Mary Prankster on Creating ‘Thickly Settled’ & What Lured Her Back into the Studio

by Marisa Torrieri

In 1999, when I was an intern at a Maryland boating magazine, I’d crank WHFS as I cruised East on I-50, from College Park to Annapolis, singing along to whatever was playing. It was on one of those treks that I heard Mary Prankster for the first time, singing the chorus of “Mercyf*ck.” I was immediately gripped by the compulsion to pull over, so I could hear each and every lyric.

MP Pranksgiving Promo Pic 2 v2

Mary Prankster

Later that day, I snatched up her CD, Blue Skies Over Dundalk, listened 50 times, and realized that Mary Prankster was my girl. My True North. My kind of songwriter. To this day, Blue Skies Over Dundalk, in its 20-minute brilliance, goes down as one of the best rock n’ roll albums ever created. (Roulette Girl and Tell Your Friends are also in my top 10, in no particular order.)

In 2005, when Mary announced she would retire after years of playing sold-out shows across the mid-Atlantic, Charm City fans were shocked, sad and baffled. But the timing was right. Mary Prankster (whose real name is different) believed the MP moniker would ride into the sunset, but the woman behind the persona would move onto other, more grown-up ventures — most notably, voiceover work.

“I’m retiring the character,” she told me over coffee in the Village Voice offices in New York, where I worked after relocating to Brooklyn that fall. “I’m not retiring from creative life.” 

Later that day, Mary Prankster emailed me a photo of herself dressed like the Virgin Mary cradling a melting guitar. It was sad, but fitting. 

Fast forward to 2019. Fourteen years is a lot of time — to contemplate life, make mistakes, settle down and look back and wonder if you left a crucial part of yourself behind when you turned 30. Around three or four years ago, Mary started hearing songs in her head that needed to get out into the open, as she told The Washington Post. 

The result: Thickly Settled, Mary Prankster’s first album in more than a decade, is as beautiful, rich and complex as a bottle of good Cabernet. 

The 10-track record blends multiple genres — often in the same song — like vintage rockabilly or bluegrass, frequently filled out by horns. “Local Honey” is bathed in smooth, trippy guitars and my favorite, “Sugar in the Raw,” is chock full of sex-bombshell-worthy, distortion-guitar riffs. While there are no pithy punk tracks in the vein of “Mac & Cheese” or “Tits and Whiskey,” there are cheeky moments throughout — little reminders that while you can take the girl out of rock n’ roll, you can’t take the rock n’ roll out of the girl.

Rockmommy recently caught up with Mary Prankster, who is playing her annual Pranksgiving Shows at The Ottobar on Friday, Nov. 29, and The Birchmere on Saturday, November 30. 

MP Pranksgiving Promo Pic 3 v2

Mary Prankster

Rockmommy: Thickly Settled is brilliant — and surprising. When you originally “retired” MP in 2005, did you think you had another record in you?

Mary Prankster: Thank you! And no, I didn’t. By the time I “retired” I hadn’t heard any new songs in my head for a few years. I was exhausted, and I figured, “Well, this is it — I’ve had a good run.” I’m delighted and grateful the songs came back and overjoyed with how the new album came out.

Rockmommy: Was there a moment when you decided you needed to get the songs onto an album?

Mary Prankster: I was living in Central Pennsylvania for a bit — one of my favorite regions of the country — and had an unexpected amount of unscheduled time crop up. I took the opportunity to make some audio sketches in GarageBand of what I was hearing in my head. Just doing that helped equalize the pressure a little bit — being able to hear the songs from the outside in — and then it became a matter of figuring out if it’d be possible to record them properly.

Rockmommy: I know you wanted a diverse group of musicians who were flexible with this record. How did you find your current roster?

Mary Prankster: Enter Steve Wright, genius producer/engineer and my bestie from way back. For the past 20 years he’s been honing his skills at Wright Way Studios in Baltimore, recording every genre of music with some seriously talented folks.We did an EXTENSIVE amount of preproduction together — demos, reference tracks, written descriptions of how I heard the tunes — strategizing what we’d need to pull it off.

From that, he had an idea of the depth of skill and versatility the musicians needed to have. Steve also has a really good sense of the psychology that goes into a session — how different personalities/approaches will interact.

Making an album is a terrifyingly intimate thing. You’ve got these songs that come out of intense feelings and you’re focused on making them the fullest expression of themselves so you’re just submerged in emotion for hours on end.

Added to that was how incredibly vulnerable I felt recording my first studio album in over a decade and a half. Whoever was going to make this record with me also had to be — just as a person — kind.

So Steve went through his roster of twenty years worth of crackerjack musicians and personally selected the most skilled, most versatile, and most kind.  And here we are.

Rockmommy: What’s it like making music now, as opposed to your 20s, when you were recording and touring nonstop?

Mary Prankster: The technology available now is miraculous. Being able to do multi-track demos with a laptop and a midi-controller and emailing them with song notes — that right there is amazing. So is pulling reference tracks for different sound approaches from the infinite music library that’s available online. After the initial sessions I had another guitar idea and Bryan and I were able to work out a solo over FaceTime. Remote mixing in real time with an ethernet cable and SourceConnect. We took advantage of all these different digital tools and it was invaluable in terms of time and cost.

Interestingly enough, the SPIRIT of the album — just the sheer joy in making it — reminded me of making Blue Skies Over Dundalk. When Steve and I made that one together, there were no preconceptions or expectations, we were just totally focused on the songs and getting them right and it was so much FUN. I felt very strongly then that if it was the only album I ever made — and there was no reason at the time to believe it wouldn’t be – that I wanted to make the absolute best album I could – hold nothing back and just go for it.  

With Thickly Settled — again, there was no REASON to make it, aside from the overpowering desire to hear these songs out in the world, so we had the same kind of giddy joy of discovery and creation. There was a lightness and playfulness to the sessions — 16 hours would pass and the only way we knew it was time to call it a day was that we’d be physically trembling from exhaustion. It was glorious.  

Rockmommy: OK, Thickly Settled. How’d you come up with that album title (which, from the perspective of a 40-ish rocker mom, feels so relevant). 

Mary Prankster: In New England you’ll see road signs that read “THICKLY SETTLED” in residential neighborhoods — translated, it means “High Population Density — Drive With Caution.” Metaphorically, as a 44-year-old woman smack dab in the middle of midlife, I’m also “Thickly Settled.” By this age, you’re living your life (as opposed to preparing for it) and starting to see how some of your earlier plot lines have turned out.  

 

Rockmommy: Any plans to tour again, besides the Baltimore-DC-NOVA shows every Thanksgiving?

Mary Prankster: None at the moment, though certainly open to it if there’s demand/it makes sense.

Rockmommy: Would you consider playing my 5-year-old’s birthday party? 😉 

Mary Prankster: We can park the horn section by the bouncy house.

Experience Mary Prankster on Spotify, Twitter and Facebook. 

Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Got 7 Minutes? Learn to Play Moana’s ‘Shiny’ (and Make Your Kids Happy)

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Moana is one of my favorite movies to watch with my kids — and, heck, even other peoples’ kids. A big part of that is the soundtrack, full of singalong tracks written the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.

Profile_-_Tamatoa

The crab Tamatoa, as seen in the 2016 Disney film “Moana” (aka, the greatest Disney movie ever made).

I spent a good part of last summer playing the soundtrack in my car on repeat, and me and the little men would belt out the songs.

Our favorite, by far, was “Shiny” — the anthem sung by the scary crab Tamatoa. 

The best part about this song is that it’s not too hard to learn — the chords are simple and pretty much anyone who knows how to play basic open chords (and a few power chords) can play along. And so I’ve created a short video tutorial here for Rockmommy readers. Enjoy!

PS: Chords and lyrics below the video. Warning: Chord formatting will vary by device, so listen to the song to get the timing right.

