INTERVIEW WITH… AMERICANA SINGER-SONGWRITER MARA CONNOR
Mara Connor is an Los Angeles based Americana musician. Her penchant for melancholic melodies, lovelorn harmonies, and rich soulful guitar licks create her oeuvre. ‘Decades’ her new EP drops May 20th and features her take on different influential tracks from each decade starting with the 50s. I talked with Mara about the EP, her inspiration behind it and creative process, and a favorite of hers… the show Twin Peaks.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Hi, Mara! Thank you for taking the time out! First off, How are you doing?
MARA CONNOR: I’m well, thanks. I just went on a hike.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got into music and singing?
MARA CONNOR: I was born and raised in LA. I’ve been singing and writing songs since I can remember but I didn’t really consider a career in music until the summer after high school when I joined an indie rock band (singing backup for a guy I was dating at the time). I went to college in upstate New York and started my first band playing my own songs. It was a very college band…we practiced in our dorm’s basement, played covers by the Pixies and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and played shows anywhere we could, classrooms and restaurants…I also found a guitar teacher there, Terry Champlin, who believed in me and urged me to take the leap.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How did your new cover of the Jackson C. Frank track, ‘Blues Run The Game’ come about? I love how the track sounds nostalgic and wholly original.
MARA CONNOR: I’m glad you like it – I discovered Jackson C. Frank while in school and working part-time at Ba Da Bing Records, an indie label in Brooklyn, who put out a box set of his music along with a biography on his life that I ended up editing. I was so taken by his songs and haunted by his tragic life story. I recorded my rendition of ‘Blues Run the Game’ to tape in East Nashville at the Bomb Shelter. We wanted to give it our own spin while still keeping it in the world of the 1960s (and I love an excuse to use 12-string guitar).
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Can we talk about your first release from the “Decades” – EP, Fats Domino’s – ‘Ain’t It Shame’. It’s one of my favorite songs ever, I loved your Twin Peaks inspired take. Can delve into more of the creative process for that track?
MARA CONNOR: I love that song too. I think Fats Domino’s contribution to music is often overlooked…he was a pioneer of an entirely new genre in his time and inspired so many legends who came after him (Elvis called him the “real king of rock ‘n roll” and the Beatles were all influenced by him too). I recorded my rendition of ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ with my friend Griffin Emerson at our friend Adrian’s home studio in New York City (pre-pandemic). I wanted to create a track that could fit in the world of David Lynch, kind of dark, eerie, sultry. We slowed down the tempo and gave it an entirely different arrangement. I love Griffin’s moog solo in the instrumental. It was a fun collaboration and sounds unlike anything I’ve recorded before or since. It’s also a tribute to my late grandfather who loved Fats Domino and saw him perform on a houseboat in New Orleans during Mardi Gras as a young man in 1959.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Speaking of Twin Peaks… Do you have a favorite character or episode?
MARA CONNOR: The Log Lady is probably my favorite character. Lynch’s cameos as FBI chief Gordon Cole are incredible too. I like all the scenes in the Red Room. I rewatched the series at the start of the pandemic…it was the perfect companion piece to this dark, dystopian moment.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How did the idea for this EP come about? How did you even begin to pick songs to cover for the EP?
MARA CONNOR: When COVID hit and everyone was in lockdown, I realized it might be a while before I could safely return to a studio to record my original songs. I listened back to recordings I’d made pre-pandemic with friends and collaborators in LA, New York and Nashville and realized that I had recorded a cover song from almost every decade from the 1950s-1990s. The one decade missing was the ‘80s…so mid-pandemic I chose to record Kath Bloom’s “Come Here,” a beautiful folk song that I discovered in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. My friend Sean O’Brien and I co-produced it, mostly remotely from our respective quarantines. When we finally got together to finish the song, it was the first time I’d been in a studio making music with another person in over a year and I’d never felt more grateful for the collaborative process. The last single on the EP is Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing” featuring my friend Kenny Becker (of Goon), which we recorded on a Tascam four track cassette recorder in our apartments, like Elliott used to do. We’re donating the song’s proceeds to the Trevor Project from May in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. If the pandemic hadn’t hit, I don’t know if this EP would exist but it shaped into a really eclectic collection of covers showcasing a few of my favorite songs and artists from the 20th century.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What was the first band or album that you became obsessed with?
MARA CONNOR: I think the first album I bought myself was Nirvana’s “Nevermind” in middle school. It was a jewel case CD (remember those?). Those were some of the first songs I learned on my first guitar, a cherry red Fender Squier Stratocaster.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What is the one piece of practical advice given to you that you would give to someone else just starting in music?
MARA CONNOR: Keep work and romance separate.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What was the last movie, TV show or book that made you cry/tear up?
MARA CONNOR: Nomadland…I love Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao directed it beautifully. I also just reread Patti Smith’s Just Kids. It’s so exquisite.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What is your earliest musical memory?
MARA CONNOR: My earliest memory is actually the first time I heard music. I have a distinct recollection of being a baby in the crib with a colorful mobile dancing above my head as my mom’s finger pressed play on an old boombox and James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” came on. I don’t remember much else from the first few years of my life but hearing music for the first time was such a mind-blowing moment that it stuck with me.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What was the last book you read that stayed with you?
MARA CONNOR: I absolutely loved Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. I recommend the audiobook. It’s so fun hearing him impersonate all the characters, Russian spies and Hollywood monsters.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What music has been “On Repeat” for you? What’s on your playlists?
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: And… the last question, Is there anything that I might have missed, Mara?
MARA CONNOR: I think that covers it. Thanks for having me.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Thank you for your time 🙂
You can stream the latest cut from ‘Decades’ below. Mara’s cover of Elliot Smith’s ‘Ballad of Big Nothing’ featuring Kenny Becker.
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