Mary Epworth has been around music as long as she can remember. Whether joining her father as a young child to take part in Gypsy music workshops; a figurative experience which resonates to this day with the concept of ‘duende’ running through her approach to composition, sharing her elder brother’s heavy metal phase as a young teenager; favourite bands Saxon and Queensryche, or finding her true love in 60’s West Coast psychedelia, the 70’s Beach Boys and traditional English song, Mary Epworth has always been destined for a life in music.
Such a pre-ordained path is probably the sole reason that her debut album, ‘Dream Life’, exists. Having progressed from those Romany workshops to forming bands and working on various projects, the starting point of the album in 2008 was not taken with a view that four long years would elapse before it finally saw the light of day. Treading your own path can be slow though and, as Mary notes, both ‘life and money got in the way as time went by’. The resourcefulness of Mary and her producer (and fellow artist and co-owner of their Hand Of Glory label), Will Twynham saw a veritable smorgasbord of funding pulled together to complete sessions for the album over that time.
There was the ultra-rare auto-harp that the pair purchased on Ebay for £26, borrowing the money to collect in person from Rutland, and sold on to a collector for £1500. There was the extras work for Mary on ‘Harry Potter’ that led to a spurious story that she was on the soundtrack, there was the parting with rare Shellac vinyl. This was a labour of love in the truest sense driven, as Mary notes, by a sense that ‘the more ludicrous it got the more determined I became. There is no safety net or get out plan, just a belief that this is what I have to do’.
As with the financing of the album which it showcases, Mary Epworth’s music is far from conventional and recognises few fellow travellers. Growing up in Bishop’s Stortford, the surrounding countryside fed into her psyche and permeates her songs sense of open space offering a traditional English counter-part to the considerable US psyche rock that tops the Mary Epworth favourites list and shows its colours in the woozy production touches and overdriven percussion that disrupt seemingly calm moments with precision timing. This is very much a record that was considered at every stage as Mary explains:
‘We wanted every song to have its own story so we piled walls of distortion on ‘Black Doe’, created ¼ inch loops for ‘If I Fall Now’ radiophonic workshop style and fed Casio beats and backwards loops through ‘Those Nights’.
Throw in that upbringing around Romany music and a deep love of English ghost story writer par excellence M.R. James and you have an idea of the ingredients that make up ‘Dream Life’.
Then add in recording sessions in a barn in Norfolk five miles from her mother’s ancestral home, thus deepening the sense of history, folklore and general spookiness, compounded by being snowed in for five days in the middle of winter. Snow also figured heavily in the weekend trip to Berlin where, in a bizarre spate of alliteration, the brass on the record was recorded above a brothel in Berlin. From one extreme to another, the mixing took place in blazing sunshine in Los Angeles with the helping hands of the likes of Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Beechwood Sparks) and Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, These New Puritans) at the desk.
‘Dream Life’ is now ready for public approval. Early signs are that the four year wait will be worth it. With lead single ‘Black Doe’ totting up repeat radio plays across 6 Music , Radio One and Radio Two and favourable comments from the likes of The Guardian and The Sunday Times already out in public success seems a very real possibility. But then, as with everything, Mary’s idea of success is not the usual:
‘I’d love to be playing around the world, hanging out with interesting people and putting out other people’s records out on Hand Of Glory as well as my own. That’s ‘Dream Life’ in a way. We (her and Will) often say to each other about anything from a coat to a house, ‘Dream Life’, that idea of perfection in large and small things.’