Clara FT has been a musician all her life. She began learning cello at the age of four, which progressed to double bass when she was seven, and by the time she was ten, Clara was writing her own songs. She’s worked with Charlie Deakin Davies in a session musician capacity, as well as recording some of her own songs with the producer.
In April, Clara joined indie band Second Thoughts, replacing departing bassist Georgia Vermeiren. The band went on their first tour in September and October, playing six dates across England, including one in their hometown of Hitchin. With Clara in the band, Second Thoughts have released singles entitled ‘Nicotine Stains’ and most recently ‘Joyrider’. Originally released under her own name, ‘thus spake the cake’ is the debut release for Mary In The Junkyard, four songs beginning with ‘candelabra’.
‘I want you to know me through my songs, they’re so much cleaner than anything I could say, and I don’t mind if we sit in silence, as long as you’re near me.’
Beginning with the ambient sound of surrounding forest, ‘candelabra’ would be full of birdsong beneath Mary In The Junkyard’s soft classical guitar finger-picking. This combination is the perfect setting for Mary’s gently expressive voice, which is pure performance. There is no ‘production’ on thus spake the cake. No vocal overdubs, no reverb, guitar doubles, or anything more than what it is. Each track is the result of pressing record and capturing an entire take of a song.
‘Don’t let me into your life, baby, I hurt you enough as it is. Don’t let me under your skin, baby, I’m full of false promises.’
Mary’s music is the kind that tells a story, and perhaps not always absorbed by the listener the first time around. Though of course all music is open to interpretation, it’s possible that candelabra is about a relationship that may well be about to happen, but is called to a halt by the protagonist. Considering all of thus spake the cake was written by Mary in her teenage years, the poetic and musical wisdom in these songs is exceptional.
‘Frantically I wrote you a letter, one I knew I would never send. Write fast, write deep, write better, nothing I ever write will be enough.’
‘I think I’m trapped in the maze of my mind, tossing and turning in my sleep. I’ve seen too much and I can’t cope.’
Mary hums the melody over her guitar playing during the beginning of ‘sanity’. The recording conditions of the track mean that the song Mary is singing is simultaneously close-up in your ears, while the sound of the wider forest is almost a separate atmosphere entirely.
‘Oh sweet freedom, I shouldn’t have let you go. I love you so, and it’s my fault that you’re oblivious. Where are you now? I’m just sitting and wondering.’
There is somewhat an air of desperation in Mary’s vocal as she sings sanity, capturing the essence of the track as if she’d just written it that day. The words too reflect this, which could’ve only been penned in a time where they were echoing something of the truth. It’s personal, but relatable too without forcing that narrative upon the listener.
‘Look deep into my eyes and you can see my soul, covered up with nicotine and paint.’
‘The future’s looking bright and we don’t know where we’ll live, and isn’t that exciting? So much empty space to sing in.’
The shortest track on thus spake the cake is also the most uplifting. ‘been’ is warmer in Mary’s chord choices, and lyrically is more optimistic at the possibility of the unknown. The selection of songs on thus spake the cake were chosen for how well they translate to their simple arrangements here. It’s not difficult to imagine the wider scope the music has, especially with been. Could there be a version of this song in the universe that exists with cello, percussion and other acoustic instruments?
Through these four songs, it’s unknown how the EP title relates to it, or if it does at all. And what about the curious artwork of thus spake the cake? The figure in the photograph is called Brian and is, like the rest of the EP, homemade art. This all ties in with Mary’s artistic approach. There was no expensive studio session booked, no photographer hired, no art director at the helm and no social media campaign employed. This EP is Clara FT’s purest form of expression.
‘Wasting all of my days in the elasticity of the haze.’
It was a pleasant surprise to hear that snippet of music I’d listened to a year before in its full composition. The theme of ‘the river’ fits well with its recording location, a song seemingly about escaping into nature in an act of emotional healing. With the exception of ‘been’, there is a melancholia to the music on thus spake the cake, a sense of weariness that is best expressed in this final track.
‘Always want to lie in the river, I’m always so dry and I wither. I’m always so dry, and I wither.’
In as little as twelve minutes, Mary In The Junkyard creates a mood that lasts longer than its running time. Four moments that could well be short stories, with lyricism that inspires repeated listens, and imagery that evokes your own creativity. Clara FT has yet to perform live under the name of Mary In The Junkyard, and with this EP so far being her only officially released output, it would be interesting to see what stories her other songs tell.
Read on for our Q&A with Mary In The Junkyard. We ask about the origins of these songs, the EP’s recording conditions, The Life of Brian, Second Thoughts and much more below.
1. Your EP ‘thus spake the cake’ was written over a few years. When did you decide to collect these songs into an EP? Are there other songs that didn’t make the cut?
There are so many songs that didn’t make the cut haha! it wasn’t because I didn’t like them but more because I wanted the ep to have a mood to it. I usually group my songs into feelings or vibes so the songs (to me at least) make sense together. Also another reason for picking the songs on thus spake the cake was just because the ones I picked sound the best stripped back and I wanted the first music i give the world to be as pure as possible, just me and a guitar, nick drake-y.
2. Were these tracks recorded outside? It’s so lovely to hear all the birdsong behind the music.
yes they were. in the feral wilderness of kimpton. I was getting really claustrophobic and tangled trying to record them in my bedroom with wires and mic stands everywhere and also it’s impossible to get my family to be quiet so one day I just decided to charge up my laptop and take all my recording stuff to the woods. I wrote most of these songs outside so it felt right. it was funny because it didn’t even occur to me that the bird noise would be in the background, im so used to the woods that i sort of tune it out – it was so nice to listen back and be like oh wow! they sang too!! they are a bit like a featured artist on the tracks, it definitely wouldn’t be the same without them so thanks birds.
