I sit in deep reflection, staring out the window at lightly falling snow in this cold/crusty/beautiful northern city, thinking about the past year that Holy Bones has been roaming around the world.
Holy Bones is my 6th full length album and signaled an artistic turn for me. After being mostly a solo, piano-based singer-songwriter I found that I was boring myself and felt compelled to change and follow the muse. She led me to a heavier, grungier, indie-rock, electric guitar sound. I found some like-minded musicians to collaborate with and bring that sound to life, starting from simple guitar demos to full throttle, darkly synthesized song creations.
I may have alienated some long-time fans (sorry dears – you know I love ya!), but other people graciously said, “it’s like when Dylan went electric” (in no way do I compare myself to Dylan, but was nice to hear) – the example being that the stylistic shift could be polarizing – people wanting you to keep doing the same thing (which I understand) vs. exploring other realms of the psyche …
Ultimately, I am so proud of this album. Earlier on, I have referred to my songs and albums as my “babies” and how scary it is to release them into the world, like your kids getting on the school bus for the first time (I don’t have kids, though … ) but after listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” on audio, I can just hear her say “your art is NOT your baby” or something like that – but what she must mean is that if you coddle it and keep it safe and protected you are doing a disservice — you gotta write it, make it, set it FREEEEEEE. And I did. And I invested thousands of dollars in setting it free.
What follows is a fairly long recap of my year of Holy Bones … hold tight with a big ol’ glass of wine or some thick coffee or whatever your blog reading pleasure, as I’m about to indulge myself in a year gone past.
January 2015 found me in Orlando with my husband. My mother in law had a week at a time share that was just going to “expire and be wasted” if someone didn’t use it. So, WTH, we just flew to Orlando with visions of sun and trips to the sea and manatees. While we did visit the manatees and eat AMAZING indian fare, I recall being relatively, lamely NOT PRESENT as I was thick in the timeline of putting out this album. The songs had been recorded – 8 of them – at Sacred Heart Studio in Duluth. 6 of them with one rhythm section, 2 with another, harmonies, synth tying it together. It was mastered and ready to fly. I was constantly a bad distracted wifey, checking my emails on my mobile while trying to “relax at the pool,” working with my graphic designer friend (Adam Guggemos) to get the album cover laid out and the cd duplication company (Noiseland) on board for printing. I was chatting with my publicist (Tinderbox Music) about the album release in the Twin Cities (Turf Club, March 6th) and I was in the thick middle of my Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to fund the thing. So much for a vacation! I remember warning Kyle that it might not be the right time, but that at the same time it might be the perfect time. I remember the stress, but also falling in love with the pod of manatees that we were 10 feet from … and sopping up the spicy heat of indian food, and the spacious time share, comfortable couches, nice deck, no complaints. But, I hate to say it as a yoga person, my monkey mind was swinging from branch to branch …
January was a flurry of meetings and consultations and gigs and yoga classes. I had recently started pairing touring musically with teaching yoga. I wanted to meet other people in the community who might be into yoga but maybe not music, and vice versa. I went out to upper Michigan at the end of January for a long weekend solo tour and did just that – three shows with two yoga classes – one before the gig and one the day after. Met some really cool people and collaborated with my Pilates friend who owns Bird on a Perch Pilates in Marquette. An added layer to touring with an added layer of logistics (schlepping mats, moving furniture, arriving way early, trying not to imbibe too much if the next day … etc). but found the extra details to be well worth the effort. And to keep me on my toes, literally.
