The magnificent debut album ‘Thank You Alexander‘ from Swiss creative Mary Middlefield comes out this Friday, and it is not something you are going to want to miss.
As a composer classically trained on the violin before all else, Mary recently transitioned to a folk-inspired singer/songwriter, as a creative outlet for the heartache she was experiencing mid-pandemic. Written between Switzerland and London, ‘Thank You Alexander‘ is a product of that change, and visits vulnerable topics to the delicate yet powerful sound of various orchestral and band accompaniments. Although each track is strikingly different from one another, together they create a cohesive symphony of deep expression and intricacy.
We sat down with Mary ahead of the album’s release on the 3rd of March, to discuss all things past and present. From the influence of her upbringing in Switzerland to the importance of visuals in creating the overall essence of an album…
‘Thank You Alexander‘ depicts such a personal story; how does it feel to be sharing it in a matter of days?
To be honest I haven’t quite processed it! It is very personal, and it took us 2 years to write, so I think I’ve just put it to the back of my head, but I’m very excited for people to hear it. I hope people relate to it more than anything because that’s personally what I love; when people release personal stories when they’re angry or sad. I love hearing sad and angry women, not because they’re sad or angry but because it’s really refreshing to hear.
So, you started playing the violin 15 years ago, did you grow up with that classical influence at home, or was it through your peers/school?
It was originally at home. My dad works a lot and when I was a kid he would put on this tv channel called Mezzo, which is this French channel that constantly plays the best stuff in classical music at the time. I remember I would go into his office and just listen. My grandma wanted me to play violin when I was (a) kid so it just came from there really.
How has growing up in Switzerland vs your time spent in London influenced you and what you’ve created?
I think as a person Switzerland has influenced me a lot in the way that it’s very calm. As someone who is very grounded and quite a shy person, I don’t talk a lot and I think that goes with the vibe of Switzerland. It’s small, people know each other, and I feel very at home here. When I’m in London everyone is so nice and open and that forces me to get out of my comfort zone. I think that is really what I try to do with my music sometimes. (I) like to go to a bunch of shows (by) artists I’ve never heard of before, that’s what I love most about London; the shows.
Can you sum up ‘Thank you Alexander’ and explain what it means to you?
The name actually came to me in a dream. That’s when I started working on the record when I had a name for it and then tried to piece the story together. The whole thing is kind of meta. To me, everyone has an Alexander in their life or will have one eventually. Someone who made you really miserable, but for the best. My Alexander turned my life around and I’m very grateful for that.
How have you found the response to your most recent release ‘This One’s For You‘?
Overwhelming! I found the response really nice, it’s definitely different from the other tracks we have on the record. I mean everything’s really sad on the record but I wanted to do something that resembles what I feel all the time- I want to find somebody but I’m really lazy and I don’t like talking to people. Seeing that people related to it and that people liked the video and the song was really overwhelming and cool. Especially when you’re a nobody from Switzerland, and a classical music kid who started putting music out a couple of months ago and people are listening. That’s really nice.
The credits for the music video appeared to feature a positively female-heavy crew. What was it like working on a project with such a large creative group of women like that?
The vibes were elite. Most of us were queer and female and the vibes were absolutely immaculate. But, I’ve never actually felt a difference being surrounded by different genders. I’m very lucky in that, I know it’s not always the case in the music industry, but on this shoot, we had dominantly a female crew, whereas when I recorded my album it was just me and my guys, and as a woman, I never actually felt better or worse in both scenarios. I hope that will one day become the standard, as it’s not surprising to see a female crew credited, it should be the norm. I’m just very lucky that with my collaborators like Gwen Buord who is my co-producer, I have the best relationships, and never feel undermined whatsoever.
What track off the new album are you most proud of?
I think there are two. I love ‘Mr. John‘; I think it’s one of my more vulnerable tracks on the record, and I love the diary moment I have in there when I’m telling a friend a story, (and) I love how simple it is. We didn’t want to produce it a lot, we felt like it needed to be a ballad with just some guitar and synths behind it. There’s a trigger warning on it kind of, but maybe that’s why I love it. I also love ‘Last Letter.’ That’s probably my favourite song on the album. It’s actually a letter, and I love that I managed to take something that I wrote to somebody ages ago and turn it into a song.
Each track is so different to one another, do you consciously not limit your music to a particular genre?
I have a lot of influences that go (from) the 60s up to now, but when I usually write lyrics or when I get into my process of writing a song, I usually have some kind of artist who heavily influences me at the time or I know exactly what I want production to look like. We still wanted the album to be very cohesive but with a lot of different sounds to not make it too uniform. I love folk music, I think that is what everything is based on and every song in there is a folk song that we just produced differently. It all just really depends on what I’m listening to in the moment.
Do you think the transition you made from classical violin training to pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter was always inevitable?
I think yes it was always inevitable because when I look at it now I have always written lyrics. I’ve always written stuff, and I never thought of it as a job or anything like that. When I was graduating as a violinist still, I was thinking what the hell am I going to do with this instrument, because the options are limited, and none of the options felt right to me. You can be in an orchestra, which I wouldn’t enjoy, you could be a teacher, but I don’t like kids.
Then you have the rights of being a soloist, but there are a lot of us and people are mean to you and my mental health just couldn’t. The push that my Alexander gave me was also part of that. It was a lot of things put together, but I’m now grateful to be able to pick up a violin and actually enjoy it.
The artwork for ‘Thank You Alexander‘, and your recent singles are beautiful- who was it that pained them?
An artist called Esme Stewart from Glasgow is who painted them. My manager found her and when I first saw her paintings my jaw dropped. I was like this is exactly what I want. Scott Styles did the graphics and a local photographer from here took the photos. So a lot of work for a few single/album covers!
There seems to be a running theme surrounding nature and the elements on your Instagram page/music artwork, is that something that inspires you in your music?
I don’t think that it inspires my music, but I think it inspires my mood and makes me who I am generally. Not to sound like a Swiss nationalist because I’m not, but Switzerland is genuinely so so beautiful. You have so many great spots. I haven’t seen most of them, but the places I chose for my covers were places which tied together with the song, and where the people I wrote them about were based. Usually, they’re around nature because I love hiking and skiing and everything the average Swiss person does.
Can we expect some live music to follow the release of the album?
Yes, so we have a live session that’s about to come out in about 2 weeks after the release of the record, and I’ll be in Switzerland doing a bunch of shows over the summer and doing some festivals. I hope to do an EU tour eventually too.
‘Thank You Alexander‘ is out on all streaming platforms on the 3rd of March. You can find Mary on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
Check out some of our other interviews here.