come back together as something more meaningful. Many artists are now realizing their autonomy, which is at once very exciting and frightening. When you foster and respect the relationship with your professional acumen and the things that hold for you the most meaning, you thrive.

Popshifter: I see that you’ve got another album in the works, the genius-titled Eastern/Central & Mountain/Pacific. Any teasers for us regarding that one?

Mary Edwards: It’s an original collection of instrumentals and vocalese (think The Ron Hicklin Singers) reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s film and television themes. The project was born out of a series of pieces I wrote for a sound installation; they were stylistically influenced by Morricone, Schifrin, Mancini, Lai, Barry, and Hermann. Imagine those kinds of programs and movies you used to fall asleep to, and in your dreamlike subconscious the score detaches itself and becomes a soundtrack to your imagination.

For more on Mary Edwards, please be sure to check out her website.

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3 Responses to “A Goddess At The Console: Q&A With Mary Edwards”

  1. Robb Scott:
    January 31st, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Great interview. ME is a vibrant and very relevant artist. She has always has something important and interesting to say. Her sophomore epos is such a seminal album, and I can’t wait to see where she takes us next!

  2. Chris A.:
    January 31st, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Fascinating stuff…Mary’s music is so organic to and integrated with who she is that the flow between them feels seamless, invisible. I imagine everything she feels, thinks, eats, sees – both past and present – inform her songmaking. And both she and they are beautiful.

  3. Jen Chapin:
    January 31st, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    So glad to get caught up on your good work Mary! In Staten Island, no less (I always thought you were a Brooklyn girl)

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