Mary and the Giant prepare for first album release
The local colonial-pop band closes a two-year chapter next Friday at The Bridge.
The guys of Mary and the Giant aren’t 10-foot tall, 2-ton monsters, but they might as well be when they attempt to squeeze into their closet-sized, barely-lit practice room. It’s basically a soundproof basement cave where they can jam all night long.
The giants will emerge from their musical cave at The Bridge on March 15 to celebrate their new debut record titled Welcome Back To Now that has been almost two years in the making.
“I think it’s where it needs to be now, and we’re very excited to have it out and excited to move past the idea of doing this album,” lead vocalist Justin Mayfield says.
The self-proclaimed colonial-pop group brings a blend of roots, Americana and bluegrass to the table. Heavy pop that verges on rock completes the sound unique to Mary and The Giant. Mayfield says he often gets the comment that the group has a very "middle of the United States" sound. Fitting for a group of Midwest guys, right? It's a sound that band members Justin Mayfield, Jason Koch, John Marino, Michael Schembre and Junior Garr are proud of producing.
One of the band's favorite recording stories is the tale of how the track “Startown" came to be. After recording Mayfield’s vocals for the song, the studio’s computer crashed. The band members had nicknamed two of the studio dummy knobs "suck" and "magic," and they joke that the magic must have been turned up too high.
The original backstory of "Star Town" is equally crazy. After a concert one night, the band members were heading to an after party and stopped at a liquor store, running into a fan who offered to pay for their whiskey. A few hours later, the members realized that bassist John Marino, who was supposed to stay somewhat sober to drive Mayfield to the airport the following morning, was missing. The guys finally found Marino passed out with his face in a flower pot post-whiskey-chugging contest at 4:30 a.m. Miraculously, Mayfield ended up finding himself on the right train to get to the airport.
And that’s only a taste of the outrageous times that Mary and the Giant has had touring. Other stories include incidences of Marino braiding a houseguest's hair and the band members hiding from wild roommates (they stay in random houses on tour). But the group insists it's simply a band of Midwest guys out to play some serious music, drink some beer and have some fun. Chill as that sounds, the road to Welcome Back To Now hasn’t been smooth.
True to their name, though, Mary and the Giant has faced some giants of their own.
“We did absolutely everything wrong with this album other than the recording of it,” Mayfield says.
After deciding to record, the band hired a manager. The group then did a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. Then, miscommunication happened, and the band’s manager promptly wired $3,500 to a shifty studio in Los Angles.
Not long after, the band’s lead singer at the time faced an ultimatum from his girlfriend. Obviously, he chose the girl over the band, otherwise this wouldn’t be a story about Mary and the Giant riding the struggle-band van.
The rest of the band's reaction? They all got angry drunk after receiving the news.
So with a completely recorded but unmixed album and no lead singer, no one was quite sure how to keep Mary and The Giant alive.
“We just had a time when we were trying to figure what to do with Mary and the Giant as far as a sound,” guitarist Jason Koch says. “The best thing we came up with was to finish the album. We needed to represent the changes that had happened through the music and stop trying to be the old Mary and the Giant.”
Looking back, Mayfield says he wishes the group could be here today without having to go through the entire struggle.
“It was a very strange reality check to have something you’ve been working on for five years pulled out from under you,” Marino says. “None of us had ever really had back-up plans. We kind of committed. Coming out of it, we’re a lot stronger as a group. We all kind of got our shit together before we started playing again. There was a lot of good that came out of all the hardships.”
Inspired to give back to the community after triumphing over its obstacles, Mary and the Giant teamed up with David Kemper of the band MoonRunner, and the Columbia Missouri Music Scene Facebook page to start The Columbia Revival, which recently released a compilation album featuring local bands. The idea was to turn Columbia into Missouri’s own Austin, Texas. The group also lends its practice cave to local bands seeking a space to grow and some famous Mayfield advice.
“We’re looking at a combination of 50 or so years of musical experience with all the people combined in this room,” Mayfield says. “There’s a lot of musical history in this room.”
He says even though Mary and the Giant might be a group of immature people, the members are all mature musicians. Musical backgrounds in the group range from playing in church to taking bluegrass lessons on the fiddle. No matter what the background, each member has been playing since they were young.
“We’ve all had these opportunities over the past years to hone in on our sound and to do something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts,” Mayfield says. “That’s really what Mary and the Giant is internally. It’s something that’s really pushed us all a lot because of the varying backgrounds and having to bring them all together to make them something coherent and listenable. It leads to a very unique sound and helps us all to grow as musicians.”
Mayfield says Mary and the Giant is excited to see everyone at the album release party. And who knows, if you’re lucky, Marino might drink some whiskey and braid your hair.