Mary C and The Stellars, a soulful fuse of R&B, are out on the road to promote their new EP, Right On Time. Taking each step in stride, Mary and the band are looking forward to the next chapter. We got to catch up with her for a quick chat about the formation of The Stellars and the style they have created, as well as the new EP and taking it on the road.
What was it like trying to make it in the music scene in New York? Any challenges or advantages based on your musical upbringing?
I think it was a little bit of both. Growing up in NYC, you’re around so much talent, not just in music, but across the board. New York embraces this diversity; you’ll hear everything from Blues to Hip-Hop to Jazz. You name it, New York has got it. You just need to find a loyal fan base. So when we’re out on the road, we like to be sure we’ve got one show each month back in our hometown.
Do you step up the intensity when playing for your hometown?
I think any given night, you can’t help but have the energy super high when there’s ten musicians on stage rocking out. We all come from different walks of life. I really wanted the Stellars to represent New York, different cultures and styles. Together we form a very eclectic sound.
Tell me a little about the band’s chemistry on stage
I’m always a fan of having people come out and see us live. That’s where I think you really get what Mary C and The Stellars are all about. You walk out thinking, damn, my hands hurt, my feet hurt from all the dancing. I think it’s more about making it an experience than just a show. The audience is a key part of us.
What do you look to accomplish at your live show?
I like to put myself in the audience, and think, what would I like to see and hear? I like to make sure we’re giving our audience members sixty minutes of a really great time. That’s how the word spreads, when people want to come back and show their friends.
How do you feel about an intimate venue such as the Rockwood in New York?
We really love playing the Rockwood. It’s kind of like a second home to us at this point. It’s almost like every musician’s Cheers, many musicians love coming there for the intimacy as well as the acoustics.
How did you meet The Stellars?
I met Jason Wexler, my co-producer as well as keyboard player, in my early search to form The Stellars. I looked for diversity and unique style to form the band. I liked the idea of bringing a little piece of New York to wherever we go, since it plays a major role in my writing. I’ve known Aaron, the drummer, the longest, in playing various shows with him over the years. Originally from Japan, Gaku, bass player for the band, also plays bass for my mother, Mercedes Hall. He switches from upright to electric with me. I wanted the backing singers to have some sass, and so I met Shani and Cherette, who became the Sha’Nettes.
What do you take from comparisons such as Adele, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse?
Who’s going to hate being compared to such amazing artists? People naturally gravitate towards the comparison, and is something I will always be flattered by. Those artists are incredible singer/songwriters. As a writer myself, I think that is a really important part of it, we’re all storytellers. Our voice is the means of communication, but the story is really in the writing. People have been real responsive to that and for that I’m truly honored. We’re always hanging after shows to really get in touch with how people are responding to our music. Hearing people sing along to our lyrics was definitely a ‘wow moment’ for me.
Who most inspires your musical style?
Growing up with my mother who was a singer, it was listening to everything from Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald to James Brown and Tina Marie. My brother really put me on to Prince at a young age. Being in New York, I was exposed to so much variety, which I think was important. I also get into contemporary as well; acts like Bruno Mars, Grace Potter, and such.
How did you develop the Mary C style?
As a writer and performer, you have to check out everything. It’s how you grow as a performer. In that experimental phase is where you find your sound. I think I’ve found the sound of Mary C and The Stellars. It’s about being open and expanding your mind. I think that’s important to grow as an artist.
What is your songwriting process like?
It’s different every time. Typically I just come up with a simple melody first, and the rest develops around that. Sometimes it’s a line or word that’s stuck in my head. But I think the listener gravitates to the melody first. If you like the melody, you’ll take the time to listen to the lyrics. It’s like a puzzle. And that’s why I enjoy recording. It’s like a game of chess.
How does it feel to be taking the next step, in releasing the EP shortly?
In one word, exciting. People are really responding to the music, and that’s ultimately our goal. But the live show is where it’s at.
Interview by Don Tice