Interview with The Mary Dream vocalist Elise Bellew

- Feb 20, 2010 at 01:51PM
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Recently vocalist Elise Bellew took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about their new CD, This Kind of Life and the process behind its recording. This is the Nashville based, Alt-pop rock duo The Mary Dream's sophomore release. The CD was exclusively recorded and mixed using home studios only and it was mixed by five time Grammy Award winning engineer F. Reid Shippen. This Kind of Life is a beautiful record that showcases the bands maturation and natural progression as musicians and songwriters. Here's how the conversation went.

When you begin to put an album together are you concerned at all about commercial success?
Elise: When we write a new song, it’s always from a natural, improvisational place, so at first, we don’t think about commercial viability at all. But later, after a song has started to take shape, if there are parts of the song that aren’t melodic enough (i.e. “hooky”) we do re-write it. But it’s not just for the sake of commercial viability. We ourselves simply prefer melodic, hooky music. When choosing the final songs that will make it onto an album, we definitely go with the songs that are the strongest melodically – but again, it’s more because that’s the kind of music we like to listen to, but there is always the hope for commercial success in the back of our minds.

What kind of music are you listening to? Do you keep abreast of new music?
Elise: When we first started out, we were both very influenced by the dream pop band The Sundays. We used to drive around for hours listening to “Static and Silence.” Back then, Blake was also heavily influenced by Oasis and Radiohead. Since then, certain artists and records have become prominent in our collection. Travis’ “The Man Who,” Rubyhorse’s “Goodbye to All That,” Coldplay’s first two albums, The Cardigans’ “Long Gone Before Daylight,” Pete Yorn’s “Music For The Morning After,” Aimee Mann’s “Lost In Space” – the list goes on. We do listen to new music, always searching for new inspiration. One new artist that I am really impressed by is A Fine Frenzy – especially her first record One Cell in the Sea. We’ve also really been enjoying Death Cab for Cutie lately – there’s a song called “Cath” on their last record that we just love.

This Kind of Life was recorded using home studios exclusively. Do you see this as something that will become more common?
Elise: Yes, we think it’s already become more common - at least it is here in Nashville. Most of the session guys in town have their own ProTools rig set up at home. It’s pretty common in Nashville to just go to each other’s houses to record. It’s much cheaper and easier than going to a big studio. As long as you have a few select pieces of the right gear, it can be done very easily.

How do you perceive the advances of technology and the Internet will change the music industry in the future?
Elise: It has already changed the industry so dramatically – it will be interesting to see what’s next. It definitely worked to our advantage in 2006 when we came out with our first full-length Beautiful World. At that time, MySpace was at its peak in popularity – people were really excited to discover new music there. We were able to launch that record pretty much exclusively on MySpace (and a few TV placements didn’t hurt either). We’re looking forward to seeing how the Internet helps us get This Kind of Life out into the world. I think we are definitely planning on doing some videos this time around, which really help to spread the music virally.

The first thing that struck me about this record personally is how well it flows. It's a very natural sounding album and the songs just seem to complement each other extremely well. Was this a conscious effort or something that more or less just came about?
Elise: As I mentioned earlier, all of our songs are written from a place of improvisation, so songwriting is a very spontaneous and organic process for us. If I’ve got something on my mind that I want to say and Blake is playing around with some chords, a song will just “happen.” We produce songs as we write them – so all of our songs have the chance to evolve in the studio over time. That’s one of the great benefits of recording at home. I can be doing something mundane like washing the dishes, while Blake is working on guitar riffs in the studio – we’re always within an earshot of each other so lyrics and melodies can be developing and evolving in my head as Blake is producing. This process just lends itself very naturally to putting together a record as opposed to a band being thrown into the studio for three months (or less) and someone says “Okay, write your record!"

Can you talk about some of the subjects you tackle on this record?
Elise: Yes, this record, just like any record, reflects a particular “era” in my life where I had certain things on my mind that kind of just naturally go together. One recurring theme that was heavily on my mind is the inequity in the world. That’s what “Deeper” is about. It’s weird being American. I mean, I’m very glad to have had the good fortune of being born here and I don’t take it for granted – not for one second. But it’s just very hard for my mind to accept that at any given moment, I could be out shopping for the perfect pair of jeans while someone else, at that exact moment, is starving to death or being the victim of some horrible act of violence or war. It’s a strange dichotomy that we live with on a daily basis and it is always in my consciousness. Similar themes of materialism and superficiality reoccur throughout the record.

Are there any tracks on this CD that are personal favorites or that have good stories behind them?
Elise: I really like “Home.” I think it gives a positive spin and answers to the themes of the record as a whole – it offers stability in the face of uncertainty – that stability is not found through materials things, but through love. I also really like that cool backwards guitar riff that Blake played coming out of the bridge!

Give us some insight into the record, This Kind of Life, and the meaning behind its title?
Elise:I discussed earlier some of the more “worldly” recurring themes on the record, but at the same time, there are the more personal themes running through it as well – themes about personal sacrifice for one’s art, loss of stability, and the issue of time. We have given up a lot to live “this kind of life” – this life of the DIY indie musician. A lot of our friends have kids, houses, stable jobs, etc. We don’t. And for the majority of the time, we are very happy about it – we like living this kind of life – it’s a passionate and creative way to live – one that offers deep artistic satisfaction.

Could you tell us where the name The Mary Dream comes from?
Elise: I had a dream in 2000 – it was about the Virgin Mary. It was a very moving dream – it had a lot to do with giving birth to someone or something that could have a positive effect on the world. I think we all have a “Mary Dream” of some kind. For Blake and I, this music is our Mary Dream.

How much roadwork do you expect to be doing this 2010?
Elise: We are hoping with this record to find some tour support. Our music is not the type of music that can be reproduced with an acoustic guitar at a coffee house. When we play live, we like to bring the whole Mary Dream sound – it’s a full band kind of thing. If we had our way, we’d tour nonstop for the next two years!

What is next for The Mary Dream?
Elise: We have already begun writing and recording our next record. But we’re really excited about getting This Kind of Life out into the world. I’ve recently adopted a new mantra – it’s the lyrics from a song by World Party. It goes like this: “Put the message in the box, put the box into the car, drive the car around the world, until you get heard.  [ END ]
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