SHINY (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the 2016 Disney film “Moana”)

VERSE
Em / Am / Em /
Tamatoa hasn’t always been this glam
Am / Em /
I was a drab little crab once
Am / C /
Now I know I can be happy as a clam
D / Em /
Because I’m beautiful, baby

Am / Em /
Did your granny say listen to your heart
Am / Em /
Be who you are on the inside
Am / C /
I need three words to tear her argument apart
D /
Your granny lied! I’d rather be…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck
C D
Scrub the deck and make it look…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
I will sparkle like a wealthy woman’s neck
D /
Just a sec! Don’t you know
Em / C
Fish are dumb, dumb, dumb
/ Em / C /
They chase anything that glitters (beginners!)
Em / C
And here they come, come, come
/ Am /
To the brightest thing that glitters
D
Mmm, fish dinners

/ Eb
I just love free food
Eb
And you look like seafood (seafood)

VERSE
Em /
Well, well, well
Am / Em /
Little Maui’s having trouble with his look
Am /
You little semi-demi-mini-god
Em / Am /
Ouch! What a terrible performance
C /
Get the hook (get it?)
D / Em /
You don’t swing it like you used to, man

Am / Em /
Yet I have to give you credit for my start
Am / Em /
And your tattoos on the outside
Am / C /
For just like you I made myself a work of art
D /
I’ll never hide; I can’t, I’m too…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough
C D
Strut my stuff; my stuff is so…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
Send your armies but they’ll never be enough
D /
My shell’s too tough, Maui man,

Em / C
you could try, try, try
/ Em /
But you can’t expect a demi-god
C /
To beat a decapod (look it up)

Em / C /
You will die, die, die
/ Am /
Now it’s time for me to take apart
D /
Your aching heart

BRIDGE
Eb Bb Eb Bb
Far from the ones who abandoned you Chasing
Eb Bb
the love of these humans
Eb Bb
Who made you feel wanted
C Dm
You tried to be tough
Eb F
But your armour’s just not hard enough

Bb
Maui
G#
Now it’s time to kick your hiney, ever seen someone so…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Soak it in ’cause it’s the last you’ll ever see
C D
C’est la vie mon ami, I’m so…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
Now I’ll eat you, so prepare your final plea
D
Just for me
Eb
You’ll never be quite as shiny
Eb
You wish you were nice and…
G
Shiny!!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

Finding Gratitude in Playing Solo Shows When You Don’t Have Time for a Band

By necessity — for lack of time and resources — I’ve defaulted to the category of “solo” artist. And in November, I’ll bring my one-woman act (Marisa Mini) to two venues: Branded Saloon in Brooklyn, and The Lumberyard in Redding, CT.

In some ways, this is a blessing. It’s also the way I started, and the way many (if not most) of us start playing music. Flying solo, I have the ultimate flexibility in my set list: If I feel like playing an old tune from 2003, I can pay it. If I want to play the tune with a cool reverb effect, I don’t have to run this by anyone. Ultimately, it’s my decision to go with the reverb. Or with the flanger, etc.

I have complete creative control over wardrobe, too: I can’t tell a bassist to wear a sexy leotard (I wouldn’t do that anyway, but still!). If I’m feeling like a leotard, I’ll put one on. Or if I’m just in an Vans-and-jeans mood, that works, too.

Yet as thrilling as it is to play a set that I control, there’s something lonely about the prospect of playing a solo show. Especially because I know how wonderful and fun it is to collaborate with other musicians.

If I have more time by myself, I can get into a self-critical mode, second guessing my song choices or even whether or not I can hit notes in my head voice. Also, without the live sounding board of a band, I don’t know if the set arrangement I’ve considered represents the right choice.

The vibe of a solo show is different from the vibe of a full-band show — and this kind of sucks sometimes. I don’t want to be a “coffeehouse girl” — I want to be a full-fledged rock and roller! But the sole act of playing guitar all by myself, only accompanied by a microphone and an amp, screams “coffeehouse girl.”

There’s also something terrifying too. When you’re playing with a band, the entire team shares the blame when a mistake is made. Because if you sound shitty, it doesn’t matter if it’s because the guitar is out of tune or the drums are ill-timed with the bass.

When you’re solo, you are the one who is credited for your amazing pipes or clever lyrics. But you’re also the one who is frowned upon when you play the wrong note.

I can no longer blame “the drummer” if there isn’t a drummer to blame!

The bottom line is that I simply don’t have time for anything else but a solo show. I don’t have time to search high and low for musicians, or to even drive to a rehearsal space that’s more than 10 miles in from my home. I don’t have time to argue with bandmates about how a set should or shouldn’t be arranged. I only have time to finesse my guitar chops in the comfort of my own home, and to sing when no one is listening.

