Interview: Mary Epworth on the strength to be found in beetle wings

Mary Epworth ElytralWatch out world, Mary Epworth is due for a comeback. The musician returns this September with her long awaited second album, Elytral, but be warned: as with her previous work, this is not your standard singer-songwriter fare. In fact, it’s even more abnormal.

“We had a gig last night and I’m just recovering. Also, I’ve got flu.”

Despite the brusqueness of her opening statement on paper and feeling slightly worse for wear this morning, speaking to Epworth is a pleasant experience. With good reason. DrunkenWerewolf has a long history of supporting the artist, from halcyon demo “Saddle Song” to the release of her psychedelia inspired debut album Dream Life in 2012.

To her credit, she’s been open with her fans and responsive to the media every step of the way, from handling much of her own press to involving herself in business, public appearances, and everything in between.


“I’m used to being so involved I find it hard to switch off completely, and also there’s just so much to do," she admits. "There’s loads of behind the scenes stuff I don’t have to do now, which is great, but I’m still very aware of what’s happening and the timescales of things.”

“I don’t think I’m a control freak,” she laughs, “but I like to suggest stuff in case something hasn’t occurred. There are always [music industry bods] who you've crossed paths with or are interested in or whatever. So it’s better if everybody’s switched on.”

The team she references is comprised of several killer collaborations, not least of all Mary's latest label Sunday Best Recordings, with whom she "just sort of crossed paths." She also has “had a publisher for a couple of years now. It’s just a few more people around to help with stuff, but it’s funny because it often doesn’t seem like there’s less work!”

Back to the music itself, and following the release of Dream Life in the UK, Mary re-released the album in the States in 2015 as well as putting out follow-up snippets such as standout track, “September”. However, for UK fans, it’s been a long 6 years since she released a full length. Now, finally, things are beginning to warm-up in anticipation of Elytral.

“We’ve got a video to film for the next single so we’re trying to brainstorm for that,” she says of the immediate tasks at hand while admitting her timeline has been sparse of late. “There’s quite a lot going on but it’s just the way it seems to be spaced out."

Relating what’s happened over the past few years, she says: “Dream Life was a slow build. It came out in America in 2015 [three years after the UK], and we’ve done the US tour and European tours. It’s felt non-stop really; it’s felt like there was momentum.”

Perhaps the accessibility afforded by the internet has warped different experiences of Dream Life. Mary Epworth agrees: “People just find things in different ways. The market is so saturated. It’s not like you put an album out and everyone stops. There’s so much music coming out. Just the volume means people [can] take the time to find things. You can think ‘Well this is really old to me,but for someone else, it's not."

Now armed with brand spanking new material, Epworth is clearly looking forward to the future. So far the biggest debate surrounding Elytral is not whether it's any good (it clearly is), but how to pronounce the title. Meaning the 'modified, hardened forewing of certain insect orders, notably beetles', Epworth clarifies “some people disagree with me [about the pronounciation] but then I asked my friend June, who’s sort of octogenarian biologist genius, and she was like, ‘Yes, El-eye-tral.' And then she said, ‘Oh nobody knows how to pronounce Latin or Greek, it all depends on which teacher you had!’”

“I made the record, and started to get this visual theme coming through of beetles’ wings,” Mary Epworth explains of the concept. “It’s always shocking when [beetles] take off because they’ve got these small hard wings and then underneath they’ve got these beautiful translucent flight wings. I ended up with this visual metaphor for the album [to represent] growth and lightness.”


The front cover reflects this fascination too, with a beautiful image by “a guy called Levon Biss who did this whole series of microsculpture for the Natural History Museum. There were thousands and thousands of macro-photos of insects just stitched together. On his website, you can go and zoom almost infinitely into the creatures and you can see the hairs and the pores on their shells.”

Unusually, the album's association with beetles came sometime after the recording process, which was largely completed at producer Thom Monahan's house in Los Angeles: "I realised I’d gotten a bit stuck [with] my writing, a bit like writer’s block, but self-imposed. [I thought I had] to write something really important or special. In my downtime [while touring] I would turn on Garage Band and just muck about, and [eventually] this stuff started coming out that was just way more electronic and rhythmic."

The jump to recording with Monahan - who had mixed some of Dream Life - was almost inevitable, Mary says: In the midst of bouncing around talking about the mixes, I really bonded with him. He’s a really esoteric person and he’s really interesting and has lots of great gear, but he’s not someone who has loads of rules about how stuff has to work. We stayed at his house, trotting across to his studio in the backyard [every morning]. It was quite intense. At the end of the two weeks, I’d forgotten what we’d done in a way because we didn’t go back and revisit progress, we just had to keep moving forward."

This 'play it and see' tactic doesn't reflect on Elytral, nor does the late blooming of themes after the songwriting process. All in all, it sounds incredibly well rounded and composed, but also fresh and exciting in a world where often, music is just a variation of something that came before it.

Reminiscing on everything, Mary rounds off: "I think sometimes it just takes time, and I’ve finally got to the point where I feel confident about it."

Mary Epworth's new album Elytral is due for release on 1st September 2017 through Sunday Best Recordings.


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