Tattoos & Bruises - Q&A with Mary Bragg
On June 7, Mary Bragg released her third album, Tattoos & Bruises. It's heartbreaking narratives and Bragg's naturally sweet and pleasingly plaintive vocals shine against a mixture of country, folk, and rock creating a magnificent collection of Americana.
After hearing Tattoos & Bruises last week, I was given the chance to ask Mary questions about herself and the album and this is what she said ...
CFM: When and how did you first become interested in music? How long have you been playing music?
Bragg: I've been singing my whole life, but have been playing music seriously since I was about 16. That was when Santa Claus (seriously) brought me a guitar for Christmas, and I slowly started to pick up songwriting. Music was everywhere in my house growing up - I'm the youngest of four, and we were all musical, as were my parents. My daddy is an amazingly talented trumpet player - some of my earlies memories of his playing are of him waking us up on Saturday mornings playing "Reveille" to announce that it was time to get up! (and breakfast was on the table.)
CFM: Who are your musical influences?
Bragg: Sam Cooke, Loretta Lynn, Patty Griffin, Townes Van Zandt.
CFM: What was the inspiration for Tattoos & Bruises?
Bragg: On the subway one day I saw a girl with a tattoo on her ankle, and she had a bruise on her calf. For a second I wondered how she got the bruise... then the words came together in my mind, and I thought.. wow that has a nice ring to it, "Tattoos and Bruises". Within the hour, the melody was written. It wasn't until over a year later that the song was completed - there were so many images of this couple we wanted to have in the song - how a relationship leaves a heavy mark on you, oftentimes a much more permanent one than a tattoo, even when you try your hardest to erase it.
CFM: There were a few co-writers on the album, can you describe what it was like to work with them and their songwriting processes?
Bragg: Every songwriter is different. I like to write in many different ways - with or without my guitar, on the piano, completely away from an instrument, with or without a predetermined storyline, based on a particular word or phrase. When I'm writing with my husband Jimmy (Sullivan), he likes to bop around the house while I'm working on something, and he'll hear my phrasing or lyric, and say, "what about changing this to this, and swapping this with this?" and I'll say, "Oooohh! Yes!"
With Adam (Levy), we like to start with a clean slate, over coffee and conversation and see how the stories in our lives take us into the song. Those sessions are long and wonderful - oftentimes a song will span a couple of sessions, and every time, it's just so great. He's a very patient songwriter, and a forgiving one, too. We're into the whole "write everything down that's on your mind" thing - whether it's good or bad.
Colin (McGrath) loves a good hook, so we like to think about hook options before getting too deep into the song. He's so much fun, and has a whole wealth of ideas all the time. Those are also long and wonderful sessions - sometimes Jimmy joins us, too - as we're usually at our place in Brooklyn. It's really easy to be honest with Colin - and that's probably the single most important thing about writing, is honesty. It's easy to hide things, but I think the music is better when it's honest.
Writing with Lee (Alexander) was an unexpected blessing. When he signed on to produce the record, his involvement in the writing process just came organically. He's mostly a lyricist, and loves to pace around the studio either singing different words to himself, or texting me lyrics while I'm in another room (or fetching coffee!). we did most of our cowriting over email and texting. it's a crazy world!
CFM: How have you grown since your last album, Sugar?
Bragg: I think this record is much more cohesive, and paints a clearer picture of the kind of artist that I am. I've realized that instead of trying to be something that I'm not, I just have to be myself (which is a country girl who sings country-ish, even though I like to think of it as Americana. :))
CFM: What are your plans for the future?
Bragg: More songs! More albums! More touring!