Nova Scotia native and pop songwriter Mary Stewart returns home to the Maritimes for a series of five shows, kicking off at Moncton’s Plan b Lounge on Monday evening. In tow with Stewart will be her backing band as well as her latest record, Chances Are I Like You.
Just last week, Stewart and her band performed four shows over the course of three days at Toronto’s NXNE (North By Northeast) Music Festival, which drew hundreds of bands from Canada and the United States as well as international acts.
Traditionally, music festivals have served as showcases for bands hoping to strike deals with talent buyers, record labels and more. With the shift that has taken place in the music business over the last dozen years, however, Mary says that the inevitable networking opportunities that come with festivals like NXNE can be great career builders.
“The scouting that is being done at festivals like NXNE is very different than what the festivals would have seen 15 years ago,” Mary says. “Hoping to get the attention of a record label is definitely not why I play festivals like this. I play hoping that the bloggers, photographers and media in general will come out to the shows.
“Also, festivals serve as more of a really great community-building opportunity. As a band, you have the opportunity to learn so much while also having the chance to network with other bands. There are a lot of good things that can come out of these festivals.”
Like many Maritime musicians before her, Mary made the big leap to becoming a permanent Toronto resident approximately two years ago. She admits that before moving to Toronto and having the chance to become immersed in the culture and music scene of the city, Canada’s biggest metropolis just flat-out terrified her.
“I was absolutely terrified of Toronto,” she laughs. “When I would be out on tour, I would deliberately avoid playing here. Once I finally gave in and played the city, my opinion of the city completely changed. I fell in love with it almost instantly.
“The music community here is incredible. The people I have met and the friendships that I have made are great. I love Halifax and the community there. There are just so many more opportunities to perform in Toronto, but there is also a lot more people playing the same kind of music as I am.”
This past February, Mary released Chances Are I Like You, the followup to her 2009 self-titled debut effort. The nine-song Chances… was born in a rather non-standard way, however. Mary says that after being asked numerous times about how she writes songs, she issued herself a hefty challenge. The songwriter embarked upon writing a song a day for an entire year.
“I wanted to show people the creative process and where song ideas come from. People often don’t have the chance to see how a song can change from the time it is first written through to the final product that fans hear on a record.
“There were definitely some times during the project where I was thinking ‘Why did I do this?’ but I also had some self-imposed constraints to help maintain my sanity. Writing songs can be a long process. I simply tried to make the songs as good as they could be for one take. You can spend hours and hours writing songs, but in the end, you often end up going with what your intuition told you at the outset. It is important not to overanalyze what you’re doing.”
Mary’s song-a-day project wrapped up in 2010, after which point she began soliciting opinions from friends, fans and peers on which of her 365 songs would ultimately make up the strongest album.
Mary then called in Jason Ball (The Heavy Blinkers) and Luther Mallory to help refine the songs through lyrical and structural changes. She shares that while her confidence had increased ten-fold in the time between her debut and Chances Are I Like You, leveraging Ball and Mallory’s experience was a no-brainer.
“I think that people are always getting second opinions on things, whether it is their hair cut or lipstick, so it would only be natural for me to get some outside input on these songs. Some artists can be incredibly protective when it comes to their music, and as such they don’t ask for help. Both Luther and Jason have such great songwriting experience and such great ears for what works, having them to bounce ideas off of was great.”
Despite Chances Are I Like You not even being six months old, Mary and her band are always in the midst of writing new songs for their next record. Stating that their newest songs are heading in more of a distinct Motown pop-influences sound, Mary says that keeping things fresh for the band and their fans is of utmost importance.
“The record that we are working on now is completely different because I don’t want to make the same record over and over,” Mary says. “One of the biggest differences with these new songs is that my band is much more involved with writing and contributing to these new songs. I am not the only songwriter in the band. Having five of us to pass ideas back and forth is great. It is a very creative and awesome time for us. We definitely feel as though it is time to start having fun as a band.”
Article published in the June 22, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript