Chances are, you'll have heard Mary Epworth 's single Black Doe on the radio airwaves, and maybe you caught Lauren Laverne's interview with the singer songwriter a couple of weeks ago. Having a few mutual acquaintances, I ended up chatting to Mary about glow worms on twitter, at which point I realised a more in depth discussion was needed, so I gave her a call. Here's a rough transcript of our conversation, featuring lively debates about Nature vs the Internet, the music industry today and the idolisation of women.
KA: Did you have a very musical upbringing- was singing something you always wanted to do?
ME: My mum and dad both really liked music but we didn't have a piano in the house or anything like that- I played recorder when I was little and sang in the junior school choir, but I didn't really realise how much I liked music and nobody else realised that I was talented!It's weird- I remember once I was off school for a week and I wrote a song- I scored it all out cos I could read music from playing the recorder, and when I got back to school my mum had taken it in and all the school sang it back to me. I think I must have been about 7! I only remembered that recently- it never occurred to me or anyone else that that was on unusual. I thought I was definitely going to be an author or an artist- I was always drawing and writing- then when I was about 14 I sort of fell in love with music and after that it took over.
KA: You've made your album Dream Life with your partner- did you find that it's hard to separate work and leisure time when the you're constantly with someone you're involved with professionally as well as personally?
ME: It really is like that because we run our little label as well- so we're basically talking about music all the time. I think it's really nice to be a team- I really trust him and he trusts me-we know they're no other motives...
KA: That's priceless isn't it?
ME: Exactly. Plus we're both completely obsessed with Beach Boys and 60s pop; it's so nice that you've got somebody who's never going to go 'Can you please stop talking about the Beach Boys?!”
KA: How long have you been together?
ME: Nearly ten years. It's his birthday tomorrow.
KA: Are you doing anything nice?
ME: Going on a long walk to a little micro-brewery pub out in the stix. Walking- always walking!
KA: I do miss walking in London- I remember when I was a kid it was basically the only thing my mum and I could afford to do, so we were always going on long walks!
ME: I can relate to that! When I was younger it was something I did but I guess I endured it as much as I enjoyed it, but I think now I really get into it- yesterday I walked to the site for Standon Calling cos we've just been booked to play at the festival this year. It's great to get away from emails, completely switching off and being a million miles away from anything to do with the internet.
KA: Musicians often have a love/hate relationship with the Internet these days- either they blame it for the fact that they're not making as much money as people used to from record sales, or they realise that it's been an invaluable tool for launching their careers- do you have strong feelings either way?
ME: I think I'm probably in the latter camp- I mean obviously it is really difficult to earn anything but I can't really bring myself to blame the internet for that- I think that was just a different time and place when people could earn loads of money out of music...
KA: Absolutely..it's funny, cos I work with quite a lot of musicians as a stylist these days so...
ME: So you know how little we actually earn!
ME: If I ever say on twitter- oh, we're struggling, I always get loads of replies from loads of other people in bands, even quite well known bands, saying, we are too!
KA: Part of me feels like it's not until you start actually knowing people in bands or working with them that you realise that's actually something really wrong with illegally downloading music- I know everyone did it at university but at that stage in my life I didn't know any professional musicians so I suppose it was hard to feel you were actually doing anything wrong.
ME: I can see the value of an object- I think even I feel a bit strange about saying here's 11MP3s, that's £8. It feels a bit weird- I'm much more comfortable with saying, if you love something, buy a tangible object to do with it...
KA: A lot of musicians have done really incredible things with their packaging, incorporating artwork into it I think people are really into it being a unique piece of art as well as a tangible object..
ME: I think there's something about that.. and there's all these Guerilla music scene theories about making sure there's something for every customer- and one of those customers is someone who doesn't want to spend anything- and I think that's fair enough, I think I've probably even been that customer! Sometimes I've heard something on Spotify and have totally fallen in love with it but I would never have dipped into it if it hadn't been there in a very cheap or free way. Some things just aren't worth getting angry about. Things like Twitter, Myspace and Facebook- I've actually made some really incredible career connections- on top of all the friends I've made.
KA: I think it's been invaluable for people in creative industries- writing music, making art or just writing can be quite lonely work, but when you can connect with all these other people in the same boat..
ME: They're your colleagues, it's a way of keeping up with your community. It's funny because I remember my dad, way back in the 60s or 70s, worked on fibre optics; I'm old enough to remember not having the internet... it's just the natural evolution of communication, we're just not sure yet how things are going to work out.. did you ever see that brilliant piece Brian Eno wrote about the music industry Bubble- the 40 years or so where people could actually earn lots of money!
KA: I actually originally started chatting to you on Twitter as I saw you tweeting a mutual friend of ours about organising a glow worm walk! We've already spoken a bit about walking, and your videos are full of beautiful outdoor scenery- is Nature a big inspiration to you?
ME: Yes, it's just a really big part of my life and always has been, and that's definitely come from my family- all my family are real nature lovers. I think I could give up music before I could give up Nature.
KA: I've noticed a lot of young, female musicians these days, both carving careers for themselves and supporting those around them. Combined with the support of successful women in music journalism and radio like Lauren Laverne and Ruth Barnes, do you think female singers are rebelling against what has for a long time been a very male dominated industry?
ME: I don't often identify with women only- I feel like it's more a community of musicians. Ruth's absolutely amazing, she's been on board since early days and Lauren too, I'm so chuffed that she's listening- I think they're really important because they're like public champions, and they're not differentiating; they're not only listening to music if it's by female singer/songwriters. As a female musician though, it is really funny, always waiting for the first time you inevitably get told you sound like Kate Bush...
KA: There's the whole issue of pressure on women to 'sex up' their image to sell more records
ME: That's definitely true. People have often assumed that I don't write my own stuff. And it's funny how people like to compare you to other women- I'm pretty sure if I made a record that sounded just like Hendrix people would say I sounded like Janis Joplin
KA: People like to pigeon-hole people..she's a woman so she must sound like this other woman...
ME: I think perhaps to some extent, people see women as more iconic than men..
KA: Absolutely- they take on a legendary status
ME: It's almost like you're an archetype, or a character, people find it easier to do that with women. A bit more worshipped..I had some crazy hate tweet from someone who's a Christine Aguilera fan- people who are fans of those sort of pop stars are completely obsessed to a degree that I'm not sure they usually are with male artists. I do find myself thinking, where are the brilliant male solo artists at the moment?
KA: One of my friends Gabby Young recently got a death threat from a Katy Perry fan in Texas...
ME: That's what I mean- it's a kind of fan worship that comes with female artists that I don't think is so common with men.
KA: So where can we see you this summer?
ME: There's the London gig at The Lexington, then HopFarm, Ladyfest, Standon Calling and Bestival- which is wildlife themed! I know what costume I'm planning on making, but it really depends how much time I get before then- we came up with the emergency costume idea of a black bin liner for a beetle!
KA: Very festival-friendly if it's muddy too!