January 31st marked the successful completion of my Kickstarter fundraising efforts for Holy Bones, raising 150% of what my goal was. YAY! The next few months would be filled with glory, gratitude and stuffing & addressing envelopes and packages. Thankfully my parents came and addressed some letters with me, and people were generally patient as their awards started arriving. The albums were printed and ready early February, right on schedule. Shirts screen printed locally in St. Paul. Mugs detailed and shipped. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I had 150+ packages to mail out and each and every backer got a digital download that was emailed. If you’ve ever done a Kickstarter, you know how much work it is to fulfill that thing. SO worth it, but just give yourself a few weeks off from the rest of your life if you can to fulfill your promises …
I remember the night that I found out I had been funded so fully. I had just done a rad house concert at a B & B in upper Michigan. The house filled with sparkly antiques and knick knacks and bric a brac (just wanted to write “bric a brac,” sorry!) and I was in my pink bedroom with framed paintings of fairies and hand quilted & crocheted blankets and the cellular data on my phone barely worked but I was able to tune into the satellites somehow and discover that I had won. Not “won” exactly but it felt like winning to be funded. Thank you, all of you, for supporting this album. You know who you are.
A few people who supported unfortunately didn’t get what they wanted. I had made some big offers. One was a house concert built into a tour, and one was a sort of behind the scenes recording project that I worked into the project (one of the rewards was to write a song for the backer about a subject of choice – this was to collaborate w/ vocals on a project). The house concert tour just wasn’t going to work into the plan of my year financially. I couldn’t justify just going to that one city during the timeline and had been trying to find shows surrounding the desired dates, but I had to refund that gentleman’s dough. I also found that the song collaboration just wasn’t in the cards either as the energy was off (have you ever tried to do a creative project with someone where you just weren’t meshing???) – alas, that one brought a refund too. So, I learned some valuable lessons. Only offer what you want to and are able to deliver – in both life and crowdfunding – physically (taking into account time and travel) and emotionally/spiritually (practice hours, inspiration). Only say YES to things that sing to your heart. If you (me) are saying yes to things that don’t feed your soul or feel just slightly off path, it’s totally a BAD DEAL. Not only are you robbing someone else an opportunity that might be radical for them, but you’re robbing yourself of energy and the other people involved of time. THINK LONG AND HARD! Be true! You won’t be sorry! Say no! It’s okay!
Tangent off, kickstarter “won,” rewards in the midst of shipping, my publicist hired to do press in the Twin Cities metro – Minneapolis and St. Paul. In a few weeks, I’m trilled to find that a music critic whose column I’ve been reading for years and years, since early-mid 2000’s or so (whenever I’ve lived in MN) has taken Holy Bones to heart. Chris Riemenschneider of Minneapolis Star Tribune writes:
“A well-entrenched Duluth singer/songwriter known more for intimate piano-ballad fare that showcases her honeydew voice, Mary Bue really messes things up beautifully on her sixth album, “Holy Bones.” The record evokes early-’90s indie-rock bands like Bettie Serveert and Yo La Tengo with its scrappy, loud guitars and sneeringly poppy hooks. Bue’s dark and sometimes warped batch of songs are themselves quite ugly and unholy, as well. Highly recommended.”
This began a very happy, validating press time for the album. “They” say not to read your press. I’ve been battered by it, and watched friends and artists that I love become heartbroken by reading their own press. It’s this weird narcissistic gene in me that I MUST READ IT. For better or worse. To see my reflection in a critic’s mind, what I’m (my music is) doing “right” in popular culture, or what my creations are lacking. It’s probably unhealthy. Maybe stems from the low self esteem of my adolescence that carries on like adult acne or that holiday weight that won’t go away. Regardless, I read it and I even keep it in a fucking scrap book. And I’m glad that I do, because my first reviews are not archived on the internet: The Duluth Ripsaw News – Alan Sparhawk of Low reviewed my first album. I clipped them out and pressed them into my big ass scrap book. For the grand kids. If we ever have them …
ANYWAY. Very happy and slightly weirded out by the press’ reaction to this album. For fifteen years I’ve been putting out albums, since 2000. This is my 6th. So, I suppose it’s still early on, but still a valiant effort throughout my twenties. The records got decent reviews but rather blasé. But this. THIS. People kept saying how “courageous” to shift genres after such a “long” career. If only they knew that it was neccessary to shift gears. Maybe they picked up on that and it was the freshness that drew them in rather than the sameness. Don’t “they” say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results?” I recall a very crazy boyfriend telling me that once … 😉
So, February came and went. Lots of rehearsals, radio shows, a music video shoot, guitar lessons, concerts solo and with my side project The Electric Witch. Also doing a bit of indie music consulting of my own with a few up and coming musicians – meeting on Skype and discussing all of this stuff: booking shows, recording, press, album releases … February was an absolute BLUR! I did get to hang out with Phox backstage at First Ave. A total highight because one of my dear friends is one of their photographers (and one of my photographers!), got to cheers Monica and chat with the drummer and bask in LOVE during their live show opening for Dr. Dog … I also shot a music video for “Cheribum” – the shortest song on the album – a 90 second pop punk number about angels that know all of your romantic history. EEEE! Motivated young film-maker director Matt Eckholm took it on and animated a cherub that followed me around the city. It was awesome and got released just before the album release shows on 89.3 The Current’s (a MN Public Radio music station) “Friday Five” music video blog. Give it a watch!
March rolled around and March 6th was the big release at a dive bar in Duluth that I may or may not ever play again. One of the acts I booked said, “So, uhhhh, why did you pick THIS place?” But I was into the vibe. The murky dirty green room, the regulars, the water moccasin rum shots. I don’t really know anymore … So many antics for this show I cannot even tell you. We had a radical burlesque troupe The Duluth Dolls close out the show. One of the gals Nadia Norimi danced to my title track “Holy Bones” – she transformed from a woman to a man right before our eyes … I held a funeral ceremony for my keyboard which I was laying to rest for the sake of this album. I had pall bearers and bouquets of flowers to throw into the casket. It was somber, silly, and sacred all at the same time. 🙂 This show was SO fun. 200 peeps in the hometown came, and from a 120 mile radius, all the way from Hayward, from Mpls, from my hometown. THANK YOU.
Two days later I saw one of my heroes and huge inspirations from formative years – The Juliana Hatfield Three. They performed “Become What You Are” – an anthem album for me – in its entirety at the Turf Club in St. Paul (where I was to have my album release in the TC a few days later). Hanging out with our last bevvy at the bar as the show closed up and the venue got ready to shut down, bass player Dean walked by. We told him we enjoyed his set and he chatted with my husband and I for a bit. SUPER NICE GUY. I did that think Martin Atkins’ advises against – but I gave him a download card to listen to my album (he asked!). Eventually I timidly followed up and he said he dug what he heard, especially the “Holy Bones” song. Tickle me pink. Now, take us on tour with you, Juliana!!! LOL.
And on a Tuesday (please, dear universe, dear holy saint of booking shows, PLEASE book me on kick ass weekend bills from now on …) we had our St. Paul album release party at the lovely, historic, loud AF, cavernous Turf Club. It was the BOMB. For a Tuesday, it was good. Many people I loved were SO there. These parties are so much more fun when YOU are there! Thank you.
THEN off on tour. Days later. Kyle and I loaded it all up and bombed straight down to New Orleans. Felt amazing to leave it all. Did I mention I was booking a 6 week tour / road trip during all of this? Oh, no? Yep. And you wonder why I have a messy room 🙂 I could and would and should write a book about that tour. We got to NOLA and stayed with my pal Jeaux in his pink house and reveled in the heat, in the po’ boys (although, a vegan po’ boy in a non vegan po’ boy place is just a crispy awesome bun with lettuce and tomato … hmmmm …), in the violence (bar fight on our first night), in the running racial commentary (for running in the mid day in the hot sun through a city park we heard “there’s some white people, doing somethin’ stupid”) (ps it’s good for white people to hear this stuff in some ways – go try being a minority or living abroad somewhere unknown – it’ll expand your worldview and make you a better person).
We played a show, and traveled on to Austin. We were hosted by people with pets and pull out couches, with gorgeous spare rooms, with major generosity to put us up in hotels so their kids wouldn’t wake us up … we booked our own hotels via hotwire and kayak … we stayed up til the wee hours partying with old friends and leaving, exhausted, happy, driving into the sunset. Awwwww the touring. Good times, bad times, weird times. We camped in my brother’s yard (by choice – we could have stayed inside) outside of Los Angeles because it was warm, and the grass was green, and we like sleeping outside and being out of the way. We played at a venue (The Mint) with a huge Hunter S. Thomson mural. I got my tarot cards read and damn, I should listen to that reading again (Marcella is BOMB).
We camped in mountain lion country and hiked into the dry hills of central California. Played in a ghost town in Arizona and slept in a haunted inn. Drank wine at Maynard from Tool’s tasting room (Caduceous). Kept going. Touring and road tripping for 6 weeks. It was awesome. Some of the shows were great, some rather pathetic. You never know, trying out new venues, doing all the booking yourself. I had higher hopes than usual as I did something I’ve never done before and paid a company to do a national radio campaign to 300 college radio stations. Essentially, they send 300 albums out and over a three month period email and call the stations to see if it has made the rotation. My album was played in medium rotation on 100+ college radio stations across the united states and charted on a few. It was cool. But times are different now and people aren’t only listening to radio. People have their devices, their pandora and spotify. For getting people out to shows, radio – while awesome and i love it – sometimes isn’t gonna have new fans knocking the door down. After 16+ years of doing this, I’m still not sure how to get fans to knock the door down. I think word of mouth does it, having heart-felt music, putting on kick ass shows … of course awesome opening slots for bigger acts, knowing the right people, doing the genre that is trending right now all helps too. Sometimes I wonder if what I create is just too obscure, ethereal, close to my heart, my weird weird bloody thumping heart … but all the artists I love the most are pretty obscure and weird too, so I’m okay with this, after all this time. I’ve struggled with jealousy and pined for realities I’ve watched unfold for people close to me, in my relatively immediate circle. I’ve felt my jaw clinch and tears well up, wishing it was me. I wonder if it’s a blockage I have, some sort of internal obstacle to stardom, some sort of self-sabotage … But then I have days of being totally cool as the multi-passionate entrepreneur that I am. Opening a yoga studio, travel for pleasure, great bonds with friends and family, running, food, writing, and music. As this year unfolded, I learned a thing or two about trying to be soley a musician and make my living this way …
Returning from this tour brought us to the end of April / early May. Just in time for the Duluth Homegrown Music Festival. I’ve been involved with DHGMF for many many years (it’s in its 18th year) – performing at probably 10+ of the years and working on the steering committee (3 years) and board of directors (3 years – coming up on my last festival since I’ll be moving to Minneapolis). My typical duties for the last few years have been to be a face of Homegrown – going to as many shows as possible, answering questions, promoting on social media, troubleshooting. I help organize the Monday night poetry showcase and also perform in my band and my side project The Electric Witch. This year I was doing all of that stuff but also got a bee in my bonnet to do TV interviews on Fox at 6 am on the second day. I woke up that morning with a hugely sore throat. Did the interview but as the day progressed I pretty much zonked out from the virus. Throat ached, didn’t go out for four days! Missed half of the festival. I learned to NOT tour before having so many responsibilities at the festival … OR tour and not have as many responsibilities. I’ve always been one to pile it on. It’s all very ironic because for the last few years I’ve written a “Staying Healthy at Homegrown: Hippie Tips” blog and there I was, out fo the count. This year – NOPE! The fest was a hoot regardless. My band got to open for Retribution Gospel Choir – one of Alan Sparhawk from Low’s bands – and The Electric Witch put on such a weird show that Scott Starfire Lunt who founded the festival (as his birthday party 18 years ago – a small event with just a handful of bands) said that we “won” Homegrown. Shining moments!
I was still sick for my birthday, May 12th. Kyle took me to Zeitgeist and I drank a very medicinal, boozy cocktail with chartreuse in it. We were going to see a movie, but just decided to go home and laze. I get so mad when I get sick because I’m such a vegan health nut, runner, yogi. So, we chilled and I tried to heal up.
June brought warmer days and the Midwest Women’s Herbalist Conference near Madison, WI. I am the teen camp coordinator assistant and had a bunch of other hats this year. I am just a budding herbalist – learning about plants fires up my mind and I am totally a nature lover. I got involved with this because of a seaweed harvesting retreat back in 2010 in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington with conference founder Linda Conroy. Linda invited me to teach yoga and perform at the first conference in 2011 (I think?) and I’ve been back ever since, save one year. This year I was invited to perform before key note speaker Dr. Judy Noe as well as wrangle teenage girls and lead the songs before mealtimes. I was running my ass off and having a blast doing it for the most part. I did find out that leading gratitude/blessing songs before meal times is NOT my cup of tea and I felt like a cheese ball! But everything else ruled.
I had an experience when I sung my song “Holy Bones” that I won’t forget. A women said that after the first verse she had to run out crying and couldn’t explain it. Sometimes music hits us and we don’t know why, something in there clicks and I hope it’s a healing place that clicked for her. She must have needed a release … I can only hope it was a good thing.
Summer just fly by. Lots of midwest shows. Madison, Sheboygan, the upper peninsula of Michigan. August brought a 10 day tour out to lower and upper Michagan. Performed at Walk the Beat Festival and hung out with my bandmate’s family near Detroit and fell in love with their great danes and their swimming pool.
September and October I worked on shooting another music video with Jon Hain & assistant Angelica Engel in Madison, WI. We worked on the song “Veal” which is an animal rights protest song … It’s sung from the perspective of a veal calf destined for slaughter, never to jump over the moon. I was nervous about this video as we had some racey scenes of me with a feeding tube shoved into my mouth ala fois gras style as well as nails into the soles of my high heel shoes (sometime terribly inhumane treatment of goose and ducks happen where their feet are nailed to a board and the feeding tube shoved into their esophagus … we tried to emulate this with me …). The softer side of the video was that it featured my cow paintings. This I give Jon credit for. I said I wanted to do a few cow paintings but he kept wanting more and more to cycle through. I found a love for painting returning and eventually went on to sell 10+ paintings in the next few months. Extremely validating. I had no idea they would be such a hit and I still have a few commissions to make!
During this time, I was also reaching out to a few animal rights organizations to see if they would be interested in licensing the song for their campaigns. Mercy For Animals were into it! They will be using “Veal” in one of their undercover video montages in 2016 at some point. I would love for this song to spotlight how horrific animal cruelty is, as well as look at the horrors of factory farming and think differently about eating meat … My first attempt at a protest song. The video release party got booked for December.
The highlight of October was the CD Baby DIY Musician Conference in Chicago. I’ve been distributing my albums with CD Baby since 2001 or so. They are one of the largest indie music distributors in the world, both physical and digital. For artists, it is an awesome way to get music out there. For music lovers, it is an amazing way to find your new favorite musician or band. This was their first conference and I loved every second. Reconnected with a lot of folks I’ve met through twitter (through a music related networking chat called #ggchat) and met so many more amazing artists and music industry peeps. I performed a few songs at the open mic and met one of the marketing crew who just recently showcased my album on their Discover Music newsletter. AWESOME. I can’t wait to go back and you should go too!
November I entered into a crazy competetion by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra which involved four bands competing for a chance to write a song and perform with the entire symphony orchestra. Each band was paired with a collaborator musician from the orchestra to learn a few songs together – one classical, and one of the band’s originals. My band got Earl Salemink, Principal Trumpet. After a meeting at Vikre Distillery – a sweet craft liquor distillery in Duluth’ Canal Park, we narrowed our song list down to a few bold, bombastic classical tunes. We wanted something dark and dramatic. We agreed to try Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burena. I memorized the lyrics in LATIN and the band practiced our booties off and the song came into shape.
Alas, we lost. I surprised myself at how disappointed I was … and I was disappointed at how disappointed I was! Turns out I DO have a competitive spirit. I thought all the acts were great and everyone worked hard but DAMN I wanted us to win that thing! Above all, though, we DID work our buns off and I thought it was an incredible feat for us and I’m proud of the strong work energy we put into it. Thank you, Kyle, Scott, Heather, Zac, Brett and Earl!
December brought my music video release show for “Veal.” I had an art show with my paintings (first art show ever!), a zine called “Over the Moon” about living a cruelty free lifestyle – got guest artists and poets and writers to contribute to it. Jon Hain came from Madison and we showed the video on the big screen at Red Herring Lounge. Also had a vegan potluck and put on a concert with a few acts and the full band. It was a Sunday afternoon and I put SO much work into it. I am grateful to the friends who came out – thank you for supporting our work!
The end of December I got pretty sick. Again. I had an cough, dry and raspy, that accellerated whenever I lay down. It subsided just enough for me to have a blast with my family on California’s central coast. Hanging out on the pacific with my family, running with my dad & husband, visiting elephant seals, eating great food. Loved that trip. But when I got back I got sick again, and that’s how I rang in the new year, coughing away and trying to sleep. My friend said, “You’re too vegan to be sick so much!” I agree. Something was definitely off balance …
As I move deeper into 2016, I am trying to find that balance. I worked SO SO SO hard at being a full time musician as well as a yoga instructor on the side. I played, as mentioned, 90 shows across the country. I also taught hundreds of yoga classes in Duluth (3 – 8 classes a week). I busted my ass being an entrepreuner harder than I ever have. I’m super proud that I did it and stuck to my goals. There were highs and lows, elation and disappointment. I got amazing press, lost contests, traveled the country, fell in love with travel, ran a half marathon in Vegas (November! Almost forgot that!), and spread the music to more people than I ever had (to the tune of $4000+ on promotion/publicity). I didn’t go broke, I didn’t get rich, I didn’t die, I cried a lot, I laughed a lot. And, I think I really exhausted myself!
December brought a really dishearted email newsletter to my mailing list group, saying something to the tune of “still haven’t found what I’ve looking for” – feeling the insatiable need for validation, the craving for fame to fill some void, not liking the way my ego growls and grows and feeds and grows green. I asked for a change, but wasn’t sure what it would be, or could be. But in my heart of hearts, while music is deep in my soul, I think that to rely on it to pay the bills is creating an imbalance and a disservice to my work and my muse. Taking 3 hour long gigs in restaurants and bars to medium to mild to exuberantly interested audiences (I say medium/mild/exuberant because some people in bars just want cover bands, some people are ecstatic to hear you and meet you, and some people are totally indifferent or thought you were kinda okay. Music is so subjective!) started to drain me. I think there has to be a better way.
Again, this might be a blockage of mine. Or maybe an obstacle on my path that I have to plow through. Maybe if I just work through some kink in my pscyhe I will blast through to fame and fortune and you’ll see me on Jimmy Fallon next week (oh, PLEASE let’s do that!). Or maybe my path diverges and winds in a way that is totally specific to me and my interests.
What happened was a yoga studio fell into my lap in Minneapolis! An answer to my seeking (for now!) – totally from my unfulfilled desires and relatively out of the blue – and the lease is signed and dated from April 1, 2016 to March 31st, 2018. We move to Minneapolis early summer and the dream unfolds, encompassing a larger music scene, a larger population of potential yoga practitioners, and a breath of fresh air that will shake me out of my pessimism! This happened within a two week period and that voice inside me that knows what to do didn’t question any of it. It’s on.
And once I made this decision, I wrote 4 new songs. My muse doesn’t feel pressured to pay the bills anymore and she can give again. Thankfully these songs came as we are recording an EP in Nashville in April 🙂
Namaste and thanks for reading about my wacky, crazy, busy, amazing 2015. May you follow your heart and keep your chin up and keep your loved ones close and keep the lines of communication open. Go hug someone, support indie artists and musicians, shop local, practice compassion to all living beings, go for a run or a walk in nature, and believe this most simple of things: the only constant is change.
With love, Mary