Last month, UK multi-instrumentalist and story-teller Mara Simpson announced her new album In This Place will be released on September 24th. A heady blend of alt-folk, analogue synth and classical composition, In This Place is a tale of quiet rebellion and taking back control.
Today, she shares new single ‘Serena’. The track, named after the apartment building in Brighton where Mara’s daughter was born, is based on the experience of becoming a mother and the responsibility of making important healthcare decisions. “How will I know how to love you” she sings over undulating synths and sparse piano chords.
Whilst the struggles of 2020 will go down in history, for Mara it was 2019 that was the tough one. A year spent consumed by worry, whilst in and out of hospital with her one year old daughter, had left Mara feeling like she was playing a constant game of catch up with a world that wouldn’t slow down. With songs ready to be recorded for her new album, she headed into the studio to record with her producer.
“I stepped into the studio not needing my hand held, just my voice heard” explains Mara, who quickly came to the realisation that she was working in a toxic environment with a producer whose moods everyone had started to dread. “Ironically, at the end of a year spent managing my daughter’s breathing issues, I had an asthma attack induced by the studio’s hypoallergenic cat,” she laughs. “Enough was enough.”
It was whilst waiting for a train that she had the sudden realisation that the album she was recording would never see the light of day. Struck by an overwhelming feeling of failure, Mara began to ruminate on the time and money she had wasted but then something clicked. “Perhaps it’s something about train stations, the coming and the goings, that allows a stagnating frame of mind the grace and space to clear,” she says. “The funny thing is, upon realising failure, the despair I’d been feeling was now replaced with something else…Relief”.
Feeling re-energised, Mara called her dream producer Ellie Mason, of Voka Gentle, and together the pair began working on a new record. “I’ve been more hands-on with this album than I’ve ever been, taking a much more active role in production. Throughout the whole process Ellie has heard my voice, and been open to any possibility” explains Mara. “We’ve stumbled across golden moments, recording four part harmonies in Brighton’s oldest church, using every drum there is in Brighton Electric, layering New Zealand bird song with tape delayed piano, all thanks to her nurture, playfulness and kindness,” she continues.
Backed by a band of accomplished musicians (Jools Owen (Bears Den) on drums, James Smith (Anaïs Mitchell) on banjo, Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres on clarinet and strings by Poppy Ackroyd) on In This Place, Mara sounds the most confident she’s ever sounded. With her new material, Mara Simpson hopes to promote a gentle, yet radical shift toward kindness and it’s this warmth that can be both heard and felt across her new record.
In addition to her album release tour, Mara has just announced that, thanks to successful funding from Arts Council England, she will now also be delivering a series of songwriting workshops for youth groups around the country with fellow bandmate and producer, Ellie Mason. “I’ve always sought to connect with communities as part of my music-making; for my last album I collaborated with local community choirs in each place I toured, it was an incredible and humbling experience,” says Mara. “This time around, I felt compelled to run songwriting workshops for youth groups. Teenagers have been among those hit the hardest by lockdowns and this felt like something that I could offer which might help this age group to process experiences they’ve been through and connect with, and get involved in, live music.”