Interview: Mariel Buckley, “Driving in the Dark”

Mariel Buckley - "Driving in the Dark"

Do you ever find an album that sticks in your head, one that you compulsively play on repeat?  “Driving in the Dark,” Mariel Buckley’s latest album, has been that kind of addictive for me.  Produced by Leeroy Stagger, this project has some superb roots sounds and the accessible, vulnerable (yet passionate) lyrics that seem to characterize Mariel’s songwriting.

The entire album is excellent and really demonstrates her progression as an artist; some of the songs that I’ve found it most difficult to stop playing are “Rose Coloured Frames,” a jewel of a tune in 6/8 rhythm that hearkens back to the olden days of classic country in the loveliest way possible, and “Stray Dogs,” a harrowing tale well told.  “Jumping the Fence” is a great showcase for Mariel’s vocal skills, which can swerve from tenderness to anger (and all the shades in between) on a dime – never excessive, mind you, but equal to the stories that she’s telling.  Indeed, one of Mariel’s greatest gifts is that of compelling storytelling (through song), and she deploys that talent to devastating effect throughout the album.

We’re so pleased that Mariel took some time to answer a few questions about “Driving in the Dark.”

For this project (which is your second full-length album, I believe), you worked with Leeroy Stagger as producer – how can you describe his impact on the process and the finished album?

Lee has been a huge supporter of mine for a long time. He was instrumental in pushing my limits as a songwriter and the way I was interpreting recording my own music. I knew I wanted to identify myself as an edgier roots artist and  he totally understood. His guidance led me to find a big piece of my identity.

As I was listening to the album, I was also reading through your blog; your most recent post (as of now) talked about how personal you find this particular set of songs and how the time leading up to the album’s release involved not only anxiety but also some grief… now that the album is out, do you feel differently?

Hah, that post was certainly an emotional piece. I feel a bit lighter for sure, but the heaviness and anxiety kind of circles me at any given time. I think I thought I’d feel happier, and in some ways I do feel less stressed, but the turmoil in my life will always be there as fuel for the songs. It’s just a part of who I am.

An earlier post talked about rejection as a possible source of inspiration… as you’ve released this album, and read reviews (or not! – I know some artists don’t), comments, etc., does that alter your perspective on the whole process that artists have to follow in order to make their art public and (hopefully) make a living from it?

My perspective is that good reviews are fantastic and I’m thankful to have received so many this far. Rejection is part and parcel with those great reviews, and though I’ve been lucky to be getting my tires pumped so far I’m sure lots of folks have a problem with what I’m doing or otherwise.

I don’t feel like my ideals on how to make art public or viable have changed much, I’m trying to be smarter with the way I approach gigs and tours so that it can remain a good source of continuous investment and income, instead of just throwing money and time into a hole.

I have to say that “Jumping the Fence” struck an unexpected chord with me, as I had one of those parents with a loaded gun in the closet who (I suspect) might have run the prospective lover off if provoked… was this song inspired by a concrete experience or person/people in your life?

The song is certainly embellished and I’m happy to say I’ve never been threatened at gunpoint, but the bones of the story are completely true. All I’ll say is that it was a defining moment in shaping my views about love and tolerance, and it’s stuck with me in a big way.

“Stray Dogs” is such a compelling story and song both… how did it come to you?

I grew up across from what I would call an inner-city reservation. So for most of my childhood, we would take the bus or walk home beside this really long barb-wire fence that bordered the line between my community and the reserve. It was strange that the border existed at all. This was the early 2000’s and I still recall a very definitive societal separation between their community and mine.

The story was part fabricated, but many of the elements from the song are things I read or witnessed living next to “Black Bear Crossing”, which was a rougher spot inhabited by army barracks. My parents told me it was where people went to do drugs and drink. I read a story in the Globe & Mail ten years ago about three sets of teenagers who had all consecutively OD’d or killed themselves in those army barracks and it crushed me.

That reserve is gone now, and when I was writing for the album I drove past the old barbed wire fence. Nobody lives on that plot anymore, and I don’t know. I think my story came out of the bones of my childhood experience. I feel conflicted and sometimes like I’m out of my right as a storyteller. Is it my story to tell? I don’t know. But I told it.

Are there any particular musicians or songwriters who have especially inspired you on your journey so far as a musician?

There are so many fantastic songwriters who have contributed to my experience in some way. Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, kd lang and Jason Isbell to name a few.

What touring/performing/festival plans do you have for the summer?

Vancouver Folk Festival and Calgary Folk Festival are our two bigger appearances, but the other dates will all be posted on first week of June!

~ L

Listen to “Driving in the Dark” on Spotify.

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