But I can promise you this: I play an engaging and sonically inspiring set at both my Brooklyn and Redding shows this month. I know this because I’m practicing my tail off, sneaking in guitar-fingering exercises ever hour or so, while my kids are in preschool.

So I hope to see some of you there!

Saturday, November 5

8 p.m.

Branded Saloon, Brooklyn, CT (with the Girls Rock & Girls Rule Crew)

Saturday, November 19,

8 p.m.

The Lumberyard, Redding, CT (with Catalina Shortwave, Fuzzqueen, and others)

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Get Rockin’ Legs in 5 Minutes with this Lunge-A-Palooza Workout

You probably already know how great lunges are for toning your legs and improving your endurance. But did you know they can also improve stability, core strength, and balance, too? If time is a problem (and it probably is, if you’re a parent), our resident rock mama and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based personal trainer Sharissa Reichert, who sings and plays washboard for Milf & Dilf, has you covered.

This month’s three-minute video, named in honor of the Lollapalooza music festival that began in the early 1990s and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is all you need to strengthen those quads and work on your core. The best part? You can do anytime (like when your kid naps) and pretty much anywhere. Also, in case you missed it, check out her 5-minute ab workout, featured last month on Rockmommy.

Disclaimer: These exercises are not intended to replace the guidance of your physician or healthcare provider. If you’re starting a new exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor first.

5 Exercises to Strengthen Those Toddler-Carrying, Guitar-Carrying Arms

Rockmommies know all about arms, and the importance of keeping them strong. But even if you’re used to carrying one or two 30-pound tots at the same time (haha!), back pains and strains can come when you least expect them.

To help you improve strength and muscle tone while reducing risk of pain and injury, our resident rock mama and personal trainer Sharissa Reichert, who sings and plays washboard for Milf & Dilf, has created a five-minute video you can do anytime (like when your kid naps) and pretty much anywhere.

Disclaimer: These exercises are not intended to replace the guidance of your physician or healthcare provider. If you’re starting a new exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor first.

Happy workout, mamas!

How to Win a Signed Copy of Kim Gordon’s ‘Girl in a Band’

I love a good rock n’ roll biography, and Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has put out so many of my favorite rocker mom tell-alls! And the most well-written and compelling memoir, by far, is Sonic Youth bassist-singer Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band.”

Gordon’s book tells the tale of an aspiring art student with an interesting family and cool friends who, by way of luck and talent, finds her way into the NYC’s 1980s punk- and indie-rock scene.

Unknown

Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band”

The story unfolds as we are taken into her romance with bandmate Thurston Moore, her journey into motherhood and music, and the unravelling of her personal life years later. It’s a cathartic and beautiful story of a true art-rock visionary.

If you don’t have a copy of GIAB already, now you can win one signed by Ms. Gordon herself!

Dey Street Books will give away one signed copy of “Girl in a Band” to a Rockmommy reader! You can enter to win in one of two ways, throughout the entire month of June 2016:

  1. Like our Facebook page (Go to facebook.com/rockmommy1 and hit the “Like” button)
  1. Post a comment at the end of this blog — either on rock and roll, motherhood, music, Kim Gordon, or life in general — and make sure it includes your name and e-mail address.

We’ll get back to you in July with a winner!*

*Disclaimer (because we have to have these things): Contest is unlikely to change, but subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances. Winner will be selected based on a random drawing of names, and chosen by Rockmommy.

Quickie Workout Moves For Rocker Moms (by a Rocker Mom/Personal Trainer)

Every mom I know has insisted “I don’t have time” when it comes to a million different things — from writing thank-you notes to playing shows to exercising. And I can totally relate! So my trick is to try to squeeze in the extra stuff (like exercising, or practicing my guitar) into the nooks and crannies of my day. I figure it’s better to do something for 10 or 15 minutes than not do it at all — which is a trigger for slacking off completely.

For time-pressed moms like me — and who among the child-rearing set isn’t time-pressed? — my friend, personal trainer and mom Sharissa Reichert, who plays the washboard and sings in the band Milf & Dilf, put together some great “quickie” exercise videos for Rockmommy.

Our first exclusive, 3-minute video takes you through back lunges, ab work tailored to a mama’s post-baby body, and arm toning moves that’ll keep yours strong and sexy.