Interview by Vickey Ziegler
photos by Karen Stinchcombe and Jack Cooper
Imagine you’re in a quiet bar. There’s a tall girl with dark hair standing by a microphone. She presses a button on her phone, and the sound of a piano floods the room. There’s no real piano there of course, and we’ll just pretend this place has a great sound system.
You may feel underdressed, wishing to wear something more fitting of the time period spilling out of the speakers. Maybe a suit, slick your hair back if you lean toward a more masculine style. Or if you prefer the feminine side, a fitted dress and bouncy curls.
Finally, the tall willowy girl standing at the mic sings. She almost teases you by singing shorter words, until the last word of the chorus is stretched like caramel. At a glance it’s hard to believe such a rich, mature tone is coming from the young girl.
The singer is Mary Stinchcombe, a girl I’ve been friends with for at least 5 years. She’s 17-years old and a recent high-school graduate, but she’s also much more than that. She is an involved cosplayer (you may recognize her on Instagram as Mary Flare), and enjoys things like anime, dungeons and dragons, and video games. She is also a wonderful musician (in my not-so-humble opinion).
If you only knew her based on her musical sound, you wouldn’t guess she had such modern interests. She has variety in her music, but for the most part it sounds vintage, like her singing should have the slight crackle of an old record player underneath.
Mary and I used to work together for Jack Cooper at Cooper Studios (a talent development company for the music industry). At the time, she was known for singing songs like ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ and ‘Blue Moon Rising’ (both by Creedence Clearwater Revival).
She sounds beyond her age, and Cooper – now her agent – has likened her to artists like Patsy Cline. I think her sound is unique, but I also don’t listen to a lot of “oldie” music. Mary is the exception for me. To this day she has kept her bluegrass/country tone, and it sounds like there is some jazz influence in her work too.
She released an album called Out Of My Reach about a year ago (October 5th, 2019), and ‘Where This Falling In Love Goes’ was an instant favourite (I mainly listened to that as I wrote this). It falls into the smooth jazz sound for me, when she holds notes they sound like a decadent dessert.
Before Covid hit, Mary had an impressive amount of experience performing. She sang at local malls, at the Edmonton Airport, on Canada Day, and even at the Indspire awards this past March.
She had plans to sing for more indigenous-centered events after the Indspire awards “helped me to embrace that I’m Metis a lot more.” Unfortunately those plans had to be cancelled due to the Covid shutdown. Even worse, thanks to a poor internet connection at home, she hasn’t been able to do any live streamed concerts like other artists. “I live on an acreage, so it’s like oh, you want to be three minutes behind everything?”
However, since things started reopening during the summer, she’s been able to get back to performing. However, the new distancing rules have made for some unique experiences. The main differences she has noticed have been that all the events have to be outdoors, that the physical distance to the audience has to be maintained, and that socializing with fans is no longer allowed. She’s been able to sing at senior centers, and did so before quarantine, but she’s noticed a big change in particular is the lack of interaction she can have with the audience.
She remarked, “It’s kind of more awkward now because they always want to talk to me and I’m like you can’t do that, I’m sorry,” despite wanting to talk to them.
It’s clear they like her even aside from wanting to talk to her, as she added “they always demand me to be back on Sunday.”
Her campground gigs have been a unique experience as well. Her first time out at one of the campsites, she had to stand on a hill while people sat in lawn chairs quite far from her. Everyone was a little chilly that first time. But later she had a show in what she described as a dome so people could stay warm by a fire.
“People were jamming, they were warm, they weren’t freezing. So originally they thought they would have had to stand outside in the cold. But then they got to go in and they’re like this is so much better.”
Another thing she told me about the campsites was “it was kind of weird in that you didn’t know how many people were gonna show up. So, working [for] tips, it was like, I don’t know if I’m gonna get paid or not.”
I asked her if overall the vibe she got performing was too different from pre-COVID, and in her opinion “the different vibes of them is entirely dependent on like… Have I been promoted enough here that they know I’m singing, is the weather okay?” She concludes, “it’s very just dependent on things that I can’t control too much and I just sort of hope for the best.”
