While I think we can all agree that 2020 was a bit of a weird year, for Mara Simpson it was actually the struggles of 2019 that shaped her new album, In This Place. Following the birth of her first child, Mara spent a year in and out of hospital, dealing with her daughter’s breathing issue, while trying to make an album with a producer, with whom her working relationship had reached an impasse. It was while waiting for a train that she realised the only option was to rip it up and start again, despite the time and money already invested, “the despair I’d been feeling was now replaced with something else…relief“. From there Mara called up her dream producer, Ellie Mason of Voka Gentle, and the rest was particularly wonderful noise.
As you’d perhaps expect from the title, In This Place is a record that takes inspiration from the world at large. In particular, some of the tracks focus on Mara’s “second home” of New Zealand, with Christchurch being her reflection on the 2019 Mosque shootings and Fault Lines a song inspired by the Waitangi treatment, and the failed logic of human’s trying to own land. While Mara’s ideas travel the whole planet in search of inspiration, it’s perhaps the most personal moments that shine, the title track reflecting on the “confrontation” between mother and child, as they size one another up before embarking on a journey together, recalling her own mother’s words, “I just remember her saying that your children are never yours to keep”. That deeply personal thread continues on Mara’s excellent new single, Serena, named after the apartment building in Brighton where her daughter was born, it reflects on the pressure of making decisions not just for yourself but your child as well, reflected in the line, “how will I know how to love you?”. Musically, the track is as beautiful as everything else Mara has put out into the world, with the ever-present burbling synth accompanied by crashing piano chords and layers of soaring vocals coming across as the middle ground of PJ Harvey and Half Waif. In This Place is a record of beauty and serenity, yet it is also, in its own way radical, by choosing to do things on her own terms, Mara Simpson has found a way to put something into the world she can truly be proud of, and it is all the more compelling as a result.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Mara Simpson?
I make music rooted in story-telling, using lots of counter-rhythms, field recordings and harmonies.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I’m drawn to the togetherness and immediacy that live music brings. Like theatre, music is special in that it’s an art form you can create in front of people, together with other people on stage with you. When writing and producing I love the problem solving in creating music, the balancing, adjusting… it’s like colourful maths about emotion to me (to indirectly quote Margaret Glaspy’s brilliant album ‘Emotion and Math!).
FTR: What can people expect from the Mara Simpson live show?
I tend to tell some of the stories behind the songs, I mix acoustic instruments like piano and classical guitar with electronic sounds. You can always expect me to laugh and sway about!
FTR: What’s next for Mara Simpson?
I’ll be touring the new album in the UK and Portugal which I’m crossing fingers for, then I’releasing a remix I’ve done for a Berlin artist, followed by a collab EP with film composer and electronic artist Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres. Then early next year I’m releasing an alt version of my new album where I’ve taken different stems and isolated various elements of the music to create some new sound worlds. I’ve loved doing that! In not too long I’m hoping to tour Germany again but right now just taking slowly as we ease back into live music.
They Listen To…
Loma – Ocotillo
Sharon Van Etten – Stay
Hannah Peel – Ecovocative
Voka Gentle – Necrofauna/The Garden of Eden
Talk Talk – The Rainbow
In This Place is out September 24th via Downfield Records. For more information on Mara Simpson visit http://marasimpson.com/.