Indie Folk Songstress Mary Scholz Talks New EP ‘Lonesome’, Getting Settled In LA, & Deal With KZZ Music

Music Junkie Press once promised listeners of Mary Scholz that, “You know this woman and her music, and you want to spend the rest of your life listening to her.” And we may have to agree.

The Philadelphia native grew up with a great appreciation for songwriting greats such as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell among others. After earning her degree from Philly’s University of the Arts, Scholz later found herself in her current base of Los Angeles, which was a milestone in her artistic career. 

The artist is best known for her haunting voice, intimate songwriting style, and exploration of various difficult human experiences, as has been heard on all of her releases since her 2014 debut, The Girl You Thought You Knew. The album dissects the self with evocative and introspective lyricism, while California (2017) was innovatively recorded live in a single room to an Ampex 8-track machine.

Now, with her latest release of Lonesome, Scholz uses the 5-track EP to explore a range of topics from the trials of womanhood to America’s broken political system. No matter which of her various releases you listen to, you can be sure that Scholz and her music carry a message of love and self-empowerment.

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We got a chance to chat with the songstress about Lonesome, her experience in the LA music scene, and her recent deal with KZZ Music.

2022 is a mere two weeks away. In one word, how would you  sum up your 2021?

Crazy! 2021 was a lot of things – between continuing to navigate the pandemic, making decisions about live shows, etc. there was a lot of difficulty and start-stops. However, 2021 also provided a lot of full throttle forward motion, particularly the second half of the year. It was as if the previous 12 months were just a slow pull back on a sling shot, and in August, it finally released.

After releasing a few singles together and making plans for a full length record, I officially signed with KZZ Music, and we decided to release songs from a 2019 session as an EP (Lonesome), for October. That gave me a week and a half before heading into the studio for next year’s record, to plan, shoot and edit a music video for it, and, as it happened, get engaged! We then spent two intense and wonderful weeks creating the next record, released the EP, and got into a handful of press and promotion for that. It’s been the best version of busy. All of a sudden it’s December and I’m ready for a nap!  

I see that you’re native to Philly. What’s the folk singer songwriter scene like there, and how did the city impact and  influence your career? 

Philly is a great town, and I am so glad to have “come up” there, if you will. The city is full of talented singer/songwriters, and musicians of all kinds. My college summer nights were spent at open mics in and out of the city, where I met so many wonderful folks, some of who are still dear friends to this day. 

Those nights really inspired me in the beginning stages of my songwriter life. It’s tricky when you’re just starting out on the scene – there has to be room for growth, and Philly really allowed me that. I received support from so many lovely people, and venues, and for that I am forever grateful. Sometimes I still see myself as that eager girl at the coffee shops and bars, in her jogging shoes, with her jumbo-sized guitar, and I’m forever grateful to her, too. 

And how was the transition in moving to Los Angeles? Has it been challenging, rewarding, etc.?  

I have been lucky enough to love living in LA since the day I arrived. (Minus the moment I first pulled into town, saw the skyline and thought “…oh shit, I really did it,” uncertain if the feeling in my stomach was anticipation or dread.)  

It is definitely a big difference, and shock to the system, going from the east coast to west, but I found it exciting and filled with endless possibilities. From the beginning, I found that just waking up in Los Angeles inspired and energized me. That’s so important, especially working in a field that is so self-driven, and full of closed doors and rejections. One of the things I’ve always been inspired by is being surrounded by creativity, in all forms. From artists, musicians, filmmakers, and dancers, to everyone who works in production and on the business side of entertainment. The city is full of people bringing creative works to life. And being a creative professional isn’t considered odd here, or unsustainable.

I’ve lived here for over a decade now, and I love it still – it’s’ seen me through some of the toughest stages of my life, brought me incredible friends, love, family, and afforded me opportunities to play with top-tier musicians who I absolutely love. Now if only we could teleport for quick trips home to Philly to hug my family!  

Let’s talk about your latest EP, Lonesome. What’s the influence and inspiration behind it? 

Lonesome is a compilation of sorts. The first three tunes were recorded in September of 2019, and the last two songs were done separately of those, and each other. The songs are by no means the same, but when I look at them, they’re really all about self-reflection.

They’re about the things that are keeping us from moving forward in life, acknowledging the moments when we’re really keeping ourselves back, and finding the things that help us move forward. The tone of “Lonesome” and “Dig In” are both playful – “Lonesome” being a little bluesier, and a saunter through the solo moments inside of my mind. “Dig In” is a lighthearted look at the self-sabotaging act of digging into past heartaches in an effort just to feel something…that pretty much never ends well!

“Morning Lights” is about the fear of repeating old mistakes – it and “Into the Wind” are more thoughtful, meditative looks at seeing where you stand, and choosing to move forward, in very different ways. And “LADY LIBERTY” is a reckoning of the self to the bigger picture of society. It’s almost comical that 4 out of the 5 were written pre-pandemic, because if you told me they were written during, I could absolutely believe it. So I suppose it was a good thing that their release was delayed, because thematically, it really matches the collective experience of 2020 and 2021.  

