|Singer-songwriter Mara Flynn performs with Tiger Saw |
March 24 at the Firehouse.
It's not like Mara Flynn fell off the face of the earth. She's been around, over there, at the Tannery, running Acting Out Productions for the past decade. And it's not like she made a conscious decision to walk away from music, from the stage. Not at first, anyhow, although it almost ended up that way, but not because she had grown tired of it. Life just took over. Her focus turned to family, the day-to-day and, after a while, she just didn’t feel the need to pick up the guitar. Maybe once a year, when she would have to play camp songs at summer theater workshops for kids, but that’s it. And the stage? That would have been way too much of a commitment, with rehearsals and performances and all. All things considered, life was good and, just when things started getting comfortable, real life came tumbling down on her, big time — a health crisis, an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed her. Which got her attention. And, after dealing with the physical realities, left her holding the existential bag. She had to figure out what all of this meant, which, for Flynn, meant creatively. She started writing, not for anybody in particular, just writing to process, writing from “a place of deep grief and solitude,” she says.
That was six years ago. That was the beginning, a new beginning. And it was Metrano’s steady support and encouragement that led Flynn — “with some desperation,” she says — to reconnect with other musicians out there, in her life, in her past, to try and put something together. One show led to another, and, over time, to refining the tunes as bandmates emerged and lent their talents to the songs. And this, in turn, led to the actual recording of “Small as a Heartbeat,” a six-song EP, on Burst & Bloom, Metrano’s music and publishing label, put out late last year. The album gets a proper Port release March 24, when Flynn opens for Tiger Saw at the Firehouse, its first local show in about seven years.
Back in the saddle
Flynn grew up in Newbury, went to Triton Regional High School. She made her singing debut in 1996, performing with Hamlet Idiot, the confrontational Port proto-punk band founded by Metrano and Gregory S. Moss, on “11/8/88,” from “Tango Palace,” the band’s debut. She moved to New York, studied theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She performed in Milksop Holly, a hypnotic folk-pop duo with bassist and all-around Big Apple indie hotshot Kramer. The band recorded two albums — "Milkweeds" and "Time to Come In" at the turn of the century, right about the same time that Metrano, in Los Angeles, was putting the final touches on the music that would break with Saw. She toured Europe with Milksop, the whole deal. Right around that time, Tiger Saw, fresh out of the box, used a Flynn song — “Xmas” as the B-Side to “I Keep My Misfortune,” on its Redwood Records 7-inch. Flynn also did backup vocals on "Let's Born to Rock," Jad Fair's 2002 release.
She moved back to the area and began teaching and running summer workshops and opened Acting Out Productions, a Tannery-based school dedicated to the study of creative and expressive theater arts for students as young as 4 years old, with Deidre Budzyna in 2005. She also sang on a couple of tracks by now-bandmate Guy Capecelatro III, including “Origami Helps My Anger Issues” in 2007. She confesses, reluctantly, to experimenting with origami when she was young and naive — never inhaling, of course— but denies anger management issues completely. Last year, in addition to releasing her first album in nearly a decade, she also contributed one song to the "Seasonal Disorder" series, compilations of Burst & Bloom artists and fellow travelers, different genres and moods, all reflecting, one way or another, the season.
The South Berwick, Maine, resident has also returned to the stage, performing in “Proof,” David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, at the Firehouse. It was her first role in seven years, since she performed in Sirius Theater’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Play,” playing opposite Gregory S. Moss and Holly Little — performances delivered from an urn.
About the new album: "Small as a Heartbeat" is a tumult, six songs, unconnected stylistically, songs that are alternatively beautiful, mesmerizing, haunting and gut-wrenching, songs that bring clarity and understanding to what must have been an emotionally blinding experience, looking at it from a variety of perspectives. It’s a mixed bag of styles, a jarring contrast, at times, between the lyrical and musical content of the songs. It’s a place where the hooky pop of "Shit Fuck Damn," the only think you can say when it all goes wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it, can coexist with the country waltz of “My Soul Tells Me So,” which, lyrically, describes a blank, dissociative experience of looking into a mirror and not recognizing yourself, from the minimal, mournful “Show Me,” built around simple piano chords, almost bringing to mind Horses-era Patti Smith. It's almost impossible to get through the final cut, the final goodbyes of the title cut, without blubbering, confronting life lessons that are too hard for anyone, where understanding seems hardly worth the pain, where “every loss is a lesson, every passing a blessing.” Tough stuff indeed. If it all sounds rather bleak, at least lyrically, that's because it is. This is real life, after all. But Flynn provides a clarity of vision, a place where terrible life lessons delivered without angst, without bitterness, where understanding emerges eventually, from free-fall, from emotional tumult. The distance helps, clarity of the experience coming in retrospect, after the heavy lifting has been done, emotionally, and, for Flynn, the process, the journey is the thing. “The journey of creating this album,” she says, “has given me many gifts — friendships and community, the joy of singing and making music again, and a sense of accomplishment in being able to share this music which, for me, came from a sacred place.”
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Mara Flynn and Tiger Saw will perform at 8 p.m. March 24 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 978.462.7336 or log onto firehouse.org.