“Spark,” the opening track on the new album from Mary Lynn, finds the singer and songwriter struggling with the impact a new flame might have on her creative fire. As the song begins, she frets that the good vibes will drain her inspiration (“I think I needed pain to write”) and wonders when or even if the next tune might arrive. “I thought maybe my spark had burned,” she sings.
But as the music surges, Mary Lynn begins to sing of evaporating doubts and healing wounds, eventually unleashing a series of melodic “oohs” and ‘“ahhs” – the sound of the weather finally breaking following a prolonged storm.
And so it goes on Where I Wanna Be (Anyway Records), a heartfelt album on which Mary Lynn confronts a series of big questions that have nagged at her in the years in 2016: Are you truly an artist if you aren’t making a living off of your music? Is it possible to grow as a person without losing touch with who you were before? If you’ve always written songs rooted in heartache, can you carry on creating after finding love? Do the responsibilities of adulthood mean letting go of youthful dreams? And if you’re not making music with the idea of reaching a wide and growing audience then who exactly are you making it for?
were written prior to 2018 and find Mary Lynn taking on these questions with staggering candor. As the album unfolds, she addresses the challenge of holding down a 9-to-5 while attempting to carve a path as a musician (“Penny”), the gnawing fears that she might choose the wrong path (“Older/Over”), and the confusion and uncertainty that can settle in as one enters into adulthood (almost every song).
Throughout, the musician pleads for someone, anyone to help point her on her way. “Do you know how to get there?” she asks on “Turn It Around.” One song later, on “Older/Over,” she pleads, “I could use some direction, please.”
Mary Lynn said these songs emerged during a transitional time when she was fielding calls from potential record labels but also holding down a day job and cultivating a new relationship with her now-fiancé.
“My priorities were changing, and there was a lot swirling in my mind about these two paths I had been on in my life. There was this day job path, and then this musical artist path. … And there was all of this pressure, I felt, for me to pick one,” said Mary Lynn, who will be joined by bandmates Joe Camerlengo, Corey Landis Montgomery and Jeremy Skeen for on Thursday, Oct. 26. “Then I definitely had this huge fear that My Animal was the best of my best. And everyone was changing in their own ways – priorities were shifting, people were coming into adulthood. So, I was battling that feeling and finding it hard to even get together and practice. And a lot of the album is me grappling with that, wondering if these changes meant this other thing was ending forever.”
Gradually, though, these accumulated knots begin to untangle, and a sense of perspective begins to develop. On “Magic,” a galloping, rainbow-hued tune that falls near the end of the record, Mary Lynn sings of a healing taking place and a spark reignited. “Don’t let your magic burn out like a match,” she offers.
In many ways, Mary Lynn said, the years-long path to the album release was needed, its narrative arc tracing a period of personal and professional growth that had to be lived before it could be captured to tape and released into the wild.
“It was scary to ask those questions, but it was also exciting when I realized that, yes, I am that same person,” Mary Lynn said. “It was therapeutic to write an album that asks, am I still an artist? And then by the end you’ve sort of answered your own question.”
This idea crystallizes in a wordless moment on the album’s final track, “Lookin’ Back,” a retrospective closer on which Mary Lynn addresses the roads not taken and the reality that she ended up precisely where she is supposed to be.
“The song, it makes me almost cry every time, because there are these dueling guitars at the end,” Mary Lynn said. “And in my mind, one guitar solo is one path in life, and the other guitar solo is the other path, and they eventually come together and meet so perfectly. … It’s been really comforting to learn that I can be an adult and I can still be a musician and an artist. I don’t have to make a choice.”