SXSW interview: Mary Epworth

Mary Epworth makes the sort of outsider folk that naturally holds her contemporaries at a distance; rather than attempting to recreate purist English roots music of years passed, she pours enough originality into her own songs to enliven a genre that can easily feel tired and cliché

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 17 Mar 2013
  • min read
And, although she wears her influences on her sleeve, garnering comparisons to Sandy Denny or Carole King in the process, Mary brings a darker edge to her music, more reminiscent of Nick Cave’s murder ballads or Cate le Bon’s twisted psychedelia.

Last year’s debut set Dream Life showcased the East Anglian singer-songwriter’s aptitude for kaleidoscopic melody and woozy compositions, and won her love from both BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio 2. But she was first noticed when performing at a Sandy Denny tribute event on the Southbank back in 2008, sharing the bill with the likes of Marc Almond and Bellowhead.

So far, the kind of widespread renown enjoyed by the likes of Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons or Noah and the Whale has so far eluded her, despite the famous connections; she is Paul Epworth’s sister.

Perhaps her jaunt to South by South West this year will help raise her profile on both sides of the pond? We caught up with her before she left to find out what she was looking forward to most about her trip to Texas…

What are you looking forward to most about SXSW?
All of it! Meeting new people, playing to a totally new fanbase, seeing old friends who live across the pond, soaking up the atmosphere, and also maybe getting in the odd sneaky wildlife spotting moment.

Do you approach showcase gigs like SXSW differently to regular live sets?
We're doing these gigs as a slightly different line-up, which is going to be really fun. It would have been a real mission to try to bring five or six of us over with all of our gear.

What do you hope to get out of going this year?
I think I'd like to make some contacts who can help us make things happen in the US and other non-Euro countries. It would be nice to stretch out as far as possible and see a bit of the world while making music.

How important was the British Music Abroad funding to your trip?
Absolutely essential. I think if we'd got the invite and not the funding we still would have gone, but we would have been acutely aware of every penny we spent. Support from the PRS for Music Foundation, Arts Council etc has been so incredibly helpful in my career so far. They are doing great work and I'm very happy to be benefiting from it.

If you could perform with anyone onstage at SXSW, who would it be?
Well I note that The Zombies are playing, and as at least three of us are massive Zombies fans I would have to say them! If they ever need backing vocalist weirdo fans then we are ready and waiting.

What gigs are you looking forward to catching at SXSW this year?
The Zombies of course, and other than that I think I'm just going to be open minded and see as many different new things as I can. I need a refresher course in new music. I was hoping Frank Ocean might play as I love Channel Orange, but so far there's no sign.

Where can we see you performing back in the UK?
We're playing St Pancras Old Church on 3 April and then we have a UK tour starting in Manchester on 6 April, taking in Liverpool, Cardiff, Leeds, Glasgow and more. Lots of festivals starting to come in for summer too.