Saratoga Springs singer/songwriter MaryLeigh Roohan has a new album out. It's good! Skin and Bone swings from big and bold to quiet and introspective. And to celebrate the album she's headlining a show at The Linda this Saturday.
We met up with Roohan this week to talk about Dan Auerbach, breakup songs (and let's get together songs), Scotland, and thunderstorms...
The quick bio background on MaryLeigh Roohan: Born in Texas, moved to Saratoga when she was 10 years old, went to college in Scotland and at Skidmore. Graduated this past spring.
The album has a sort of bluesy -- almost a little country in places -- feel to it. What sort of stuff were you listening to as the ideas for the album started to bubble up in your head?
I listened to a lot of different stuff. And the all the songs on the album were written over the course of two years. Between those years I remember specific bands that I was particularly infatuated with at the time. Like, [my song] "Get Me Home," I was like, oh, I want to be Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys. And I had his solo album, it's so good. I was obsessed with Dan Auerbach for a little while. And then [They Black Keys'] El Camino came out and I was just... all over again.
So I think there are certain songs [on my album] that resonate with different influences, more than others. But it's hard for me to say because it took so long to write them to say specifically what I was listening to. Probably a lot of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. And Radiohead ... OK Computer, that album specifically. Sam Cooke. Josh Ritter. All sorts of good stuff.
So, I have this idea that whenever you set out to create something, there's a picture in your mind of what it should be, and then there's what happens. And there's always that gap. Sometimes that's good -- the gap is in your favor -- and sometimes it's not. So how do you feel like that worked out for you with this album?
A lot of these songs, I've found -- aside from "Get Me Home," which is definitely an outlier in a lot of ways -- most of the songs I don't really have an end product in mind. ... I don't really have a gap between the end product and what I expect because [the songs] are very organic. Like, whatever I sing is what happens. So there are a few exceptions, but for the most part they're kind of stream of consciousness reflections more than anything structured.
You mentioned that "Get Me Home" is an outlier. That is very... forward. Did you have any reservations, like, "I'm really putting myself out there by doing this"?
Well, at the time I was playing the Putnam Den a lot and none of my songs are really party songs. And I was like, I just want to try to write, like, not a party song, but one that's not very artistic or anything like that. Like that one was one where I definitely had a purpose. The other songs on the record don't really have that same approach. And it is pretty forward I guess. But I apologize for it, the first lyric is "I apologize, I don't mean to be forward."
It's hard to sing that song when my parents are in the audience (laughs). But otherwise I think it's kind of fun because it's all innuendo and it's not as aggressive as... (laughs)... I guess it is kind of aggressive.
I think in terms of putting myself out there, I feel much more vulnerable singing songs like "My Surrender" or "Coward," which is a song that's pretty self deprecating and and puts me in a vulnerable place. Whereas "Get Me Home" is kind of fun. And everybody's been there. You know, it's just meant to be fun.
It sounds to me that on the album there's this range of breakup songs and longing songs and let's get together songs. So, in an all-time showdown between breakup songs and let's get together songs, who's winning and what's the score?
That is so hard. Oh, man, breakup songs can be so good. It's like people don't cry enough, I think. I don't really cry that much. But if I could, though, I would do it to a lot of breakup songs.
It depends, because if you're really in love you don't want to listen to, like, the potential future.
It's easier to sound critical and analytical in a breakup song. And it's easier to make those sound like things to be taken seriously because sadness is an emotion that warrants people to take seriously. Happiness just gets written off, you know. People are so quick to tell someone who's having a good time to just shut up.
Who's winning? I guess the person who's writing the happy song is winning because they're happy. And the sad person might get something out of the sad song and might do a lot of things for the people who are sad, but they're ultimately sad.
You spent some time in Scotland during college. How do you think that has affected you and your work?
Like any college experience I was opened up to a lot of new music. Colleges are the best place to find new music because everybody's coming from so many different backgrounds and bringing so much to the table.
I also had a residency at a pub there, which was helpful because I was singing, like, four hours straight every week. And that's good for you, I think. It's like exercising. If you're doing it regularly, and if you're doing it correctly, it's guaranteed that you're going to improve yourself. And if you're challenging yourself. I had to learn new material pretty frequently to make sure everyone was having a good time.
Other than that, there weren't many opportunities for me to play with other people, which I really regret. Like, I would have loved to play more with people studying music. I didn't study music so maybe that's why I didn't meet people I could've played with.
But also just getting out of the country is good for you. Or getting out of your hometown is good for you. So it was a double whammy on that side of things. But, I don't know, it's not like I picked up Celtic music, you know.
You didn't develop a haggis habit.
No, I still haven't eaten haggis. People love it. Scottish people are great, but they are a little weird. And I'm sure the same could be said about Americans. But haggis is bottom of my list on things to try. (laughs)
Did you have a favorite Scottish thing or word or food or something like that?
They had little things that they said differently. Like, "I just couldn't be bothered to get out of bed this morning." As opposed to, "Man, I was so tired, I didn't want to get out of bed." "I just couldn't be bothered" is so much cooler to say than "I didn't want to get out of bed."
Just little things. I also developed an ear for intense Scottish brogues. And when I first moved there one of the people I later became friends with, I couldn't understand him for the life of me. And my Scottish roommate -- who is from Edinburgh, so her accent is much more refined and polished -- she had to literally translate what he said to me. He was speaking English. So leaving with the satisfaction that I could understand the Scottish accent. It's amazing how English can be interpreted by so many different people. It's really cool, I think, but not good if you're needing to understand directions.
OK, last question. The best sound in the world is (fill in the blank).
(Takes a few seconds to think.) Thunderstorm. I like a lot of things about thunderstorms, but I'm hoping my feeling of thunderstorms will be carried on the sound of it, and that makes it the best sound in the world.
That's so hard. The ocean's pretty nice. ... I'm thinking about this really hard. I feel like I'm missing so many sounds...
Thunderstorms are good, though...
They're pretty good. There's something warm about a thunderstorm. That low rumble. And then maybe it's the range of sounds.
It's like there's an arc to a thunderstorm, a beginning, middle, and end.
Yeah. But waking up to birds is nice... the sound of morning. But that sounds so much less brooding and angst-y than thunderstorms...
Yeah, you sound more like a badass, bluesy woman with a guitar when you say thunderstorm. I don't think Dan Auerbach is like, "I like birds..."
(laughs) Yeah, I'm going to go with thunderstorm.
This interview was edited and condensed.
photo: Julia Zave
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.