It’s this kind of positive thinking that has guided Mary through her journey as an artist. As I said earlier, I’ve known Mary since she started working with Jack (her current agent). When we were younger, she used to struggle with some anxiety about being on stage. She has obviously come a long way, so I asked her how she feels about performing now, and if she’s used to it at all.
She said she felt rather comfortable with her regular shows. At one gig the organizer was telling her “this is gonna be like a learning experience for you, and he was so scared for me and I’m like, I’ve sang for three hours straight before dude. I’m cool.”
The Indspire awards were different. “I went: This is insane. This is incredible. I have imposter syndrome! Because there… it was like, holy crap. These people, like there’s The Amazing Race guys go up on there, and just so many talented artists, and I was like, well, what the heck am I doing?”
She added “I guess it’s hard to process that I was doing that and I was on TV.”
I also asked more directly about how she feels about overcoming some of her anxiety about performing.
“Indspire Awards helped me with that a lot. Even though it did have that little mishap [a technical mishap where they played the wrong music], this has helped me to like feel more confident, better with who I am.”
I asked if she had any advice for any aspiring artists that may be experiencing the same nerves.
Her first piece of advice was to “just feed off their [the audience’s] energy, and if they’re not really putting out any energy—ignore that. Just have your own, just remember, hey I’m having fun doing this music. That’s why I’m here.”
Her second piece of advice was essentially to focus on positive reviews. “Don’t take every like, negative review very seriously, because I used to do that.”
Her third and final piece of advice was “find what music you enjoy. If you’re like I need to be popular—doesn’t matter. Do what you want. And if you do what you care about, what you want, things will like, happen. If you force yourself to like, do stuff that you don’t enjoy, you’re just gonna get in a pit of sadness.” She amended with a laugh, “maybe not in a pit of sadness, but you’ll be a little bummed out.”
She was also thinking about going to indigenous schools and giving speeches (even over zoom or google meets) about her journey and how far she has come. “I kind of want to do that because I like making people happy. I like spreading hope. So, whatever way I can do it, I’ll try my best.” At the time of our interview she was still in the process of contacting them, so I asked for a taste of what she would want to share.
“I just sort of want to send the message of like… things get better, because lots of things happened that made me sad in the past. And so I understand that things are really bad and it looks really bad, but it can be better.”
Mary has plans to release another album within the next couple of years; however, the exact timing is uncertain because the writer she’s working with needs to get the songs registered before she can promote them (even I didn’t get a sneak peek).
Her immediate goals are on getting her work set up online and establishing an online presence. “I’d like to have all the online stuff done so that people can find me easier than, how do I spell Stinchcombe.”
She especially wants to figure out how to get her music up on spotify/apple music so it’s more accessible. “Not a lot of people like CDs and I’m like, that’s fair. Cars don’t even have CD players anymore, for some of them.” She also wants to put up some of her work on youtube, and potentially film some music videos.
When asked about big dreams in the long term, she said “if it was a dream world I’d like to not be like, super famous. I’d just like to be known.”
As far as performances in the near future, she’s often booked at the last minute. “Sometimes it’ll be the day before. They’re like hey you want to sing here and I’m like, yep.”
On top of that, since it’s been getting colder, opportunities are slowing down. “As it gets into the winter season I’m figuring like no one’s gonna hire me for things because of Covid, which is fair, but also sad.” The best way to keep up with where Mary will be and when is through checking her facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/mary.stinchcombe.355). Listening to Mary is an absolute treat, so I’ll be checking back to try and catch her somewhere!
I take a lot of pride in getting to say I know such a successful artist personally, and I look forward to watching her grow even more. If you’re reading this, Mary, I mean every compliment given from the bottom of my heart. You deserve each one and more.
Mary’s album Out Of My Reach is available for digital purchase at her website https://www.marystinchcombe.com/ (hard copies are sold out). If you want to book her for an event her contact info is on her website. Or you can contact her agent Jack Cooper at (780) 717-3555. If you’re interested in taking lessons and getting similar opportunities, Cooper studios is offering lessons over facetime and has room for students of all ages.
To view the full 2020 Indspire Awards, click here. Mary Stinchcombe sings at 30′ 40″.