Q&A: Mary Lou Lord - Rolling Stone
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Q&A: Mary Lou Lord

Mary Lou Lord has been making her fans wait for years for her new
record, so it comes as no surprise that she makes her interviewer
wait about 15 minutes. It also comes as no surprise that, when she
calls from a car carrying her between appointments in downtown
Manhattan, she’s charming and without artifice. Her major label
debut, “Got No Shadow,” is a lot like that, too.

It’s also a seamless collection of folk-rock that offers more
than a glimpse of Lord’s roots playing for passersby in London and
Boston subway stations. Largely a collaborative effort with her
mentor and songwriting idol Nick Saloman of the British psychedelic
outfit the Bevis Frond, “Got No Shadow” comes two years
after Lord’s self-titled indie EP, a subsequent record label
bidding war for her services and a spate of publicity she probably
could have lived without.

As just about everybody seems to know by now, Lord was
romantically linked with Kurt
Cobain when she was living in Seattle, a relationship Courtney
Love later accused her of capitalizing on for self-promotion. In
the years since, of course, Love has traded her grunge for glitter
and Lord has become too busy with the demands of the present to
worry about the shadows of the past. Right now, those demands
include her getting to her next interview on time. She won’t, of
course, but after waiting this long, what’s another fifteen
minutes?

After spending a couple of years being courted by
various record labels and then getting material together for an
album, was making “Got No Shadow” a cathartic
experience?

No, not really. I went into it song by song, right from the
beginning, seeing if they were up to par and picking apart the
whole thing piece by piece. And it was actually very strenuous. I
was in L.A., I was alone, and it was a lot of work. I had never
done anything like that before. When I perform, it’s always in real
time, so there’s an immediate reaction and response. And in the
studio, it wasn’t like that. The parts become pieces of a
puzzle.

Did you feel pressure that people were waiting to hear
what you’d come up with?

Definitely. I’m not the most prolific writer out there and I’m very fussy as
well. But I think overall everything worked in my favor. At the
time when the labels were coming around, a lot of indie bands were
getting signed and all the girls were getting signed, I knew there
was going to be a backlash and I didn’t want to get caught in it.
So I felt it was better to wait.

You’ve said that the album “sounds like me.” What
exactly do you mean by that?

It’s got an old-fashioned LP kind of feel to me. I don’t hear
hits on it and I don’t hear filler on it. I just hear good, strong,
warm, personal songs. A lot of times, I’ll buy a record on the
strength of a single and the rest of the album is a piece of shit.
But I don’t feel this way about this record.

You’ve got a reputation as someone who has a great ear
for picking out songs to cover. Did this come from the days you
spent as a DJ and a busker in the Boston subways?

Oh yeah, from when I was a little kid listening to music and
when I was deejaying. I got shut down as a DJ because I wasn’t
following a play list, but that was at the point where I felt I
needed to learn how to play songs of my own.

What does playing subway stations teach you about
audiences?

What I’ve tried to remember is that I can’t expect every
person who walks down those subway stairs to be an indie kid who
loves the Kill Rock Stars label and Lois and Sebadoh. I’ve tried to keep my themes universal as a performer because you can’t pick and choose who’s going to
come down that platform. I try to stick to good chord progressions
and melodies and lyrics. Because when someone’s standing there
waiting for the train, each line has to be as good as the next one.
Sometimes, you only have 20 seconds to reflect that person’s life
back to them so they notice you and give you a dollar.

What makes a great song?

A song that has a simple melody and interesting turnarounds in
it. Something that can remind you of something you might have
forgotten about, that puts you in a place where you’ve been before
— maybe childhood.

When you hear a song, how do you know it’s the right
one for you to cover?

If it’s a love-gone-wrong type song, I’m on it! [laughs]. A
song that’s about a situation I’ve been involved in written by
someone who can explain it better than me.

How do you hate to hear yourself
described?

As a cutesy, sweetie-pie type or “folksy” or “syrupy sweet.”
Or that my voice sounds like a little girl’s. I hate that.

I can’t let you go without asking you about Courtney
Love. During her feud with you she was, as you put it, your “best
publicist.” Has she stopped saying bad things about
you?

Oh yeah. She’s busy with her own life and at this point, all
that stuff is so much in the past and has absolutely nothing to do
with my music or what I’m doing. And there’s really no point in
talking about it because it’s not going to bend my music or shape
it in any way.

What do you think of her stylish
makeover?

I think she looks great and I think it takes a lot to pull
yourself together.

Think there’ll be any songs about you on the next Hole
record?

I highly doubt it.

OK, one last question. What’s the best reaction people
could possibly have to “Got No Shadow?”

The best thing that could happen is if some young woman or
person came up to me and said ‘You inspired me to write music’ and
gave me a tape of their stuff. If you can jolt someone into writing
a song, if they feel they have no choice but to do it, I think
that’s just great. Because there’s a point when you’ve listened
enough to other people’s music.

Newswire

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