Alice Mary has not always been comfortable taking centre stage. Having studied for a degree in classical music, Mary seemed like an unlikely candidate to branch out into the realm of ambient, experimental rock pop – at least on paper, anyway. In actual fact, it was precisely her degree that gave her an appetite for the avant-garde. But completing her debut EP, I Am Here, wasn’t always an easy ride.
The first obstacle was kind of a big one. Having produced a series of instrumental tracks, Mary decided she wanted to add vocals, having already written a series of lyrics. But it was her own self-confidence that got in the way. “A few years ago, I started to really enjoy singing,” she says, “[but] I didn’t particularly like my voice. So I had a few lessons with a great singing teacher I knew and my confidence started to grow.” The result is a vocal style that is at once restrained and melodic, subtle and reflective of the introverted nature of Mary’s tracks.
On I Am Here, we find four tracks that deal with the pitfalls of love, shunning anguished declarations of despair in favour of a more nuanced and considered response. On ‘Loving Game’, Mary takes a cautious stance as she sings “I’m gonna kiss you and run away / I’m gonna win this loving game.” It’s a tentativeness that characterises much of the EP, Mary offering snatches of vulnerability while burying them beneath a protective glossy sheen. “Keeping on keeping on is all I’ve ever done,” she sighs on ‘Lost’, keen to assert her own agency, assuring the listener that she is not the damsel in this narrative, retaining her rationality and reason in spite of the circumstances.
It’s not until final track ‘My Heart Jumps’ that Mary is willing to throw caution to the wind. “Should we call it off before we get too deep?” Mary asks, before allowing herself a stab at joy, the track transforming into an airy, jittery pop song that buzzes with hope. It’s the poppiest track on an EP that favours sparse, angular production, Mary keen to challenge and subvert expectations, using unusual combinations of instruments to make left-field, original sounds. This will to experiment comes largely from her university degree. “It made me think a lot more about how music fits into the wider fabric of society,” Mary says, “and how it affects and is affected by the socio-political context in which it is written. I hope that doesn’t sound too wanky,” she hastily adds.
The sounds that characterise I Am Here often sound unfamiliar and foreign. “I used lots of recordings of an autoharp,” Mary explains, “an american folk instrument with 32 strings, that I recorded and then chopped up to form the basis of the instrumentals. I think listeners assume it’s a guitar but there’s actually very little guitar on this EP.” It’s another example of Mary’s unique take on music production, a style that makes I Am Here an original and compelling listen. As for the name of the EP, Mary explains that aside from serving as an introduction, it’s also a reference to the environment she finds herself in. “Sometimes, living in a big city, it feels like you need to stake a claim to your little bit of space, you have to remind people that you exist, as you’re often literally being stepped on and ignored, so it’s also like ‘I am here, I exist.'”
This sentiment is echoed throughout I Am Here, Mary keen to assert herself, to vocalise her emotions and justify not only her feelings, but her own existence. It’s an EP that is characterised by self-consciousness and caution while retaining an emotional honesty throughout. This, along with Mary’s natural knack for crafting off-kilter, innovative arrangements, makes I Am Here a captivating listen and a quiet triumph for alt-pop’s new erudite introvert.