By Ryan Meehan
With an enormous singing voice that transcends her small frame, Mary has carved out her own unique niche in the industry by doing things her way. Born into a family with strong musical roots, she began playing piano at five and has fond memories of her grandparents teaching her vocal harmonies at a young age – a skill that is very evident in her work today. Mary’s adolescent and teenage years were marked by her development on piano and the cultivation of her vocal ability through many school plays and musicals, but it was the sudden death of her mother in 2001 that prompted a seismic surge in her musical expression. “When people ask me why I’m a musician, I tell them that it’s largely because music is my therapy,” she says. “I share these emotions with others because I know so many have felt the same things. If I can create melodies and deliver words that express their feelings, I’ve done my job.” Mary’s strong work ethic and commitment to her craft has paid off handsomely in recent years. A Casio-sponsored artist, she was featured in an online advertising campaign for the company’s new line of keyboards in 2011 and her song “The Darkness” was placed in the Lionsgate motion picture The Devil’s Seed. In 2014, her song “Move” was featured during a final dance on Lifetime’s TV show “Dance Moms.” Mary has organized a number of extensive tours as well, opening for artists such as Jeffrey Gaines, Mike Doughty, Teddy Geiger, Ryan Cabrera, and Rachel Yamagata, and she has appeared at several major festivals including CMJ and South by Southwest. She often treats fans to a unique stage set-up when performing on her own, prominently featuring a loop pedal that she uses to effortlessly layer rhythmic beats and beautiful background harmonies over her unmistakably unique piano playing and vocals.
RM: What was the first song that you learned to play on piano; and what was it about that particular piece of music that made you want more out of the art form?
MJ: I know this is probably everyone’s answer, but the first songs I learned were “Chopsticks” and “Heart and Soul.” There were pianos in every family member’s house so it just seemed like a normal piece of furniture for me. The thing I loved (and still love) so much about the piano is that all of the notes are right in front of you. You get to pick which ones you want to play. You don’t have to make shapes with one hand to get any notes like the stringed instruments.
RM: What were some of the key aspects of your mother’s personality that led to you wanting to honor her memory by sharing your gift of music with others?
MJ: My mom was always fiercely herself. She was incredibly artistic and inspired me to be whatever I wanted to be. She let me dress my own way, embraced every hobby whether fleeting or long term, and made me feel that no matter what I chose to do, as long as I was happy she would support it. My dad and paternal grandparents are very musical too so they helped in the music journey. However, it was really losing my mom that made me realize that, although totally clichéd, life is short and can be taken away at any moment. Spend your life doing what you want to do so that you have no regrets.
RM: Which song off of the new album did you recently shoot a video for; and why did you select that particular track? Who directed that clip; and what’s your opinion on the whole video-making process? Do you enjoy it, or do you find it to be repetitive and tedious?
MJ: The first music video for the new album is for “Home.” I would love to do videos for every song, but I started with this one because I knew it was going to be a fun one. Anna Haas was the director of the music video and she is totally brilliant! She came up with such a cool storyline, got together an amazing crew, and even found dancers to be a part of the shoot! She made the video making process a breeze and it was a ton of fun. We had the perfect day to shoot…my Mom’s birthday! I feel that she was totally with us in spirit the whole time. It was great to be able to act again as well. I loved the process. Obviously, music videos take time to shoot and edit so I am super eager to get it out into the world but the whole experience was amazing!
RM: Speaking of “Home”, you said the words that accompanied that piece were inspired by the AMC zombie series “The Walking Dead”…How do the lyrics from that song relate to the series; and at any point did you feel like that was an odd source for lyrical inspiration?
MJ: I feel that I have a lot of odd sources for lyrical inspirations so Walking Dead was no big surprise to me. I have watched every episode of that show. I am a horror movie fanatic so it was natural that I gravitated to the show. However, as I watched it, I began to feel that it is secondarily about zombies and primarily about human instinct and survival during an apocalypse. I began to think about what “home” would be for these people. It obviously isn’t a place or things and I would also venture to say that it isn’t people either. All of these things will come and go. The only thing you can truly count on is your state of mind and the ability to survive. That is the primary reason for the lyric “where we fall but get back up again we can call that home.” Wherever you can survive, you can call “home.”
RM: You currently have 105 videos on YouTube, and several of them are cover versions of other artists’ work…On which of those cover songs do you think you were able to add the most of your own personal style to the original version; and what is your favorite cover song to perform live?
MJ: I am always trying to put different spins on my covers. I like to take songs that are very different from my style and turn them into something I would do. Out of all of the covers, I would say that my version of P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation” is the one that changed the most from the original. It was cool to take a rap song and make it a loop pedal heavy singer/songwriter song. Of all of my covers I perform though, I would say “Umbrella” by Rihanna is my favorite one to perform live. It has a nice build and often people don’t know where it’s going until the chorus. Once it gets there, you see the faces light up and voices start to sing along.
RM: How would you best describe your live shows in one paragraph?
MJ: I would say they are an emotional roller coaster. If I have done my job well, the audience will have laughed, felt in love, cried, and been heartbroken all within 45 minutes. Whether it is playing with a band or my solo with just my keys and loop pedal, I want people to feel that they have been taken on an emotional journey in which they can relate.
RM: For you, what’s the most rewarding part of being a musician? In other words, at the end of the day what is the one thing that makes all of the traveling and hard work so worthwhile?
MJ: The most rewarding thing for me is to have someone I don’t know tell me that my music helped them or changed their life in some way for the positive. I have had some instances of audience members coming up to me, hugging me in tears, saying “thank you for putting what I have been feeling into words.” That is enough for me to travel for miles and work to exhaustion.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MJ: Well you can guarantee that I will be traveling a ton for shows, constantly putting out new music, remixes and hopefully doing more videos. I am really looking forward to the release of the new album over the summer. I just want to be able to keep making music for the rest of my life.
Official Website: http://www.maryjennings.com/epk
Mary on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryjenningsmusic
Mary on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenningsmusic
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