Tuesday, July 31, 2012

[Interview] An Interview with Mary C & The Stellars: Music, Italy, and T-Rex Arms

[Sounds like: Fitz & The Tantrums, Adele, Etta James]

My expectations were not met when I interviewed Mary C from the energetic band, Mary C & The Stellars half a month ago. In fact, my expectations were exceeded. Hailing from New York City and damn proud of it, Mary is a vocal talent who, until recently, suffered from overdue fame and attention. And although half a month ago I could be considered part of the guilty public who had never heard of Mary and her band, I’m proudly featuring them now and joining her rapidly growing fan base. Their next show is on August 28th at the Cape Cod Jazz Festival, which you can learn more about via their Facebook page.

I called Mary on her cell phone at noon on a Friday. I half-expected her to be chasing down a taxi - too busy to talk to me and too caught up in her recently found fame to want to. In the last few months, Mary C & The Stellars have been featured on MTV, AOL, and countless music blogs around the country. Proving me wrong, however, there were two rings and an answer. 30 minutes later, I hung up thinking Mary is pretty damn cool. Hit the jump below to read through our conversation, see how she proved me wrong, and discover a new talent that should make artists like Adele more and more nervous...


All New Yorkers are ass holes. 
I expected Mary to be short and serious. She was long winded and filled with laughter. 

Beat Dropping: Get Me Through was the first song I listened to and needless to say, I was excited to talk with you. It recently debuted on iTunes in May and the rest of the EP, “Right On Time” is coming out this month. You’re no stranger to the game, you’ve been doing this for a while, but you seem to have caught on fire over the past few months. Talk a little about that and how it feels to start getting the attention your work deserves. 
Mary C: Yup, that’s correct. Like you mentioned, I grew up in a quote unquote “entertainment industry family” [laughs] My mom, Mercedes Hall, is a jazz recording artist and my brother is Anthony Michael Hall whose an actor/director so I kinda always grew up around, you know, creative people and in the biz. I’ve been performing and writing original material for years, but this group, The Stellars, is pretty much a newly formed group… It’s really been a blessing; we’ve kinda taken off…We were lucky enough to have AOL do a feature on us and…that got our ears perforated a little bit [laughs] We did a show at Joe’s Pub this past week…a great spot with a ton of great artists in there, you know Alicia Keys plays there and a bunch of people. I was kind of shocked a little bit that we were able to sell it out [laughs] I was not expecting that at all. But, it’s been so cool and a lot of fun... 

The coolest aspect though is how quickly your fan base is growing. 
[The] people coming out to see us and our live shows, you know, are having a really great time and then they tell their friends and then their friends come to the next show and bring more friends…rolling like that is how our audience and fan base has been growing. So it’s been a very organic approach, but at a nice, rapid speed [laughs]. 

Groovy, lively, and confident. You’re kind of like a mix between Adele and Fitz from Fitz & The Tantrums. 
[Laughs] yeah yeah, I know those guys [Fitz & The Tantrums]. They actually just opened for Dave Matthews and I went out there to hang out with them for a bit and they’re awesome musicians, they’re a great group of guys. We are kind of similar, but the main difference between us and Fitz is that they don’t use any guitar in their setup and we use a ton of guitar because I am a huge fan of the blues; I grew up listening to a lot of blues artists and, because of my mother, jazz and funk back in the day. But, yeah, I do get those references and we’re all pretty similar. I’m a huge Adele fan and any soul artist...I’m a huge fan. I love the comparison and I take it as a huge compliment. 

Has your confidence and stage presence come naturally or did you ever struggle with obtaining the right feel for the pressure and the new found fame? 
Well, to be honest, I was very very very shy as a kid, believe it or not. And that probably comes as a shock to many people when they see our shows now, because it’s such a high energy, very interactive show that we put on. So most people would be like “Whhaaatt?” [Laughs] 

Your family has to have helped with that transition. 
I mean I have to give credit to my mom because she really helped break me out of my shell; it originally started when my mom would ask “Why don’t you come and sing backup for me?” Kind of inching my way to the stage, so it started off singing backup for my mom on tour and then she was like “why don’t you solo?” So once that started it got to the point where I thought I could do this. It hasn’t been the same ever since. A little bit of a journey, but I love performing and live shows; that’s where we’re really a live act, that’s where we have the most fun. 

