Mary Epworth has just rushed back to the hotel after grabbing a quick breakfast. She’s in Boston, currently a few dates shy of completing her nationwide tour of the United States, and the British singer-songwriter is commenting on a tweet she sent in early May regarding the United Kingdom’s general elections: “Oh U.K., what have you done?”
“This is like our second term of George Bush, basically,” she says, summarizing her view of the Conservative and Unionist Party in terms we Americans can understand. “And they’re in for another five years. All of us are so shocked, because it’s gotten so bad. You’re in your own Facebook bubble/confirmation bias and you feel like we’re all politically engaged — but then they come in and have the majority.”
She’s unsure what might happen next in her country. Already, around her town of Bishop’s Stortford (sandwiched between London and Cambridge), she’s noticed a rise in activist groups, and with that, she hopes, a possibility of a strong counterculture to come. The same week as the general elections, Epworth was in Detroit, and though she’s quick to discount any comparison between the Motor City and the possible bleak future of England, it does make her consider how Detroit is in tune with its music scene amid uncertainty. “When people have nothing, they get really passionate about what they’ve got,” she says.
For the past two months Epworth has been on her American odyssey through cities and deserts, and although it’s been many years, this tour isn’t the first time she’s experienced the country through a car window. For a few months as a child, her family lived in Roanoke, Virginia.
“We did the big West Coast, mega Winnebago trip then. I was only five and it was an intense experience,” Epworth reflects. “It was formative, and huge chunks of the album are about this imagined American landscape. I love landscapes and all the different characters of different cities, so it’s been a dream, really.”
That album she mentioned is her debut — Dream Life — released in England in 2012 and this year in the States. It’s eleven tracks of soaring, expansive folk music connected by an underlying thread of keys and synths. (Produced by her partner Will Twynham, Dream Life was partially inspired by the Beach Boys’ “weird, monolithic synth stuff.”)
Dream Life‘s opening number is also one of its strongest. Marked by raspy brass horns and a stadium-sized chorus, “Long Gone” has Epworth lamenting, “Sweet old song/Now you roam from me/How I howl in your sweet memory.”
“This kind of sounds like it trivializes it, but it [doesn’t] — I had a really old dog that I grew up with and it died,” Epworth says of the tune’s origins. “That was kind of a big shock, because this was the first dog that I’ve known for fifteen years, and around the same time I found out that my friend’s mom had died from breast cancer. It was sort of like a double whammy of loss, really. It was one of those songs that came as a bit of an outpouring — which, I always feel like my best songs are the ones that are emotionally driven writing experiences. I feel like that song came to me.”
On the next page: “At home we’re like, ‘What’s the deal with these Monster Energy drinks everywhere?’ ”
Epworth says she feels the most relaxed in nature. There’s something about the vast emptiness of the desert and ocean that generates a certain calmness. It’s reflected in her music and has dictated aspects of this tour. “If I have ten days without feeling like I connected to the landscape, I start to get really grumpy,” she admits. To remedy this small issue, she’s risen at the crack of dawn to hike the mountains of New Mexico, gazed upon wild buffalo from her car window, and even turned some focus onto understanding the American psyche.
“It’s really simple things. At home we’re like, ‘What’s the deal with these Monster Energy drinks everywhere?’ And I get it here, because eight-hour drives and four-hour drives [require them],” she says, commenting on how unfazed Americans are when it comes to driving long distances. “It’s a functioning fuel for a driving country. [I go] into the gas station and there are extra caffeine shots you can get to put in your gas station coffee — and I get all of this now!”
Once the tour ends, Epworth will head back to England, where she’s anticipating her return home after the changing of the seasons. “I’ve been away and I’ve missed all of it…it’s going to be really strange to go home and it’ll be June.”
But when pressed on this disappointment, she’s quick to laugh off the minor hiccup. “Yeah, you know, it’s a high-class problem,” she says. “I’m on tour in the U.S.”
Mary Epworth plays the Living Room in Brooklyn on May 25. For more information, head here.