While she is currently located in Germany, Marybeth has all the styling and sounds of a true American folk singer. She recently finished recording her first full-length album, Heaven, Hell, Sin and Redemption to be released later this year. In the meantime she took a few minutes to answer some questions.
Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play and how old were you? Any stories about your first or favorite instrument?
A: I took piano for one year when I was ten before quitting to play flute in the school band. I was very square and would never have dreamed of being in a rock band. I was the girl in choir, band and the musicals. I only took up the guitar about seven years ago, after my daughter started taking guitar lessons.
Q: Of your songs, which is your favorite to perform and why? Of the cover songs?
A: Oh gosh, that’s hard to say. Its always fun to perform a song that the audience responds to. Like I have a song called “Save Your Soul” that’s told from the perspective of three different players involved in a sex scandal. I generally get a good reaction from it and its fun to act out. I’m a bit of a ham.
One cover I like to play is “I Long For Your Kiss” by Lucinda Williams/Duane Jarvis.
Q: What does your creative process look like? How do you come up with ideas and new songs?
A: I think I’m not the first person to say that the songwriting process is somewhat mysterious.
Often I sit down on the couch and mess around with some chords, then sing something meaningless over it.
If I’m lucky, the melody immediately suggests to me what the song should be. Like, one day I was messing around with what sounded sort of like a bluegrass picking to me. It made me think of a prairie wife who was looking across the fields and was mourning her little one. I started singing something immediately and the song “Where I Lay My Baby Down” was finished in about a half an hour. But those are the rare ones. Most take more work.
Sometimes I have an entire melody without a theme, then I write the lyrics. I nearly always write the lyrics on computer.
Q: What was the first song you wrote and do you still play it?
A: I wrote a song called “Bad Girl” about a girl who never does what she’s supposed to. It was actually based on a post that a young girl I knew made on an Internet chat board, and it had all sorts of interesting details in it, like how she stole some money to buy a guitar.
Little details like that make a song very authentic. But I don’t perform that song anymore, because I later wrote what I thought was a stronger song on a similar theme, called Summa Cum Laude, which is on my EP “Waiting to Fly.” It’s about a young woman who always did what was expected of her, but decides she’s not going to do that anymore.
Q: How has your music and style evolved over the years you’ve been performing?
A: I’m pretty new to all this; I wrote my first song in 2003, released my five-song EP in 2006 and am coming out with my first album in mid-2008. But if I can talk of an evolution, its that you develop a better instinct for what makes a good song, and you learn to discard the rest.
Q: What were your last five music purchases?
A: Kathleen Edwards – “Asking For Flowers.” I’m in love with this album, I love the way this woman tells stories.
Teddy Thompson – “Upfront and Down Low”
Teddy Thompson – “Teddy Thompson” (his debut)
Mary Gauthier – “Between Daylight and Dark”
Eilen Jewell – “Letters from Sinners and Strangers”
Q: What is your musical guilty pleasure, the one artist or album that you don’t admit to liking?
A: I don’t really believe in a guilty pleasure, what ever turns you on you should listen to.
Q: Are you a full time musician or do you have a side gig? Where do you hope your music takes you?
A: I’m not a full time musician yet, I’m a freelance journalist on the side. I’m just seeing where it takes me once I get this debut album launched.
Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?
A: Well, any of my top musicians! I would really like to meet Antje Duvekot, I think she’s an amazing songwriter. I would ask her about her childhood in Germany, since I live here, I know we would find stuff to talk about.
Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you?
A: I guess the most interesting part of my story is that I started on this so late in life, which I feel gives me a kind of wisdom that I hope makes for some good songs. I only started writing songs after I’d lost my full-time job as a magazine editor, and had some time on my hands.
A bunch of new music I was listening to influenced me to start writing, including the discovery of singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. The power of just her voice and guitar on her debut, “Living with Ghosts” awed me and made me want to strive for something like that. In fact, whenever I hear a really great songwriter I feel that way, although at the same time I feel incredibly intimidated.
Right now I’m listening a lot to Kathleen Edwards’ third album, “Asking For Flowers,” and the storytelling craft just blows me away. Like the song “Alicia Ross,” told from the perspective of girl who was murdered. It sends chills right down your spine. I just read an interview with Kathleen where she said that a good song should take you somewhere. That’s what I aspire to.
They should also know that my debut album is coming out soon, called Heaven, Hell, Sin and Redemption, and it will be available eventually over iTunes and my website.
Marybeth on Myspace
Photos courtesy of artist.