All Italians are loud.
I expected Mary to be swimming in her band’s recent success - maybe a little too confident. Instead, she was incredibly humble. 

You said you played at Joe’s Pub on July 10th, and like you said, it’s a venue that hosts numerous big names. How did it feel to be a part of it all? 
Playing at Joe’s Pub was a huge step for us – a really nice honor that they extended the invitation to have us come back and play again. It was great, I mean, one of the best listening rooms in New York City. And anybody you know that really goes out to hear live music, and really hear the music, Joe’s Pub is always on their top 3 venues to go to. It’s not a huge, Madison Square Garden room or anything, but the sound quality is incredible. 

I hate big venues. 
It’s those types of venues [small ones] that are very few and far between. It’s very hard to find those kinds of spots anywhere across the country. A lot of places don’t take into consideration or the time to figure out the sound element that really needs to be there and especially for a live band…like this is a 9 piece group with lots of sound and energy so we really appreciate having a great venue to perform in that puts such quality [first]. 

Speaking of cool venues, I saw that you opened up for Thievery Corporation in Jamaica. Awesome band, awesome venue. It’s gotta be almost like an “I’ve made it” moment. 
It's just been so surreal. I mean, we’re huge fans of Thievery Corporation. They were an awesome group of guys to hang with for a week because we did two dates with them, and they were extremely welcoming, very supportive. A lot of times the headliners either are not there for the opening act or they’re not listening, but those guys were AWESOME. They were like off to the side of the stage rocking out with us and jamming out...At that point we had only been Mary C & The Stellars for about 6 months, so we were definitely babies at that point and [laughs] it was just crazy to look up and see ourselves on the jumbotron performing. At one point I caught myself staring and my jaw opened a little bit and I was like “Oh hey!” I had to snap back to reality [continues laughing] and continue looking at the audience. It was crazy surreal. Totally cool. 

Speaking of Jamaica, I’ve heard that you play private shows there too. 
We get a lot of friends and fans that come out and hear us in New York and the East Coast, where we’ve been touring now, and it kind of trickles – word of mouth has spread and we do a lot of requests for private events, like premiers, things like that where they want a high energy, fun, live band. It’s been great; it all derives from word of mouth, people telling other people about us – similar to how Fitz & The Tantrums grew. They were a local, LA band and their live shows were what got it going for them and their fans telling other friends, and those friends becoming new fans. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the same things happen to us. 

Do you ever do solo performances within those private shows or do The Stellars and The Sha'Nettes always come with you? 
We're a 9 piece act so they’re usually with me. There are certain venues or shows that call for more of an acoustic set and maybe something a little more scaled down, which I do. But I do love keeping it the original 9 members because to me that’s when you’re really gonna walk away from our show saying “I get it.” [Giggles] 

"...New York City - it being so big - it's like another character on stage with us. It's really 10 members..."

Your setup is really cool. The dynamics especially, with Jackie Chasen on the sax. I mean that alone is pretty badass. You don’t see a female blaring notes with a saxophone on stage very often and I think that’s very cool. How did y’all come together, how did this all begin? 
I really wanted to put together a group that was very eclectic – everyone coming from their own walks of life and coming on stage and being very cohesive and just really jamming and rocking out. And growing up in New York City – it being so big – it’s like another character on stage with us. It’s really 10 members; it’s just a very eclectic city and what I wanted Mary C & The Stellars to represent was just that – eclectic, New York City vibe. You know, musicians, males and females. You don’t usually see some hot sax player on stage that happens to be a blonde [laughs] I have amazing backup singers, who I don’t even like calling them my backup singers because they are their own presence on stage. The Sha'Nettes are comprised of Shani Clayton and Cherette Lewis and they are like the fierce monarchy holding it down to my left every night [laughs]. I just really love the idea of blending different backgrounds with different ethnicities, male, female, and just coming together and representing New York City as a whole…First though, the talent and sound has to be there, and luckily enough, all of them, all 8 of them, are insane, crazy, talented musicians. Which is why I want you to come out and see us so you can really get it. 

I’ve got the fever now. 
You gotta have the live experience to walk away and say “Ok, now I get it.” 

