Me for Queen
AFTER growing up on a mixture of sounds…
and studying Classical music – not to mention, a Blues-guitarist father – it is not surprising seeing Me for Queen instil and combine so many different aspects and elements into her music. The moniker of Mary Erskine; Me for Queen is the result of a bright and passionate young artist who grew up in a rural part of Scotland by the sea – making music as a way of dodging the washing-up!
I speak to Me for Queen about being compared with Regina Spektor; the story behind the new track, Jessica, and how it differs from her previous track, Slow Train. She talks about the albums and artists that have impacted her most; the role music has played in her life – and what gig plans are afoot.
Hi, Mary. How are you? How has your week been?
I am in the middle of touring – so, it’s busy but good fun.
Today, I left the house at 5 A.M. for a video-shoot - after driving 450 miles yesterday.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I sing songs under the name, Me for Queen.
I would say they could, roughly, be described as piano-led (sometimes) Soul-Folk (songs).
Can you tell me about that moniker, 'Me for Queen'? Where did that come from?!
Very sorry to disappoint… but I just liked the sound of it when it popped into my head, one day.
Jessica is the new single. What can you tell me about its creation and meaning?
it's the first song I have ever written and recorded on the guitar. It's, also, probably the song that has taken me the longest to write in terms of brain-time…and editing.
It was inspired by a conversation with the mother of a good friend. It happened around the same time that I was questioning/mulling over the idea of what the role of an artist is…“Am I allowed to be an artist? Is it/am I "useful" enough?" and so, in some way, this song took on a bigger role in mind - almost becoming an anthem to motivate me through/celebrate me starting to find my way out of that mental wobble.
It follows from your previous track, Slow Train. Have you been buoyed by the positive reaction to that song and the E.P., Who I Am & What I’m For?
Slow Train felt like the beginning of a new chapter...
It came out so simple as an idea; I tried to fiddle with it thinking, surely, I can’t just have a song with only three chords in it…then, realised, I just needed to back off and leave it alone! It feels assured and at-one-with-itself, which is funny, because it sort of foretold the next six months.
I love how a lyric can just present itself to you at first, without you knowing where it has come from…before some sort of further meaning reveals itself to you much later on; a year, or sometimes longer, further, down the line.
Big Magic is out there!
The likes of Tom Robinson (BBC Radio 6 Music) have backed your music. How important is that kind of support to your confidence and motivation levels?
Everyone needs a quote from a famous person. Haha. I’d love to get him down to a gig, one day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ângelo Valente
Tell me how you got into music. I believe classical training and a Blues guitarist father had an influence?
I started learning piano by the Suzuki method (by ear) when I was very young. I was a proper little Classical buff and got very into practising and playing concerts - and just adored my piano teacher. She was like a second granny.
We listened to a lot of Scottish traditional stuff too (at home) like dancing music. I still know ALL of the Hits from the '60s cassette we listened to most days on the ride home from school.
Then, Dad would have Muddy Waters blasting out one evening; Eric Clapton the next..a delicious and nutritious cocktail.
What was it about music that appealed to you? Can you put, into words, what it means and how it makes you feel?
To be totally honest; I realised, fairly early on, that music practice was my passport to getting out of the washing up. I’m the youngest of five and you’re always trying to find that way to be heard! So, I suppose it was inevitable.
I just caught the music bug thing quite early on. I loved playing fast and loud! I still do. I have good muscle memory and I learn very quickly and I soon realised that if I just practiced every day, I could get through a LOT of music! Then, I started noodling more with my own things; writing my own songs - around the age of twelve - but was too shy to sing in front of anyone for about another ten years after that.
Music is a language: simple as that. Anything you can just go into the zone with and lose yourself for a while…you want to hold onto that. If you can make a living from it, all the better.
From a songwriting perspective, there are very few things I love more about being alive than getting that little glimpse or flash of lightning - where you know a song is starting to cook and an idea that’s been knocking around in your head for months suddenly finds a shape or a voice.
Was it quite easy and natural forging that rich and unique sound? Did it take a lot of experiment?
I don’t know.
I still feel like I have a way to go, but the E.P. felt like a good jumping-off-point. It’s funny. I had this whole anxiety around the piano that it wasn’t right/that I didn’t like the sound of my playing/that piano was going to push it in one direction/make everything sound the same…
James Yorkston, a songwriter whose work I really admire, said, at some point along the way: “Write some more good songs. Make them so fuck*ng good that you only need you and a piano for them to shine. Everything else will fall into place.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Carl Osbourn Photography
So; I started trying to just dig in and really focus on the piano and see what I could get out of it - making it more of the focal point. Then, it was just working with my friends, who also happen to be brilliant musicians, bringing along their own respective magic touch into the studio. Sam Johnson, who I met just before Iron Horse, has played a huge part - apart from, literally, playing on the record (beautiful, dreamy space-guitar) but, also, in encouraging me to think more about production.
He’s so fun to work with and is always up for running with whatever idea you throw at him.
You have drawn comparisons to Regina Spektor and Laura Marling. Who are the artists that have inspired you the most?
From age sixteen-eighteen; I was obsessed with Jeff Buckley. Then, Björk (to that when I was at uni) - as well as Parliament, Funkadelic and Can!
Then; Beth Orton, and more recently, Judee Sill.
You are heading out on your fourth tour of the year. Where will you be visiting?
All over the place!
I just got back from the Scottish-leg – we played some of my favourite shows yet! Mull was just a delight - and it was very special to play my very first ‘hometown’ gig in Crail with a full band - where my dad opened up with a few songs!
Is it hard finding the energy to keep going on the road or is it a place that calls to you?
No. I absolutely love touring.
I didn’t really get how it worked before, but then, I worked it out and that’s, presumably, why I’ve ended up doing four in a year!
I have to be strict now and get this album done before I go out again…
IN THIS PHOTO: Lloyd Jerwood
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Björk - Post
I find it hard to pick my favourite album of hers – but, I discovered Post and it, somehow, just grabbed me when I was living in Paris - and I became quickly obsessed. I remember feeling so astonished and inspired that all of that could come from one human brain.
The scale of a song like Isobel or All the Modern Things; the imagination, those arrangements…it reminds me of a time where I was a student living in Paris and the world felt enormous and exciting - and ready to be devoured.
Jeff Buckley - Grace
It (just) woke up my teenage angst! I think my brother got me onto him. I listened to it, pretty much solidly, for a good two years. I could never pick a favourite song from it.
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Again, in terms of albums I have listened to so many times that they have crawled under my skin and stayed with me, this has to be in there, too. It’s a brilliant, timeless album. Even if she did say, at some point, she didn’t write it for white people…but, fair enough…
…this and Jill Scott, Aaliyah; TLC…I felt like I was finding my own way while friends were listening to Britpop/guitar stuff. I (just) loved that silkier, soulful thing with assured, confident female voices.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
I have hardly ‘come through’ myself. Have I? Perhaps I have crawled through the hedge; stung myself on some nettles - but can at least see through to the clearing; while they are still in the back garden?!
Play better. Write better. Try and find something that feels authentic to you. Don’t look for any sense of logic in the workings of your industry.
Work hard and don’t expect anything.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Prefab Sprout - When Love Breaks Down
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