“My new album is almost an uncomfortably good representation of me,” explains singer-songwriter MaryLeigh Roohan. “My experiences with people, friends and relationships is really what inspired each song,” she says, drifting off into thought.
The sound of tuning guitars and harmonizing voices carry through Roohan’s quaint Saratoga home as her band assembles for rehearsal. “Everyone who lives here plays is in a band, not all together, but we all have something going on,” she says. The front room has been transformed into a studio, a wall full of mirrors reflecting a wide array of instruments. Christmas lights hang from wall to wall and guitars, amps, drums and microphone wires create a minefield across the room’s floor.
“Saratoga is the perfect place to live if you want to play in different cities, and I really want to tour,” says Roohan. With the release of her 10-song sophomore album Skin and Bone approaching, she is set to take her music to larger audiences after having spent the past few years developing her talents in a number of local bands. Named Best Female Singer-Songwriter by Metroland in 2012, Roohan has built her style from a mix of indie-pop and folk. With original guitar arrangements, her ability to write engaging ballads, and a warming personality, the formula seems complete.
“MaryLeigh, we’ll see you at the show next week,” announce two of Roohan’s friends as they wish her good luck. “Yes of course! I’m so excited, I’ll see you guys there,” Roohan assures them as she rises from her seat to give them a proper goodbye. On Nov. 8, Roohan will celebrate the release of Skin and Bone at the Parting Glass in Saratoga. She sits back down at her kitchen table trying to hold back a smile. “I’m just so excited. Yeah, I don’t even know what to say, I’m just really excited.”
For the album, Roohan paid close attention to making each individual song what she describes as “a singular part of a whole.” Her intention was to create a consistent body of songs. “Right now we live in the singles age. It’s really rare that people will buy a whole album. I wanted each song to be able to stand on its own, but not so much that it wouldn’t make sense with the rest of the record,” she said.
Teaching herself guitar at the age of 15, she began to play and write her own songs from the start. Though she’s only 22, the experience she has gained since she began performing five years ago has given her the critical reputation as “a wizened old soul.”
“I try to take my lyrics into consideration and make sure what I’m saying is really clear and articulated in a way that will best capture what it is I’m feeling,” she explains.
Starting her undergraduate studies in St. Andrews, Scotland, she spent a year trying to balance her education with honing her guitar and vocal skills. However, after one year, she decided she needed time to figure out her true passion. Taking a year off, she returned to the United States where she started making connections and improving her musical skills.
“When I realized that I either needed to go back to school or not, I chose to go back because I think education is critical,” she says. She enrolled at Skidmore College, where she worked for a degree in art history. She also used college as an advantage to better her music. At Skidmore, she took multiple music lessons and was able to study classical guitar with Jason Brown, who would later make an appearance on her debut album.
“I can’t say either way if I would be anywhere different if I hadn’t finished [college], so I think it’s better that I did,” she says. “I knew if I didn’t finish, it wouldn’t feel good.”
As she continued her undergraduate education, in 2010 she formed her band MaryLeigh and the Fauves. Members of the Fauves have included Carolyn Bottelier, Meagan Duffy, Dave Farnsworth, James Gascoyne and many others. In French, fauve means “wild beast,” and is a reference to Roohan’s love of art history and the Fauvism movement.
In 2011, their debut album, The Docks, was Roohan’s first time ever recording in a proper studio. Although all the final tracks were recorded live and mostly unedited, Roohan explained it was difficult to figure out how to perform in a studio for the first time as as opposed to on stage.
“It’s like a milestone, a marker of where I was when I had my first experience in the studio,” she says. The Docks’ single “Foolish Girl” was named second-place in 97.7 WEXT’s Top 60 Songs of the Capital Region in 2012. Buzz from the album sparked performing opportunities from cafes such as Caffe Lena, to Albany’s largest music festivals, LarkFest and Tulip Fest.
Taking time to graduate from college, Roohan laid low in 2013 as she recorded her new album Skin and Bone.
“I tried to make it the best combination of everything I’ve written over the past two years,” she says. Originally, Roohan intended on releasing the album herself. After being taken on by JetPack Promotions, an independent music promotion company based in Saratoga, they suggested releasing Skin and Bone in January 2014, but Roohan thought that was too late.
“I had been talking about it all summer. I think it would have been the wrong move to not release it after promoting it all,” she explains. “I’m really pro finishing what you start.”
At precicely 2:30, Roohan stands up and walks into her in-home rehearsal room. As she gives a quick glance around the room, she rearranges the seats and instruments to accommodate her bandmates who are about to arrive. Musician Meagan Duffy enters the room and takes her seat in the far right corner, while Roohan takes a seat on the opposite side.
“We’re just waiting on one more person, he was supposed to be here at 2:30 but he’s running a little late,” says Roohan.
“Alright, well I have work at 4 o’clock,” states Duffy.
In a feeble, somewhat jokingly reply, Roohan argues, “Well, not today you don’t.”
They begin their rehearsal for the release show, building harmonies for “Birth of a Cynic” off their EP Bedroom EPidemic. Reaching the chorus, approximately 45 seconds into the song, Roohan stops after she recites the line, “I don’t want to know the ugly things.”
“Let’s harmonize there,” she instructs Duffy, “maybe try a C note. OK, just that part, let’s try again.” Repeating the same section until perfection, she lifts her head up with a grin. “That’s it! That sounds awesome.”
Although an album release does require a lot of planning, tentative dates are in the works for future performances as well. Roohan says her dream for her new album would be for it to lead to a tour. She believes touring is vital to selling records, although with so many bands trying to do the same thing, it makes it difficult to book.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” she says. “I’m really excited to release it to the world. Normally I’m nervous about releasing new things, but I really am so excited.”