Words: Julie Kerr
Mary Webb has been making music for the better part of a decade now. Her latest album Love Like Planets sees the folk songwriter with the sweet and unusual voice explore the concept of bravery.
"The theme that ties this album together is bravery, feeling broken down by circumstances and finding your way back up," she tells Music Love on a phone call earlier this year. "It's finding that inner strength and realising you can get back to a normal life again. Bravery is a big part of that - being able to take risks and do things that feel hard.... you can't do that by hiding."
Webb first recorded a demo with Australian artist and her mentor Pete Murray in 2009. From there she has gone on to release more albums and EPs, as well as managed to get her music in advertisements and documentaries.
She has had extensive experience in community theatre and is very much a multi-disciplinary artist having her works performed at Adelaide and Perth Fringe Festivals to much acclaim. But Webb had to put all of that aside to fully focus, as she worked on Love Like Planets recorded in the US last year. And the investment has paid off. From the first note, the album instantly compels the listener. Webb's voice, tone and intriguing chord movements leave you hanging out for what's next.
While musically the record ticks all the right boxes for an excellent folk offering, the lyrics are the centrepiece of this project - something Webb says is very important to her when it comes to her own listening choices.
"I'm really drawn to lyrics in other peoples music.... [they] have to be really strong for me to keep listening. I can get drawn in by a melody and the music, but if I'm gonna stick around and keep listening, the song must have strong lyrics. I studied creative writing at uni as well so I often write the lyrics separately. I enjoy that process on it's own. I want them to stand as their own thing, before I put them to music."
The inspiration for Love Like Planets comes from reflecting on within and Webb says, "I find that my songwriting is often me working through things... something that I was trying to counsel myself through. My tendency is to want to sit back and wait for things to pass, but I realised I needed to step up."
One track where she is working these "things" out, is the single Gecko Fingers, a song about her sister and visual artist Wendy Webb.
"She is seven years older and being that much younger than her, I didn't really understand what was like to be her, or understand her stage of her life and what she was going through. And it was tricky as there were things I was not aware of happening in our lives, in our family. She obviously was, and there was a lot of tension between us, and we fought all the time. But we adored each other as well, and it could switch pretty quickly. It was a bit of a volatile relationship. She moved out of home and I was staying with her for a few days when my parents were away - I think I was about fourteen.
"And there was some kind of explosion of anger between us, and we both realised that it was over nothing, and that it was ruining things for us. We didn't want it to be that way and so we decided on a magic word - if we were in the middle of an argument and we didn't feel like we could back out then one of us could just say this word, you both had to stop and just not talk about it any more. Just stop the argument and you didn't have to admit fault. We pretty much haven't argued ever since."
"Gecko Fingers" was the code word conceived nearly twenty years ago on that milestone of a day, and Webb says that she and her sister are now really close having renegotiated the terms of their relationship.
The film clip for Gecko Fingers, directed by Aaron Schuppan, was filmed on New South Wales' South Coast and features both Mary and Wendy Webb.
"Now we are really close, trying to understand each other, our history and where we are coming from."
This vulnerability teamed with Mary Webb's musicianship and artistry is a great recipe for a stunning album. And her lyrics? They will make you, in her words, stick around for more.
Love Like Planets is out now. Mary Webb plays the Grace Emily Hotel, Adeliade on 20 May and The Cheese Factory Studio Gallery, Adelaide 27 May. Details here.
Gecko Fingers has been added to Music Love's Storyteller playlist