How might Lonesome differ from some of your previous releases? 

I’ve definitely walked further into the Americana world on this one. California was a big step in that direction, after my previous records and EPs, which were largely in the pop-folk category (with Americana elements occasionally incorporated). As an artist who felt caught between folk, country, pop, and rock all these years, I find the Americana community exciting and liberating – it really has helped me lean into my creativity and evolving musical preferences. 

Which song on the EP might’ve been the most challenging to  write, whether it be emotionally, creatively, or otherwise? 

I’d have to go with “LADY LIBERTY” for this one.

It’s the only song that wasn’t written and recorded pre-pandemic. I had LL sitting on my heart for a few years before I understood what it really needed to be. The older I got, the more aware I became, and the more we all were seeing people’s prejudices step out of the shadows and proudly displayed, the more I thought of this figure of Lady Liberty.

I would angrily ponder what she would say, if she were real, about everything going on. About our history and our present. I felt like she’d be embarrassed, and disappointed. One morning after the murder of George Floyd and during the subsequent protests, I looked up the words written at the base of the statue. The things we were supposed to stand for here in this country. From there, I began writing in the first person, as Liberty herself. I poured myself into it, all day, all night, the invisible “please don’t interrupt me” sign of concentration hanging over my head. I always viewed LL as a protector of sorts, and that’s how she came out in song. She is the promise of what could be, and the protector of all those  striving for it. The challenge of it was including as many groups of people as possible – I’d finish a verse, and think “and  ALSO…!” and have to keep going.

It still doesn’t say as much as is needed, but I am very grateful to it for letting me vocalize a portion of what had been brewing inside me for so long. I hope it continues to give a voice to people, and that it helps open minds that were previously resolutely closed.  

What does your songwriting process look like and what typically influences your writing style? 

My songwriting process varies from song to song – sometimes music first, sometimes lyrics, ideally they arrive together. I’d say more often than not anymore, I start by playing guitar or piano, finding something that musically moves me, and then improvising melody and lyrics on top of it. What comes out will typically inform the direction of the tone and theme. 

Sometimes when I sit down, I know exactly what I need to write about, and sometimes the words that come out surprise me. In a sort of, “oh I didn’t know that was still on my heart” kind of way. From there, I’ll start working on the lyrics, or journal through the topic to see what it is that I really mean to  say. I’m at a point in my life as a songwriter where I know not to push myself if I can’t find a certain verse or finish a lyric. I think that sometimes I just haven’t lived whatever it is that will inform it, yet.

So some tunes are given a rest, they get put away until I know what is next in their story. Others get finished in a day. That used to bother me, but now I understand that it’s just part of my process. And I think discovering that rest is part of the process of life, in general, is an important and beautiful thing to come across.  

Talk to us more about your production deal with KZZ Music. How did that come to be and what does it entail? 

I met Blue Elan Records and KZZ Music co-founder Kirk Pasich back in July of 2019, at an event for Blue Elan. At the time, we were discussing my future with the label, where I had been offered a deal. KZZ hadn’t yet been formed, though it was percolating in the background as we were working through deal details…and then the pandemic hit.

Everything was put on hold everywhere, but KZZ came alive during that time, continuing to produce music for artists remotely, as they had been doing in person ahead of time. Kirk asked me to be a part of the Gerry Beckley re-imagined record, which was my first lockdown project, produced by Zachary Ross, and KZZ Music. It was released on Blue Elan the following spring, but as our deal had been stalled, I reached out to Kirk about my newest song, “LADY LIBERTY”. I felt very strongly about recording and releasing it immediately. He was very on board, offering to release it via KZZ, to make sure it got out as quickly as possible. This started the ball rolling, and a few singles later, Kirk was pitching me the idea of signing with them there at KZZ, and moving forward with the next record. 

I really love the team at KZZ, and being in the family fold at Blue Elan, and am really excited to share what we’ve been up to with the world!  

What is the biggest takeaway you hope that listeners have from your music?  

You’re not alone. You are Loved. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to forgive yourself. It’s okay to move forward. Trust yourself. My goal has always been for people to know they’re not alone, to ease the feeling of isolation that life can often give us. We may be experiencing struggles at different times, in different  ways, but the heartaches and joys of this life are universal. I hope to articulate someone’s feeling in a way that is relieving to them. I hope to make them feel seen, worthy and loved. And musically, if I can be a moment of toe tapping joy, or a calming feeling of peace…well that would just be wonderful to me.  

What might you have in store for 2022? 

A new record! And hopefully lots of touring in support and celebration of it. I had the pleasure of working with Jonathan Wilson as producer on this one in September. It’s a mix of songs written before and during lockdown, and I am so excited for you to hear it. I also can’t wait to get back out on the road, connecting with audiences, sharing stories and giving folks a little respite from the weight of things.

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