Mary Halvorson is a guitarist and composer living in Brooklyn, NY. She makes music that is experimental-leaning and that doesn’t necessarily fall neatly into conventional genres. One of New York City’s most in-demand guitarists, over the past decade Halvorson has worked with such diverse musicians as Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Dieterich, Trevor Dunn, Bill Frisell, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Jessica Pavone, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot and John Zorn. She is also associated with Audeze's longtime pal David Breskin, and has worked on several projects with him at the helm.
Here's our interview with Mary:
Please provide any preferred links to your discography, social media, etc, that you might want us to share:
I have always shied away from social media… I guess I am “old school” and aiming to get back to pencil and paper! This Facebook musician page is the extent of it.
And here is a link to my website, as well as a Bandcamp link with my recordings.
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
In 2018 I released a double album with my newest band Code Girl. It’s a song project for which I composed all the music and lyrics. The follow-up recording, Artlessly Falling, will be released in the fall of 2020.
What's the best place for those new to your work to become familiar with what you do?
I think of myself first and foremost as a performer, and personally I’m always a fan of checking out musicians in a live context whenever possible; of course, given the current climate that simply isn’t possible. I’d say checking out my band Code Girl, my octet record Away With You, and/ or my solo record Meltframe would give a fairly comprehensive picture of what I do.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
The one indisputable commonality is that I play the guitar! However it’s often hard to pinpoint my main role beyond that, because I do a lot of different things as a guitarist. I have several projects as a leader but I am also a part of a few collaborative bands, and I do quite a bit of work as a sidewoman-- I’ve spent a good deal of time playing and interpreting other people’s music. Regardless of the context, I place a high value on the individual voice, creativity and pushing boundaries.
How did you get started in music?
My original inspiration to pick up the guitar at age 11 was Jimi Hendrix. From there I discovered jazz which was the main genre that I listened to and studied growing up, and from jazz I branched out to all kinds of music-- experimental, all types of rock and folk and modern music.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
As a musician I constantly experience obstacles and frustrations, and they often aren’t solvable in one simple move. It took me years to get over stage fright, for example. And being left handed I have to work very hard to get my right hand up to speed on my instrument. With hindsight, I can say that putting in the time is very important, and not getting discouraged. There usually aren’t shortcuts, and if there are they won’t really get you anywhere. You just have to keep chipping away at things, and be patient. With music, as with any art, it’s a lifelong process. When I was younger I would look for shortcuts more often, these days I don’t.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
My two main guitars are a Guild Artist Award from 1970, and a custom made travel guitar with a removable neck built by the brilliant luthier Flip Scipio.
My favorite amplifier is my 1966 Fender Princeton Reverb. I have been using a Line Six Delay pedal for 20 years, and Elixir guitar strings are a must. I love my ProAc 100 speakers. My set up and my circle of gear is fairly simple.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?
Don’t be in a rush. Similar to what I said above, take your time with things and make sure to be thorough and thoughtful with everything you do. Along those lines: one of my favorite pieces of advice came from an article I read recently about the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich: Don’t skip steps, have a sense of humor, and get over yourself.
How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?
I have worked with headphones for as long as I can remember. For me it’s a unique listening experience and great way to really hear the minute sonic details of a piece of music. For recording, mixing and mastering it’s crucial, and for simple enjoyment/ pleasure as well. I travel a lot therefore I end up relying on headphones often. It’s not always possible to blast music on a stereo. When I discovered Audeze headphones I was blown away by the range of detail, warmth, and imaging they provide. I can trust what I am hearing and know that I can make decisions on mixing and recording with confidence.
The Audeze LCD-X is the best pair of headphones I've ever owned, and the best pair I ever will own. The imaging is perfect, and the sound is so rich and warm. No detail is lost and the clarity is incredible. Whether listening to my favorite albums or using them to track in the studio, they have quickly become indispensable. Not to mention they're incredibly comfortable. Normally after wearing headphones in a studio I have a headache after about an hour and my glasses get squeezed into the sides of my head; these I can wear all day with ease. Highly recommended!