Interview with Mary Lou Lord at Great American Music Hall by Matt and Blake - April 1995 (photos by Blake)
CB: You used to travel a lot. Before you were touring with Elliott Smith and Guided by Voices, did you bring your guitar with you?
Mary Lou Lord: Yeah, I always brought my little amp and my guitar. I went to L.A. a couple times and I'd play out on the Third Street promenade. And I played in San Francisco at the Powell Street cable-car turnaround, where people are roped in like cattle.
CB: With the guy who plays nothing but Stevie Wonder on his keyboard?
MLL: Not that I remember. But I was playing at Bancroft and Telegraph in Berkeley once, and I was playing nice folk music to a bunch of yuppies when this crazy guy came by and was digging deep in his pocket with this crazed look on his face. He kept digging and digging until he pulled out an empty hand. He was pissed, and he had no money. Next thing, he looked up at the sky and ripped the pocket off his pants and threw it in my case. It's up on my wall at home and I look at it whenever I'm feeling miserable.
CB: When a crowd gathers around you, do you know what kind of songs to play just by looking at them?
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MLL: Well no, I can play a lot more songs than I could at a gig, because some gigs I know that there will be press or industry now, and I can't really play a shitload of folk covers. Like I couldn't play a bunch of Lois songs, because it's too close. I do a lot of obscure covers. But I'm only be able to get away when I'm on the street in front of a crowd not aware of who might be by. I don't know, it's like this unspoken thing.
CB: You mean, once you're on stage if you covered too many songs, you'd be accused of copping someone else's schtick, but on the street it doesn't matter as much because everyone just wants to hear you play good songs?
MLL: Exactly. So now that I'm take more for real, they expect me to be more professional and I can't do a lot of the dorky songs that I would do if I were playing in the street.
CB: Do you try to take requests?
MLL: I always take requests! Joni Mitchell says that songs are like children, and I feel sort of like a foster parent to these songs that I do. When people start yelling out requests it's like, "Oh there goes Mary Lou marching down to the B-side orphanage again."
CB: I think you're considered by most people to be a part of the indie-rock scene, but it seems like your influences are much more traditional musicians.
MLL: I didn't listen to too much punk, I missed it. But I listened to more of the less-noisy music. I think I might have enjoyed it much more if I'd heard it when I was younger, not so much now. Guided by Voices are my favorite band, and I was going to go home, but they invited me to tour with them.
CB: Are you touring with a whole crew and road manager and stuff?
MLL: No, not this time. I'm travelling by myself, except yesterday Guided by Voices drove me down from Portland.
CB: So Rick Rubin sent you something, right?
MLL: Yeah, he sent me a metronome. I don't know whether to take that as an insult big-time or as a friendly little... so yeah.
The other interviewer in the room with another zine: How did you and Juliana Hatfield hook up?
MLL: It's weird, we both went to Berklee College of Music, and we both had the same voice teacher.
CB: Is it weird having to constantly deal with A&R people from different record labels?
MLL: It was weird at first, I was completely flipped out, but now it's like, well, I really want to think about it first. And I wanted to see how this record would do, how far Kill Rock Stars could get. The other bands on Kill Rock Stars don't want to do any promotion at all. But with me, Slim has freedom to promote me however he wants. We hired some independent record promoters, and we just wanted to see how far we could get. So before I sign, I just want to see how far we can go without some big record label pushing the record.
CB: Because when you're on a big label with a lot of money they can create a buzz about you and make people want to hear music they otherwise might not care about. In a sense, they can create a market for you.
MLL: Right. And these people we have helping us out are people that the big record labels would give anything to get. They're really really good at what they do. They do it because they believe in it, not just because they're getting a shitload of money. They really like the music they promote.
Other Interviewer: So up at YoYo a Go Go in 1994 we saw you play out on the sidewalk. Do you like playing outside better?
MLL: Yeah! Because I can do it whenever I want, and if I
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don't want to, I don't have to. Another thing I started noticing is that when you play a gig you don't get constant feedback from the audience about where you stand with them. With a concert audience, they paid, and you have to be good. And when you play in the street, you play and maybe they'll like you, but you see the response immediately, because they'll come up and give you a dollar or whatever. So I have this really proper reading with where you stand with them. But at a gig, I never believe that they are coming there to see me. Because until recently, I've always been opening for people, because no one has known who I am. On the street, no one is going to give you money if they don't like you. But they might be polite and clap even if they don't like you. And now that I've been able to headline, I've gained confidence. I like the street because it's one on one and people are closer.
CB: How often do you get to play with a full band?
MLL: Well, it's been a really long time. The last band I was in was a band called Strumpet, and that was before Lois named her record Strumpet. It was me and this guy Chris Balou and now he's in this band called The Presidents of the United States of America and they're doing really well now. But we had this band, and it was really fun, but we were only together for four or five months. But we did some shows, people loved us, and I really loved it. Being in a band is like being in a really fast car; it's so big and powerful and it just knocks me out. But I haven't been able to be in a band in a while because I travel so much. When you don't have a record, you have to go to different places and play for people so that people will see and hear you. But if you have a band, it's really expensive and you'd get kicked out of the subway or cable car turnaround because you're too loud. But now I'm just really ready to be in a band. Actually, I really want to move to England and form a band with Nick Saloman, from the Bevis Frond. Did I tell you what happened?
MLL: So I went to England a couple months ago to play a gig at the Water Rat. And I got to sound check and there was a note from Nick Saloman and it said, "I thought you might be here, can I come to your show? Please call me." So I called him and asked him to bring his guitar so that maybe we could play something together. And when he got there we worked out four songs before I played. I didn't know anyone was going to be there, but it turned out to be a sold out show and people went crazy. And afterwards he said "Mary Lou, I really don't want to weasel in on your scene, but I'd really like to work with you." So the next
day I went to his house and his wife made me dinner and his little girl Debbie, who's eleven now, they played and sang together, and they actually made a record together. So I want to move there, and live in his house and write with him and do a record together. I want the record to be half his songs and half my songs. He has to stay at home and take care of Debbie, so that would be fine. And so I just really think we're going to do something together. He's the best guitar player I've ever seen in my entire life.
CB: Wow, I hope that works out!
MLL: Yeah me too! So that's one of the plans. He's so awesome. That would be like me playing with J. Mascis, Jimi Hendrix and Guided by Voices all at the same time.
Mary Lou Lord discography:
"Real" cassette on Deep Music [I've never seen it actually]
"Some Jingle Jangle Morning" b/w "Western Union Desperate" 7" on Kill Rock Stars
"Mary Lou Lord" - CD/EP on Kill Rock Stars
"Martian Saints" b/w "Salem `76" and "I Figured You Out" 7" on Kill Rock Stars
Mary Lou has appeared on the following compilations:
"Stars Kill Rock" on Kill Rock Stars
"A Slice of Lemon" on Kill Rock Stars & Lookout! Records
"Saturday Morning Cartoons" [label unknown]
Write to Mary Lou Lord c/o Kill Rock Stars 120 NE State #418 Olympia, WA 98501
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