You mentioned writing and producing being a big part of your life and career and I’ve read that you write and produce for companies like SONY and Universal Records. Does that ever interfere with your own personal career and direction? 
It really doesn’t. It’s actually opened more doors now and…growing up in New York City I listened to everything from pop music to dance music to blues to soul to funk to hip-hop. For me I love performing and singing certain styles, which is what we kind of do with Mary C & The Stellars. It’s very eclectic, pop-soul. Like I said, in New York, you listen to everything. 

Like what? 
I’m listening to Beastie Boys one day, and Prince the next and a little bit of James Brown in there. Being able to write and produce for other artists fulfills those musical fantasies for me. I’ve been able to get it all out even if I’m not performing it, working with artists in the studio, you know, it’s a great outlet and it also kind of helps my own writing for my own pleasure and my ideas. It never gets in the way, there’s time for everything…I’ve been writing since I was 5, believe it or not. 

How’d you get started? Is it something where you got a piece of paper out and started writing or were you coaxed by your parents? 
I started playing piano at 5…Playing piano and being around my mom and all of her musician friends and just being shy, because I didn’t want to perform, I would always have pen and paper to write with. That was my outlet, my creative outlet, at a very young age when I was way too scared to sing. So my writing and playing actually came before my performing and singing. 

All Irish are drunks. 
I expected Mary to be drunk. She was a little…that’s a joke. We did put the music behind us for a little, though. 

Your last name is Italian, right? 
It’s Italian [laughs] 

Do you ever visit Italy, or have family vacations there? 
You know, no one has ever asked me this before [laughs] it’s funny. We did a family trip to Italy about – and it’s hard because my brother lives in LA and he’s working and he’s always on set and my family is all over the place – but we did do a family trip to Italy about 8 years ago, which was AMAZING. I’m half Irish, half Italian, and we also did a trip to Ireland to kind of give low to the other half [laughs] we gotta keep a fair balance. Yeah I’ve been to Italy and I absolutely fell in love with it. We were in Capri for about a week and then Naples…I loved Ireland too, but once you’ve seen half of it, you’ve seen it all [laughs] 

I hear there’s a big 16 candles following across the pond.
It’s kind of funny because at the time we were in Ireland, my brother had a series on USA Network called the Dead Zone and it was on for about 7 years. It had just gone on air – you know it’s delayed a little bit overseas – in Ireland when we were there, and I don’t think we were expecting the recognition [laughs] it was kind of like “wow, you have the Dead Zone here?” People were taking photos, and my brother and I were wearing matching Ireland sweatshirts – totally National Lampoon’s Vacation, like the real version. It was pretty hysterical, and again, we don’t get to do family trips that often just because it’s hard with everyone’s schedules, but when we do it’s a ton of fun. 

"...in this business it goes so quick and you really have to kind of stop and say, 'Wow, this is pretty f*ing cool.'"

Did you ever try your hand at acting? 
I haven’t. I mean I was in the Breakfast Club when I was about 4 [laughs]…I have such vivid memories of being on set for that and I was in the opening scene with my brother and mom and it’s just kind of funny since it just happened that way; it wasn’t planned or anything, but that’s probably the extent of my acting. It was the debut and finale all in one [laughs] but who knows, I never say never...

Can I ask you a few personal questions? 
Sure…don’t be mad if I don’t answer them all [laughs] 

They may be a little hard, but answer however you want – long, short, whatever. 

Would you rather control your own dreams or watch them the next day? 
Hmmm that’s interesting. Umm probably a little bit of both, I know that’s hard. I’m definitely a planner and I like to be in the driver seat but I also don’t want to be in such control that I’m letting it pass me by, so I think it’s a little bit of both if that makes any sense. Being in the driver seat but also appreciating every moment while you have it because especially in this business it goes so quick and you really have to kind of stop and say, “Wow, this is pretty f’ing cool.” Like being on stage with Thievery Corporation and watching my face on the big screen [laughs] 

Well that was a really good answer

Would you rather be able to fly or breath under water? 
Breath under water

The last one is the hardest...Would you rather have arms like a T-Rex or a neck like a brontosaurus? 
Huh. Arms like a T-Rex [laughs] 

Any reasoning behind that? 
Umm. Maybe. But you know we’re reveal that at a different date, a follow up [laughs] 

Thanks Mary 

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