Q&A: Sweet Mary

Stationed in the Windy City by way of St.Louis, Mary Porzelt, known to fans by her stage name, Sweet Mary, is getting ready to add a new city to her list of addresses. Following in the footsteps of her close mentors and friends, The Main Squeeze, the blues singer will be moving to Los Angeles later this year in pursuit of new musical opportunities. But before leaving the home of blues, Sweet Mary spoke with Listen Live and Local about her upcoming show, her passions outside of music and even let us in on a secret about where she feels most inspired to write.


Listen Live and Local: You have an upcoming show in St. Louis with Main Squeeze, a pretty popular band originally from Chicago, now based in Los Angeles. How did you get connected with them?

Sweet Mary: After two years living in Chicago my good friend Joe Avila moved down the street from me. He kept saying, “Mary I’m moving in with this dope band. You need to come over and sing them your songs!” [Singing] was my dream and Joe knew I needed to get it together and start singing again. So I came over. I had a few drinks because I was nervous to sing the first song I ever wrote. But I did and they loved it. And by they I specifically mean Ben “Smiley” Silverstein and Max Newman. The three of us instantly clicked musically. I kept writing and sending songs to Smiley until we decided [to record]. Smiley and Max basically took the songs I wrote, the melodies and the lyrics, and produced the instrumentation. I raised the money through Indiegogo, and we recorded the album at IV Lab Studios. Ben Silverstein, Max Newman and Reuben Gingrich also played my cd release show. I honestly don’t know where I would be with out Joe, Max and Smiley. Since the album, I’ve collaborated on almost all of my songs with them. They’re my biggest collaborators [and] mentors. I could go on forever about how much I love those guys.

LLL: It’s been roughly a year since your debut album and you’ve mentioned heading in a new direction musically. What can fans expect from you? Any new recordings in the works?

SM: I think because I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many talented musicians, I’ve grown confidence, so my sound has progressed naturally. I don’t have the best music theory. When I create it’s straight from the soul. I use my ear to designate what sounds good. My melodies are more complex. The lyrics are also becoming more complex. My full band sound is going more in the direction of smooth R&B, blues and jazz. I’m also dabbling with spoken word/ hip hop verses in my songs. Everyone should expect more solo production style based music; my voice over some super sexy beats. I plan on moving to LA this summer, so I can’t exactly say I know where the band is headed since I’ll be heading out there solo. I’ve decided to join my boys from The Main Squeeze team. They’re building something great out there, and I want to be a part of it. It’s safe to say once I’m out there, you can expect some big projects. I would like to get a few singles recorded with [my] band before I leave. No exact dates for a new album or any releases though.

LLL: What’s your writing process like?

SM: Typically I create a song off the top of my head. I’ll hear a note somewhere, or I’ll be thinking about a certain situation going on in the world or my life, and I’ll start free styling. Lately I’ve been playing around on the piano and making up stuff as I go. I’ll let you in on a secret; I have written most of my songs in the bath tub. I take baths to decompress my thoughts. I can be super neurotic at times and it seems like once I get in the water the music literally flows out of my brain. I am a Scorpio, which is a water sign. Maybe that has something to do with it? Anyway, once I come up with the lyrics and the melody, I bring it to my band or Smiley and Max. From there we figure out the instrumentation. Since I don’t really play any instruments or have much theory background, it’s hard for me to compose the instrumentation alone. [I] sit down [with whoever I’m creating with], sing the song piece by piece, and we figure out which chords sound best. It’s actually a beautiful process. I love seeing what the musicians come up with. I’ve been fortunate to work with people that just seem to understand what I want.

LLL: Are their any elements you find important to incorporate in your music?

SM: All of my lyrics, I feel, are super relatable. I try not to make things too metaphoric or tricky because I want everyone to understand the meaning. Not to mention I’m a pretty straight forward person. I don’t have any party songs or too many sappy love songs, which I could try and dabble with, but honestly I like to write about what’s super real. I have a song about the reality of climate change and how the media and government lie about it. I have songs about my internal struggles with depression, a song about a family member dealing with alcoholism, a terrible heartbreak, a love affair, the evils of money. Behind all these emotions and words are some groovy bass, guitar and keys making the songs come to life [along with] super tight rhythms that make it fun to move to. I obviously want people to still enjoy the music and to feel like they can dance while listening, but I think it’s very important to write lyrics that matter.

LLL: Aside from being outspoken within your music, you are also quite out spoken on social media. Do you enjoy conversing with your fans on a more personal level?

SM: Yeah, I’m very outspoken in the social media world. I think sometimes it gets me into trouble, but I find that human connection is one of the most important things to me. The world is in a tough place right now. Our climate is in serious trouble, racism is very much alive, people are struggling to get by in this economic state, and I intend on speaking up about it. I write about it in my lyrics and I have a certain amount of people that [are] listening and watching what I say, so I do my best to use that in a positive way. There will never be a time when I won’t be engaging with the people who come to see. I’m so thankful for them. I want my listeners to get to know me. I want them to know that I have the same types of experiences. I think it’s super important as a musician that your listeners can relate to you on a personal level. Obviously putting yourself out there can back fire, but you just have to stay positive and know that you come from a good place. I want to have fun with this as well has make a positive change in the world!

LLL: Next stop: Los Angeles! Is there anything you’re going to take away from your time here in Chicago?

SM: Oh goodness yes! I love Chicago. The music scene here is insane. There are so many talented musicians and artists: The Main Squeeze, Low Spark (some are members of her band), Eryn Allen Kane, Woo Park, From Tha 99, Doug Shotwell and The Right Hand Band, Walsher Clemons. Just being surrounded by all that talent has had an influence on me. I also really respect Harmonica Dunn, who has booked me throughout my time here. I’ve grown so much as a person while living here. I’ve survived some really shitty things and thrived as well because of all the wonderful people I’ve met. This place, and the people, have taught me to love and accept myself. We are all so unique in our little quirks and talents. If it wasn’t for some of the amazing music jams hosted around the city, I think I would still be afraid to step on stage.

Sweet Mary’s next show will be in St.Louis at The Bootleg at the Atomic Cowboy on Wednesday, March 23rd at 8:00PM with The Main Squeeze.


Photo Credits: Tara Gracer Photography

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