Interview: Mary Bue

photo by Rainy River Images

photo by Rainy River Images

I just had an enjoyable chat with The Youth From Duluth, Mary Bue, a singer-songwriter who’s latest Kickstarter-funded album, Holy Bones, took her into a new territory of grunge rock. Mary is an incredible songwriter I’ve enjoyed discovering on the vt, and we had a great time catching up about songwriting and yoga and treating ourselves with compassion amidst the ups and downs of the creative life.

You can stream and buy Mary Bue’s latest album, Holy Bones, here:

Nick: Is your last name pronounced “boo” or “bee-yoo”? You said it at the gig in LA but I can’t remember.

Mary: Yup, “Bee-yoo.” I get boo a lot. But’s it’s bee-yoo, for sure.

N: How did your tour go?

M: It was good! It was fun and pretty epic. It was partially a road trip to see friends with sixteen shows packed in there. There was a lot of camping, and I visited a ton of old friends.

N: You got to play with Scott Colesby, right?

M: Yeah! So Called Someone. He was the first person that I connected with. He’s really nice. How would I describe him? Let’s see … he’s kind of like a gritty railroad guy. Has a saunter about him. He smokes and is kinda bad-ass. But he’s really nice, if that makes sense.

N: He’s like an old blues guy.

M: Totally.

N: What was your favorite gig?

M: I really did like LA, it was a nice small room. San Fran was really fun. Have you been to Hotel Utah? It’s like the bow of a ship. Like an old, tiny 1800s vessel.

It was a birthday show, so there was a nice turn-out.

Those were my favorite gigs.

N: I’ve always thought of you as a folk singer, like a modern-day Joni Mitchell. But Holy Bones is really a rock album. If you had a drummer who hit like Dave Grohl, then songs like “Cheribum” would be punk. Is this a new direction for you?

M: It is, it is. I’ve been doing the more folky solo thing for like 15 years. The same sort of thing. I just started to feel bored and ready for a change.

My musical tastes have gone back to high school, like 90s grunge bands. Juliana Hatfield, Belly, Nirvana. I’m more drawn to seeing a fricking rock bands in the local scene, too. There’s a great scene out here.

I think my tastes of changed, and my new music reflects that.

N: You have a lovely voice, and your lyrics tend to compliment that. But there’s also another tendency in your lyrics. You write about bones and skulls and things, and there’s a prominent skull in the artwork for Holy Bones. What is this about?

M: Well I wrote the album, and then I saw a friend who drew the artwork with the skull and I was like “THAT IS IT.”

Yeah, it’s darker. I’ve been doing that in earlier albums, but this is really part of a new direction for me. There’s a lot of typical love and heartbreak songs, but also just darker stuff coming out.

N: Holy Bones is full of gritty love songs … and then “Veal” which is about dead animals. Is there anything going on? What’s influencing this right now?

M: I’ve been vegan for almost 2 years. Been channeling the baby cow, I think. I think the more conscious you get the more you stay away from meat.

N: Tell me about your creative process. Where do your songs come from?

M: Oh man. They sort of come out of thin air. It’s changed over time. When I started writing songs I started with poems. Stream of consciousness-type stuff. The words came first.

When I started playing piano, I would dink around on the keys until it started to match the words.

Recently I’ve been hearing licks in my head and then I’ll do a little piece of that and come back to it.

My creative process has changed a little bit with the new album. I’m always grateful when they come.

N: Tell me about your performance process. How do you get ready for the stage?

M: I have a drink (laughs). There are daily things I do. Yoga, meditate daily. I know some breathing techniques. It depends a lot on the show, how long it’s going to be. Half hour set vs. three hour background show. Figuring out banter. You know.

It really depends on the situation and the expected audience.

It’s also about the nerves. If it’s a new place, there are a lot of nerves going on.

And it also depends on if there’s a band. It’s nerve wracking because I can’t be a control freak, but it’s also looser and more fun with a band. My new music is really about performing with a full band.

N: What’s next for you?

M: Well … I got home and then there was a huge music festival. 150 bands from the area for our small city of 90,000 people. The scene is nuts out here, it’s really good. I’m on the board so there was a lot of work.

But I got sick for three weeks and then fell into a depressive pit, honestly. I was supposed to tour in June, but would have had to book those gigs while on my first tour.

I need to write more. I’ve been so focussed on putting out the Kickstarter album and then the tour and promotions. Now that initial buzz has subsided and for awhile I was like, “where’s the next big thing???” but that’s not really what I need right now. What I need is to be patient.

As creatives we need to learn how to be gentle with ourselves.

N: What’s your favorite song from the 1960s or 1970s?

M: I’m a pretty big Supremes fan. If my voice is able to do it at karaoke, I love doing “Baby Love”.

You can stream and buy Mary Bue’s latest album, Holy Bones, here: