A Lincoln native, Mary Weatherbee is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter whose first solo work Letters from Istanbul was released as a home-recorded demo in early August 2010 following her return from time spent traveling in Turkey. With tracks in Turkish, French, Arabic, and English, the album showcases Mary’s passion for language and diverse means of expression through sound. Though getting her start as a jazz bassist, Mary went on her first tour as a rock bassist in The Bay State in 2006 when she was 15. As a member of The Bay State, Mary performed at venues across New England including the Middle East in Cambridge and Piano’s in New York City.
My wife and I have known Mary for a little while now, and are both fans of her music. I was glad to finally to catch up with her the other day, and ask her a few questions for an Exploring Lincoln Featured People spotlight:
EL: When did you first pick up an instrument?
Mary: My very good friend Drew Hooke and I (we would later be in a band together called The Bay State) actually first became friends when I started taking drum lessons from him at age 12. I’m a bit of a folky by nature and Drew’s rock drums were a bit too loud for my 12 year old taste, so at Mattanawcook Junior High School under Rose White’s instruction, I began studying basic music theory and clarinet – which I loved! I owe a lot to Rose and I am still grateful to her as perhaps the most influential music teacher of my early years playing music. She was the one who got me started on jazz bass which truly changed my life forever. Playing with the MJHS band and spending three consecutive summers at the Maine Jazz Camp at the University of Maine in Farmington lit me on fire with music and my fate was sealed. (Many thanks to the MSAD #67 Music Boosters for the scholarships that made those summers possible!)
Up until my college years, the bass was hands-down my strongest instrument and my greatest passion. As for my transformation into a guitar-wielding singer-songwriter, the blame lies with The Bay State’s need for a lead guitarist, my amazingly talented friends and classmates, and most especially my dad, Mark Weatherbee. Dad has encouraged me every step of the way: from supporting my habit of picking up various new stringed instruments like they’re going out of style to inspiring me with his own skills yet always appreciating mine and the different ways in which our technique and abilities differ.
EL: How long did it take before people realized you had potential as a musician?
Mary: I would have to say Rose was the first to recognize my instrumental talent, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school when I sang Fiona Apple’s song “Paper Bag” at the senior variety show hosted by Mattanawcook Academy that my friends and family realized my vocal talent. It was a quiet car ride home as my baffled parents recovered from being sent reeling by their slight, shy daughter who sang with a big, jazzy, alto growl.
EL: Which instruments do you play? Which one is your strongest?
Mary: Oh, boy. I have too many instruments. My gift is also my curse in that I have always admired people who truly dedicate themselves to one instrument and master it, but – I am not one of those people. I pick up anything with strings and play it all day long until I learn it: the turnings, the pattern, the character of that unique instrument.
EL: If you have all your instruments in front of you, which one are you most likely to grab to play?
Mary: There’s no telling which instrument I am most likely to pick up to play or write a new song on. It all depends on the emotion of the idea I’m trying to convey through that convergence of word and sound, feeling and expression that is made possible through music. These days, I am working long and hard practicing classical cello, but guitar is really my homiest, comfort-zone instrument and the one I’m most likely to compose on. However, the flavor of the week is the mountain dulcimer, a beautiful Appalachian folk instrument that was generously given to me earlier this summer. Tune into the track on my website called “Begin Again” for a taste of how I interpret the dulcimer. Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” is a breath-taking example of an original, non-traditional folk dulcimer song.
EL: Of the songs you have written, which one is your favorite?
Mary: The newest one is always my favorite, so this week Open Up the Door (a new up-tempo love song) is my favorite, but give it a few days…
EL: Who do you like to listen to? Which artists have influenced you the most?
Mary: Kaki King, Joni Mitchell, and Damien Rice are probably the most influential artists of my journey as a songwriter. Kaki King in particular has been a great influence. She really reinvented the guitar and does things with the instrument that inspire me to push the limits of convention and my comfort zone. Honestly, I draw inspiration from many different sources – poetry, mythology, even visual arts. And I must credit my dad and my mom for their incredible musical talent that they shared with me growing up. They have both been so supportive and their musicality was a very significant influence.
At 15 years old I toured with fellow Lincoln-ers Drew Hooke and Tom Tash as a member of our band The Bay State. And Drew’s attention to intricate rythym patterns and tom’s incredible propensity for songwriting taught me a lot. Chase the Light is the song of mine that I think most greatly shows their influence on my songwriting. I also learned a lot about the business of music and recording and how to go about booking shows from that experience with the Bay State.
EL: What’s next for you?
Mary: In my immediate future I will be studying under Kaki King in Milan, Italy for a week. I applied to www.highscorespecial.com, and am one of less than a dozen accepted from an international pool of applicants.
EL: Where can people get your music?
Mary: merriwetherby.bandcamp.com and soundcloud.com/merriwetherby both have some of my songs online. Once I do a studio recording late this summer, my cd’s will be available online through bandcamp/paypal. Also look for e.p.’s with all unique, handmade album art for sale at local Lincoln businesses and at my shows.
EL: Where can people see you perform?
Mary: I have played twice at the Lincoln Gazebo, and hope to again. I play monthly at Bard Coffee in Portland. Stay posted on upcoming shows and events in Maine by visiting my facebook – www.facebook.com/merriwetherby
Give Her A Listen!
Thanks again to Mary for taking the time to answer my questions. She is a super-talented musician, and the Lincoln area should be proud to call her their own. If you have never heard her music, you can check out three of my favorites below:
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