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:: Spotlight :: Mary Fahl - A True Reflection

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Singer/songwriter Mary Fahl was once the lead singer of a promising American indie band called The October Project. They were probably one publicly accepted album away from hitting the big time. But it was not to be. Thankfully, Mary’s wonderful voice lives on and is resurrected to listeners with the release of her solo debut album “The Other Side of Time”. It showcases her deep, evocative voice and long-time fans will enjoy the moods and melodies she brings from several collaborations. She looks forward to an upsurge in her career and I had the pleasure of speaking to Mary about the bad luck of the past and her ambitions.

Q. Many Australians would remember you as the voice of the US indie band The October Project. The band was acclaimed as an especially good live act. After the two albums were released, the band broke up. What happened?

A. On the second record, Epic Records put a lot of energy and focus on us. We were their head band for a while. On that record, they were expecting it to put us over, and it didn't. It was a good album, but they felt there were no singles there. This was during the mid-1990s when a lot of companies experienced major purges, especially Sony. If you didn't have that big a record, you could feel their attention being pulled away. They simply dropped us. We'd been together long enough to want to go and do our own thing. There were two writers in the band. The rest didn't participate in any writing. It is something I then wanted to do and I didn't get an opportunity then, as I didn't want to remain as just a singer and being told what to do. We just couldn't get another deal as a band. It would have necessitated a lot more cohesiveness than was in the band at that point. We broke up and everyone went their separate ways.

Q. “The Other Side of Time” is your debut solo record. It's taken a long time to come to fruition…

A. I took my time in learning how to write songs. I knew it wouldn‘t happen overnight. I had to work at it until I felt confident. I worked with a lot of good people. At that point, I was ready to start recording. That EP (Lenses Of Contact) was the beginning of what I hoped would be a complete record. A distributor suggested I release it like that - a four-track EP. I had great players on it. That started the ball rolling for me. I started to go on the road to tour it. I put a band together and people came out to see me, remembering the October Project. Funnily enough, a couple of classical labels approached me. God knows why! I suppose I wasn't your typical pop singer. I made peace with myself in thinking that perhaps I'll never get a recording deal. This is the time when they were signing teenyboppers. I thought, “To hell with it. I'll do what I want.” Because I started incorporating unusual material like 'Ben Aindi Habibi’, which is on my album. I attracted notice amongst classical labels that were looking for something not classical but not pop either. I fit in there. A few days after September 11, 2001, which was devastating for us, I got a call to sing for the President of Sony Classical. I can't describe those feelings. I was shell-shocked. It was a moving experience being at the top floor of the Sony building, staring out through the window and seeing the smoke. It was really weird. I sang “Redemption” for them and I was then signed up.

Q. The album doesn't feel like a collection of pop songs…

A. This album was never intended to be a pop record, but very much like those early Judy Collins records from the 1960s. I grew up with older brothers and sisters and the family had a collection of records, most of which contained records like that - very eclectic. I wanted to be a singer in that mould. Judy Collins would sing Lennon and McCartney songs, Leonard Cohen songs, classical and theatre songs. She had one arranger that would make it all sonically cohesive. I wanted the listener to have that kind of experience. A pop label would never let me make a record like it. Even now, it's very difficult to market. I feel that I don't fit any particular niche. I just like to sing songs.

Q. You give a wonderful sense of drama in your rendition of ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ from Donizetti‘s 'L'Elisir d'Amore’. What made you choose that aria?

A. The tenor repertoire is interesting from my point of view. I'm not really a soprano. I can sing those pieces of music. I haven't had an opportunity to sing with a tenor. I'm hoping it might happen one day. It would be fun.

Q. The songs are compelling and dramatic, with your tremendous vocal skills. It’s in that pop-folk territory although it’s hard to pin down to a certain style. You take the listener through a cinematic-like journey. You must be pleased with the outcome…

A. It’s plugging along. The record doesn’t fit particular slots, but it seems to have a life of its own as a word of mouth one. It keeps selling without big heavy marketing and promotion. It’s a record that I hope doesn’t date. I’m hoping it does well in Europe. The October Project didn’t do as well in Europe as I thought.

Q. Your music has been used in a couple of film soundtracks. Is that something that appeals greatly in terms of your future and in working as a songwriter?

A. Yes, absolutely. That is one thing my manager is keen on. I’m his only client who hasn’t been a film composer. I honestly don’t see myself composing a film score but, in terms of writing songs for movies as in theme songs, I love doing that. I wrote “Going Home” for the “Gods & Generals” soundtrack. It was music that fitted the Civil War period of the USA, yet modern sounding. I would love to do much more of that.

Q. Tell us about your songwriting style and the collaboration with others on the album?

A. I collaborate with all different types of people and I like that process. When you’re self-employed as a singer-songwriter, you spend much time alone. Working with others brings out different sides of my musical universe. It stretches me. I work with various people, including those in my band. I still love singing other people’s material as well. Whatever records I do will always be a combination of both because first, and foremost, I am a singer.

Q. Your deep and powerful voice sets you apart from many of today’s singers. What are your thoughts on today’s female singers?

A. It was bad for a while. I think there has been a turning point in recent years. I certainly believe that Eva Cassidy was wonderful. She could do anything, and it’s so sad that she never got a chance to enjoy it. When you’re getting hard done by in the business and in life, you think of poor Eva. She dies of melanoma, having taken a job in the South doing gardening. I also like Annie Lennox.

Q. Your live shows are bound to be a riveting experience. What material do you perform live?

A. It’s funny. People ask me how I can recreate the record on the live stage. I go out with a percussionist, a drummer, a guitarist, bassist, and I do keyboards. That’s it. I do all different kinds of things. It’s an eclectic show, but I really try to give it everything. I talk to the audience a lot. People see it as edgier in the live show. Maybe, at one point, I could do a live record.

Q. Are you satisfied that you can move forward in the business now?

A. With the state of the music business as it is, you never know. I try to keep an open mind. You don’t know what’s going to happen to a label. I just hope that I can reach a broader audience and keep making records. I’ve got lots of songs ready. From the end of November through to January I will demo everything I have and we’ll just take it from there.

“The Other Side of Time” is out now through Sony Classical. Check their website at http://www.sonyclassical.com