3. There’s so much to offer in these songs, what inspired ‘sanity’?
i think it’s about the big existential freak out i had when i realised i wasn’t a tiny child anymore, and that the world can be kind of nasty. I think a lot of people experience it. I wrote sanity when i was thirteen i think? so it’s hard to remember exactly what i was feeling at the time. It’s a kind of peter-pan ish song about wanting to stay little to stay free and also protect yourself from everything. and trying to hold onto your sanity as your perception is shifting and morphing as you grow up.
4. These songs were selected because they translate well to acoustic arrangements. If you were given a budget to arrange and record your music how you envision, what would that sound like?
I’m not really sure – in a lot of ways I love music to stay simple, most of the music I listen to is pretty low budget. I work a lot with my friend charlie who is a producer and we have done a lot of cool quite heavily produced stuff which i definitely want to release eventually. i’m a big fan of folktronica and trip hop so I would love to do some more of that! I find that the recording process makes it hard to translate all of your musical thoughts into sound but I’d really like to make some music that builds up a soundscape like Radiohead’s in rainbows, in Auroras first album or Leonard Cohen’s last album (one of my favourites, that album plunges me into a completely different place) but I don’t think i’ve found my sound yet – it would definitely involve a lot of strings and bass and ghostly piano kind of stuff. and CHOIRS. And I really want to get into sampling and synths. I recently saw cosmo sheldrake live and he improvised using sampled bird and fish noises which was pretty crazy. he used sounds made by mushrooms. i didnt know that they could make sound, it was a kind of wuurp-wurup noise that i would definitely imagine a mushroom to make! the next step is to figure out what they are saying. sorry that was a bit of a tangent
5. You’re a big fan of symphony composers, was there a moment you remember being floored by a particular piece of music for the first time?
I remember playing in orchestras from a young age and having this feeling like my chest was exploding, like being totally engulfed by this giant but extremely intricate noise. And to be a part of that huge organism of sound is the best feeling. The first time I felt that was probably playing Tchaikovsky’s romeo+juliet symphony when i was twelve ish. or going to see Shostakovich’s 5th symphony, which totally transported me to 1930s Russia and the fear he must’ve felt when he wrote it. I love the intensity and drama of symphonies, they are written to contain those moments of shock and beauty simultaneously
6. Tell us about Brian, was he always meant to be a part of the artwork? Or was he created for another purpose first?
Very glad you asked about Brian, He was made in a kind of manic haze during lockdown, sort of by accident, pretty certain I was possessed by a brian-demon for a few hours and thus brian was birthed. He’s made of plaster and paper mache. He’s huge and lives on my wall now, usually surprises anyone that sees him. I’m very fond of him and so naturally he was a good candidate for the cover. i feel like as something a bit weird that I made by accident he goes quite well with the EP.
7. You began learning cello and then onto double bass whilst still in your childhood, what inspired your progression to guitar?
I used to go round to an old man’s house who is a master at all things jazz and blues, and he would teach me to play jazz bass and we would jam lots of jazz and blues standards together. I would do walking bass and he would riff on the guitar, it was great. I loved playing bass but I was obsessed with the way that he played guitar and he gave me lessons and taught me a lot of unique picking patterns and chords that really helped me write these songs. I love bossa nova and so I learned a lot of Antonio Jobin and Elis Regina songs – i think the best way to write songs is to learn songs.
8. You joined Second Thoughts back in April, how did you become a part of the band?
I met Georgia (their last bassist), and she went away for a bit so I filled in for her at a few practices, then she decided to leave the band and she’s sailing around the world now! I joined the band at a pretty exciting time, just as we were beginning to blow up a bit online and get management etc so i feel like i jumped on a pretty exciting ship!
9. You recently embarked on your first tour with Second Thoughts, what was that experience like?
It was exhausting and so amazing. I’ve never gigged in that way before so it was a crazy time.. met so many really lovely people and it was so cool to see them dancing along to our tunes and knOwing the WORDS it was mad. I love the whole weary experience of gigging, the load in and late load out, going a bit mad onstage and losing your voice it feels like really living haha. I struggled a bit with the comedown from it and have been a bit bored so I’ve been writing a lot. I feel like I suddenly experienced more in a month than i had in a whole year. We’re hoping to do a couple of local gigs this year though which i’m excited about. local ones are certainly the vibeyest. Last week we played on top of a bus driving through central london which felt wondrous. i want more bus gigs.
10. It would be wonderful to hear ‘thus spake the cake’ live, are there any plans to go out and play some solo gigs?
Thankyou! I’d really love to do some live gigs on my own, especially I’d love to get supports for nice acoustic gigs. I do some open mics and busk a lot locally so I’m quite well practiced at playing solo. I love chill indie gigs. I really want to try and get a small folky band together too.
11. You’ve been recording more of your own music too lately, will there be more music coming out this year?
I’m gonna try to get something else out by the end of the year. im thinking cello?!! something a bit less naked than spake. Watch this space!! I’ve been working on an ep called ‘the big sleeping city’ because i have a lot of songs about being in a city and so i thought id group them up. That’s not certain though. i change my mind a lot. but I’ll definitely get something out. i feel it bubbling.
‘thus spake the cake’ by Mary In The Junkyard is available to download and stream in all the usual places.