By Alex Teitz
There are few times I get to speak about people who have influenced my course. When I first saw Mary Beth Abella I never expected she would play such an important role in what a music community has the hope to be. Mary Beth Abella’s music is hard, edgy and filled with jabs, cuts and blows to anything traditional. It also has hooks and lyrics that stay with you after every listen and every show.
FEMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
MBA: The word, “technique,” makes it sound like there’s a definite process, whereas usually, I just do what feels right at the time. It’s really the only time when I completely trust myself and my feelings.
Usually, I’ll be practicing guitar and then I’ll come up with a cool chord progression and melody for it and then sit down and write lyrics. Sometimes I’ll write the words and music together, but that’s pretty rare and a real joy when that happens. The melody almost always comes to me so much more easily than the words. What I love most are the times when the lyrics just come to me, like the words just pour out as if there was something simmering and waiting to be expressed. That’s not to say that those songs are necessarily better or worse than the ones that take time to write and rewrite. I think the songs I love come from both ways for me. But in any case, the music usually does come first.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making What Happened to the Girls?
MBA: There were so many challenges. It’s hard to pick just one! I think probably the most excruciating thing was working with my brother as the producer. Sometimes his interactions with me felt like they bordered on abusive. On the one hand, he is the most supportive person and really believes in me–he flew out here from Philly to live with me and work on this project for 9 months–and then on the other hand, he could really cut me down and make me question myself to the point where I was afraid to have an opinion and I had to really push myself to speak up when I didn’t agree with something. I think that, ultimately, it helped me become a better musician and helped me create something we’re proud of, but the process was incredibly painful for both of us.
FEMMUSIC: What was the best experience making What Happened to the Girls?
MBA: The best experiences were the times when I would get a really creative idea for something I wanted to do and then would get to do it on the spot. When I started recording the vocals at my house instead of at the studio, I felt like I was finally free to express myself and I didn’t have to worry about the time I was spending and how it was affecting my budget. I also like to work alone and so it helped to work on things at my house when no one was around.
FEMMUSIC: What is one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
MBA: What’s with all this pick just one! I think in utopia, we’d all be able to do what we love, whether it’s playing music, or whatever it is. People are usually good at what they love doing, so I don’t think that we have to always worry so much about gatekeepers and such–even if you don’t like the music someone is doing, you’d be surprised to find out how many other people actually like what that person does. Let people do what they love. If you don’t like something, don’t listen to it, don’t buy it. But I just wish that there were easier ways for people to at least get their music out there and let audiences judge for themselves whether it’s worth listening to. Then we could focus more on doing what we love and growing as artists rather than trying to sell a product.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about CWIM. What are your goals with it?
MBA: Colorado Women in Music was formed to propel local women into national consciousness. The idea was to create a community of artists that would support each other, whether that’s supporting each other emotionally or helping promote each other or whatever. The idea is that we can get farther helping each other rather than competing with each other for the few resources that exist. The committee is meant to be a sort of pooling of resources and talents. If someone has expertise in an area, they lend that expertise to the group.
I’ve always had a rather large vision for the committee and for the music community in general. I really believe that we have a lot of untapped resources through which we could do some really big things. We could be putting people on the road, pushing to get airplay, getting group studio deals, etc. The possibilities are endless, but I don’t know that everyone on the committee has the vision and the energy to work toward a group goal. My goal is to get the group to a place where it could do great things, and I think that means getting everyone on the same page with regard to our vision and goals and getting buy in from everyone. People need to see that working together will benefit them in the long run even if they don’t see some immediate benefit right now. And I think getting people to that sense of what a community can do is always a challenge, whether it’s in a competitive industry like the music business or any other community that wants to organize.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry, have you been discriminated against?
MBA: I think that when you are in a group that’s typically discriminated against, you always wonder if people are treating you differently because you’re a member of that group. I listen to how my male band members talk to one another and notice that they seem to talk to me differently. I don’t get paid for a gig and wonder if that would have happened to me if I was a guy. There’s a lot of little stuff like that and a lot of underhanded comments that get made and pressures to look good that make you wonder.
FEMMUSIC: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
MBA: Network, talk to people, no one succeeds on their own, but take EVERYTHING everyone says with a grain of salt. Don’t let all the business stuff or negative people get you down. Remember why you’re doing it and trust yourself.
FEMMUSIC: What are your goals for the future?
Play, write, play, write. Keep growing and improving. Hone skills. Get paid for a change. Enjoy myself.