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In This Place: CD
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- Release Date 24 September 2021
- Buy Now: Dispatched in 7-10 days
- CD Album
- Downfield Records
A heady blend of alt-folk, analogue synth and classical composition, In This Place is a tale of quiet rebellion, and taking back control. Fittingly, the new album marks the start of another new journey for Mara. In This Place will be the first record to be released on Downfield Records, a non-profit imprint set up by Simpson, placing artists at it’s centre. “I want to try and promote transparency and equality, assist other artists to get public funding and to ‘pay’ forward the time and resources I’ve benefited from,” she says. The label’s mission is to see musicians paid fairly and release records through a creative and joyous process.
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.
Album opener ‘Serena’, 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. Title-track ‘In This Place’ is about the confrontation between mother and new-born child. The ‘sizing-up’ of one another as they embark on a new journey together. “When I left home to travel around the world and was so worried about breaking my Mum’s heart,” says Mara. “I just remember her saying that your children are never yours to keep. This is a song about the rawest of loves, and the fact that however much we love someone, they are never ours, and the beauty in that.”
In addition to the experience of motherhood, the songs on In This Place take inspiration from a wide range of places, including Simpson’s ‘second home’ New Zealand. ‘Christchurch’, written in response to the Christchurch Mosque shootings in 2019, layers New Zealand birdsong on top of swirling piano and moving choral vocals. ‘Fault Lines’ was inspired by The Waitangi treaty. Signed in 1840 in New Zealand by the British Crown and Maori chiefs. The British understood that the Maori were signing over land that the British could now govern and effectively ‘own’, however to the Maori people it is impossible to own land, in the same way that you can’t ‘own’ air. “We live and die, the land remains and we are just it’s keepers for the very short time we are here. This song is about us not owning this earth - how can we? We are only the guardians of it while we are here” says Mara.
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.
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